Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama's Speech: "Repent and Deny the Gospel"

President Obama's speech at the University of Notre Dame was masterful and politically adept. There is much in the speech that simply is unimpeacheable, and what is impeachable is dressed, as it were, in velvet words of tolerance, pluralism, and peace and goodwill. When a popular politician's words float about as rich and luscious honey, mellifluous to the ear, and balmish to the soul, the critic is at a disadvantage. Anyone who complains at President Obama's grandiose eloquence seems but an extreme and crotchety misanthrope, a Debby downer, a grumpy pharisee. And the press was sure that it appeared that way.

Since the essential controversy surrounding Obama's invitation to Notre Dame involved his view on abortion and stem cell research, and the propriety of Notre Dame's honoring a President with such views with a doctorate of laws, I want to focus on that. It is interesting to see what, with respect to those issues, Obama's words really say.

On the life issues, Obama's approach is essentially to take, as given, a pluralistic society, with "soldiers" "lawyers," "gay activists," and "evangelical pastors" all going about doing good in their way incommensurably. In Obama's theory of political relativism, all values are relative and thus equally valid; thus, the activities of a "gay activist" cannot be measured unfavorably against the activites of a "pro-lifer." These folks play their role in a pluralistic society where there are no moral absolutes, and so serve equivalent and noble offices. They contribute, presumably, equally to the common good; perhaps some "invisible hand" results in the greatest freedom for the greatest number. In this sort of world, there must be no suggestion that the "gay activist," or for that matter a pro-choicer, is promoting vice, or that the pro-lifer or anti-gay marriage advocate is promoting virtue. To Obama, there is no such thing as "vice" and "virtue" in any classical or Christian sense. The only "vice" and "virtue" relate to whether a person is willing to abide by the rules of engagement in a secular political process that refuses to consider absolutes (unless they are liberal, secular absolutes). Rid yourself of your religious robes, strip yourself of the suit of a universal law, and don instead the freeing Bermuda shorts of relativism and secularism if you want to play in the rough-and-tumble of American political life. Shelve your moral absolutes; otherwise, you will be sidelined, ostracized. Absolutes are outside the rules of the game.

That is why Obama's apparent magnanimity and open mindedness is only just that: apparent. What is wrong with this magnanimity and open-mindedness? Why is this call, despite its humanitarian and civilized veneer, actually barbarian in substance? You have to wave past the smoke-screen to see what Obama is really proposing, and why his proposal is really just the silencing of the pro-lifers, or, for that matter, any other person who believes in moral absolutes. President Obama equates those "who speak out against stem cell research" with "the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved" and so press for that research. This is a false opposition. (One may put aside for the moment, the mischaracterization of the stem cell research debate.) In Obama's world, all politics, like all morality, is consequential, utilitarian, i.e., teleological. Good is measured by results, and, in a situation where there are goods in competition, some sort of social calculus has to be undertaken through the political process. Since all we are dealing with are the balancing of moral relatives, harsh language is unjustified and interferes with the process, and there is always room for compromise in political conflict because there is nothing that cannot be compromised. The end justifies the means.

President Obama invited the Notre Dame graduate to "open his mind" and "open his heart" to this siren call of the secular goddess, Moloch's bride. This is something intolerable to a person raised in the classical moral and Judaeo-Christian traditions. The disciple of Christ, like the virtuous Roman republican, or Socrates before the Boule, is called to have one mind and one heart, not listen to the voices that are legion. He must insist that the government whose authority over him comes from God must stay under God. And he is obliged to advance this cause, even at the cost of his life. To consent to the suggestion that civil society, and the rules of engagement of debate in the political process, should be based upon a relativistic ethic, one that fears no God nor knows no moral absolutes, is a call to commit spiritual suicide. It is, in fact, a call to the Christian to give up his faith and his God if he expects access to the annals of governmental power or legal debate. It is the exact opposite of what a Notre Dame graduate ought to be told. Instead of opening his heart and his mind to this relativistic sop, the Christian ought to be told to behave like Odysseus and his crew; he ought to tie himself to the mast, stuff his ears full of wax, batten down the hatches, hold steady the rudder, and steer past the call of the secular sirens towards the image of Christ, where, as Pope Benedict XVI recently reiterated: "[W]e must always remember that 'freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free.'"

