The Abortion Question: Vice Presidential Responses Fall Short

by Craig Bernthal

Private Papers

Martha Raddatz: “This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

A fair question by Raddatz, completely muffed by Biden and partially muffed by Ryan. Biden styles himself as a dedicated Catholic who thinks his religion should play no role in his public position on abortion whatsoever: “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.” Abortion on demand is OK with Biden and certainly supported by the Democratic Party and its line-up of convention speakers.

Ryan’s answer was unfortunately very short because he deferred too much to Raddatz: “The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.” The position is better than Biden’s, but it doesn’t quite answer Raddatz’s question: “. . . tell me what role religion has played in your own personal views. . .”

This would have been a wonderful opportunity to explain to the world exactly why the Catholic Church holds its pro-life position and why this goes to the essence of the human relationship — one’s personal relationship — with God. And this could have been explained very simply, in one paragraph, as follows:

The Catholic Church has a view of the human self which is radically different from that of ‘liberalism’ in the broad sense of the word. The Church holds that people to the core of their beings are creatures, i. e., created by God, oriented toward God, for the purpose of receiving God’s love and returning it in loving obedience. The Catholic belief is that this is the deep pattern of what it is to be human, and that is why human dignity, at all stages of life, is so important to the Church. This understanding goes back to the beginning of Christianity and is reflected in Augustine’s famous insight in Confessions, ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Human beings are created to be actively in search of God, whether they realize it or not, and they are happiest when they are acting in obedience, in response to God’s love, as they were created to do. St. Basil said it succinctly: “The love of God is not based on some discipline imposed on us from outside, but as a capacity and indeed a necessity it is a constitutive element of our rational being.” An attack on human life is, at its most basic, an attack on the deep reason for human life, relationship with God.

Well, I don’t expect a vice-presidential candidate to quote St. Augustine or St. Basil, but something on that order, with a finisher by Ryan that this is what he believed, would have made me get off the couch and cheer.

This human being, patterned for loving relationship with God is in relationship with God from conception to death — and of course, thereafter. All of Catholic social teaching and charity grows out of this single premise. It is profoundly wrong for human beings to interfere with that relationship at their convenience or to degrade it by holding other human beings in contempt.

Now, if you dismiss the Catholic position as a spiritual fairy tale — then there is no reason not to kill inconvenient people, whether it’s an inconvenient human in the mother’s womb three months after conception, or an inconvenient human three months after birth, or a senior citizen who has become a drag on Obamacare. But if you do believe that human beings are in relationship with God ab ovo, then you cannot kill them: it would be a rejection of the human being, God, and their relationship.

The liberal self came into being in the thinking of Locke, Hume, Kant, and Mill, who together developed a lynchpin of classic liberalism: that people are free agents, morally and personally autonomous, who create themselves and their societies, but have no internal destiny.  God had not made the Lockean human being for relationship with himself and maybe not even for relationship with others. These assumptions, in many ways, carried forward into the social sciences, where we get creatures like “economic man” as either a determined chooser between goods or a rational one, but certainly not as a God-patterned one. The overall social assumption today is certainly the liberal one: however I got here, I now create myself (Satan’s delusion in Paradise Lost, by the way) and my freedom to do so is unquestionable. Sandra Day O’Connor in Planned Parenthood v. Casey voiced the beliefs of the liberal self more eloquently and succinctly than anyone: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

From the Catholic perspective, the idea that human beings can actually define the meaning of their own lives is an enormous metaphysical delusion, and it is a delusion that promotes just the kind of culture defended by O’Connor inPlanned Parenthood v. Casey — a culture of death. A person who truly holds the Catholic understanding of what human beings are cannot support abortion or vote for candidates who do. Although there are exceptions for self-defense and the defense of others, we cannot violently end the life of a human being, made by God for relationship with God, in relationship with God, at any point.

Now, explaining all of this, even in brief, might not have been a selling point for Paul Ryan, but there it is.

©2012 Craig Bernthal

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