A Question About Peace and Justice Hypocrisy

A Question About Peace and Justice Hypocrisy November 11, 2015

A reader writes:

Since you’ve been writing much about inconsistent ‘Pro Life’ views on the Right, I thought maybe you could comment on the inconsistency of ‘Peace and Justice’ positions on the Left – particularly with abortion and the need to stop ISIS. An old friend of mine, a woman who used to be a devout Catholic, is now attending a Unitarian Church and is involved in all sorts of New Age stuff. She’s a committed pacifist, and so one of the reasons she has left is because of the Church’s stand on war and the use of military force under ANY circumstances at all – even to stop ISIS. She says Jesus and His death by crucifixion are proof positive that we are NOT to use violence under any circumstances EVER(Although she now believes in abortion.) She recently railed at me because I had ‘liked’ an article talking about the Vatican’s efforts to kill Hitler. She called the Church (and me) hypocritical that we claim to be Pro Life and yet approve of limited, strategic force to stop ISIS and the slaughter of innocents. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts – she wasn’t buying my ‘right to self defense’ argument and that Jesus did not condemn the military and it’s role in defending an imperfect world from violent aggression.

Yep.  There is most definitely hypocrisy on the Left as on the Right–and the obvious and glaring blind spot is the commitment to non-violence coupled with approval of the grotesque violence visited on the weakest in what the Church calls the “abominable crime” of abortion.

I suspect a lot of this is part of a sort of program of self-medication in which the person embracing such massive cognitive dissonance is (just as Right Wing hypocrites who oppose abortion but often salivate over other forms of violence such as the death penalty or the slaughter of enemies (including civilians in war) using those they claim to care about as human shields for the ones their tribe has told them it is okay to destroy.  At some level, they know they are are wrong, so they become–as your friend has become–all the more super-adamant about the ones they wish to exempt from violent death in order  to authorize the ones their tribe wishes to kill.

Thing is, neither party is wholly wrong:  anti-abortion-but-not-prolife people are absolutely right to insist on the unborn’s right to life.  They are only wrong to use the unborn as a human shield for their demand to kill prisoners, their passionate zeal for torture, and their disastrous commitment to unjust wars the Church has warned us sternly against.

Likewise, the peace and justice folks are not wrong to point out that the gospel is *strongly* in favor of non-violence, that Jesus warns against taking up the sword and rebukes Peter for doing so, that the New Testament and the early Church contain no counsels on Just War or self defense beyond “turn the other cheek” from Jesus and Peter telling the victims of Nero to bear a good witness and die well.  They are not wrong to note that pacifism was *the* normative stance in the early Church and that Just War doctrine, while a legitimate development of Catholic teaching, is also a late one, coming in with Augustine and the Christianization of the Empire.  They have a perfectly legitimate right to their pacifism, according to the Catechism:

2306 Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.104

They are not wrong, in short, to note that the Just War doctrine has always and only been a concession to human weakness and never an ideal: that the Church always discusses violence in terms of “Here are the circumstances under which we may tragically *have* to use violence” and never (as so many Mars worshippers imagine) in terms of “Here is where you *get* to use violence!”  They are not wrong to note that no less than Benedict XVI has wondered aloud as to whether Just War doctrine has been rendered outmoded by the technologies and ideologies of modern warfare.

They are only wrong (as anti-abortion-but-not-prolife people are wrong) when they fritter all that away by then completely dismissing their own supposed core values in order to use the people they claim to care about as human shields for approving the slaughter of the people they deem worthless enough to destroy: the unborn.  Not all Peace and Justice folk do this, just as many prolife people are actually consistent.

The longer I look at Catholic Social Teaching, the more convinced I become that those who seek a consistent approach to all human life need to stop talking as though the Peace and Justice Left and the Prolife Right are somehow opposites. They are not.  The Church affirms both.  Only our fractured politics separates the two and teaches them to be enemies when they are, in fact, allies in the common struggle for the dignity of human life.  Each side must stop listening to those political tribalists who appeal to their favorite classes of protected humans in order to kill those they deem negligible.  Each must listen instead to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Holy Church and calling us to respect human life from conception to natural death.

The way to do that, I think, is for somebody to bow first.  That’s what St. Dominic did in meeting the challenge of the Albigensians.  They made great inroads for a simple reason: they lived lives that looked a lot more apostolic than the dissolute hierarchs of southern France.  Innocent III had once remarked to Dominic, “Peter can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold I do not have'”, to which Dominic tartly replied, “Neither can he say, ‘Rise and walk’.”  Instead of going to Catholics impressed by the poverty and chastity and humble lives of the Albigensians and telling them to get back in line Because Authority, Dominic and the early Dominicans bowed first and beat the Albigensians at their own game.  They lived lives of even greater poverty and chastity and re-owned those virtues for the Church.

