The Truth About Altruism
The Truth About Altruism
In his review of The Language of God (December 2006), Stephen Barr seems to agree with Francis S. Collins that the altruistic impulse is a scandal because it goes directly contrary to the selfishness of the selfish gene.’ Not necessarily. This thinking wrongly gives the observer the determination of whether the action is selfish. The determination of selfishness is made by the decider’s thought.
The apparently altruistic decision will, in fact, be a completely selfish decision. The decider came to the conclusion that his action would maximize his happiness or minimize his pain. His decisions are made only as a result of the genes he was born with and the environments he has experienced, unless you allow for the influence of the hand of God. In any event, his decisions will be completely selfish. Accepting this situation does not change the goodness of apparent altruistic actions or the goodness of the decider. It is best to define altruism as actions aiding others that have no observable positive return to the doer.
Stephen M. Barr replies:
It appears to me that Mr. Haneman contradicts himself. In his third sentence, he says that it is wrong for observers to determine whether actions are selfish. He then goes on to do just that, twice asserting that decisions are completely selfish. However, if his own decisions are made only as a result of the genes he was born with and the environments he has experienced, one cannot task him for inconsistency. Suppose we grant that an altruistic person is really seeking his own happiness. That would not by itself eliminate the scandal for the evolutionary psychologist or sociobiologist, for whom the problem would then be to explain why some people find their happiness in the good of others when there is no discoverable advantage in Darwinian terms to be gained thereby. This was Collins’ point.
False Hope on Roe
The estimable Hadley Arkes can perhaps be faulted for giving false hope to pro-lifers when he says that if the Supreme Court upholds the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act this term, it will put Roe v. Wade on the path to becoming obsolete. I disagree; there is no necessary link between regular abortion and the neo-infanticidal barbarity of partial-birth abortion. Even if there were, the example of federally funded abortion counsels against accepting Arkes’ hopeful conclusion.
As readers of FIRST THINGS will recall, in Maher v. Roe the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ denial of federal funds to pay for abortions for women who cannot afford them. And yet Roe v. Wade was not weakened noticeably, if at all, despite the fact that, in the very reasonable opinion of writers such as Laurence Tribe and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, there is a clear connection between the right of access to abortion that is guaranteed by Roe and a constitutionally protected access to federally funded abortion in some cases.
Hadley Arkes replies:
The concerns raised by Mr. Zaretzke can never be out of season, though I think I encompassed them in my piece. Still, he offers us the occasion to get clear again on the possible gains”and the deep disappointments”that may spring from this case before the judges on partial-birth abortion. I think I had brought out the levels of disappointment as precisely as the possibilities for a breakthrough in the pro-life cause. But let me add an item that would bolster Zaretzke’s argument: In the oral argument before the Supreme Court, the solicitor general, Paul Clement, put the accent on the things that separated the gruesome partial-birth abortion from other forms of abortion. His pitch to the Court, as Zaretzke fears, was that the restriction on this procedure could be sustained without threatening the vast number of abortions that are typically ordered and performed. That was something to be said by an advocate in making the case; and yet it warred with the common sense of the matter on both sides. The pro-lifers did not seek to rule out only this form of abortion; they had sought to plant a premise that could be extended to cover other abortions, even earlier in a pregnancy. And the truth that dare not speak its name was that, on any scale of the gruesome, partial-birth abortion was hardly much different from the dismemberment of a child that forms the daily experience of abortion in America.
The partisans of abortion understood that matter precisely, and that was indeed part of Dr. Carhart’s argument in Nebraska. But that is to say that the defenders of abortion were driven to resist even this limited measure because they realized that in the principle it planted, and the momentum it could impart, it would sweep far beyond the restriction of this one method of abortion.
I never said in my piece that sustaining the bill on partial-birth would render Roe v. Wade obsolete. It would be more accurate to borrow language from Lincoln and say that the decision, if rightly cast, could put Roe v. Wade in the course of ultimate extinction. It would do that if the judges suggested that they were now ready to weigh seriously, and sustain, any number of real restrictions on abortion. I’m fairly confident that those restrictions would start coming in a steady train of measures from the Midwest and the South. With that turn, the regime of Roe v. Wade could indeed be put on the course of ultimate extinction.
And since I mention Lincoln, we might draw another useful lesson from his statecraft: The Emancipation Proclamation, as a war measure, could cover only those slaves who were held in states in rebellion against the government. And yet, everyone seemed to understand that the Proclamation bore what one writer called a deep anti-slavery impulse. That was the meaning that took hold at once, and it imparted a new sense of movement to the anti-slavery cause. My own sense is that the decision in Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation could have a comparable effect. But my fear, expressed in the piece, is that Justice Kennedy, with his swing vote, would tilt the outcome to the narrowest of rulings: He might compel his colleagues just to strike down a facial challenge to the bill. The case would then be sent back to work its way again through the lower courts. In that path, as I said, lies debility. The bill would not be struck down, but there would be no sense of the bill being sustained. That kind of decision would not impart the sense that the momentum had now shifted to the pro-life side and would not inspire legislators in the states to start coming forth with that train of measures to advance, step by step, the protection of human life.
