Recovering from the Election Season

Recovering from the Election Season November 9, 2012

After being repeatedly warned by partisans on both sides that the fate of the universe hung on this election (a slight exaggeration perhaps, but only a slight one), I was surprised and relieved at how quickly the mood seemed to change on Tuesday evening – even before many of the returns were in – from the apocalypticism that had been building all year to something approaching a more business-as-usual perspective.  Obama supporters have had their moment to cheer, but without the messianic expectations of four years ago.  And among Romney supporters I’ve seen a remarkable change in tone from gloom-and-doom predictions should Obama be reelected to comments like, “Oh well, my guy lost.  Time to move on.”  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the appreciative comments from both sides on how the candidates handled the election results, which have earned popularity under this news item on Yahoo, of all places.

I’ll leave the endless election dissection to the pundits and analysts.  The real test now is whether our elected leaders will finally manage to work together – and just as importantly, whether we all will finally seek healing from the toxic political atmosphere we’ve been breathing for too long.  On this question, American Catholics have some serious soul-searching to do.

Our friends over at Catholic Moral Theology have offered some helpful insights.  Jana Bennett raises the crucial question of how Catholics divided along party lines can find a common voice – “not a Republican or Democratic voice – but a fully Catholic voice, one capable of witnessing the Gospel.”  The five points she puts forth to address this question are brilliant and balanced:

1. To be baptized is to be Catholic enough.   In this election, we lined up and chose sides, based on American ideologies and not Catholic doctrine.  In public discourse, it seemed we were either FOR the “Nuns on the Bus” or FOR the “bishops”.  We began election arguments by deciding that “those” people are not the truly pure Catholics, and therefore we don’t have to listen to their arguments.  But an inextricable part of Catholic doctrine is this: if we are baptized we are part of Christ.  We may still be mistaken, we may still sin, but we cannot simply dismiss each other.  And at the least, the virtue of humility would suggest that we ought to wonder if some part of what my brother or sister in Christ is telling me is an appropriate chastisement of my own soul.  Listen up!  We don’t want to go down the Donatist road of thinking that there are groups of pure Christians.

2. Libertarianism looms as the new Communism of the twenty-first century.  It is the new great ideological opponent of Christianity, alongside the closely related cousin of moral relativism.  I see trends in both the major parties that suggest a wholesale focus on individual autonomy and freedom of choice from both the government and society in general.  These libertarian impulses take on different foci (abortion, economic policy, etc).  But no matter where the focus begins, the architecture of the argument itself makes it very, very easy to capitulate to all kinds of evils – even coming from “the other side”.   Individual choice and conscience are important – but taken to extreme, a focus on individual choice means that I can always dismiss my neighbors’ concerns because “they made their own choices and have to deal with the consequences”.

3.  Don’t  underestimate the concern for the “least of these” in teachings against abortion.  Abortion is a litmus test precisely because it is concern for the smallest among us, for the “least among” us, who have the least power.  The teaching against abortion comes, in no small part, from the same teaching that guides Catholic thought about economics and politics.  Which is to say: the case against abortion cannot be made in isolation of the fullness of Catholic teaching, including social teaching.  I think that when we treat abortion as an isolated issue, we’re only hurting ourselves.

4.  But likewise, don’t underestimate the power of “the option for the poor.”  One of the most appealing and yet difficult Gospel texts is where Jesus baldly says: “Go and sell all you have, and give it to the poor; then come and follow me.”  But it has been so central to Christian witness in the past 2000 years and it remains one of the key aspects of Church teaching that Catholics hold dearly (it’s a close second to the resurrection according a 2011 NCR survey).  In an era where income disparity is high and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 patently did NOT lead to a rise in middle class incomes, and in an era where unemployment is still high and people often have neighbors who are on the brink, if they themselves are not, Jesus’ discussion of poverty especially comes to the forefront.

I think Right and Left have much to say to each other on how best to care for the poor… but I also think that the Right’s argument very much got submerged by abortion and religious freedom – without also showing how all of those are intertwined.  And the Catholic Left often treated poverty as a standalone issue, which means it functioned like abortion as a galvanizing issue.  The result is that we Catholics were too willing to separate pieces of Catholic teaching and those teachings got snapped up as soundbites for political parties.  But it didn’t do the Church any bit of good.