Those Catholics who believe ardently in the prolife message of the Faith should be even *more* passionate about the issues animating the Peace and Justice Christians of the Left.  We should be more serious about issues of war and peace, the death penalty, justice for the poor, racism, and all other matters that consume the Left–because they issues about which the Catholic tradition is deeply concerned as well.  In doing so, we undercut the claim that the prolife movement is concerned about human life from conception to birth.  We quit making the Church’s teaching something we cannibalize for the profit of our political tribe and instead make ourselves servants of the whole tradition instead of exploiters of part of it.


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  • johnnysc

    What have the last eight years showed us about ‘bowing’ to liberals? Getting your head lopped off for one. 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.

    The liberal Democratic party, seems pretty dedicated in laying waste to the five Catholic non negotiables…..abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and so-called homosexual “marriage” I think ‘bowing’ to that in the hope that that ‘bowing’ will influence change from that mindset is wishful thinking and certainly will not save lives.

    It seems to me it would be a lot more sensible to support those who respect life and family from it’s conception and encourage them to extend that to areas where they may be deficient.

    • Andy

      Please provide me with an actual church document that lists only the five non-neogtiables. Neither party is terribly good about Catholic teaching – the difference is how well they hide it.

      • johnnysc

        https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/archbishop-chaput-other-moral-issues-not-equivalent-to-abortion

        In this article Archbishop Chaput quotes from ‘Living the Gospel of Life’

        “But of course, children need to survive the womb before they can have needs like food, shelter, immigration counseling and good health care. Humanity’s priority right — the one that undergirds all other rights — is the right to life,” he said.

        And while being opposed to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse anyone from caring about other social injustices, such a poverty and violence, there is a right ordering of moral priorities, Archbishop Chaput said, which is the reason the United States’ bishops released their 1998 pastoral letter, “Living the Gospel of Life.”

        “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.”

        “Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (“Living the Gospel of Life,” 22).”

        • Heather

          I notice that this does not actually produce an official list of a specific “5 non-negotiables.” No one is saying that being concerned for the poor and marginalized excuses advocating for abortion and euthanasia. Mark makes that exact point.

          But Andy’s and my point is that “Catholic non-negotiables” are not limited to the five you mention. “The Five Political Non-Negotiables” are not any kind of official definitive doctrinal summary that cover everything a voter needs to worry about. They are issues of concern, certainly, but they are not the only issues of concern. For instance, also non-negotiable in Catholic teaching are such things as “killing non-combatants by indiscriminate use of weapons of war” and “torture of prisoners” but those don’t dovetail nicely enough with the priorities of the Republican party platform.

          • Cas

            Side question: If I recall correctly, the list of 5CNN emerged in 2004 in the months prior to the presidential election, but I can’t remember who actually created the document. Was it the USCCB? I’m beginning to think that it was EWTN, or a shill for the Republican party; but I feel I’m repeating myself, sadly.

            • Heather

              I seem to recall it was Catholic Answers.

              • chezami

                It was.

              • Andy

                Thank you for explaining where it came/comes from.

              • johnnysc

                I think the idea originated from the Bishop’s document Living the Gospel of Life…..

                http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/living-the-gospel-of-life.cfm

                • Heather

                  You keep making that claim, and yet nowhere does that document advocate reducing the entirety of Catholic political awareness to the particular pet sins of the Left and ignoring the particular pet sins of the Right.

                  • johnnysc

                    I said I think ‘idea’ for the non negotiables came from that document. Your ‘nowhere’ is here……..

                    “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.”

                    “Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (“Living the Gospel of Life,” 22).”

                    • Heather

                      It makes the case that those are non-negotiable, sure. I’m not arguing against that in the least. What it fails to do is claim that they are THE only five issues of grave moral importance.

                    • Dodger Dickens

                      They aren’t the only issues, however, without protecting those, there’s really no hope of reversing other social maladies. To wit, Obamacare doesn’t improve society one iota when there are human remains being sifted through in a petri dish and sold off to the highest bidder. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t lead the poor to salvation when we’re simultaneously flooding them with condoms, sterilization, and McBortion mills. False mercy is deadly. Look at the abortion rate in New York City alone, one of the most liberal cities on the planet.

                      The commission from Christ is to lead society — all societies — toward salvation. The non-negotiables, so to speak, are non-negotiable, because they prepare society to receive the poor, the immigrant, the underprivileged. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said as much. And they prepare our hearts to serve them, if only we would choose to. And that’s where we so-called culture warriors can be rightly discredited for not always taking that treasure of grace in the various pro-life movements and bringing it –in action– to those who are willing to receive it on the peripheries. Not shoving it at them. Not casting pearls at swine. But finding those who are seeking salvation.

