Marc Barnes Wants to Murder the Five Non-Negotiables

Marc Barnes Wants to Murder the Five Non-Negotiables August 1, 2015

I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I think he definitely has a point.

I’ve always though they were well-intended, but that they have backfired in a way their coiners never envisioned.

They have mutated into the Five Only Things That Matter (and, really, the One Only Thing that Matters–Abortion) whenever you attempt to get Catholic conservatives to consider looking at the rest of our common life in light of the Tradition. Marc notes:

Now I agree (with apologies to all you hip-ass Catholic Reporter readers). There are acts that are always evil. Voting for people who support and promote acts that are always evil makes one indirectly responsible for the continued existence of those acts. But the perverse flip-side that has sprung into Catholic conscience is this: We tend to think that because it is not okay to vote in favor of an intrinsic evil it must be okay to vote in favor of non-intrinsic evil.

But this does not follow at all. For what is a non-intrinsically evil action? It is an action that is evil, but that, under other circumstances, may not be evil. Capital punishment is the typical example here. Pope John Paul II made it clear that execution is justified if the nation has no other way in which to protect its citizenry from the offender.

But this does not mean, and indeed, it cannot mean, that one is not morally responsible for supporting this evil simply because it is not intrinsically evil. If I vote for a man who wants to execute youths for marijuana possession, sure, I am not supporting an intrinsic evil. There are, after all, circumstances in which capital punishment may be allowed. Nevertheless, I am supporting the horrendous, non-intrinsic evil of way-too-liberally-applied capital punishment. That this issue is negotiable — in the sense that there are circumstances that may justify it and legitimate arguments concerning these circumstances — does not mean that I am de facto justified in supporting it with my vote. That this issue is negotiable means that I am morally obliged to determine whether it is being applied in a way and in a circumstance that makes it evil. If it is being applied in a way and in a circumstance that makes it evil, and I am aware of the fact, then my support of it damns me. If it is determined to be an evil, then the negotiation is over — I cannot support an evil, intrinsic or non-intrinsic.

I agree  with all this and would add the following: another trouble with the Five Non-Negotiables is that, for the Right, they are in fact, highly negotiable while a number of so-called “prudential” judgments are the *real* non-negotiables.

Abortion, for instance, is highly negotiable when the baby you want to kill is living in a a civilian city Americans want to justify nuking–or when Donald Trump is on the ballot.  Mercy killing is fine when it’s a prisoner you want to put out of your misery.  The sanctity of marriage is not all that big a deal when its Donald Trump’s fourth wife.  ESCR is just ducky when Bush 43 or McCain okay.

But on the supposedly “prudential issues” of war, torture, gun violence, a living wage, desperate poor people at the border?  It often turns out there is only one dogmatic position to be taken on these.  The Iraq War was good.  Torture was good.  Change absolutely nothing about our current gun regime.  The minimum wage must never raised because even though it works in reality, it will ever work in conservative theory.  And Amnesty Equals Abortion.

But tying together the argument about all of these amazingly dogmatic “prudential” issues is this:  Again and again, when you suggest that there are perhaps other approach to explore that are more in keeping with actual Catholic teaching, you are told, “Why are you discussing this when The Babies[TM] are dying?”  Over and over, The Babies[TM] are invoked as The Reason for not questioning the American Movement Conservative Playbook.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told to stop discussing Conservative orgasmic love for torture because it distracted from The Babies[TM].  Our gun slaughter rate that vastly outstrips the rest of the civilized world?  Don’t discuss it.  It distracts from The Babies[TM].  The need for a liviing wage for struggling families pressured to abort by poverty?  Forget it.  It distracts from The Babies[TM].

The paradoxical result was that the people who were supposed Focusing on The Babies[TM] were, in fact, devoting the vast bulk of their energy to defending obviously and massively wrong-headed GOP policies that are clearly contrary to both Catholic social teaching and elementary common sense.  The non-negotiable was not abortion.  The unborn were, at best, human shields, for the *real* non-negotiables of (in this example) torture, the gun lobby, and corporate interests.

I would have no problem with people who said abortion was their number one priority and then went off to work against abortion.  But the reality is that huge numbers of people who say this have massive amounts of time and energy to devote to fighting with both the Church and common sense on any number of issue ranging from torture to the death penalty to a living wage to unjust war.  People who purport to focus on the unborn and then spend all their actual energy on fighting Pope Francis as Public Enemy #1 or battling to make sure as many people are executed as possible or shouting down Laudato Si are not defending the five non-negotiables.  They are defending their *real* non-negotiables and using the five non-negotiables as fig leaves for their real–and often anti-magisterial–agendas.