5.  Don’t underestimate the power of evil.  I am very worried about the ways that (from both the left and the right), we have often carelessly thrown around terms from Catholic tradition like “conscience” and “intrinsic evil” and “prudential judgement” and “solidarity” and “subsidiarity”.   Our uses of these terms have enabled each “side” to give themselves carte blanche on supporting political parties that hold explicit and implicit positions that are gravely (if not intrinsically) evil – things like torture and acts of aggression  and abortion and racist policies.

Not to get too maudlin, but we are the Church.  Do we believe enough in Christ, our Head, to come together – or will we continue to be disparate voices blowing with the political winds of American culture?

David Cloutier adds some similar and complementary observations about the pervasive temptation of becoming beholden to ideologies, which relates to a loss of meaningful Catholic identity in the public square.  A few key points:

Our site and others certainly had a busy time debating the finer points of phrases like subsidiarity, prudential judgment, intrinsic evil, and option for the poor. Unfortunately, the pattern of misuse seems to be similar in all cases: a temptation to take the language and make it conform to policy programs from one party or another…. Bishops and theologians both have primary responsibility to the integrity of the Catholic moral tradition, not to partisanship.

“The Catholic vote” gets a lot of play, but for the second election in a row, Catholic voters virtually mirrored the national outcome. We have Catholics (very different) as vice-presidential candidates on both tickets. We have Catholics (very different) in charge of both parties in the House. We have a Catholic majority (not a united one) on the Supreme Court. Does identification as “Catholic” mean anything in terms of public philosophy?? Or does it just happen to be the case that we are a massive, diverse religious body, where self-identification sometimes continues even in the absence of much practice?

We have the resources for this public philosophy: it is called “solidarity,” and the last thirty years of social encyclicals – especially Caritas in Veritate, with its desire to bring together sexual,  economic, environmental, and technological issues – have given us plenty of things to do. “Solidarity,” of course, could easily become language on holiday. But it promises something else, too: an approach to public life that genuinely, and for deep philosophical and theological reasons, resists the fragmentation that is becoming endemic in our society.

Cloutier’s final “lesson” is reminiscent of what a number of us here on Vox Nova (most frequently Mark Gordon) have been saying about the mirror-image liberalisms of the left and the right:

The Democratic Party has a problem on sex, and the Republican Party has a problem on corporations (and the other party isn’t much better). “Solidarity” is really the uplifting center of a Catholic public philosophy. Its edge has to be its ability to be prophetic: to point out crucial issues that no one is willing to speak of, especially within a particular party. I think it is obvious what these problems are, because each party plays a bit of “pretend” in their rhetoric. On the Republican side, there is a rose-colored vision of free enterprise that seems not the least bit interested in challenging corporate power. John McCain, in his “maverick” mode, saw that corporate money was a huge problem. Dwight Eisenhower was unafraid to warn us about “the military-industrial complex.” Richard Nixon founded the EPA. If their vision of subsidiarity is to be a real one in any way, it has to call into question corporate power. On the Democratic side, the issue that will not speak its name is sex – because at the end of the day, abortion is an issue about sexual freedom, and the ongoing challenge of same-sex marriage is likely to be how to understand a legal relationship whose definition is now more or less entirely privatized. But the inability to speak about sex (and its extension, the family) goes much further. Familial breakdown is real, and it is a large-scale social problem, and it is much more of a scourge now in lower-income brackets. Sexual discipline and fidelity is a difficult, demanding task, but one that makes a huge difference in outcomes of education, psychological health, and economic success. Now, of course, the trick here is that the “other party” is not much better on these issues! Democrats have hardly been real tough on “the military-industrial complex” in the last few years. And Republicans, when they do talk about sex… well, they ought to stop talking, if yesterday’s outcomes in Indiana and Missouri are any indication. Catholics are in a fine position to bring up these really important, pervasive issues that too often seem to come down to consensual sex or consensual markets.

