Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Unbearable Irrelevance of Vox Nova

For those of you who may not read it, Vox Nova is a blog that promises to offer "Catholic Perspectives on Culture, Society and Politics." There are currently twelve regular contributors to the blog who come from diverse backgrounds and offer their thoughts and insights on the news of the day.

Such an enterprise would seem like a promising endeavor, especially given the mention of non-partisanship as a goal in the section about the blog. Christians ought not to be strict party partisans, but capable of calling both political parties to avoid evil and seek to do good in the polis as in all of society, as a guiding principle of civil responsibility.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks the blog has sunk more and more into the spirit of fierce partisanship, with several--though decidedly not all--of the bloggers turning their not inconsiderable talents away from the higher-minded purpose the blog aims for, and instead engaging in activities that can only be described as shilling for the Democratic candidates for president and vice president and bashing the Republican ones.

This, of course, seems odd to many of the rank-and-file Catholics who read the blog, however occasionally; the unpleasant partisanship aside, there remains the not quite convenient fact that this particular Democratic candidate is the single most extreme pro-abortion candidate who has ever run for this office. I understand the argument some Catholics make in regard to voting for pro-abortion candidates and pro-abortion parties; it can be roughly expressed as a syllogism:
  1. Catholics can't vote for abortion.
  2. Catholics can vote for candidates who support abortion despite, but never because of the candidate's support for abortion.
  3. Catholics can vote for pro-abortion candidates when no moral alternative exists.
  4. The Republican Party's support for war, torture, and the death penalty means that they are not a morally acceptable alternative to the Democratic Party.
  5. The Democratic Party's support for abortion is less harmful than the Republican Party's support for war, torture, and the death penalty.
  6. Therefore, it is right for Catholics who clearly oppose abortion to vote for the Democratic Party candidate for president despite his support for abortion.
Now, I don't really accept this syllogism myself. Provisions 1-3 are in line with Catholic teaching as far as I know (and as always I'll accept correction if I'm wrong) but I think things fall apart at 4 and 5. The only one of the three things mentioned that is as intrinsically evil as abortion is torture, and I think that it would be necessary to prove that John McCain's definitely supports torture, and that his support for torture was as well-defined, committed, and unequivocal as Barack Obama's support for abortion (and infanticide) before you could say that the two parties were in a state of moral equivalence. Further, given the immediate and direct harm of abortion I'm not sure you could say that Democratic support for abortion is less harmful than the Republican position on the other issues, though if it could be proved that McCain unequivocally supports torture you might be required to overlook the immediacy and directness of the harm of abortion in order to avoid proportionalism (and to be honest, that's one of the many areas in which I'm happy to accept correction).

But the level of support by some of the writers of Vox Nova for Barack Obama is troubling. I would think that if you were truly faced with two candidates who gave unequivocal support for intrinsic evil, you might in good conscience decide to vote for neither one; or, if you honestly believed that your civic duties as a Catholic in America in the twenty-first century required you to vote for one or the other of the two major party candidates, I would think that you would do so with reluctance, with apologies, and with the most lukewarm support possible. Further, I think you would go out of your way to avoid partisan attacks on the other party, since you are recognizing that both parties are actually supporting what is intrinsically evil and that it thus could not be said in any sense of the word that one party was morally superior to the other or that it would definitely be a good thing, from a Catholic moral perspective, for either candidate to be elected.

The Vox Nova bloggers have not taken this position; they have, instead, begun to attack the most pro-life candidate we've seen on the national stage in a considerable time, Governor Sarah Palin. Among the more absurd charges raised by the pseudonymous "Morning's Minion" (who used to post using his real name at Amy Welborn's old "Open Book" blog back in the day) and supported by some of the others is the idea that Palin is really an apostate Catholic, since she was baptized Catholic and then raised Protestant as a child when her parents left the Church; there have also been weird attempts to tie Palin to some things some pastor who visited her church one time said, and draw an equivalence here to Jeremiah Wright.

The incomparable Mark Shea takes them to task here, pointing out:

...Again, only a Pharisee could see in that something to condemn as "apostate". A charitable Catholic should celebrate it when Apollos worships and proclaims Christ, even when he has not been fully instructed in the Way.

Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos in and instructed him more fully. Morning's Minion prefers the more partisan route of declaring a 12 year old an apostate and then rashly reprinting whatever summary from a hostile witnes he can find in order to destroy Palin by any means necessary. That's called "being a full-orbed Catholic", doncha know.

