A Life and Death Document from Britain

Bishops’ Text Takes On Bioethical and Family Issues

LONDON, JUNE 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic bishops of England and Wales recently published a lengthy document on bioethical and family issues, called “Cherishing Life.” At the May 26 press conference that launched the document, Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth, one of the text’s writers, said: “The multiplicity of issues underlines the complexity of living in our present world.”

He noted: “The clear articulation of principles and values seeks to show the importance of a principled approach to moral questions.”

In its foreword, the document says that living in a society that enables us to flourish “require(s) the building of an ethos of life that protects persons from womb to tomb, especially the most vulnerable.” Yet, the document perceives “signs of a culture of death,” in such factors as abortion, pressure for euthanasia, diminishing respect for the elderly and a lack of protection for marriage and the family.

Rise of relativism

After a brief section explaining the context of modern society, the document lays out the factors that should guide moral decisions. Human beings, explains the document, “have a unique kind of life with the possibility of understanding themselves and living responsibly.” This life is endowed with “an inherent dignity shared by all human beings,” which in turn forms the basis for an objective moral order and universal human rights.

The bishops observe that a number of attempts have been made to codify human rights, among others by the United Nations and the European Union. But the concept of rights used in these declarations should be examined carefully, the prelates warn: “Personal autonomy is not the only human good, and an adequate theory of rights will place the need for individual freedoms in the context of the common good.”

“Cherishing Life” also warns against false modes of reasoning in determining moral choices. Basing decisions on utilitarian grounds of maximizing the happiness of the greatest number of people not only ignores that there are some acts morally wrong in themselves, but can easily lead to discrimination against minorities.

Equally wrong is the tendency to base a moral decision on personal feelings, or to maintain that it is a purely private matter, as in “‘I feel this is wrong, but I can’t impose my moral views on others.'” Not only is such reasoning often applied inconsistently, but also “moral relativism is harmful if it leads people to remain silent in the face of injustice,” warns the document.

For its part the Church offers guidance on moral matters based not only on rational argument, but also on Scripture and Christian tradition. From the mystery of the Trinity the Church draws its truth for personal relationships: “Treating people morally and respectfully involves recognizing them as persons.” And to the question of who is to be recognized as a person the English and Welsh bishops refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan, arguing that the concept of neighbor should “be used in a wide and inclusive sense.”

After explaining the part each person’s character and conscience play in making moral decisions the document goes on to deal with the Church’s role in teaching morality. “Cherishing Life” acknowledges that some Catholics have difficulty in accepting certain teachings. “Yet Catholics have a right to receive the fullness of the Church’s teaching and they have a corresponding duty to adhere to that teaching,” the document says. At the same time the Church is called upon to help those “who struggle in the moral life, offering compassion and understanding to those who fail to discern and to live out God’s loving will.”

The document here specifically refers to conflicts that can arise on the issue of the right to life of the unborn. The Christian position on this can even be at odds with the law, and individuals may suffer discrimination because of their faithfulness to moral principles: “Here the Christian bears witness to the dignity of human life, to the inviolability of the moral order, and to the holiness of God’s law.”

The end?

“Cherishing Life” then deals with a variety of subjects.

— When does life begin? “Each embryo is a living being,” and even though the distinctive human qualities may not appear until later, “we should not judge things only by how they appear at one particular time; we must also consider what they have in them to become.” This teaching has a long history, notes the document. In fact, from the first century Christians held that the life in the womb was sacred and inviolable.

— When does life end? Traditionally, Christians held death to occur when body and soul are separated. Modern medicine has made the diagnosis of death more difficult, but the document refers to what John Paul II said in August 2000, when he referred to “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity.” Further thought needs to be given on this issue, and the bishops warn against a definition offered by the British government. “Death must not be redefined so that it includes patients who are alive but who are judged to be ‘as good as dead.'”

— Sexuality. The bishops explain that the human body is seen as part of the goodness of creation. The body then has value and significance and sexual activity “needs to be expressed and integrated in a fully human way.” This is done when sexual intercourse takes place within the context of “genuine, exclusive and committed love.” To help guide their sexual desires, Christians, both single and married, are called upon to develop the virtue of chastity.

— Homosexuality. The Church rejects unjust discrimination, violence or abuse against homosexuals. However, the document also clearly distinguishes between a homosexual orientation and the sexual expression of such an orientation. Sexual activity is licit only in the context of a marital relationship between a man and a woman. The bishops also reject the attempt to extend the concept of marriage to include homosexual unions.