As we begin to recover at the end of a tense election year that has taken its toll on all of us, it is also time to begin asking ourselves: where do we, as a church, go from here?  A robust Catholic moral vision, outlined by committed theologians such as Bennett and Cloutier, is a good place to start.  I’m for taking Cloutier’s suggestion: “A politics of Catholic solidarity, well-thought-out, sufficiently provocative, full of conviction, yet notably non-partisan: how about we try THAT out to witness and to sow seeds of peace amidst this discord?”

Probably the most powerful starting point we have as Catholics is the Eucharist.  This year’s Election Day Communion movement, though predominantly Protestant, has reminded us of this.  Ben Irwin recently wrote, “We can’t go back to the status quo of polarization. We can’t return to our political idols. The bread and wine of communion have so much more to offer.  Our prayer is that we’ll always remember we are knit together in Christ, and no division can sever that bond.”

Our unity in the Body and Blood of Christ is and must always be much deeper than mere niceness.  It is a radical transformation: first of the Eucharistic species, then by extension of ourselves, and by further extension of our world.  Let us remember, and let us be Eucharist in the world – even in our politics.

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  • Mark Gordon

    It is interesting that my final entry in “Liveblogging Election Night with Vox Nova” elicited this response from our regular commenter ‘digbydolben,’ who no one has ever thought of as ‘conservative’:

    I disagreed with Mark Gordon a little while ago, but I just want to say that, with what he just wrote here, I could not possibly agree more. However, it’s not American-style “conservatism”; it’s not based on the “Horatio Alger” myth, and it’s Catholic, it’s “distributist” and it’s Christian Democratic and it’s “Tory.” And it’s MY kind of “conservatism.”

    Here’s what I had written:

    If it is to survive, the GOP must come to represent a conservatism that hews closer to the vision of Burke, Kirk, Fleming, Oakeshott, Burnham, Weaver, Scruton, Berry and Blond; a conservatism that stands opposed to the corrosive cultural influence of laissez-faire capitalism and the mass consumer society; opposed to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of private interests or the state; opposed to empire and the militarization of foreign policy; a conservatism focused on the care of creation, including the land and sea, as well as the small human ecologies of family, congregation, town, and small business; a conservatism that privileges the farmer, the industrial worker, the teacher and the Main Street merchant over the financial baron, the defense contractor, the big box retailer and the Washington lobbyist; a conservatism of the town hall meeting, not of slick ad campaigns; a conservatism of communities, not corporations. And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends the unborn, but also one that supports and honors their mothers, both before they give birth and long after. And yes, it must be a conservatism that defends marriage, but not by demonizing or marginalizing families that don’t fit a certain mold. Yes, it must be a conservatism of limited government, but within limits defined by justice, equality before the law, peaceableness, and the care of the aged, the infirm, the poor, and the unemployed.

    My purpose in pointing all this out is that there are already serious conversations going on about the revival of an authentic conservatism, grounded in CST, that can be a viable political alternative to both the economic liberalism of the Republican Party and the pelvic liberalism of the Democratic Party. Those conversations will not be taking place at Fox News, National Review, or on Rush Limbaugh. Sadly, they won't be taking place in George Weigel's parlor, at the Acton Institute, or in most chanceries in the US. And, frankly, they won't be taking place at the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal either. But they are taking place already among people who are very concerned about the Babylonian captivity of the Church in the United States.

    • Mark, get out of America sometimes–to Italy, or to various places in the Third World where the Catholic Church has a vibrant cultural and liturgical life that is not tied to political ideologies. You will then find that the Church is not in a “Babylonian Captivity” in such places. Where there is a “Community of San Egidio” there is no place for Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand. And some day this more catholic Catholic Church is going to take back the papacy, and, when it does, THEN you will see fireworks between it and the American Catholic Church.

