A reader writes:
I am reading Scott Hahn’s The First Society and came across a quote from Pacem in Terris that strikes me as getting to the core of what’s gone awry with what some are calling the “old” pro life movement.
Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.
Did you catch that phrase? The right to live, not the right to life. In the context of Dr. Hahn’s book it seems not insignificant that the words in the encyclical are not identical to the words in the US Declaration of Independence. The “Right to Life” can and has been construed as a negative right simply to not be killed, whether before birth or in illness or old age, and which demands therefore that government prohibit such killing. The “Right to live” is a positive right that includes a right to all of life’s necessities, and places upon society the obligation to enable and when needed, provide those necessities. The first is profoundly individualistic and so disordered. The second is ordered toward the common good, which is the essential purpose of government.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Yes. Jesus came that we might have life abundantly. The Catholic and Christian vision (but I repeat myself) is ordered toward the fulness of life, not the bare minimum daily adult requirement. This is the core failure of the Old Prolife Movement. Having hitched itself, not to the fulness of Catholic teaching, but to the promise of earthly power from the Republican Party, the Old Prolife Movement has come to believe that the Church’s teaching on the unborn is the opposite of the Church’s teaching on virtually everything else. The very idea of a right to “food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, … the necessary social services… to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood” is laughed to scorn as “nanny state socialism” by the hyper-individualists of American conservatism–including the Catholic ones who have drunk deep of the FOX Newsified libertarianism hawked by Hannity, O’Reilly, and the rest. That’s why, when the ongoing crisis at Flint first broke, the response of a well-known Catholic writer was “get a bucket”. The idea that the human person has a *right* to clean water and that it is precisely the job of the state to make sure that right was secured did not occur to them.
All you have to do is read down that list and propose any of those items in simplicity to an average American Catholic conservative. A right to food? You can hear the screams of “IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK HE SHALL NOT EAT!” Medical care? Are you kidding? Komminnissism! A right to rest? What’ll that get you but a lazy, discontented rabble instead of a thrifty working class?
The very idea of these things as rights that the state has a duty to ensure is, without fail, spoken of as liberal socialism by “prolife” conservatives. To crush the suggestion that they are related to, not the opposite of, the right to life has been the studied work of American conservatism at war with the Magisterium ever since the Seamless Garment was proposed as the obvious synthesis of the Church’s teaching. Instead of a Right to Live that advocates the fullness of life–a fullness that does not merely see to our bodily needs but which seeks the full human flourishing in the Holy Spirit–American conservative Christianism has successfully created an impoverished “prolife” fanaticism that uses the unborn as human shields in order to fight tooth and nail for an anti-human vision that labors to deny even subsistence wages, that champions the largest gulag on planet earth, that cheers for torture, celebrates the vast theft of wages for a military colossus empire, that jails children out of pure spite, and that celebrates a pornocratic misogynist who exemplifies in his very person contempt for the First Society, the family.
It doesn’t have to be this way and, as my reader shows, the Church offers us another way. It begins, not by rejecting the right to life, but by being more prolife, not less.
It begins by embracing the right to live!