I think MM senses that beating up a twelve year old for "apostasy" is a non-starter. That's why the Inquisition must continue until condemnation is achieved. Remember: the hatred precedes the reasons for it. So other firewood is hastily gathered. He can't follow Andrew Sullivan in simply denouncing her as an anti-semite for listening to somebody who evangelizes Jews. Even MM knows that Catholic Bibles contain Paul's remark that the gospel is "for the Jew first, and also for the Gentiles" and Jesus' comment that he was "sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". So while "evangelizing Jews" may play with the hyperventilators in Blue States, it doesn't work with people who actually know something about Catholic theology.
The truth of the matter is that an authentically Catholic perspective on politics is never very comfortable with knee-jerk partisanship. I may be pretty thrilled with Sarah Palin and what her selection means for the future, not of the Republican party, but of the kind of conservatism that welcomes Christian thoughts and actions especially on social issues; but I'm not going to turn into a cheerleader for the GOP on that account, and will still have to decide whether to vote for John McCain or not. The fact that I'm even considering it is all Gov. Palin's doing, but I'm still weighing the various areas where I find myself diverging from GOP ideas in general and McCain's positions in particular, and I'm far from having made a committed decision.

So I find it terribly off-putting that a blog written by Catholics would contain so many partisan Obama cheerleaders in spite of Barack Obama's committed, on-record support for abortion and infanticide. The Catholic faith is enduring; partisan politics become yesterday's news as soon as an election is over, and taking a too-strong position in support of someone who is comfortable with something that all Catholics should find morally abhorrent is the quickest path I know for an otherwise promising blog to dwindle into irrelevance.


entropy said...

Good post. Though, McCain's support of Embryonic Stem Cell Research is right up there with abortion. I still might vote for him because I think Barack is far worse.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

You can find many Catholics who will likely vote for McCain criticizing McCain's stance on ESCR, but I've never seen anything from Morning's Minion taking Obama or the Democrats to task for their extreme pro-abortion stance.

Those guys have no problem at all with abortion. As Archbishop Chaput said, if the Catholic Democrats disagreed with pro-abortion plank of the Democratic platform, it would gone tomorrow. But there is no credible effort underway to make the Democratic Party pro-life.

Anonymous said...

Preach it, sister!

Irenaeus said...

Amen. MM is the biggest jerk I've ever encountered. Anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Peter's (canon lawyer) summed up the Palin/catholic dilema.

It is amazing the conclusion some make.

Anonymous said...

When VN was founded a year or so much ago, a number of us, including me, were prepared to endorse Mike Huckabee. I think you're pretty familiar with my views on him from the CC blog.

I'm not sure what to think really. VN isn't America or Commonweal. Of course neither of those blogs are really discussed all that much. If people wanted to apply the label liberal, those would be the places to do it. That isn't to say that some of the contributors wouldn't warrant the label. I generally like Mark Shea, but I think we both recognize he wouldn't be considered a moderate in Church circles, not that there is anything wrong with that. Quite frankly much of the Catholic blogosphere is considered dissident in Church circles.

I'm afraid the charge that VN doesn't address abortion and condemn it is specious. A search will show it is addressed weekly if not daily. Since Sept 1, there have been 4 posts specifically addressing and if not directly then implicitly condemning either Obama and Biden's stance on abortion.

I wish you continued success in your writing ventues,

Anonymous said...

It would be hard not to characterize VN as a left leaning blog. Certainly no surprise that particular contributors such as MM are liberal.

I still don't see how one can vote for a candidate that wholeheartedly endorses an intrinsic evil, regardless of what the other candidate stands for. Isn't that the very definition of relativism that got us in this mess in the first place - "yeah, he sucks, but he doesn't suck as much as the other guy."

No one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to vote for either, as much as both parties want you to feel that way.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that the Church position on abortion is hinged directly on what is mentioned in the Bible--however, a couple of issues in the Old Testament where Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son on the altar, and the wisdom of Solomon suggesting that the infant claimed by two women, should be cut in two would suggest that there is room for literal interpretation of whatever anyone would care to come up with what is taken as Word.

If one would think that the purity of intention is NOT to interfere with God's creation, then there should be FIRM stance against those that indulge in a little Clomid or Serophene in the interest of pushing God's intention along a little? Justification for tampering with the 'will of God' on one hand really does not equal tinkering with it on the other.

On the other hand, if by
interpreting the matter of abortion as killing of a fetus at a stage more than say a formless blastoma, or teratoma at maybe 4 weeks, then there is splitting of hairs. But, then, there is also nowhere in the Bible that addresses a woman's choice of producing a baby procreated from incest or rape.

Therefore, from these thoughts one may randomly suggest that mandatory avoidance of any elimination of a fetus actually depends on the definition of when life as an infant begins, or when a child is a separate and self-sustaining being from its mother, etc. So, there is no basis for the reasoning why one should define abortion or termination of a fertilized egg as to mean the killing an infant, and that there is infanticide in this early reproductive process, in any more than the same light as 'metastatic cancer'. Mr. McCain's view that life as a human being begins at fertilization i.e. conception, is not altogether cut and dried biologically, as one attempts to sort out the effect of various chemicals and hormones that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb tissue versus those that cause resorption of eggs, or prevent flagellate transport of sperm. Mr. McCain's definition limits any woman's personal choice in timing of elimination of fertilized eggs in the matter--and, we all must have the option of choice.