    • Denny

      Mark, I like the balance in your views of conservativism. It is not as important to me that such a view is a “viable political alternative” at this point, but rather that it can be a conservativism which I could be proud to embrace. My primary problem has been a refusal by supposedly “pro-life” conservatives to be “opposed to empire and the militarization of foreign policy” as much as they are passionately opposed to abortion. Many deaths have occurred from this refusal to accept candidates that are not consistently pro-life. If there can be no consistency on pro-life issues, then it will simply be seen as a hypocritical movement in general. This has to be one of the cornerstones on which to build.
      This Babylonian Captivity you speak of seems to be tied to the almost hypnotic influence which Fox,Rush,Hannity, etc have exercised among many that trust what they push through the airwaves. Many conservatives accept the version of conservatism pushed on these shows as their practical expression of faith, even though its viewpoints on war, relationship to money, and lack of compassion are way out of line with the teachings of Jesus on peace, service, and care for the poor. It seems to me that we are being called to a greater righteousness, and must find where the cracks have been in our way. I am interested to hear you expound a little more on what specifically you see this Babylonian Captivity to consist of.

      • Kurt

        My primary problem has been a refusal by supposedly “pro-life” conservatives to be “opposed to empire and the militarization of foreign policy” as much as they are passionately opposed to abortion. Many deaths have occurred from this refusal to accept candidates that are not consistently pro-life.

        Don't you think we have to first get pro-life conservatives to just consistently oppose abortion except only oppose Democrats? They supported pro-abortion Senator Scott Brown because he was against campaign finance reform and against health care for all. They accuse Obama of financing abortion but were silent or supportive when Bush did the same thing. They put the private market before the unborn by not opposing Mercury abortions and excuse candidates who profiteer from abortion ("it's just business"). They told voters in Ohio that an anti-gerrymandering law was "anti-life."

        • Jordan

          Kurt [November 14, 2012 1:33 pm]:

          The pact between the Republican party and conservative/orthodox/fundamentalist Christianity will only fall when people educate themselves and release themselves from the false consciousness of political manipulation. Quebec under the clerical state of “Le Chef” Maurice Duplessis, before the Révolution tranquille (Quiet Revolution), had one of the, if not the, lowest rates of literacy out of any developed nation. Priests openly chastised the laity for voting Liberal — “Heaven is blue (Union Nationale) and hell is red (Liberal Party)”. Few Quebecois of the time had more than some high school education, and very few attended university. The 1960s socialist revolution, and the subsequent exclusion of the Quebec Church from almost all aspects of society, was an emphatic refutation of the way in which the Church systematically denied persons the education to make their own political and religious decisions.

          Similarly, the rise of conservative talk radio as well as conservative action groups represent movements to repress independent thought. The only remedy is education and the courage to question Christian leaders and so-called “conservative” (read christianist) ideals. It is true that we do not live in a nominally democratic dictatorship such as under Duplessis. Even so, so many Americans are trapped in a mental dictatorship directed by the manipulation of some organizations of the “five non-negotiables”. Together, we the educated can loosen the bonds of christianism over the electorate.

          • Julia Smucker

            I can’t resist one semantic quibble: I understand the conventional usage of these terms and I know what you mean by them, but while partisan-colored Christianity often is fundamentalist, it is not at all orthodox, nor even very conservative (at least not without the prefix “neo-” in front of it). There remain some positive connotations within these terms that I want to hold onto and reclaim for better contexts.

        • Jordan

          Julia Smucker [November 15, 2012 12:38 pm]: Thank you for pointing this out Julia. Next time I will be more descriptive of religious movements and less casual in my use of terms. You’re quite right that all three of those terms can denote positive attributes. I agree that some terms such as “conservative” should be reclaimed, but that’s a difficult task.

          • Julia Smucker

            Mark Gordon certainly rose to the occasion recently (see above), and did an excellent job of it in my opinion.

            I would be hard pressed to find positive attributes to fundamentalism, but this is very different from the best forms of conservatism and certainly from any genuine orthodoxy. But you have responded so thoughtfully and graciously, Jordan, that I really should stop quibbling now.

  • Rat-biter

    “2. Libertarianism looms as the new Communism of the twenty-first century.”