— Married life. “Married life has great value and importance as a special form of personal relationship.” The Church also teaches that marriage is a gift from God and a vocation in which the couple is joined together by God. The Church holds, following Jesus, that marriage is indissoluble. The document calls for greater support for marriage and family life, and for better preparation of couples before marriage.

— Infertility. The bishops observe that many couples have been able to have children through techniques such as in vitro fertilization. However these methods have a “darker side.” The drawbacks include discarding human embryos considered as unfit, treating children as a commodity, and undermining the sense of biological parenthood through sperm donation or surrogate mothers.

— Acting justly. “Cherishing Life” also has a section on matters related to justice. This is not just a question of recognizing the equal dignity of all human beings, explains the document, “but also of seeing in them what God is calling them to be, as fellow heirs of the kingdom of heaven.” This section touches on issues such as the allocation of health-care resources, scientific research, abortion, genetic research and questions regarding war and peace.

Each of us, notes the document toward the end, “has a common responsibility to help build a culture that upholds the worth of every human life, especially that of the most vulnerable.”


12 thoughts on “A Life and Death Document from Britain”

  1. Thank you for posting the article, “Cherishing Life”. It allows the reader to contrast the wise and gentle approach of the Catholic Bishops of Britain with the belligerent and reckless behavior of right-wing American Catholics who want politicize important moral issues. The Catholic Bishops of Britain acknowledge that some Catholics have difficulty in accepting certain teachings on issues such as homosexuality, and when life begins. However the appropriate response of the Church, they write, is “help those “who struggle in the moral life, offering compassion and understanding to those who fail to discern and to live out God’s loving will.” Nowhere present in “Cherishing Life” is harsh and rancorous tone of the American moral debate with its elements of culture war and calls for socio-religious jihad.

    The campaign by right-wing American Catholics for denial of the sacraments to those, threatens to discredit the authority of the Church on all moral issues. The selective application of denial of sacraments for some issues, but not others, can only breed cynicism in the minds of the laity, and a growing belief that the Church is more of a political tool than a moral voice.

    “Ad Assails D.C. Cardinal for Stance on Communion”, Washington Post; By Alan Cooperman, Friday, May 7, 2004, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6871-2004May6.html describes how leading conservative Catholics acknowledge this risk, even as they ramp up their efforts to make the Church an instrument of a partisan political agenda.

    ” Karl Maurer, vice president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, a conservative grass-roots group, said he would add sodomy and gay marriage to that list. Some liberal grass-roots groups have said they believe the church’s teachings against war and the death penalty are worthy of equal treatment.
    “Once you open this door, what’s going to come rolling through it?” asked Deal W. Hudson, editor of the magazine Crisis and a key Catholic ally of the Bush administration. “Pretty soon, no one would be taking Communion.”
    Hudson said he believes the denial of Communion should begin, and end, with Kerry. Even better, he said, would be if priests would read letters from the pulpit denouncing the senator from Massachusetts “whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic.”
    David O’Brien, a professor of Roman Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said McCarrick appears to be trying to find a middle road between punishing politicians and remaining silent. He said all bishops must “protect the integrity of the church’s teaching” by speaking out against the “grave scandal” that results from high-profile Catholics flouting church doctrine.
    But, he said, ‘if they push this too hard, it could easily backfire on them. People are going to say, ‘Where is their moral leadership on a whole lot of issues? How many bishops have resigned because of their mishandling of sexual abuse? Why didn’t they speak on the war in Iraq? What effort did they make to bring to the attention of their own people the positions they’ve taken on war, capital punishment and poverty?’”
    In short, O’Brien said, ‘when they come down personally on [particular politicians], people are going to say they have political motives — and maybe some of them do.’”

  2. It is prefectly appropriate for bishops and priests to deny communion to anyone who is adamantly unrepentent on fundamental church doctrine. The denial should be on that basis and not on the basis of political affliation. Therefore not only should John Kerry, Tom Daschle and other Democrat politicians be denied, but so should Tom Ridge and Rudy Guliani who are Republican Catholics. Orthodox politicians such as Sarbannes and Snowe should also not be allowed to received the Body and Blood of our Lord.

    However, for the denial to be healing and salvific, it should be done as part of personal, private spiritual direction unless the individual is in such revolt as to make that impossible. Even then it should be as private as possible.

    Nevertheless, I feel that the main reason for the public aspect of the issue is due to the unrelenting campaign of abortion advocates to keep the killing legal and acceptable. The Democrats in the Senate have, in essence, been applying a religion test to judges. If you are a faithful Christian, you need not apply (and yes, I do hold that one must oppose abortion to be a faithful Christian).