Moreover, Obama's opposition of those against stem cell research with parents of diabetic children is a false opposition. First, pro-lifers are not against helping, with whatever moral means are available, the concerns of anyone suffering from any medical malady. The implied suggestion that they are is offensive. Second, the Church is not opposed to stem cell research per se, but is opposed to how that stem cell research is conducted. It insists that the research must respect human life. Accordingly, the Church opposes embryonic stem cell research, as distinguished from stem cell research on stem cells properly obtained from adults or from umbilical cords. In these latter instances, there is no destruction of human life. (See "Bioethics and the Catholic Church" and "On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research: A Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.") The reason for the Church's opposition to embryonic stem cell research is because it involves the direct destruction of a human embryo, an embryo who has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and whose life the State has the fundamental duty to defend and protect. Already, Obama has not used fair-minded words. He says we shouldn't "caricature" the opponents, but me thinks he speaks with a forked tongue.

There is no doubt that there is conflict, and there ever will be, between those who advocate a deontological ethic, and those who preach utilitarianism. There will always be conflict between Christ and Antichrist, between good and evil, between the politics of truth, and the politics of expediency. Now I agree that in areas where prudence carries the day, there ought to be no demonization of opponents, and there must be civility and room for compromise. But when your opponent expects you to hang up your well-founded moral absolutes (and is there any better founding that the ex cathedra pronouncement of the Church?), to "doubt" them, it may be time for demonization. Politically, should we embrace and be willing to compromise with "open hearts" and "open minds" an Aryan supremacist who advocates that non-Aryans should be enslaved? Politically, should we embrace and be willing to compromise with "open hearts" and "open mind" an anti-Semite who advocates the slaughter of Jews? There are some things simply beyond bargaining, beyond negotiation, beyond the political process, because the political process, like the State, and like each one of us, is under God. Abortion and embryonic stem cell research are just some of those moral absolutes. In light of the clear guidance of the Church, the natural law, and science, someone's sincere opinion that life does not begin at conception deserves as much respect as someone who opines that a Jew or an African-American is a non-person.

Listen well to Obama's recipe for working through the conflict:

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

"Nowhere" President Obama observes, "do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion." Obama continues:
As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.
What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.
That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

Maybe I'm missing something, but is Obama saying that he'll quit calling pro-lifers right-wing ideologues if they surrender the battle, if they give up the ghost? What kind of trade off is that? If that's the opening offer, let me offer to President Obama that I'll quit calling him a left wing supporter of infanticide, if he'll appoint a strict constructionist on the Supreme Court, sponsor a federal law making abortion illegal in all 50 states, with prospective criminal penalties for any abortionist who violates the law, and earmarks in the billions of dollars to teach our youth about responsible, non-contraceptive sex and provide better social and medical services for those women facing unwanted pregnancy so they don't have to turn to illegal abortionists. What say you Mr. Obama?

Listen next to these honeyed words, which, to my chagrin, elicited hearty applause from the Notre Dame graduates there assembled.

So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.

Applause? Did no one recognize the code words? Obama was advocating that we "work together" to reduce "unintended pregnancies," "as well as respect for the equality of women." Of course, this means we must promote contraception (which frequently is abortion under another name) and continue to allow for abortion rights. And what's this? How can we even "make sure that all our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science," when the sine qua non of cooperation is that we yield on our anti-abortion stance, one which, by the way is (Obama's suggestion to the contrary notwithstanding) really based upon "clear ethics and sound science." But this is all part of what Obama--in his one slip of the tongue--wants to do. He admits that he wants to do all he can to "fudge" the terms of the debate. (Who else can he have in mind when he says "No matter how much we may want to fudge it [the debate surrounding abortion]"? Certainly, the pro-lifers aren't known for fudging things. In my experience, they call a spade a spade, and the liberal world always winces.)

Obama wants "fair-minded" words. Well here's some fair-minded words:

[B]y the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops--who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine--I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.

Evangelium Vitae, No. 62.

Obama should not have received an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. It was a disservice to him, to Notre Dame, to the Catholic faithful, and to the United States. What he should have received is a copy of Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, perhaps one bound in Moroccan leather of Madonna blue and papal gold. That may have done him and Notre Dame and our country some good. That would have made Notre Dame both a "lighthouse" and a "crossroads." That would have been "shining in the Catholic tradition," amidst the "differences of culture and religion and conviction" co-existing. And if I may not be presumptuous, I think it may be fair to say, that that would have made God--Benedictum Nomen Sanctum eius--well pleased.

1 comment:

  1. Well, if Hugo Chavez can present a book to Obama as a moral lesson of America's Imperialism certainly Notre Dame could present the Gosple of Life.