Thursday, February 9, 2012

Some of These Things Are Not Like the Others

I will confess that the primary reason I would not like to see Nancy Pelosi excommunicated, despite her "obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin," is that I fear some whack bishop will immediately take the opportunity, using some variation of the seamless garment argument, to excommunicate Rick Santorum (war), Marco Rubio (married a non Catholic), and Paul Ryan (there must be something).
No matter how many times Church teaching on Church teaching is explained, some people cannot seem to get it through their heads that one of these things is not like the others.

The Church's social teachings ... important.  War, the death penalty ... serious stuff.  Murdering babies ... Well, as I said: One of these things is not like the others.

The teachings of the Church on certain matters are amenable to interpretation.  For example, Catholics have an absolute duty to care for their neighbor.  Whether this is best done through personal intervention, private charities, local governments, state governments, or the federal government, or some combination thereof, is a policy decision, not a moral decision.  (Although it should be noted, contra the pro big government party, that the Church's social encyclicals have endorsed the concept of subsidiarity, i.e., have expressed a preference for local assistance when that is feasible.)  Again, Catholics have a grave duty to avoid war and the use of the death penalty whenever possible.  The exact parameters of "whenever possible" are ... left inexact, and intentionally so, by Church authorities who realize, even while they make strong personal judgments about political situations, that these are in the end strong personal judgments, and not dogmatic assertions.  Popes, bishops, and priests advise us concerning the conduct of wars, the use of the death penalty, and compassion for the poor.  The Church commands us concerning abortion and related issues.

I might add that this has been the case consistently throughout the Church's history.  Particular, individual Church officials have in the past been relaxed about war (the Crusades), torture (the Inquisition), and the poor (serfdom).  The Church as a whole has never endorsed evil, and has in fact been at the forefront of eradicating violence and injustice.  But never, never, from Her earliest days of persecution under the Romans, has the Church been relaxed about abortion, birth control, per-marital sex, divorce, euthanasia, or homosexual relations.  These things have always been condemned.  This fact alone says something about their importance relative to other moral issues.

Simply from a philosophical standpoint, it should be clear why these "bedroom issues" (as they are sometimes derisively called) are important.  They are important because, like it or not, they affect the structure of the family.  What you permit or do not permit between two consenting adults profoundly affects their children: makes them more healthy or more weak (or dead), makes them happier or less happy, makes them more or less likely to strive, to succeed, to be merciful, to be good parents in their turn.  As your children go, so goes your world.  Poverty and war strike at the family from the outside.  The "bedroom issues" strike at the family from within: they change the very meaning of the word "family."  You can approve or disapprove of the change in meaning, but you cannot insist that it is a trivial change, or deny that it is a change at all.

These things seem obvious to me, but they are not unfortunately so obvious to America as a whole—not even, it appears, to all the American Catholic bishops, who until a few weeks ago seemed to prefer discussions of immigration and welfare to discussions of gay marriage and contraception.  Perhaps in their heart of hearts, many of them didn't really believe that people could go too far wrong on the graver issues.  Their sin was the sin not of the traitor or the coward, but the sin of the optimist.  Don't make too much of a fuss about "social values"—normal people won't be confused about them—the advocates for insanity will lose steam and drift away.

We all should know better now.  We do know better.  Well ... most of us, anyway ...

First of all, I am going to stick with my fellow Catholics in supporting the Administration on [the HHS mandate]. I think it was a very courageous decision that they made, and I support it.”

On second thoughts, I'm still opposed to Ms. Pelosi's excommunication.  After all, the indictment of "obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin" assumes that the one indicted is compos mentis.

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