    Roe vs Wade has become such a stone around the Democrats neck that whatever good they may propose in other areas is swallowed up in the darkness of the evil of killing unborn babies.

    For Orthodox Christians, the law should always be informed by the mercy of God and the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to defending the lives of innocent children, however, there is no room for economia. We should strive to found our opposition in love, but being sinners that won’t always happen. Some actions, such as killing or threatening abortionists or their adult victims, are clearly out of bounds. Nevertheless, given the importance of the issue, being quietly in opposition just won’t cut it either. The evil will consume us that way.

    The pro-abortionists, no matter what faith they profess, have aligned themselves with the anti-Christian secularists who want to inundate our society with sexual abandon and drive the Christian faith from the public arena and back into the catecombs. The Catholic Bishops in Britan who you commend are the same ones who have abondoned any hope of the Catholic Church and her teachings having any effect on British culture.

    Protestant theology, Catholic arrogance, and Orthodox apathy and ineptitude have contributed greatly to the current mess we are in. We have to stand up for the truth now as individuals and as the Church. If that is offensive, so be it. If the stand is conducted in a spirit of hatred and condemnation of people, then it will fail, but we must still actively confront the evil.

    The core issue should be the value of human life, the dignity of each individual as images of God and the healing power of the Holy Trinity.

    Obviously, Dean you and I radically disagree with how best to act on those principals in many areas. Proper discernment and authentic action are tough decisions.

  3. Michael: Setting aside the issue of abortion for the moment, I think there is another issue at stake. That issue is maintaining the respect of the laity for the moral authority of the church. My point was that the moral authority of the church will become devalued and debased, and parishioners will lose respect, if its moral voice is allowed to become an instrument of partisan political agendas.

    Hearing church prelates selectively deploring the views of politicians from one party, but not the other, or acting punitively on some issues but not other issues, can only result in an increasingly cynical and jaded laity. For this reason it is of the utmost importance that the church enunciates its views, certainly, but stay above the political fray.

    Now let’s return to the issue of abortion again. Nothing in scripture tells us that abortion is a transcendent issue more important than any other of Our Lord’s teachings. Our opposition to abortion emanates from our respect for the sanctity of human life and our belief that abortion violates that sanctity. However our respect for the sanctity of human life is not limited to those who reside in wombs. “The dignity of each individual as images of God” extends to those who have exited the birth canal as well.

    Isn’t someone who starts an unnecessary war that results in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people also displaying disrespect for the human life? You talk about the value of human life, but what about the value of human lives already started? When we end programs that help people escape poverty are we not showing disrespect for the value of their lives. Do we show value for the human life we say as a society we won’t pay for some people to have a proper education, but are willing to incarcerate them at a cost of $30 thousand per inmate annually? Do we show respect for the value of human life when we allow 43 million Americans to live without health care insurance and access to proper medical care so that they succumb to preventable diseases and early death?

  4. Mr. Scourtes writes:

    Our opposition to abortion emanates from our respect for the sanctity of human life and our belief that abortion violates that sanctity. However our respect for the sanctity of human life is not limited to those who reside in wombs. “The dignity of each individual as images of God” extends to those who have exited the birth canal as well.

    I’m glad to see abortion elevated above the “public health issue” that Mr. Scourtes claimed it was in another post, but I notice that the only time abortion gets the firm disapproval he gives it here is when it serves to add punch to other moralizings that sound a lot like the talking points from the Kerry campaign.


    Setting aside the issue of abortion for the moment, I think there is another issue at stake. That issue is maintaining the respect of the laity for the moral authority of the church. My point was that the moral authority of the church will become devalued and debased, and parishioners will lose respect, if its moral voice is allowed to become an instrument of partisan political agendas.

    You’ve got it backwards. Loss of respect occurs when the standards are lowered, not heightened.

    You are essentially arguing that the Bishops should say nothing at all. Archbishop Iakovos raised hackles when he marched with Martin Luther King. The objections heard then mirrored those you raise here. Still, he was right. And the moral authority of the Church did not suffer for it.

