On the Death and Resurrection of HollywoodOctober 19, 2017
Why Catholicism? Because It Offers True ForgivenessOctober 19, 2017
By John Zmirak, a Senior Editor of The Stream, Oct. 19, 2017
My Monday piece explained how Pope Francis has denounced capital punishment as always unjust. He cited as his authority … public opinion.
That kind of reasoning, I argued, is how you get empty, Mainline Protestant or Jesuit churches. It’s also how the Supreme Court got from the Bill of Rights to abortion and gay marriage. If ancient precedents and clear principles get thrown into the wood-chipper of “respectable” people’s sentiments, we are prisoners of the present and of the culture. All that, and not capital punishment, was really the point of the piece. But ….
I’m Pro-Life and Pro-Death, and You Should Be Too
Obviously, we need to talk about the death penalty, and how it fits into a pro-life politics. Does it?
A reader comment on my article raised the question as follows:
You can’t be “pro-life” in some instances if you want pro-life to mean what it says it does. You can’t be against abortion and for the death penalty.
You’d only be the ‘sometimes pro-life’ group then.
Is this true? Let’s test it out. How? By applying the same logic to the opposite position. Do pro-choicers favor choice in every circumstance? Should we weave a Seamless Negligee for pro-choicers, which includes
A landlord’s choice not to rent to people of a race he doesn’t like.
A worker’s choice to work at less than the legal minimum wage.
A healthy person’s choice to sell a kidney or a lung on the open market.
A woman’s choice to sell her services as a prostitute.
A consumer’s choice not to purchase health insurance.
A religious order’s choice not to fund abortion pills for its employees.
The list could go on and on. There are countless situations where liberals flout the principle of “choice” for what they consider the common good. Does anyone (outside of libertarian message boards) accuse them of being “inconsistently pro-choice”?
First of All, Vote for No Conservatives
No, of course not. The only place where people try to knit a “Seamless Garment” is among pro-lifers. Sometimes that’s out of dunderheaded earnestness. More often it’s just a cloud of ink shot out by a squid, trying to obscure the issues so that Catholics remember that they’re Irish first and above all vote for Democrats.
The phrases “pro-life” and “pro-choice” only mean anything in reference to the abortion debate. They describe which of two values in a given situation we choose as prior, where they’re in conflict. Nobody outside purist libertarian circles tries to apply “choice” in an absolute sense. That would make nonsense of the pro-choice position, would actually falsify it. “Pro-choicers” don’t favor absolute choice in every situation, and everybody knows that. Nobody criticizes them for it.
A Double Standard for Pro-Lifers
Why subject pro-lifers to a ludicrous double standard? Unless you’re trying to keep abortion legal, by turning the pro-life position into a crazy utopian program that every sane person should oppose. That’s the Seamless Garment, as waved around by the likes of Cardinal Blaise Cupich, and sadly, Pope Francis. It pretends that on every possible topic, from gun rights to immigration, there is a “pro-life” position, and that it invariably entails all of the following:
More power for the government (i.e., grabbing guns).
More seizure of wealth to be redistributed by politicians (raising taxes, lavishing money on welfare programs).
Acting in what seems like the short-term interests of some people, without concern for long-term consequences (admitting millions of low-skill, left-wing, or sharia-loving immigrants).
Enforcing “mercy” for some at the expense of justice for others (refusing to execute murderers).
Many on the Christian left pretend that you can’t be against killing unborn babies for our sexual convenience unless you favor open borders, gun confiscation, an end to capital punishment, single-payer health insurance and massive welfare programs. Oddly, in most of the countries that have all those other programs (see Western Europe), abortion is legal. In most, the pro-life movement barely exists.
Should we weave a Seamless Negligee for pro-choicers?
The Emperor’s Seamless New Clothes
Nobody on earth seems to believe in the Seamless Garment. Name one major country where it prevails. Name one American state where the policies are even moving in its direction.
That isn’t because the Seamless Garment is high-minded, principled and pure, but because it’s incoherent, utopian nonsense. The left knows that. Find me one U.S. Senator or presidential candidate who has come around to oppose abortion because it follows from his rejection of capital punishment.
Let’s Get Really Seamless
Oddly, the Seamless Garment isn’t even extreme enough. It’s inconsistent, too. Let’s really apply the principle that in every single public policy question, a short-sighted concern for life over choice must prevail. We’d have to adopt a bunch of other positions that Cardinal Cupich, Pope Francis, Tim Kaine and their tribe never get around to. We’d have to:
Cut speed limits to 40 mph. That would reduce traffic deaths.
Outlaw smoking, period. That would save thousands of lives.
Strictly limit the number of calories every citizen may consume. Obesity kills.
Require daily aerobic exercise of every able-bodied American. Ditto.
If you’ll say that we can’t oppose murdering babies for convenience unless we’re consistent, then you have to do all that too. The end-result, of course, is totalitarianism. That’s why nobody is really “consistently pro-life” in this foolish sense, or should be.
Pro-choice people think that in the case of abortion, a woman’s choice should trump the life of the baby. Pro-lifers think that the baby’s life should prevail. That’s how the terms came into being, and that’s the real argument. Let’s stop cheapening words like “pro-life” by dragging them into absurdity. Unless we’re just trying to keep abortion legal, in which case by all means, carry on.
John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.
He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.
He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and Collegeguide.org, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.