The solution is simple: Embrace all of Catholic teaching as a whole and do not pit parts of it against the whole.

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  • AnneG

    Mark, the title of this post should be, “How many false dichotomies can I fit in one post.”

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      I agree, but Shea didn’t do a very good job. ‘Its x or the babies’ offers a lot of possibilities. His list wasn’t nearly exhaustive…

      Oh wait. That isn’t what you meant, huh?

  • Andy

    I have been wrestling with the 5 non-negotiables – it seems as if they are used to ignore other equal Catholic issues – anything that removes dignity from a human is the non-negotiable for me at least. I have yet to find in Catholic Church documents this list – they always seem to appear as part of a larger grouping. Areal question – what ?Church document supplies this list as definitive?

    • capaxdei

      The previous two popes spoke of non-negotiable principles, but they did not enumerate a complete list, much less the list in Catholic Answer’s 2004 voter’s guide. Nor, for that matter, does the guide itself assert its own list is definitively complete for all time and places.

      • Andy

        Thai you – that is what I thought. The church has many non-negotiable principles, I agree, I think of what Pope Benedict wrote and I,paraphrase – it is hpart to,have a list of evil – evil is evil.

        • AnneG
          • Andy

            Thank you, but I was looking for an official church document that layś out 5 non-negotiable so. I appreciate Catholic Answers, but they are not an official component of the magisterium.

            • AnneG

              Before becoming a Catholic I was looking for guidance on medical ethics. I would read an article by a theologian with expertise in the area I had a question about. They always referred to original sources.
              You may have to do the same. I was surprised but the 3, 4, or 5 non-negotiable a for Catholics. The Church has thought about everything, you just have to look for it.
              I thought the Catholic Answers had a goo bibliography. I know EWTN does. Hope that helps.

              • capaxdei

                The original source of “the five non-negotiables,” as a specific set, is Catholic Answers’ 2004 “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics.” But it doesn’t call them *the* five; it calls them “these five.”

      • Kurt 20008

        I always assumed all principles are non-negotiable. Crafting legislation is always negotiable.

  • Dave G.

    There’s something to be said about Marc’s objections. But here’s the thing. In my 10 plus years of being Catholic, I’ve watched that list of ‘things that good Catholics of good will can agree do disagree about’ get mighty small. At least on the internet. That’s what those non-negotiables were about. Not so much they were non-negotiable, but there were other issues – important issues – whose approaches and solutions, if nothing else, were negotiable.

    So the non-negotiables were supposed to be that: non-negotiable. There was no wiggle room. In other areas, there was. Room for different opinions. Room for disagreements. Sure, you couldn’t say ‘screw the poor’, but you could disagree on how to help them. But over the years, I’ve watched the number of things that are pushed into the non-negotiable category grow. From fashion styles of women, to economic policies and theories, to interpretation of historical figures, to legislative proposals about gun violence, to a growing list of things, there is no room for debate. It’s this way or you hate Jesus.

    Perhaps the solution is to keep the non-negotiables, and if needed, add some more, but be mindful of the difference between a non-negotiable, and a very negotiable opinion or solution.

    • Women’s fashion as a non-negotiable? I’ve never seen that. While I have strong opinions about what’s right, I recognize that those wrong headed Catholics who disagree with me can be perfectly fine Catholics.

      Perhaps we should add another non-negotiable though, tolerance of inessential differences.

      • Dave G

        The fashion issue popped up a year or so ago. It was set off initially by some Catholics not wanting women to wear pants. It reflected a trend I’ve noticed that doesn’t give specifics but if you disagree you’re not really the right kind of Catholic. Similar with gun control. No real definition just assurance that you are deficient in your walk if you disagree.

        • The fix seems perfectly obvious, don’t disagree. Show pity and pray for them to come to a fuller understanding of the faith. Say so to their face and really do pray for God to show his mercy and open their eyes.

          To engage on their chosen battlefield is foolish.

          • Dave G

            That’s the better way.

    • Kurt 20008

      The list of ‘things that good Catholics of good will can agree disagree about should include all legislative questions.

      • Guest

        Really? All possible legislative questions, or just the ones that you can conceive of arising in our political bubble? Can you really think of no legislative question for which there is one correct Catholic answer?

        • Kurt 20008

          Binding on all the faithful? No.

          • Guest

            So you’re saying a Catholic of good will can say “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” and impose sterilization on segments of the population? (Justice Butler didn’t seem to agree.) Are you saying that a Catholic of good will can advocate for resumption of the African slave trade?

            I suggest you rethink your claim.

            • Kurt 20008

              I think you need to rethink your rhetoric.

