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 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.