Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Catholic morality in my view has been bedeviled by a static world view. It's very much a check box affair, i.e., do we have a moral object? do have circumstances? do we have intent? what has the Church said? There is objective intrinsic evil, etc, etc. To be fair, I think it primarily has to do with the sacrament of confession: people need to know that they have sinned, if they have sinned, when and how and confess everything, including frequency.

The problem with this is that it assumes that there is an objective checklist of good and one for evil; and that each action or at least, certain actions, can be cataloged as either good or evil and the point is to have a good checklist all the time. This is reflective of an even larger problem, which is that Catholic morality is divorced from a more comprehensive view of the reality, so it doesn't operate in view of progression of the world and humankind (human progression moves us towards the Kingdom of God, but it is a messy journey a la Hegel's thesis/antithesis/synthesis movement). Regarding my initial statement in this paragraph, that is not to say there isn't real good or real evil, but only that for human beings good and evil are not presented to us in such stark terms. We see evil in wars, in death, in enmity, etc, we see good in love, in friends, spouse, actions, etc. For humans good and evil are never unmediated and thus never an absolute expression of good or evil in our existence (let's leave out XT and BVM for now).

Good and evil and morality must be firmly ensconced in the framework of Augustine's famous prayer, you have made us for yourself and we are restless until we rest in you." So we come from God and return to God. (I know that theologians, Aquinas, Rahner, etc, have always contextualized moral theology in this way, but the issue is the lived conceptions of the pure moral theologians, the hierarchy, and the faithful).

The journey to the Kingdom of God, in the liberal and pressumably unorthodox, model is that we humans are going to have to transform our world into the Kingdom of God. We are not waiting for KofG to crash in on our world at some point in the future. So if we want peace, justice, etc, we need to roll up our sleeves otherwise, it is not going to happen. To further complicate the issue, there is no room to remain static. If you are not going forwarded, you are falling back; if you are not building, you are crumbling. So the journey to the Kingdom of God is an essential mission in human existence and history. (Marx recognized this and felt that religion was a negative force in this regard).

Morality then falls in this context. There is always the overarching goal of the march towards the Kingdom of God. Also such a view of human progress requires that the historical context of an action can never be divorced from that action because history is essential in understanding the truth of any action. For instance it does no good to proclaim slavery is wrong, rather, we know that there was something especially pernicious about the Trans Atlantic slavery (and presumable, that is the model we tend to have in our minds when we speak of slavery). But even though we all agree that slavery is wrong everywhere and everytime, a generalized statement doesn't capture the qualitative difference that only history can capture between slavery in another era and place in which slaves had a much better life and hope of manumission by the age of 30 and the trans-atlantic experience. Thus these generalized, abstract propositions indicate truth but do not capture it.

Another example could come from a more recent proclamation by Abp Burke who sees same sex marriage as a moral priority over war, why? Because same sex marriage is "intrinsically evil" but war is not "intrinsically evil." Again, we have battling concepts that do not speak to reality. The question rather is, John and Steve's marriage or union in Massachussets a moral priority over President Bush's war in Iraq?

Further still, there is the messiness of human history. For instance, we wage a bloody war to save Europe from nazism. There is no way to rationalize the devastation and horror of the war, even if its goal is good and noble, war is hell and evil. Be we accept the blood on our hands because we see a pathway in this darkness to the light of human progress; the option of inaction is still blood on our hands, but no human progress. And so a moral reckoning will acknowledge the evil in what we do but understand that there are seeds of light in this darkness.

The abortion issue in the US is another example of this messiness. Anti-abortion proponents criticize legalize abortion in the starkest of terms and want it criminalized. The mindset seems to be that at point x in time, a group of sinister men and women gathered together and conspired to make abortion legal. Their true aim and that of all those who support abortion rights? To gather on Friday nights, light a bonfire, and sacrifice unborn children to the lord of darkness. The view of abortion rights in operation is one that sees legalized abortion as the desire and intent to kill babies. Here we see the problem in the static view of morality. It has taken an historical development and ripped it from its context and changed its intent.