    ## That’s a tall order. What, in the US, is libertarianism ? IOW, to avoid wasting people’s valuable time, where can a foreigner find a good account of it (that avoids being a caricature) ? TY

  • Ben DeBono

    Good stuff. As I work through the political implications of my new found Catholic faith I find myself resistant to both socialism (especially in its secular form) on the one hand and libertarianism on the other. Sadly, I see both on the rise in the Democratic and Republican parties respectively. As someone who is more Conservative and typically Republican, I find myself drawn toward a socially conscious Fedarlism that, while resistant to big government, recognizes an important social justice role in politics, especially at the local and state levels

  • #4 it has been so central to Christian witness in the past 2000 years and it remains one of the key aspects of Church teaching that Catholics hold dearly

    Poverty is related to sin in the minds of Protestants.

    One of the things that truly baffles me about American Catholics is how little they understand the social and economic ramifications of Protestant theology. As a matter of fact, I sometimes think that Catholics in America are either so ghettoized, or so brainwashed by consumerist and “libertarian” ideologies that they don’t even realize that they’re living among people whose values, shaped as they are by a heretical perversion of Christianity, are in permanent conflict with those of the Doctors of the Church.

    I think there’d hardly even be a debate among Catholics regarding such things as “gay marriage,” if Catholic bishops, too hungry for political power and influence, would simply be honest enough to tell their faithful that “sacramental marriage” was long ago extinguished in Protestant societies by, among other things, Luther’s deliberate and calculated rejection of certain passages of Matthew’s Gospel–which has directly led, historically, to “serial monogamy” in America.

    Same with the replacement of certain Beatitudes by the “Gospel of Plenty,” which has its intellectual roots in Calvinist pre-destination.

    American Catholics should learn to accept the fact that, if they are going to be loyal to such things as the Magisterium, the modern papal encyclicals–to “think with the Church,” in other words–they’re going to have to learn to live by the majority’s sufferance in modern America and STOP trying to force their Church’s ancient teachings on a population of heretics.

    • trellis smith

      @digbydolben Far too imprecise a definition of Protestantisms even if meant as an hyperbolic comment,, But worse you say heretic as if that were a bad thing, As Voltaire wrote and what Jesus’ death makes clear “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

      • I did not mean it as a hyperbolic comment at all; however, more than matters of specific theological differences, I’m really talking about a wholely different attitude toward spirituality and human anthropology (the idea of what a man is and what his existence is for) which grew up in the Reformation period.

        Let me expand on that, for a moment, in describing Luther’s attitude toward “sacramental marriage” vs. the “companionate marriage” that became the cynosure for connubial relations in the 16th and 17th centuries:

        In his Table Talk, Luther is reminded by one of his followers that Christ TWICE forbade divorce in the Gospel of Matthew, even after being reminded that Moses had permitted it. Christ said that it would remain proscribed in the “New Covenant,” and that Moses had only permitted it “for your sins.” Luther claims, in the Table Talk that Christ had “his tongue far in his cheek” when he “gave us that Law,” because he was proscribing divorce in order to “convict us of our sins”–in other words, giving man a law he knew man could not obey, because of his “fallen nature”–a law that would cause man to “throw himself upon the blood of Christ” and give up trying to be “perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” When reminded of the phrase about the superiority of love over faith (which “availeth nothing” without love, and is “as a sounding bell”) in the Letter of St. James, Luther called it “a text of straw,” and said that he’d “have none of it.”

        Aside from the pharasaic and legalistic coloration that this type of Protestant religiosity brings to the Christian faith, what can you say about its reduction of Christ to the level of a “trickster-god” who baffles and tacitly mocks his devotees?

        And you’re right; it’s good to preserve a heretical attitude toward overweening human power-structures, but it’s spiritually deadly, in my opinion, to doubt the transformative power of human and divine love, which, in my experience of it (I grew up among Protestant fundamentalists) is precisely what Protestant theology does, ultimately and in practice.

  • Jordan

    The Didachist (Didache 2.2) clearly condemns not only abortion (ἐν φθορᾷ) but also οὐδὲ γεννηθὲν ἀποκτενεῖς, which literally means […] “nor slay the [already] born.” [my addition] It’s rather clear from cultural context that “slay the [already] born” refers to either infanticide or exposure. .