  5. Dean,
    Moral authority in the Church is weakened when it seems to be applied haphazardly and capriciously. I see no reason to make a public issue about John Kerry’s personal sacramental status unless he has been privately instructed not to approach the cup and he forces the issue, trying to make political hay out of something he is not—a Catholic in good standing. Republican politicians should not be treated any differently. However, that does not mean that the bishops should avoid the issue altogether. It is the wishy-washy application of moral principals that leads to a jaded attitude, not genuine witness. I don’t know how much more jaded the Roman laity can become. The Catholics that I know have little respect for the priests and bishops as a group. They will listen to individuals for whom they have respect and many still adhere to the overall teaching of the Church. However, many do not see that adherence as a matter of salvation, just appropriate social behavior. Such attitudes are a direct result of the vast difference in doctrine and application of said doctrine within the Roman Church over the last forty years.

    Unfortunately, I find your politically influenced approach to Orthodox teaching to have a germ of the same poison within it for we Orthodox. Fr. Alexander Webster in his book, The Pacifist Option, makes the observation that it is quite difficult to take the principals of faith into the realm of specific political action without, at some point, loosing the principals and relying on the politics. Our own prejudices and sins are simply too strong for us to genuinely discern the way of the Holy Spirit the more specific we become.

    From the standpoint of our Christian duty, all the issues you mention are important. From the standpoint of what action government should take or may take, they are vastly different. Again, you blur the lines between the appropriate action of government and the appropriate action of the Church. The value of human life is central to all of the issues you mention, as we have discussed at great length elsewhere on this blog. Being against abortion in all cases, yet at the same time feeling it necessary to support war and some instances of capital punishment is not as much a dilemma as it may seem. Abortion is different because it is a crime against the most vulnerable, killing people who have in no way consented to the evil that seeks to destroy them. To justify such wanton killing, the abortionists and their apologists define the unborn child as a non-person. Such definition is a threat to the very idea of person. Prolonged war carries the same risk, but there are clear valid reasons for war. There are none for abortion. Capital punishment on the other hand affirms the idea of the individual person and the responsibility one has and can be the only reason a murder will face his actions and repent. In short, it is possible to particpate in war and in capital punishment yet still be faithful to the mandate to love one another. No one can kill a baby out of love.

    Unfortunately, all adults have to a greater or lesser degree consented to the sin and evil that give rise to tyranny (political and economic). An old mentor of mine frequently said that people usually have the type of government they deserve. That does not mean that they are therefore unworthy of protection, but a government’s first duty is to protect the lives of its own citizens. Still, the United States takes precautions to prevent non-combatant civilian deaths in war. The war in which that has been least true, World War II, even you agree was a “just war”. We can go round and round with each other on the necessity of the war in Iraq and not achieve anything of consequence. I just wonder if you would be as opposed to the war if Bill Clinton were prosecuting it rather that George W. Bush? I can ask myself the obverse, would I be as supportive of the war? I never trusted Bill Clinton while I have always felt President Bush to be an honorable and just man in his public actions. Should our perception of the personality and character of our President make so much difference in our willingness to support their actions? Yes. In the long run, that is all we have on which to judge, the character of the person in the office.
    Aside from the issue of the necessity for the war in Iraq, our differences seem to be over the extent to which the federal government can and should be directly involved in the social nurturing of its citizens. I hold that government’s role should be limited while you seem to desire it to be the guarantor of well being. We have a philosophical difference as to the nature of man in society as well as political orientation. We should be able to have fruitful, reasonable discussions without descent into ad hominum (sp) attacks against each other or anybody else,.e.g. George Bush, John Kerry, et. al.

    The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution states: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    The Preamble establishes two different spheres of governmental action:

    1. Government protecting its citizens from immediate harm: Both outlawing abortion and taking military action to defend the country fall into this category. By our constitution, the duty to defend is one of the principal duties of our government. Maintaining the rule of law so that all are equal before the law is also part of the same duty. The words establish, insure, and provide are words of direct action.

    2. Government actively caring for the welfare of its citizens: Obviously from the Preamble, our government has a role in encouraging an environment that allows people to prosper, but the word promote does not indicate the extent of direct action or involvement that establish, insure, and provide do. In fact, I would argue that by defending the peoples of this country against all enemies foreign and domestic and establishing justice, the mandate to promote the general welfare is largely satisfied.