              • Guest

                Didn’t read the encyclical, did you? Here’s the money line:

                “We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices abovementioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.”

                Are there issues on which positions are binding on all the faithful? Unquestionably so. Those two examples I gave earlier are from US history, just to give you examples about which it’s impossible to say “It can’t happen here.” Expand your scope to all government actions in all of history and it should become obvious that your house is built on sand.

                • Kurt 20008

                  And every Ecclesiastic or lay person should have felt bound to oppose such traffic, which is different than saying they must oppose every law some pressure groups says allows that traffic. Now, did this mean that a Catholic could (such as Daniel Carroll) could not use his private judgment on the question of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution given Article I, section 9?

                  • Guest

                    Ah, now you’re moving the goalposts. Don’t evade. If the legislative question is “Should we take the legal action necessary to resume the institution of chattel slavery and any economic infrastructure necessary to support it?” can a Catholic of good will answer “yes?” I’m not asking about a hypothetical third party’s assessment of that question, I’m talking about that specific legislative question. If I failed to write it clearly enough to convey the intent to permit the slave trade, substitute your own language that accomplishes it. Your position to which I objected included “all legislative questions,” so how about this one?

                    • Kurt 20008

                      That is not a legislative question. For this country’s laws, every legislative question will start either with the letter “S” or the letters “HR” and be followed by one or more numerals.

                    • Guest

                      The gymnastics which you are undertaking rather than honestly engaging me are as impressive as they are telling.

                    • Kurt 20008

                      They are not gymnastics. They are calling out those with a partisan agenda who developed these phrases after focus groups testing in order to advance their political agenda.
                      You can talk about principles. Apply those principles to specific legislation and the complexity of not only writing legislation but what is required to enact it and how to obtain achievable goals.
                      You dodged on the U.S. Constitution. Given the papal letter you cited, is there any room their for private judgment?

                    • Guest

                      “They are calling out those with a partisan agenda who developed these phrases after focus groups testing in order to advance their political agenda.”

                      Oh yeah? What’s my partisan agenda, pray tell?

                      “You can talk about principles. Apply those principles to specific legislation and the complexity of not only writing legislation but what is required to enact it and how to obtain achievable goals.”

                      “You dodged on the U.S. Constitution. Given the papal letter you cited, is there any room their for private judgment?”

                      No. Rome has spoken; the matter is settled. Technically, though, In Supremo didn’t come out until 1839, so a Catholic Framer would not have had it to fall back on. He might well have known better, based on previous encyclicals hostile to chattel slavery. Like many Catholics in slave states as well as Catholics in other European colonies, however, Carroll does not seem to have taken the message on board.

                      At any rate, the deferred power to end the slave trade is a case of implementation. My personal opinion is that a Catholic might vote for that sort of package deal if it improves the situation in question – before that point in history there was no chance of a federal elimination of slave importation; after ratification there was such a chance and indeed it was taken at the first opportunity. So the choices were “slave importation indefinitely” and “slave importation for a little while longer,” both of which are unjust but the latter of which is a clear improvement. You’re correct that legislation and moral principles need not always correspond one-for-one, but there are limits to the legitimacy of the piecemeal approach. You can’t introduce new evil, for instance. Catholics are bound to oppose any of the infinite possible bills that would reintroduce slavery into the country. I don’t have to go over the specific wording; any bill that can be construed as having this effect is DOA.

                      So once again, I will say that there are legislative questions that have only one right answer. They may be out on the edges of the universe of such questions, but they exist. Since you made a claim about “all” legislative questions, I only have to provide on counterexample.

                    • Kurt 20008

                      I’m not sure we are all that far apart, except rhetorically. A legislator might sincerely judge that if X degree of personal liberty to do wrong is not enacted, then 2x will be enacted. You or I might disagree, but it is a matter of personal discernment.

  • There’s nothing wrong with saying, “great thing on that non-negotiable, now try adding just a little more”. But that’s not what you’re saying. You’re taking an undiscriminating cudgel to the right and unjustifiably so.

    The right in the US is grappling, pretty quietly, with the challenge that Francis has posed to us all. It doesn’t come to the table entirely unprepared. There are lines of political thought it has endorsed for decades but has not recently brought to the fore (Jack Kemp and Hernando deSoto are two prominent examples of this sort of conservatism). When Paul Ryan stuck his neck out and talked about engaging with the poor, he got slammed hard for his temerity. You could certainly provide that as a positive example of the sort of right wing activity you want more of but you don’t. That initiative went nowhere because the people he hoped to engage either were silent in response or went on the attack against it.

  • Elmwood

    Actually there are only three: EWTN: The Three Non-Negotiable Principles of the Moral Law

    Gotta love the culture war.