    Why did I take this diversion? Julia writes in her article, “The teaching against abortion comes, in no small part, from the same teaching that guides Catholic thought about economics and politics. Which is to say: the case against abortion cannot be made in isolation of the fullness of Catholic teaching, including social teaching.” The Didache, or the earliest church order, unequivocally condemns abortion and infanticide. However, the Didachist’s commentary on the Ten Commandments sets the baseline for how a Christian in the Didache community lives. A person who adheres precisely to the Ten Commandments but does not live in charity towards his or her sister or brother is not a fulfilled and fulfilling Christian.

    Neither political party passes the Didache test: Most in the Democratic party emphatically support abortion-on-demand, while most Republicans uneqivocally condemns abortion. Both parties use the abortion issue for political advantage and to stigmatize. George Carlin once quipped, “Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own”. That’s the perception of many: Republican pro-life activism is not concerned with post-natal care, especially given the perception that political conservatism loathes entitlements. Flip Carlin’s statement around, though, and one might easily cariacture liberalism/the Democratic Party as only concerned with govenrment spending on the already born.

    The neglect of a number of bishops to join pro-life activism and social programs under the grand banner of community justice and charity contradicts the Didachist’s contention that these two facets are complementary and not antagonistic.

    • Julia Smucker

      Excellent both/and, Jordan. And I like the way you mitigate your critiques to avoid wholesale blanket judgments of all members of the political parties and the bishops.

      One clarification: the quote you cite is from Jana Bennett’s post on Catholic Moral Theology, as linked above. But I agree with her, and with you.

  • Thales

    well, they ought to stop talking, if yesterday’s outcomes in Indiana and Missouri are any indication.

    I actually liked Cloutier’s post, but then he throws in another instance of slander on Mourdock in Indiana. (For what it’s worth, besides the liberal/media slander on Mourdock which contributed to his defeat, his defeat was probably also caused by Lugar’s arrogance and undermining of Mourdock.)

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why so many people who ought to know better are buying the liberal/media’s spin that what Mourdock said was so offensive as to be beyond the pale. It looks to me that Mourdock was trying to articulate the position that the Catholic Church shares when it opposes abortion in instances of rape. In another post, I’ve been trying to get people to explain why Mourdock’s statement is so offensive as to be beyond the pale, but no one has been able to do so. Can anyone explain it to me here?

    I get that politically, maybe Mourdock should have just said “I refuse to answer the question because anything I say will be misrepresented by liberals and the media” when asked the abortion-rape question during the debate. But if we want to change the culture and educate people to the Truth which the Church believes will set people free, a “no comment” answer is insufficient and something along the lines of what Mourdock said is the better course.

    If what Mourdock said is so offensive as to be beyond the pale, what is the proper response to the abortion-rape question? What should he have said in order to convey the truth that abortion for rape is immoral, but to do so with compassion?

    • Kurt

      In another post, I’ve been trying to get people to explain why Mourdock’s statement is so offensive as to be beyond the pale, but no one has been able to do so. Can anyone explain it to me here?

      I will give you the same answer I gave there. You posted an edited version of Mourdock’s statement. I would suggest that if you are asking a serious question and not playing games you don’t edit out parts of what he said, leaving only certain portions.

      • Thales

        I didn’t “edit” out any offensiveness from Mourdock’s statement. I summarized his position. The video of Mourdock’s full statement is easily found online and Ronald kindly created a close (though not exact) transcript:
        “I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception, The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

        • Kurt


          No, you were not summarizing. You used quote marks, indicating you weren’t giving a summary or paraphrase of his remarks but were quoting him and then asked others to respond as to what was objectionable to what you posted. But then you only quoted edited portions of his statement.

          People talk about the lack of civility in political discourse and here is exhibit A of the cause. You or FOX News or Crossroad (or Move-On, which is just as bad) put forward a quoted statement and suggest golly gee, I don’t see what’s wrong with this. Except it is not the statement the person in question made. Those on one side, who assume you are giving a complete statement, get jacked up one way. Those on the other side get jacked up because of the dishonesty. The result is that we have two jacked up sides.

          The same with John’s false assertion that the Democratic Campaign accused the bishops of leading a war on women. His false assertion jacks up the Right who wrongly believes it and jacks up the Left because of the dishonesty.

          How about we stop taking liberties with the truth even when it means that we don’t motivate the base as well with temperate, accurate, truthful and complete statements? Could maybe we at least hope on a Catholic forum this would be the standard?