    The single dominant predictor of incarceration in this country is not lack of education, it is the lack of a father. Certainly, illiteracy is high on the list, but the lack of a father tops them all. Almost all of the poverty programs diminish the role of the father and many times force his absence in order to qualify. Many sociologists have studied the destruction of the black family under the guise of the government helping. If we could just promote basic literacy, sexual abstinence until marriage and fidelity to one’s spouse, a whole lot of poverty would vanish. Unfortunately, government programs tend to make these things harder, not easier. Public education has become a liberal/secular indoctrination machine which fails at its basic task of education and the concomitant responsibility to maintain a safe and secure learning environment. In a recent survey, only 20% of folks 18-25 could even name one country we fought in World War II. My home schooled son, who did not do as well in history as I had hoped was able to answer the question when I asked him. Just remember, what the government pays for, the government controls. Given your obvious distrust of government activity in matters of national defense, it surprises me that you seem to have a profound sense of trust that the same government can take care of the poor with good results.

    Health Care:
    As one who sells health insurance, I can tell you for a fact, that each and every time a government (state or federal) comes along and mandates coverage, the number of uninsured’s increases. A few years ago in my state, over half of the companies then issuing health insurance left. The primary reason for leaving was the adversarial regulation by our insurance department which made it impossible for the many of the companies to operate at a profit. As a result, thousands of people lost their health insurance. Regulation is necessary, but it does not have to be so draconian that companies cannot do their job. The only recent proposal that makes even a modicum of sense that I have heard is Joe Lieberman’s: keep the current system of private insurers, but allow the folks that can’t qualify for the private insurance to enter the federal health insurance programs. Unfortunately, his idea was too much government for the Republicans and too little for the Democrats so it went no where. The privacy rules in HIPAA(Health Insurance Portability and Accountablity Act) are a joke–all they do is make it impossible to share information that can help people acquire health insurance and get treatment while protecting no one and increasing costs enormously. The health savings accounts have some potential, but what do we get along with them, a massive prescription drug entitlement that is too complicated for folks to figure out and of very little value.

    Health care costs started to skyrocket with the introduction of Medicare. The massive amount of new technologies and drugs combined with a marketing plan that fostered the idea of perfect outcomes created the perfect environment for trial lawyers to jump right in. The PPO’s and HMO’s that were originally designed to help control costs and deliver care in a more sensible manner have, in many cases, done just the opposite as bureaucracy fights with stupidity and greed to try to get as much money as they can. Government will only make it worse.

    To continue with a just, equitable, healthy society, we must have strong families, a sense of honor and virtue, and an understanding of history. Government fails in all of these areas when it is in charge.

    I could go on, but I strongly suspect no will even read this post anyway due to its length.

  6. Sorry to contradict you, Michael, but I do read your posts, and I find them well-reasoned, clear, and enlightening. I admire your sense of diplomacy. Please keep up the good work!

  7. Father Jacobse: I must acknowlege and concede that the approach of the political left has been just as frustrating, unhelpful and extreme as that of the political right that I criticized in earlier posts. Unfortunately, the political left’s approach has been a hands over eyes and ears, “see-no-evil” denial of the profound moral issues connected with the abortion issue. It is disappointing to me as a Democrat that my party hasn’t moved away from its stale and static position either. Only one Democrat I have heard of, a Pennsylvania Governor, has taken an anti-abortion stance, and he was later defeated.

    To a great extent the Democratic stance on abortion echoes that of Justice Blackmun in the Roe vs. Wade case. We don’t know when life begins, Blackmun said, so we are not even going to try to say whether abortion represents the taking of human life or not.

    It’s heartening for me to hear that John Kerry wants abortion to be “rare”, aas an expression of his “personal” opposition to abortion. However, that statement alone is a feeble gesture. I would like to see someone, anyone offer a fresh new approach, that acknowleges the moral implications of abortion, while offering solutions that don’t just take us back to the nineteen thirties and the era of back-alley abortions.

    It doesn’t minimize the moral urgency of abortion question to say we should treat it as a public health issue, but rather it reflects a desire that we abandon the current static political stalemate and try a more practical and less politically charged approach. Public health campaigns have resulted in significant reductions in undesirable human behavior in the past. Unintended pregnancies are the cause of abortions. Therefore public health campaigns aimed at reducing irresponsible sexual behavior can reduce unwanted pregnancies and also reduce the number of abortions.

  8. The only campaigns that are proven to curb teenage pregnancy (and thus abortion) are abstinence only programs because only they reduce teenage sexual activity. Abortion can never be part of a health education campaign in the current political climate because pro-abortion forces, almost all of whom are Democrats, would never allow it.

    The Democrats need to return to what they were under Kennedy.
    If they could purge the McGovernite wing and become more centrist, particularly regarding moral issues, the nation would be better off since a healthier debate would ensue. It’s a difficult challenge, and it may force a split in the party. Even now, if five percent of the black vote shifted to the Republican party, the Democrats would become a minority party permantly. Evens Clinton’s victories remember, were a plurality, never a majority.