The truth was that there were thousands of abortions pre-Roe and thousands of mothers died from these "back alley" abortions. Abortion has always and is always a part of any current society and criminalization of the proceedure does nothing to stop it. At some point, after too many women and their unborn children had died, people said "enough is enough!" The turning point were the famous pictures of the lady who died in a motel room of a botched abortion. The pre-Roe days were dark days. Many pregnant women would get their Friday paychecks and then head out to get their abortions. Things, predictably, would go wrong, bleeding starts on Saturday, and on Sunday evening, after a day of bleeding, they would trickle into the hospitals for treatment, many infected and many near death.

The point then of legalized abortions was to stop these women from these harmful proceedures that killed them and their babies. The point of the law was women's dignity and to save lives, not to kill them. Did it work? Yes, deaths from abortions decreased dramatically. But it still left us with a problem, the death of the unborns. The darkness of women's indignity and deaths had lifted, but we are aflicted with that of the death of the unborn.

In the context of human progress, multiple-pronged problems are not solved in one fell swoop, there has to be a vision for moving towards the Kingdom of God. You solve a problem with a sense that it gives you a step to solving the next problem. Legalizing abortion, stopped the death and/or irreperable harm being caused to thousands of women. Now, the question is how to stop the abortions.

Because we are so far from the historical context of Roe vWade, we forget that it has a noble intent and focus on it in an abstract static view. If we overturn Roe, then women and unborns die. If we keep Roe legal, women live, but the unborns die. However, keeping abortion legal, gives us a floor to move to the next step, which is keeping unborns from dying.

There is still the issue of one's acceptibility in God's eyes: is it acceptable in the eyes of God to tolerate the killing of children for the sake of saving women's lives? But even here, the question betrays its limitations, we are still playing a lateral zero-sum game with life: babies or their mothers--pick one to die. However, a progressive view solves this problem. For instance, if we ask, can you save the babies without saving their mothers? The answer is no. In fact, it is clear that the only way to protect the unborn is through their mothers. Now it is no longer a zero-sum game, it is no longer baby or mother, choose one; it is now save the mother, because that is the step to saving the babies. So yes, there is the messiness and the blood on our hands, but there is the understanding that there are seeds of light in this darkness.

To move then to towards the Kingdom of God, we need to "solve" the problem of abortion. The anti-abortion crowd is not interested in solving the problem, their goal is two-fold, to make society recognize abortion as sinful and then to criminalize abortions. These goals tend to be consistent with the conservative worldview.

A look at the criminal justice system is reflective of the difference between solving and punishing. When we put criminals in jail, they are there to be punished, simple. Such actions are justified in any society, but this is a different issue that solving the problem of young men embracing such lifestyles. The criminal justice system punishes these young men for their actions, but it does not and cannot solve the problem. To solve the problem of crime, one needs to find out why people are committing crimes. (A quick note, if you incarcerated every single criminal in the world right now, you would not eliminate crime because another group of people who rise and replace them).

To solve the problem of crime, you have took look into factors that trigger such behaviour, is it mental illness that could have been addressed by treatment, is it socio-economic factors? etc There is always a percentage of criminals who would not have been helped by intervention, but there are thousands who would have; meaning that there would be thousands less victims. So we see solving and punitive measures are two different things.

In the abortion issue, punitive measures will not solve the problem. Throwing mothers in jail and as well as doctors does nothing to solve the problem, one still has to ask why are these women doing something that is unnatural to them. Whatever the reasons for abortions and the respective solutions, it is clear that keeping abortion legal and understanding the ordinance in its historical context, with an eye towards the march forward, is a good thing to do.

In closing, Jesus offers the following parable in Lk 18:9-14 (read "tax collector"= "pro-choice supporters" and "Pharisee"="pro-lifers")

9 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
10 "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

In a dynamic view of morality, there are times that the path forward is messy and we incur sin. In that case we know that we are the "tax collectors" standing in God's presence with no pretensions to righteousness. But we also know that God sees the heart and understands the conscience of everyone.


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