          I really think you should reflect on your behavior in this matter.

        • Thales

          As I say in the other post, I was honestly trying to succinctly encapsulate and restate the Mourdock position — a position that I could see myself stating at some point in response to the abortion-rape question. You apparently think my restatement is not actually Mourdock’s position. That’s fine. But please tell me why because I have no idea why you think so. Better yet, forget my restatement, and consider Mourdock’s position as I’ve transcribed or linked to.

        • Kurt

          There is nothing honest about asking folks what is wrong with Mourdock’s statement followed by a statement in quote marks and then saying you were really just a paraphrase of what you think is a common position the two of you hold about rape. It is dishonest.

          And it is what is wrong with public dialogue today. It is uncivil and it insults the human dignity of the people you are dialoging with.

          You seem to have no realization about how inappropriate and dishonest your actions were. You start off with the Scarlett O’Hare style question of gee, I don’t understand what is inappropriate about Mourdock’s statement followed by a remark in quote marks that edits his actual statement. It is a text book example of what is wrong with political discussion today.

          And – which absolutely amazes me — your response is that I should not be offended because a little internet research would show that your statement was edited. Well, that is true, it didn’t take me long to find out that your quote of him was edited.

          It seems to me that you know damn well that his statement was offensive and that is why you posted a version that edited out portions and asked us to respond to a cleaned up version of his statement. I don’t know what more evidence is needed. You have answered your own question.

          • Julia Smucker

            Thales and Kurt, since the two of you are having the exact same argument on two different posts and are only talking past each other, might I suggest that this be laid to rest for the time being? Maybe we all just need more time to recover.

        • Thales


          You’re the moderator, so I defer to you.

          Though Kurt for some reason thinks otherwise, I honestly and truly see nothing offensive in Mourdock’s statement. I happen to share Mourdock’s position, which is a position held by the Catholic Church and many pro-lifers, and so I’ve been quite bothered by what I consider to be slander coming from so many who keep on saying that Mourdock’s statement was so offensive as to be beyond the pale. Kurt’s continued unwillingness to discuss this matter while insulting me and accusing me of bad faith is a text book example of what is wrong with public discussion today. I’ll let the record stand and let the reader decide who is being a troll.

          • Julia Smucker

            I wasn’t going to get involved in this, but I actually agree that if what Mourdock meant was simply that all life is a gift from God no matter the circumstances (and I have not thus far heard any convincing reason to believe he meant otherwise), then it was not so beyond the pale. He does seem to have failed to say it well, and perhaps today’s soundbite culture is partly to blame, but one must take care to be tactful when speaking on such a sensitive subject. Here is a better-expressed response to the same question.

            In any case, I don’t want to moderate this thing too harshly, but I do hope we can wind down this discussion sooner rather than later. It doesn’t look like anybody is going to convince anybody else of anything, so we’re probably just causing ourselves needless anxiety.

        • Thales

          Great comment. I agree with you.

    • Robert Klingle

      “I’ve been trying to get people to explain why Mourdock’s statement is so offensive as to be beyond the pale, but no one has been able to do so. Can anyone explain it to me here?”

      Mary Ann is a young girl. She does not have a boyfriend because she is too young. God intends for her to have a baby. So God sends Billy Bob to her. Now Billy Bob works her over pertty good and then rapes her. She gets in the family weard ay. This is waht God intended to happen. That is what I heard Mourdock say. God is a party to the rape.

      This is why I did not vote for Mourdock. He was doing ok until he brought God into it!

      • However we’re conceived, God loves every one of us into being. Every human life, no matter how it starts, is precious to God and has a place in His plan.

        Isn’t there a problem with not giving someone the benefit of the doubt? I assume the guy meant something like the above, just phrased it without tact. When did politics become about jumping on people for sloppy phrasing?