    For morally minded people (Christians and Jews alike), it is getting increasingly difficult to remain Democratic because the Democrats seem to have lost all their moral moorings. It was not always this way. The Democratic party did, at one time, really stand for authentic liberal values. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the Republicans, many moved to the other side of the aisle, and now the most creative thinking on social issues is coming for the conservative side. Reagan, of course, had a lot to do with bringing Democrats into the Republican fold.

    This is not a partisan statement. Liberalism increasingly relies on the old slogans while generating few new ideas of the order and quality we see with AEI, Heritage, Hoover, Acton, etc. Even New Republic has come to see that this critique is true, as do liberal thinkers like Hitchens and others. This makes old-line Democrats like Kennedy (and I would argue Kerry) increasingly desperate hence the increasing stridency. They won’t allow the moderate voices to emerge. But moderate voices from the Democrats are what the national debate sorely needs.

  9. Apparently, John Kerry is proposing a $5000 supposed tax credit for single mothers for each child they have. The $5000/child would not just erase the tax liability for that single mother, anything over the tax libility would be given to her. This type of insane program speaks directly to my point that governement poverty programs destroy families and punish responsible parents. An un-married welfare mother could pull down a lot of money — the costs of the births also being covered by the state. The illegitimacy rate would sky rocket. Why in the world the Democrats think they have the right to take any of my money that I need to support my family and give it away like this is truly baffling. His proposal is so culturally, morally, and fiscally irresponsible that it ought to be laughed into obliviion along with his candidacy. Unfortunatley, the Republicans will not oppose it as it ought to be opposed. Most of the nationally powerful Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have no guts and no vision either. They’ll probably just come up with their own modified version of it. And Dean want more of such idiocy. Unbelieveable! More fatherless, under cared for children which will lead inevitably to more poverty and crime which means we will need not just a $5000 per child tax credit, but a $10,000 per child tax credit. Why don’t we just give all our money to the state and let them distribute it the way they see fit. Oh, that’s already been tried in the Soviet Union. Do we really want to go down that road?

  10. Father Jacobse: Which political party should morally-minded people belong to? The truth is that both parties are morally deficient in their own ways. Democrats emphasize social morality, but are weak on issues of personal morality. Republicans strongly address issues of personal morality but behave as though they have never read any Jesus Christ’s many statements admonishing us not to neglect the least of our brothers.

    The need for the political left to focus on issues of personal morality was best described by, of all people President Clinton, in a speech he gave at an African-American church on Martin Luther King’s birthday about 8 years ago. Clinton asked the congregation if the Rev. Martin Luther King would have been pleased by high rates of drug use, births by unwed mothers or affiliation with street gangs by those people for whom he tried to win civil rights. As many African-American clergymen have themselves stated, although social and economic forces contribute to these problems, personal responsibility has to be a major component in combatting them.

    What I find immoral about the political right is its rejection of the concept of a shared, collective responsibility to assist those people in our society who are suffering because of poverty and neglect. When Christ instructs us to help the least of our brothers, and the power of government offers the most comprehensive and effective means of providing that assistance, then we should be willing to support government programs to help the poor (provided that the assistance is delivered in an efficient and business-like manner.

    There is something distincly un-Christian about the worship of great wealth as an end in itself. The Gospel writer Luke, in particular, recounts Christ’s warnings that an obsession with wealth is a distraction and a stumbling block to salvation.
    So it seems to me that the elevation by the Republican party of wealth accumulation as a greater priority that assisting the least fortunate of our neighbors runs directly opposite to the teachings of Christ. Saying compassion to the poor should always be an individual and never a collective responsibility seems to me to be one of those convuluted legalistic distortions designed to provide a rationalization for selfishness and indifference.

    The real impact of the policies of the Republican party is to defund and then eliminate programs that serve the poor so that the those with great wealth can evade their collective responsibilities and become even more obscenely affluent. Over 40% of the Bush tax cut went to the richest one percent of taxpayers, as our nation has run its annual deficit up to nearly a half trillion dollars annually. Conservatives consider such fiscal irresponsibility to be commendable because it provides an excuse to justify further cuts in government programs that help the poor. If you don’t believe me I will find you the Grover Norquist quote that says just that.

