"Catholics need to stop voting for pro-abortion politicians," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told an international gathering of the Knights of Columbus in Toronto, Canada, Aug 2, 2016.
|Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. Photo credit: Knights of Columbus|
I am a pro-life Catholic who believes in the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and an active member and office bearer of the Knights of Columbus local council, so why do I find this statement by the Supreme Knight extremely concerning?
The reasons are many and complex.
Firstly, at its most elemental, it simplistically divides politicians (and, by extension, people in general) into two groups, anti-abortion and pro-abortion, representing good and evil, clean and dirty, right and wrong, life and death, righteous and damned (if they don't repent.) If only life were that simple - black or white with no shades of grey…
With that simple statement to stop voting for pro-abortion politicians, Brother Carl Anderson has reduced the decision making process around the presidential elections facing Americans today to an obvious, no-brainer choice that is really no choice at all. Hillary Clinton is pro-abortion, Donald Trump is no longer so - well, except with "caveats" such as rape and incest and other "it depends's". (See the piece in Charisma News.) Therefore American Catholics must vote for Donald Trump! Say, what?
This is the world of single-issue voting where you identify one issue that outweighs all the other issues combined. “What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? Abortion is different. Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale,” says Brother Anderson. The argument is perfectly logical - but only up to a point:
Moral issues outweigh political issues.
Killing innocent children is a moral issue.
Therefore killing innocent children outweighs political issues.
From which the argument continues:
But abortion is killing innocent children on a massive scale.
Therefore the issue of abortion outweighs all political issues.
However, after this there is a leap to the next conclusion:
Therefore Catholics need to stop voting for politicians who are pro-abortion.
Why is this a leap of logic? … because the premise presumes that all other issues are purely political, non-moral issues - which is false.
There are many other moral issues than "killing innocent children in the womb". For instance, how about tolerating that, after being born, children are growing up malnourished (with the accompanying brain under-development that this causes) or even starving to death, or being exposed to perilous sea-crossings and long overland treks on foot, or months and years of sub-human living in refugee camps? Not just children, of course, but their parents and other adults as well. How about knowingly leaving impoverished communities to drink mercury-laden water, or water polluted with arsenic or other toxic substances from gold mining? How about continuing to export asbestos to third-world countries that do not yet have regulations in place to prevent exposure to asbestos and the resultant harm to health and life this causes?
Ah, the objection goes, but abortion is "on a massive scale", involving "millions of children". Far be it from me to try and defend abortion, but to try and make abortion the only single moral issue based on numbers is indefensible. How do you stack up and compare x million abortions against human suffering that cannot be measured, the human suffering that is being endured daily and has been endured for decades by the millions of environmental, economic and conflict-driven refugees that Pope Francis talks about in his encyclical, Laudato Si, for instance? What if your (somewhat) anti-abortion political candidate wants to ban refugees from immigrating and to build walls to address the 'security problems' caused by refugees, and shows little or no compassion for children who are homeless and hungry, dressed in dirty clothes and lacking the essentials of healthcare?
|Photo credit: Macleans.ca|
Whenever I read the account of the sheep being separated from the goats in chapter 25 of the gospel of Matthew I am struck not only by what is listed in the "citation" but also by what is missing: the Ten Commandments are completely missing. The goats are not condemned for lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, fornication, buggery - or even murder - but for a lack of compassion! It's all about sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, assisting the sick and imprisoned. Read Matthew 25 and see for yourself.
Culture of Death
The other leap of logic is with the phrase, "culture of death." It is presumed as axiomatic that pro-lifers support a "culture of life" and pro-choicers a "culture or death." I am pro-life - in small letters. A couple of years ago I made a conscious decision to stop identifying with the "Pro-Life" movement (capital 'P', capital 'L') because of its exclusive fixation on life before birth. I see it as even worse with some fundamentalist evangelical Christian churches than with Catholic Pro-Lifers. The perception is that they will proudly and loudly, and extravagantly, go to the ends of the earth to elect politicians who will enact laws to prevent a child being aborted, but once the child is born they have no further interest in the child's welfare in terms of nutrition, health, home circumstances or education, or even whether the mother will be executed for 'immorality' - usually by stoning. It is perceived by its critics as a single issue movement that calls itself religious and Pro-Life but is mainly anti-abortion and loudly political.
Then there is the pejorative phrase, 'culture of death' that is juxtaposed (self-righteously?) against 'culture of life'. A number of my close friends and family who believe in a woman's right to choose to have an abortion are warm, caring and nurturing people. I would unhesitatingly call them 'good' people even though I do not share their views on abortion. If I have to compare, I would call them a lot more caring and compassionate than some Pro-Lifers I know or have read about, or seen on the news screaming "Murderers" at Pro-Choice activists. My point is that Pro-Lifers and pro-lifers do not have the monopoly corner on a culture of life. To suggest that a United Church minister of my acquaintance is spreading a 'culture of death' because he believes in situation ethics and is supportive of members of his congregation who have felt the need to have an abortion creates and perpetuates the kind of division between Christians that is actually contrary to a culture of life. Or to suggest that an agnostic doctor of my acquaintance lacks a moral compass and promotes a culture of death - a woman who is a loving mother, dedicated to saving lives and improving the health of her patients, but who is quite prepared to refer a pregnant patient for an abortion where she deems appropriate - would be blinkered, pietistic moralism devoid of any constructive, life-giving energy.
In the 2015 Canadian federal election I was very pleased to see that the Canadian bishops did not propose simplistic, single-issue voting to the Catholic faithful. On the contrary, they published a very helpful guide covering a multiplicity of issues - none of which were purely political. Actually, they published as many as 3 guides - all of which can be found at the above link:
Link to the Guide of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB)
Link to the Guide of Development and Peace
Link to the Guide of The Canadian Council of Churches
May I propose that, in choosing a president, American Catholics follow guides such as those recommended by the Canadian bishops rather that the simplistic exhortation of the Supreme Knight who seems to imply that the only Catholic belief of political relevance is to be Pro-Life.