        • gadria

          Make no mistake the people did not respond to ‘sloppy phrasing’.
          The people actually perfectly well understood what he meant to express – and they simply disagreed – and yes find it rather offensive and conceptionally wrong.
          That is very much true for the majority of Catholics as well –
          to allow for exceptions for rape and incest is the base line for a huge majority of folks – no sugarcoating needed.
          You know the truth of the matter is – at least in the group of friends that my wife an I have – every single one would never personally consider an Abortion yet we tend to see plenty of reason to allow for Abortion under a number of circumstances. Yes personally we tend to family plan and yes we contracept consistently- point fingers if you must – but we witness friends who very much welcome the unexpected third child (lots of us seem to gravitate to the two child family size – a topic for another day)
          The majority of folks have simply experienced live plenty to understand that for every rule there has to be an exception.
          But I would readily admit the way we see the role of God in this is not the way official church defines it – God tends to be much more personalized and individualistic indeed.
          Not that I would know but I truly think that God looks very favorable on somebody like Obama – a man who obviously is rather ‘conservative’ and ‘solid ‘ in his family values but very likely ‘contraceptive’ in the overall family planning. And yes – like many of us our President can understand – and he supports- that on a larger societal level the current laws are rather reasonable and sensitive.

      • Thales

        You’re saying that Mourdock said that God intended the rape to happen. Which is clearly not what Mourdock said and is clearly not what Mourdock believes from the context of the statement. In my opinion, saying that Mourdock believes that God intended the rape to happen is a malicious and intentional distortion of Mourdock’s position.

        One other thought about the Mourdock debate:

        It seems to me that Robert, Kurt, et al., are being insulting and offensive (albeit unintentionally) to those persons who were conceived in rape. It is offensive to such people to suggest that their lives are not a gift from God and that their lives are not something that God intended to happen.

        • dominic1955

          It seems to me that the subject of “rape” or any derivative thereof cannot be brought up in some circles without the sanctimoniously smug wailing and rending of garments to its obviously self-evident trumping of anything else. Try having a reasonable discussion with someone who fervently believes that abortion is OK in the case of rape. Two wrongs make a right? The way conception comes about determines personhood? There goes reason, swept away in a deluge of emotivism. If you masochistically like to get an ear full, whoa buddy!

          Rape, horrible as it is, cannot justify a greater crime-i.e. abortion. God can bring good things out of bad. Jumping down this Murdock guy’s throat as if he’s some sort of untouchable source of pure and unadulterated evil and not just a guy who wasn’t as sharp with his distinctions as he should have been is sanctimonious as all get out.

  • Denny

    Julia, I completely disagree with Jana Bennett that libertarianism is “the new great ideological opponent of Christianity”. While it has its flaws, it is one voice in the political arena, and calls us back to a time when people and churches handled their own issues locally, without a reliance on the larger government to develop policies to solve them. It is no more an “ideological opponent of Christianity” than democrat or republican is. Christianity is not an “ideology” anyway, it is a pursuit of communion with the Father through his Holy Spirit poured out upon us through his Son. I am hesitant of anyone who pushes this out of the realms of the heart and soul and simply into the intellect as an ideology. If one’s heart is in this communion, than his libertarian, democrat, or republican leanings will be seen through the light of the Holy Spirit.

    • Julia Smucker

      While it has its flaws, it is one voice in the political arena, and calls us back to a time when people and churches handled their own issues locally, without a reliance on the larger government to develop policies to solve them.

      Fair enough, and I wholeheartedly agree that Christianity is not ideology but communion. But I don’t see Jana Bennett calling Christianity an ideology. I read her instead as suggesting that ideology as such cannot be Christian, and libertarianism is especially dangerous because of its appeal to the left and the right alike, both of which make an idol of individual autonomy, whether it comes down to, as David Cloutier puts it, “consensual sex or consensual markets,” regardless of any harm they might do.

      That said, I want to thank you for the refreshing level of thought and balance you are showing in your comments.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Julia, I respect that you find all the complexity of the election challenging vis-a-vis the Catholic Church. But you should have real sympathy for someone like the Thomas Peters. In a post election blog he (correctly) described those wins as “sweeping victories”. But then when he has called last minute to appear on the PBS Newshour, he came out with the notion that such the results of such “sweeping victories” are really somehow an “encouraging factor” for his sort of view. In addition, he complains that now “pro-gay marriage trolls” are following him around on the internet. And you think you’ve got problems!