    The argument that a minimum of government will result in prosperity that lifts all boats and benefits all strata of society is patent, offensive nonsense. We can easily test the validity of such statements by examining nations where there is very little government action to help the poor, places like Guatamala or Nigeria. What we see are large gulfs between the very rich and everyone else. We see communites where a very small elite live in gated-communities protected by armed guards, surrounded by vast slums where raw sewage runs down the street, and children die of preventable diseases. That may be the Republican party’s vision for America, but it certainly doesn’t seem very moral or Christian to me.

  11. Dean says: “When Christ instructs us to help the least of our brothers, and the power of government offers the most comprehensive and effective means of providing that assistance, then we should be willing to support government programs to help the poor (provided that the assistance is delivered in an efficient and business-like manner”

    If government did offer the most comprehensive and effective means of providing that assistance, there would be some point to your comments, however, it rarely does. It is the idea that government should provide for the general welfare rather than promote the general welfare that has accelerated the process of reducing man from his rightful place as a creature whose purpose it is to be in loving communion with the infinite God who created him to the soulless money changer whom Christ rightfully expelled from the temple. In our culture, the reduction is proceeding apace to us becoming the sexual man wholly given to lust.

    He further says, “Saying compassion to the poor should always be an individual and never a collective responsibility seems to me to be one of those convuluted (sic) legalistic distortions designed to provide a rationalization for selfishness and indifference.”

    The collective responsibility belongs not to government but to the Church and to other compassionate folks acting in concert, freely. Governmental coercion and vote buying are the ultimate in the rationalization and indifference of people who just want political power. There are certainly areas of acute and overwhelming crisis in which only government can respond initially with adequate strength, but those are rare. And again, Dean you are going to the extreme example to attempt to prove your point.

    And further, “The argument that a minimum of government will result in prosperity that lifts all boats and benefits all strata of society is patent, offensive nonsense.”

    The rest of the paragraph is the real hyperbolic nonsense. I was beginning to hope you were turning over a new leaf in that regard, guess not. Dean, I would like to see a post from you that deals with the substance of my comments in a thoughtful manner that rejects, as much as possible, hyperbolic emotionalism. Any government that behaves as in your illustration has ignored its highest duties as a government—the protection of it own citizens from injustice and tyranny, whether that injustice and tyranny is from external forces or internal ones.
    The framers of our Constitution were all in favor of freedom, justice, and economic opportunity. They realized that the ability to acquire wealth from one’s own labors coupled with equal protection before the law was the surest way to have a free society, totally unlike the aristocratic social structure of the Old World. Despite its inadequacy, distortions, and failures, the system in the United States still allows such justice and freedom to a greater degree than any human society history has ever known. That is largely the result from the residual Christian influence. If we, as Christians, give over our responsibility to government as you envision, even what little residual is still left will be wholly lost. It is through diligent adherence to the pillars of Orthopraxis, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving–founded on worship of the Holy Trinity who has saved us– fueled by a deep, ongoing repentance– that we will have the most influence. The Orthodox understanding of government has always been that government is there to maintain order so that man, under God and through God, might be free. Such governing is a divine calling and function and must be practiced with diligence and faith. Freedom, justice, founded on and witnessed to from faith in Jesus Christ, the sacraments, and the Church will allow for a transformation of our country into a more Godly society. Nothing else will do.

    In the meantime, we are faced with the very worldly decision of which of the choices we have been given come closest to the kind of man and party we really want. While I decry the hypocrisy, greed, tyranny, stupidity, and lust for power that passes for politics in our country, I still must exercise my choice. Given the overwhelming choice of the Democrats for a social philosophy that is more and more based on destroying the idea of the person, denying freedom of thought and religion, and forcing income redistribution, it is a disgustingly easy choice for me. It was not always so. The genuine social conscience of Democrats such as Hubert Humphrey has been consumed by the party’s thralldom to abortion and division of the society into class. So I will vote for the Republicans. It is both a political and moral choice.

  12. I can’t tell a person what political party to belong to. I know people of good will who are both Democrats and Republicans, although the Democratic preoccupation with abortion and homosexuality makes it more difficult for morally minded people to remain Democrat.

    One assumption I disagree with in your essay is that the Democrats really care for the poor. In the days of Hubert Humphrey there was a groundswell of optimism that government could really solve the problems of poverty. Lyndon Johnson believed this too and crafted the “Great Society.” I believe that the motives and intentions were in large part honorable, but I no longer believe that the Democratic party of the late fifies and early sixties is the same party we have today. The poor, I have come to believe, have become political fodder; a way to counter the concerns of moral and cultural conservatives in the public square.

