Violent Pro-Lifers

Violent Pro-Lifers September 10, 2009

Yes, this title is intended to provoke, but no, it is not about the kinds of zealots who kill abortion providers. I want to muse a little about a deeper problem, one I have been thinking about recently. The reason why abortion is such a heinous crime in the eyes of God is that is an act of violence (murder) against an innocent human being. As Catholics, we are supposed to detest violence, to consistently reject violence. We can accept war and the death penalty as absolute last resorts, but even here, we only accept with the heaviest of hearts, and we never claim that they are in any way “good” options.

But many of the loudest pro-lifers do not have this attitude. Indeed, when it comes to the Americans who rally under the banner of “conservatism” (a false and misleading banner), there are a number of fault lines in the ideology that seem to work directly against the Christian’s approach to violence.

First there is the extreme position on individualism and individual rights, the bedrock of this ideology. By this view, “freedom” means being king of one’s castle, and being unencumbered by any government attempt to impinge on freedom. In Catholic circles, this can easily morph into the error of subsidiarity without solidarity. Especially in its American incarnation, though, it also seems a given that this “freedom” should be defended with violence if necessary. This is almost noble. This peculiarity is, I think, the main reason why non-Americans cannot understand the American gun fetish. When they hear gun ownership defended as a means to safeguard “freedom” against tyrannical governments, they simply scratch their heads and wonder how such conspiratorial paranoia can be so mainstream. And yet it is. I think violence is the lubricant of this American strand of individualism. It flows through popular culture, in the glorification of guns, and in the founding myths of the country. Think of the archetypal Clint Eastwood-style images…

The cult of redemptive violence is also evident in the second great ideology of so-called “conservatism” — the notion that the United States of America has a special role in the modern world, to defend what is good, and to cleanse what is evil. This theological American exceptionalism – evident from Winthrop through manifest destiny through Wilson through Dulles through Bush — is, of course, based on a derivative Calvinism that views the world in dualistic fashion, with the United States on the side of light, and its enemies on the side of darkness. This means that the US cannot really err, and any who criticize its actions are anathematized. It also means that actions that would be evil in other hands are justified in US hands — acts like torture or the use of nuclear bombs in population centers. In other words, violence is not necessarily wrong when done by the United States. In fact, violence might be necessary. It might be noble. If your enemy is quite literally evil, you do not talk to him, you do not negotiate with him, you do not try to understand his grievances – you annihilate him. Of course, I am using hyperbolic language here, but I think the underlying point is correct.

And so, in both cases, we have American “conservatives” leaning on an ideology that can so easily be used to justify violence. I fail to see how such people can be truly pro-life. And yet, I have recently seen Catholic bloggers quote with approval the likes of Robert Stacy McCain, a man most famous for this statement:

“if they ever want a Gentile prime minister, my first order would be to deploy the IDF in a north-south line, facing east. My second order would be “forward march” and the order to halt would not be given until it was time for the troops to rinse their bayonets in the Jordan. After a brief rest halt, the order “about face” would be given, and the next halt would be at the Mediterranean coast. That’s my “Middle East peace plan,” and until it’s carried out, there will be no peace.” (For the record, the blogger was not praising this exact quote).

This is an extremist position, sure, one that would make many people who identify with the right wince in horror. But it shows the violence that underpins this Calvinist theology very well – and by the way, McCain self-identities as a “hard-shell Calvinist”, one who praises the genocide of Oliver Cromwell against the Catholics in Ireland. And yet this is the man who an American Catholic blogger, one who rails against the horrors of abortion, can reference with approval. It is hard to see how this constitutes being “pro-life” except in a superficial and politically convenient sense.

So, to sum up, the soft spot for violence stems from the need to defend their sense of individual liberty, and belief in the cult of American power. And aren’t the hateful and vicious (and rhetorically violent) attacks on Obama because his opponents believe he is violating these two core tenets of the ideology? Isn’t he a “socialist” attacking liberty at home, and isn’t he supporting “terrorists” abroad. Of course, many of the attacks on Obama are because of his position on abortion. As I’ve pointed out before, the attacks on Obama go well beyond the usual criticisms of the usual “pro-choice” public figures. No, Obama touches a nerve that goes well beyond abortion, and his critics are using his position on abortion to vocalize some of this discontent. It’s no surprise that both violent rhetoric and actual threats of violence are on the rise. Whether in healthcare or in any other area, it’s not really about abortion at all. It’s about something else. Something darker.

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