In the traditional Chinese history (before the time of government- mandated family-size limitations), a child was considered a year old when it is born, but this is as arbitrary as a Jewish idea that an infant isn't decided until some ill-defined definition when there is a heartbeat.

On the other hand, when the form of child is clearly that of a child, when there is a chance that it would survive on its own with just a little assistance from the neonatal intensive care unit, when it is able to breathe on its own, sustaining life in its own little body, then there's really no basis for allowing its little cranial vault to be crushed in a manipulation procedure with forceps. I don't really think that Mr. Obama's political position can support late-term live 'abortion'.
How could any civilized being?

Furthermore, the foundation of a culture that allows a choice like this must be quite uncivilized--due to those forces that support an incestual culture, forces that prevent adequate and whole information to young women with the intent of eliminating an urgent need to make choices about abortion, and those forces that do not provide necessary support for dignity of women and their reproductive choices.

I mean, how many times have women sued men in court for rape, with the resultant sentence for automatic orchiectomies? Elimination of the right to make a choice is on par with elimination of the righ to say no to the idea of automatic sterilizations. Why isn't there widespread support for sterilizations an option for women? Why do the mothers (or fathers) of Catholic girls have the option to not tell their daughters about the responsibility of procreation, sex, orgasms, and that if they indulge in sex in whatever form that results in a child birthed in this world, that they must dedicate themselves to caring for it until it is mature and able to care for itself on its own, at age 11-12 years at menarche?

A difference of opinion is GOOD. The sanctity of caring and providing a good quality of life for those that are living does not diminish the responsibility and rights of individual choices. One might argue that allowing abortion (killing viable pre-term infants) predisposes the Nazi state, allows the criminalization of lives in a totalitarian regime, etc., but the freedom to choose is a superceding factor that the chance that a civilized society would support such cruelty would occur.

(And, no, I'm not nux vomica nor nova rheumatica or whatever term certain members of the american society choose to describe my free-thinking!)

eulogos said...

The above post contains mistakes, falsehoods, bald assertions, and misguided values.

Starting with the mistakes, teratoma is not a stage of human development, but is actually a disorganized mass of cells. Something I didn't know until I Googled it, but a teratoma is not a "conceptus" as was once thought-it does not arise from an egg and a sperm, but is a germ cell tumor, without paternal contribution. A blastoma is a tumor of embryonic tissue, usually of embryonic tissue left in an adult, and is also not a stage of human development. I suppose you mean "blastula." This is the 128 cell stage of human development, achieved FOUR DAYS after conception. By four weeks the human embryo has a head and limb buds. In any case, a specific human being is genetically determined from the moment of conception. There is no other place where one can really draw a line. You seem to be saying that life can't begin at conception because that would make it wrong to use an IUD or take birth control pills. You are right, it does make it wrong -these are abortifacients; the IUD always and the pill at least some of the time, more so with the low doses used these days. You really can't go from the conclusion you wish to make,that these methods are legitimate,to conclude that these methods do not kill a human being. You can't derive the facts from your wished-for conclusion! You assert that "we all must have the option of choice." One can choose to do wrong, but it will remain wrong. Your wishes will not alter the truth.

RE medications which stimulate ovulation: We are allowed to use medicine to remedy defects of nature. For a woman of child- bearing age not to ovulate is a defect of nature. Therefore Clomid etc are not wrong. However if you use it and conceive four babies, you have to attempt to carry four to term.

Then you go on to point out rightly how awful late term abortions are. Obama has voted against every law which was proposed to forbit or limit such abortions. He even voted against a law that if a baby is born alive after an abortion, it would have to be taken care of instead of allowed to die.

Where did this business about rape and orchiectomies come from? Are you saying that forbidding a woman to have the child in her womb killed, is like cutting off a man's balls? ?????? I am not sure there is a direct analogy to orchiectomy for women, since ovaries do not carry the identity issues for women that testes do for men, but the closest analogy would certainly be forced sterilization. The closest analogy for men to a woman's being "forced" to carry a pregnancy to term, is forcing him to support the child for the next 18 or 21 years. Oh, wait, we already do that.

Then you segue into why isn't sterilization encouraged for women. Well, because we believe it is mutilation of the body, the destruction of one of the body's faculties, like putting out your eyes. When done with contraceptive intent, to render the marital act sterile, it is wrong for that reason.

Catholic parents should teach their children about marriage, sex, and children, at the age they judge appropriate for them. I think you will find that most do. Women, even young ones, seldom become pregnant because they don't know that a pregnancy can result from sex. Parents should also be protecting girls as young as those you are talking about from having to make sexual choices or being exposed to sexual pressure. I am told this is difficult in some settings, a reason for those who have any other option not to put their children in such settings.

Women do have the choice not to engage in sexual intercourse. And they certainly should be taught that! However, no one can justly make a choice to kill an innocent human being at any stage of development. Our freedom to do what we want in life right now, cannot be so important that we have to kill to achieve it!

Susan Peterson