    I’ve come to this conclusion because of the failures of the “Great Society.” Government largess, while well intentioned, has decimated the Black family, who were largely the target of the program. Civil rights has degenerated into what black conservatives call “race hustling,” that is, using the charge of discrimination to build the coffers of activists. The Democrats have never confronted this failure. In fact, they defend race hustling as if it is the legitimate heir of King’s call for a fair and just society. I explain this view in more detail in two editorials I wrote: Liberals Have a Distorted Vision of the Civil Rights Movement, and Gay Marriage Far Removed From Civil Rights Movement.

    Some other facts are worth noting. More Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats. Congress has more Democratic millionaires than Republican. Bush’s war chest is made up of small contributions by thousands of single contributers, Kerry’s is weighted in favor of special interests. Liberals give significantly less to public charities than conservatives, especially liberal leaders. None of this proves Republicans as superior to Democrats or conservatives to liberals of course, but it shows that the charge the conservatives are blind to the plight of the working man and poor is more rhetoric than reality.

    One accuracy in your complaint is that the Republicans have not put forth a coherent plan about poverty and its ancilliaries. This is changing, largely through the work of conservative think tanks whose analysis and proferred solutions are oftentimes of the highest quality and workable.

    The Democrats have no matching organizations working in this area unfortunately, which accounts for their increasing stridency about alledged conservative indifference to pressing social problems and their opposition to programs that sets them against their own constituencies, such as school vouchers.

    The Democrats need to wake up. The conservative ideas are taking hold and the Democrats appear increasingly out of touch. One example is James Q. Wilson and the Manhattan Institute (see their magazine City Journal) that provided the philosophical basis for Rudolph Gulianni’s renewal of New York City (the “broken window” theory — I can explain this if anyone is interested). (I lived in New York during the Dinkens administration and again during Gulianni’s term. It was a different city under Gulianni.)

    My opposition to the old ideas don’t arise from an anti-goverment animus although I am skeptical of government’s ability to affect the social good beyond its proscribed role (roads, defense, public safety, etc.). I like local control although local control is not enough to ensure a healthy social institutions. Public education for example, is a local enterprise for the most part, and it has failed miserably in many places. The solution is not to nationalize education but to wrest control from the Democratic party machine which has run the major cities for the last three decades and are responsible for the decline.

    Your objections, as I read them, conform to the broader outlines of the public debate, but I don’t think the public debate takes into account what is coming down the road. From my vantage point, the opinion/editorial page, talking heads on cable, etc. while certainly important, are usually about two years behind the curve. I’m more interested in the ideas that inform these debates that are found in the journals like Commentary, City Journal, and others that will inform the debate one to three years from now. If liberals were able to maintain the same level of intellectual quality I would read them too, but there are precious few. In fact, the once good liberal journals (Atlantic Monthly for example) are becoming increasinly conservative, or to put it another way, they see that the ideas generated by moral conservatives are more compelling than the latest rehash of the old and discredited ideas.

    Ultimately what drives my interest is my conviction that the Gospel of Christ can indeed transfrom society for the better. I’m not alone in this. It is no accident that the serious work that examines this need for renewal are most often done by persons with deep religious faith — Jews and Christians alike. Catholics are clearly in the lead with the Jews a close second and Evangelical Protestants third.

    (By the way, thinking liberals are very aware of this trend and fear it. This is what drives the ACLU in their effort to eliminate the cross from the seal of the city of Los Angeles for example. They want to remove mention of God from public spaces in order to remove mention of God from public discourse so that God disappears from the cultural memory. The ACLU and others lack the ideas to counter the ones that are informed and driven by the conviction we need spiritual renewal so they use the machinery of state to try to shut down debate altogether.)

    That the Orthodox have virtually no contribution does not speak well for us. This is something I hope to correct (more details later).* That we have aligned ourselves with such liberal artifacts like the NCC and presume that what they have to say bears any relevance to the problems we face today shows me how behind the curve we are. Look at the record of the NCC to see how far off the mark they were. What makes us think they are any different today?

    *(Other Orthodox believers see the problem too and are starting their work. Touchstone is an example. Some Orthodox contributers here like Chris Banescu, Christopher, and John Nixon, among others, have jumped into the fray as well.)

    The transformation of the culture (our need for cultural renewal) only happens face to face, one person at a time. It only occurs in obedience to the commandment to love God and neighbor. And striving to obey the commandments will force us to see that life, at its foundation, is a moral enterprise. Love is a doing, not a feeling, and that doing has to be intelligent and informed.

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