                      But if someone is implying there are equivalent evils, they are wrong. We can stop executing criminals, but we’ve already moved on to executing the elderly. We can save the whales, but we’re too busy weeding out Downs babies. We can welcome the immigrant, but we’re too busy preventing children from even being conceived. If we pull back from the non-negotiable, we’re just spitting in a hurricane.

                    • Heather

                      Yes. You have to protect life, because you can’t help the marginalized who are dead.

                      I get that.

                      But the pet sins of the Left ARE NOT THE ONLY LIFE ISSUES OF GRAVE MORAL IMPORTANCE. That’s what I’m getting at. Those five aren’t even the top five most important life issues that are relevant in the political sphere.

                      Unless you really think that The Pill and the name of the legal contract between certain adults in a sexual relationship are literally worse than, say, air strikes blowing up hospitals and drone strikes blowing up children.

            • IRVCath

              Catholic Answers, I believe.

        • Andy

          this is not an actual teaching document of the church – I read what Archbishop Chaput said and applaud it, but it not a teaching document from the Church, nor i the Voters Guide, although it is somewhat closer.

          There are four sins listed that cry out for God’s judgment in that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4).

          I would hope that you stop looking at things in a binary fashion of liberal/conservative. As I said above neither group is terribly good about these four sins.

          • johnnysc

            Archbishop Chaput was quoting from the document Living the Gospel of Life…..

            http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/living-the-gospel-of-life.cfm

            • Andy

              From the same document – At home, it has fueled self-absorption, indifference and consumerist excess. Overconfidence in our power, made even more pronounced by advances in science and technology, has created the illusion of a life without natural boundaries and actions without consequences. The standards of the marketplace, instead of being guided by sound morality, threaten to displace it. We are now witnessing the gradual restructuring of American culture according to ideals of utility, productivity and cost-effectiveness. It is a culture where moral questions are submerged by a river of goods and services and where the misuse of marketing and public relations subverts public life. It is this restructuring that allows or perhaps a better way to think about abets abortion, euthanasia, contraception. It is the self-aborsption that foments gay marriage and the ease of divorce.

              It is the acceptance of the ” ideals of utility, productivity and cost-effectiveness” that the Holy Father was decrying. It is these that so many folks who label themselves conservative refuse to acknowledge as sins and evil, and claim they are vital to our economy and then hide behind being anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and so on. That is why the binary of conservative good liberal bad is so wrong. Both sides pick and choose what they want in order to attract voters and money.

          • Mike Blackadder

            Yes, but the problem is that Republicans do not advocate defrauding workers of their just wages or oppressing the poor.

            They’re actually quite insistent that workers and those who invest their money toward job growth should keep more of their money through lower taxes, their politics are almost pedantically focused on what’s good for the economy and employment, removing barriers to opportunity. Certainly people disagree on specific policies about how best to benefit the poor and promote widespread enjoyment of good wages and profitable work, but you can’t say that a Republican is opposed to the church on these topics.

            On the other hand Democrats as a party (and Obama in particular) directly oppose church teaching on abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and religious liberty. You cannot say that you are a Catholic Democrat without acknowledging that your party contradicts your faith. Republican Catholics are instead arguing the effectiveness of chosen policies to achieve ends compatible with the faith. These are political disputes not moral ones.

    • Heather

      Sigh. We go from “these things are important things that you should take into account when making your electoral decisions” to “these are THE five Catholic non negotiables.” That “voter guide” has a lot to answer for.

      There is no Doctrine of The Five Non-Negotiables. Those five more or less covers two of the four “sins that cry to heaven” but leave out the “oppressing the foreigner, widow, and orphan” and “injustice towards the worker” ones. Catholic teaching does not begin and end at Culture War talking points.

      • johnnysc

        I can understand why liberals would want to downplay the five Catholic 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 as you make perfectly clear. 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, we are told, to be put in place by a fair amount of Catholics…..twice. Plenty of negotiating of the teachings of Jesus going on.

        • Cas

          Johnnysc – Respectfully, it would do you a lot of good to ditch the liberal/conservative labels. That is, stop filtering your moral reasoning through the filters of American politics, and think more with the mind of the Church.

          It’s true that many moral issues tend to divide neatly along party lines, but please realize that, as Mark explained so eloquently above, that there are glaring problems no matter where you place the political dividing lines – whether along the “liberal/conservative” axis, or along the “Republican/Democrat” axis. Just as importantly, realize that politics (at least as they exist in the US today; I can’t speak knowledgeably about whether or not this is true at all times and in all places) is less about service and statesmanship than about the accumulation of power.