  • Mike Hunt

    Let’s just say that there is only one non-negotiable issue–A.B.0.R.T.l.0.N.

    Does that mean you could never vote for someone who supports abortion?
    What if he’s running for dog-catcher? Does abortion matter in every race?

    I would submit that it wasn’t an issue in the 2012 Presidential election and it rarely is. Republicans aren’t any more interested in getting rid of it than Al Sharpton would like to see an end to racism.

    • Doyle

      If my dog catcher thinks killing kids in the womb is okay, I don’t think I want him around my dog either.

      • Kurt 20008

        And you, my friend Doyle, are why I left the pro-life movement.

  • AquinasMan

    They’re non-negotiable because they represent the levy that holds back the flood. By allowing that levy to deteriorate, over time, we have invited greater and greater disorder upon our nation — and that includes greater poverty, greater state malevolence, greater corporate power, war crimes, the sodomite tsunami, outright persecution of the faithful, of nuns, of priests, of private citizens. The non-negotiables represent the foundation of ALL justice. So let’s turn down the air conditioner, let’s give more to the poor, let’s demand the defense of the human dignity of even the worst terrorists, let’s stop wasting food, and such — all very good things to do — but none of this can be done at the expense of letting that levy crumble away, because, once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s why they’re non-negotiable. Why would anyone vote for a man that believes implementing Laudato Si should temporarily push aside the need to always defend the levy which rejects abortion, euthanasia, cloning, stem cell research and sodomite unions? These are the activities that most closely attack the rights of God to be the Creator and the Groom of His Church on earth. These battles are almost totally lost, and the rotten fruit is springing from the earth in a bumper crop of trouble for the Church, for society, for future generations. Can anyone deny this? Once these non-negotiable are gone, it all goes, and then you’ll have the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the persecuted and violated coming out your ears. And we’ll be among them.

    • Sue Korlan

      You need to add religious freedom to that list.

  • Ulysses S Grant

    Lots of straw men to digest here, but lets just take the minimum wage. If you found out the effects of raising the minimum wage HARM the very people they are intended to protect would you still be in favor of it?

    • Kurt 20008

      Let those allegedly harmed vote on it.

  • Mark,
    I can’t find much to disagree with you on in this post – with the exception of this:
    “The minimum wage must never raised because even though it works in reality, it will ever work in conservative theory.”
    I don’t know your age, but judging by your photo I’m willing to say that I have at least twenty years on you. I have seen several increases in the Fed.minimum wage in my life and I can assure that the increases do not work “in reality”.
    I have seen this time and time again. Whenever the Fed.minimum wage goes up, prices go up and workers who were making more than minimum wage, prior to the increase, always get a raise.
    In a relatively short period the minimum wage workers are back to where they were before.
    When I first starting working as a teen, the Fed.minimum wage was below $2 an hour. Having a job that paid $3 an hour was absolutely wonderful.
    I’m not against an increase in the Fed.minimum wage because I hate poor people. I am against an increase in the Fed.minimum wage because it doesn’t really help the poor.
    Even though I don’t live in the US, an increase in the Fed.minimum wage would actually benefit me – If it were raised to $15 an hour, the cost of living in the US would sky rocket and the COLA for my Social Security would go up as well. The increase would have very little affect on the cost of living here, so the COLA would really be a nice increase for me.
    It’s much better to train and educate someone to where they are qualified to be paid more than minimum wage.

    • PW

      The past “increases” you remember that “didn’t help poor people” are because those increases (in general) just kept minimum wage up with inflation.

      The only real increases where from the 1940s-60s, during which poverty DID FALL.

      Now, I’m not saying minimum wage increases will work (I don’t think they will work _as well_ as proponents think), but you people in the opposition need to get a grasp on history and economics before you start using dumb arguments.

  • margaret1910

    My gut tells me Marc is right. I am watching a mum trying to get her baby back, and am hearing folks saying, Isn’t it great she didn’t she abort.

    • Guest

      … Isn’t it?

  • johnnysc

    I can understand why liberals would want to downplay the five non negotiables being that the political party of liberals, the Democratic party, has pretty much laid waste to each of them. So it makes sense for one who is voting against conservatives to tell themselves that they weren’t really that important to begin with in order feel good about voting for that climate change believing, anti gun rights, supposedly against the death penalty but not really caring for all of God’s Creation politician. What I don’t understand is their thinking that the five non negotiables mattered in the first place. Or that they posed a threat to supplanting their ideology. We have an anti Catholic, pro contraception, pro abortion, redefining marriage, supporter of the Planned Parenthood that you’ve seen in the latest videos government. Helped, apparently, to be put in place by a fair amount of Catholics…..twice. Plenty of negotiating of the teachings of Jesus going on.

