The Voice of the Pre-Reagan GOP

The Voice of the Pre-Reagan GOP June 29, 2009

…and of much of the GOP today, longing for the day when all those embarrassing prolifers will just leave the country club:

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding: “Or a rape.”

The GOP is more properly described as the “less pro-abortion” party than as the pro-life party. It has a large percentage of the base who are deeply and sincerely pro-life: that is, people who take seriously the Church’s teaching on the dignity and value of human life from conception to natural death. Dems have these too, in much *much* smaller numbers.

Then there are the prolifers of who oppose abortion, but who have no problem with war crimes. Indeed, some of these actually sneer at those who do have a problem with war crimes. Many of these are self-described Christians who are in the middle of a transitional project from “Christian” to “conservative” well described by Uncle Screwtape:

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.

More and more, I am seeing this phenomenon among Christians on the Right who still do not get how deeply their faith is being co-opted into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Movement Conservatism. What do I mean? Well, I’m constantly getting email in from people in which their outrage about abortion is routinely joined to diatribes about cap-and-trade, global warming, Obama’s socialism, and so forth. Meanwhile, the same self-described Christtians and Catholics who are making these bizarre equivalencies are often (and in higher percentages than the general population) laboring with might and main to defend the torture and abuse of prisoners, to deride Christians who will not laugh at the Club Gitmo jokes, and to do everything in their power to thwart the clear and obvious teaching of two Popes and all the American bishops. The net effect is to make clear that what matters is not the Faith, nor even abortion per se, but abortion as a sort of gateway or shibboleth into immersion in Movement Conservatism–or whatever is left of it since the Bush/Cheney debacle. Conservative English Catholic novelist Piers Paul Read notices the same thing:

Many of the Catholics I encountered on my tour had anti-abortion stickers on their cars. Abortion is an acute issue in the US in a way it is not in Britain. Here the debate is about the number of months after conception after which it should be unlawful to terminate a pregnancy. There the debate is about whether a termination should be lawful at all. A survey taken while I was on my travels showed that more than 50 per cent of Americans described themselves as “pro-Life”. My Catholic friends believe that there should be a total ban on abortion, as in Chile. Also coinciding with my tour was the honouring of President Obama at Notre Dame University — a scandal in the eyes of many bishops and my orthodox Catholic friends because of his consistent support of abortion, including partial-birth abortion in which the baby’s head is crushed as it leaves the womb. “An unborn baby is a person” read one of the stickers. It is impossible for a Christian to dissent from this view: God became man at the Annunciation, and in the account of the Visitation in St Luke’s Gospel the unborn John the Baptist “leaps in the womb” as he recognises Jesus in utero. However, there is a danger, it seems to me, that the fight for the right to life of the unborn comes to define Catholicism, to the neglect of core beliefs that God became man as Jesus of Nazareth, that he was the Messiah promised by the prophets of Israel, that he died for our sins on the Cross, the Eucharist authorities of the Pope.

The net effect of all this is to make the Church’s witness on The Most Important Social Issue of our Time an adjunct of the Real Agenda, which has less and less to do with abortion and everything to do with GOP schemes for regaining power.

In short, the transformation of abortion into a sort of tribal shibboleth by which one says, “I am sympathetic to the conservative agenda” rather than saying “I am an apostle of Jesus Christ who died for the least of these” means that the Right is moving further and further away from being serious about abortion at all, to the point where the GOP’s most recent candidate was just a couple of clicks away from Nixon’s position in his obvious and sincere wish that the matter would just go away. (Recall that in 2000, the big push of the pro-life organizations was to get everybody on board with Dubya because if they didn’t the terrifying prospect of John McCain as the GOP candidate loomed like a ghastly specter over the whole election.) The next candidate, if the rulers of the party have any say about it, will be closer still to Nixon’s warm laissez faire embrace of this “market forces” way of culling the herd.

But the blame will lie, I think, with Christians who said to themselves “Seek first power and compromise with Mammon, War Fever and War Crimes, and all these things will be added as well.”

Screwtape concludes:

For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game.

Christians need to return to proclaiming the Faith, not to using it as a convenience for the building up of their favorite party. The same, of course, is true of liberals who routinely do the Kerry/Pelosi thing of wearing the ashes, citing Augustine in favor of their abortion politics, or prattling on ignorantly about Pius XXIII and “the Vatican II”. But one doesn’t expect jackasses to speak to Baalam. One expects self-described “committed orthodox Christians” to have some clue about what “seek first the Kingdom” means. Catholic Christians who claim to be pro-life while heaping contempt on inconvenient Church teaching about war crimes and torture or who use abortion as a sort of lead-in to their *real* agenda of a fight over tax laws or squabbles about the bailout should heed the warning of our Lord that those to whom much is given, much will be required. It’s fine to have strong views about all these secular and temporal issues. But turning the Faith into a mere feeder system to steer people into being good little Movement Conservatives is just another kind of idolatry–and arguably a more culpable sin.

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