          The fact that any party’s platforms coincide with Catholic moral teaching is at best a happy accident, and more likely a tactic used to garner votes — ESPECIALLY when policies are framed in moral terms meant to appeal to specific groups; in the eyes of politicians, Catholics (as I would argue all constituents) are nothing more than voting blocks of useful idiots to be manipulated by the elite.

          • Mike Blackadder

            Maybe the opposite. The prevalence and clear moral injustice of abortion is completely understated among Catholics. It’s like when we contemplate Catholics in the 18th century who didn’t want to make the question of slave ownership the singular issue to inform their vote. Millions of the most innocent being murdered for the most selfish reasons (that other life is inconvenient and costly to oneself) by our supposedly civil modern society, but our vote goes to the guy who wants to raise marginal tax rates on the 1%, because that’s soooo Catholic.

        • chezami

          You ideology blinds you. Did you not read what I wrote? Catholics should not give an inch on the non-negotiables. But that have to stop using them has shields for their *real* non-negotiables of worship of Mars and Mammon, love of the death penalty, total commitment to changing nothing about our gun regime, mindless opposition to helping the poor, zeal for torture, and a host of other anti-Catholic and imprudent ideological commitments they *claim* are “prudential judgments” but they in fact treat as absolute commitments.

    • chezami

      Please. Right Wing Culture Warriors have not given an inch on their supposed “prudential judgments”. They have adamantly clung to right wing shibboleth that are often plainly at odds with the guidance of the Church often out of sheer pig-headed stupidity. They claim to be prolife, but lust for torture and the death penalty. And when a pope comes along that challenges their *real* core values of Mars and Mammon worship, they do not bow even to him, but instead have spent two and a half years making war on him.

      • johnnysc

        Right….so to counter that you advocate support (bowing down to) for an ideology that claims to be pro life but supports the killing of the unborn, redefines marriage, looks to destroy the family and all the while hinder our freedom to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.? Catholics voting for the likes of that has done nothing but emboldened the left to carry out those policies.

        • Heather

          Er…… Did you actually even read Mark’s post?

          Mark is the only polemicist I follow, not least because American politics is only peripherally of interest to me as a Canadian. He advocates neither left nor right. His attitude, consistently and vehemently (and refreshingly), is “a pox on both your houses,” because both left and right have their own grave sins that they advocate while claiming moral authority based on the things that they manage to get right (or at least manage to pay lip service to when the timing and audience are appropriate).

          His refrain is that it’s not R vs D, it’s the Ruling Class vs Everyone Else. The political moral landscape is far more complex than “the party of life” vs “the party of sin.”

        • chezami

          No. I advocate finding those places of commonality between the Left and Catholic teaching, dropping pigheaded right wing opposition to Catholic teaching that culture warriors fear will be perceived as “giving in to the left” and outdoing the Left in support for Catholic teaching so that it can no longer be credibly argued that Right Wing Culture Warriors care about human life from conception to birth. The Wingnut hostility to the perfectly orthodox pope Francis on a host of points of Catholic Social Teaching has dramatically exposed the cafeteria nature of conservative Catholicism and given real credibility to the Left’s critique of the Right as a thing that uses the unborn as human shields for its real core values of Mars and Mammon. I propose taking away all the fuel for that argument by embracing *all* of Catholic social teaching (including the parts the Left emphasizes) and thereby taking away the Left’s excuses for not protecting the unborn. That is, if you actually give a shit about the unborn and not just about using them for your real priorities.

          • Mike Blackadder

            I agree, except the climate change agenda is complete nonsense. On some level it’s OK to acknowledge that the Pope while being a dedicated Catholic is also a dedicated leftist.

    • First of all, it’s a different sort of bowing you two are talking about. Try to get on the same conversation. Talking past each other on the internet is just boring. It’s so 1970s.

      The left likes to pretend to care for the poor but they are making it difficult for the poor to get off government aid through a variety of poverty traps. When the right buys into mentoring the poor, the left panics. Paul Ryan had his head handed to him in the MSM when he brought up the idea in recent years. He was onto something.

    • Mike Blackadder

      I agree with Mark that to support pro-life policy from either party does not have to consist of bowing to an anti-life agenda as a consequence. Sure, when it comes down to the decision of voting and choosing one party over another you weigh all of these factors and try to judge well in your decision. However, if Catholics and other Christian denominations were united on specific pro-life questions that are right now partisan then both parties would tend to shift that way to win those votes. Instead politicians know that Catholics are pretty soft and they can afford to oppose those values without suffering for it.

  • There is something of great value here.