    • Andy

      I am not downplaying any teaching of the church – that is the concern – when any subset of church principles become “the set” then all else is downplayed. That is what Marc is trying to say – it is not a liberal vs. conservative issue – it is an issue of seeing that all of what the church teaches is important.
      Second, and this to me is the real problem – there has not been a church document or prelate or bishop to say these are the top five the only non-negotiables. Anything that would deny the dignity of men and women would seem to be nonnegotiable for the church.

      • Kurt 20008

        Not only has there has not been a church document or prelate or bishop to say these are the top five the only non-negotiables, but they were developed by Republican financed focus groups.
        Why should the Catholic Church be promoting something crafted by GOP operatives?

        • Andy

          I agree – the 5 non-negotiables allow the GOP to claim to be pro-life for the election and then discard the Catholic vote between elections and to blame the Democratic Party for lack of progress.

  • Guest

    Speaking of minimum wage, will there be any comment on the NYT’s follow up on Gravity Payments’s new minimum wage? It’s an interesting read, and there are some good things to think about in it.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      Gravity Payments was never an apt example for the pro-minimum wage folks (can we call them “Fifteeners”?). Whether it succeeded or failed, the voluntary decision by one business to increase pay to white-collar workers who were already making above minimum wage has little to tell us about the wisdom of compelling everyone to increase the wages of burger-flippers.

      The Fifteeners wanted this experiment to work. If a $35 minimum wage could be profitable, then what possible objection could there be to a $15 minimum wage? The fact that it has failed, or is failing, or has hit unforeseen obstacles should cause the Fifteeners to rethink their enthusiasm, but the minimum wage for low-skill jobs remains a debatable question.

      The Fifteeners got out over their skis on this, but their opponents may have, too. I was dismayed to see that the $70k minimum generated outrage, angry mail, etc. What do I care if some businessman wants to give his workers a raise? It’s not “socialism.” It’s one firm’s business decision. Those opponents would look silly if Gravity Payments succeeded. And it could have. I’ve worked in businesses (law firms) that were profitable enough to pay everyone those wages, even though the mailroom guys and junior admin staff earned less. The senior partners would have to miss a few boat payments, but it could be done. I don’t know what Gravity Payments’ business model looks like, but it theoretically could have worked for them. Moreover, it looks like the most substantial financial problem that they’ve encountered – a lawsuit by a co-owner – has nothing to do with the wage increase.

      Overall, the CEO/owner seems like a good, idealistic guy who didn’t think this business decision all the way through. I’m slow to call him “naive” because although he’s just 31, he’s been running this business for seven years. The fact is that businessmen miscalculate all the time. That’s what this looks like: a miscalculation, not a lesson about the minimum wage.

      If you want that lesson, though, I’d be delighted to supply you with three hilarious examples.

      • Guest

        I agree completely about how much to draw from this case about the minimum wage debate in general. For what it’s worth, it’s not just the $15/hr advocates who wanted it to work – I did, too. I don’t even think it can be said that it hasn’t “worked” yet – first you have to identify what goal was being pursued, and second you have to give it time to play out and identify the elements of the problems that are directly connected to the increase.

        I think the really interesting things here are the two human factors – the higher-level employees who leave because they feel slighted after not getting a raise proportional to the low-level employees, and the low-level employees who actually suffer a decline in morale because of a self-perceived inability to live up to the raise.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    As much as I love and support Catholic radio, this is the issue that makes me batty crazy every election season. Because every day on every program we are hammered with the Five Non-Negotiables. No one will ever come right out and say, “Faithful Catholics have no choice but to vote Republican.” But it is perfectly obvious to anyone with more than 2 functioning brain cells that this is exactly what they’re saying.

    Which, quite frankly, makes us look like idiots. Just absolute stooges. Because if you think the GOP leadership is in any way genuinely pro-life or gives a flying fig about abortion or euthanasia, then you are doing nothing more than running full-tilt to Lucy’s football again.

  • Stu

    As someone who actually has to make a payroll every week., simply raising the minimum wage in my opinion is not the answer. And FWIW, I pay all my employees above the minimum wage. While I firmly do believe the having high pay for my employees will ultimately give me a stronger workforce and make me more profitable (not to mention that I do want my employees to be able to support themselves and a family working at my business), getting there isn’t easy. It has to grow slowly especially for a small business like mine.

  • Kurt 20008

    Can we be honest an admit even the most sincere, committed and politically conservative pro-life activists negotiates over abortion? No one should negotiate over ANY of their principles. We all negotiate over legislation.