As I’ve suggested in my pieces in FIRST THINGS and other places, it would indeed be necessary at some point to speak the talismanic words and pronounce Roe v. Wade to be overruled. For its presence has already shown a power to corrupt other parts of our laws, whether in the rights of speech and protest, the use of injunctions, the withholding of care from newborns, or the withdrawal of care from the aged.
But here is where prudence enters. Eighteen years ago, with Webster v. Reproductive Services , some of us thought that the Court had indeed taken the first critical step to the unraveling of Roe. v. Wade . Chief Justice Rehnquist noted that the trimesters of pregnancy, so prominent in the analysis in Roe , found no expression in the text of the Constitution or in any place else one would expect to find a constitutional principle.
With the concurrence of Justices O’Connor and Kennedy, he went on to say, We do not see why the State’s interest in protecting potential human life should come into existence only at the point of viability, and . . . there should therefore be a rigid line allowing state regulation after viability but prohibiting it before viability.
But when that decision came out, people in different parts of the country were suddenly inflamed: Would they really be dispossessed of something they had been tutored to regard as one of their fundamental, constitutional rights? With a minor firestorm in different districts, pro-life politicians started to panic. Rep. Jim Courter in New Jersey flipped overnight from a pro-life congressman to one solidly in favor of abortion rights. The first President Bush, in office at the time, did nothing to frame the issue or avoid the panic within his own party.
That was sixteen years after Roe v. Wade . We are now thirty-four years after Roe, and my own reading is that the reaction would be even more inflamed and unreasoned if the Court, in a quick stroke, overruled Roe . If the matter is seen by liberal America as a coup carried out by judges, it will be taken as a justification for liberal judges in the states to stage their own counter-coup and find the right to abortion secured in the constitutions of their own states. We need to recall that there is a certain art of overruling and a certain advantage in cutting back a decision step by step. Each restriction on abortion could command the assent of 60-70 percent of the public, and ordinary folk may begin reminding themselves that it is indeed possible to talk about the conditions on which abortions may be unjustified. After a certain interval, the Court can take a last step and simply declare that Roe , now emptied of content, should finally be put away.
I trust that Zaretzke understands that I’m not speaking here of propositions with the properties of first principles and necessary truths. I am dealing with conjectures, with anticipations of the way in which events are likely to move. In those conjectures, I may be as wrong or right as anyone else.
But it is the kind of prudence that political men and women are compelled to engage in every day. I could only submit my own reading and invite people to check my reading against theirs. Some friends think that Roe v. Wade could be overruled in a stroke right now, without setting off the counterwave I have anticipated. No one could be more pleased than I if they were right. But I hope they understand, as Zaretzke does, that we are not divided on the points of principle that truly matter.
Speaking of Protestants
In Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis (January), Cardinal Dulles begins with a summary of three twentieth-century theologians’ reflections on love. Two of the three were Protestants: Anders Nygren and Denis de Rougemont. After briefly highlighting some similarities and differences between these thinkers, Dulles concludes with this: The Protestant thinkers we have examined set up an unbridgeable gulf between eros, as a passion arising from below, and agape, as a totally altruistic gift from on high. Catholicism, here as elsewhere, stands for a both/and; Protestantism, for an either/or. I was surprised to see Cardinal Dulles put forward something like a general Protestant philosophical position based on the work of two theologians. Not only that, but it is pretty clear from the language of the above quote that the Catholic camp is set up as the good guys in the argument, while the Protestants are left behind wallowing in their dualism.
If you asked a group of Protestants to name someone who has written about the concept of love, most would not be able to name anyone. But those who could would almost certainly say C.S. Lewis. Interestingly, Dulles does not mention Lewis in this part of the essay but brings him in only later. And if I read the article correctly, he is enlisted in support of the pope, presumably taking a both/and position. Lewis was a Protestant. Given this, might it be more ecumenically responsible to refrain from equating Nygren and de Rougemont”the either/or guys”with Protestantism as a whole?
Jonathan C. Wilson
Cardinal Dulles concludes Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis with this: One may suspect that [Benedict XVI] would be open to the idea that caritas tends to an eschatological fulfillment that, in the opinion of Lewis, transcends the earthly realizations of eros and agape alike. Dulles’ suspicion is confirmed in Ratzinger’s 1977 treatise Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life .
Ratzinger, wanting to ensure a proper understanding of heavenly rewards, intimates that heaven is the perfected confluence of eros and agape: The task of enlarging the vessel of our own life is not meant to ensure that in the world to come we have the largest barn possible in which to store our wealth, but rather to be able to distribute all the more to our fellows. In the communion of the body of Christ, possession can only consist in giving, the riches of self-fulfillment in the passing on of gifts.
Thus, the greater measures of happiness that flow from the individualized rewards of heaven (eros) are unintelligible apart from sharing those rewards in the common life of heaven (agape). Indeed, relative greatness in heaven is nothing more and nothing less than the incrementally greater joys associated with an incrementally greater participation in the dynamics of God’s own self-emptying love.
Lewis’ supernatural appreciative love easily joins with, and adds even more depth to, this heavenly confluence of loves. For instance, it helps us better understand how all the blessed will receive the same basic reward, that is, the beatific vision of God, and yet how there will be considerable variation among them”a last and a first”according to how that one reward will be appreciated.
St. Francis de Sales thus likens the degrees of heaven: Among the many hearers of a piece of fine music, even though all of them hear it all, yet some do not hear it as well or with as much pleasure as others according as their ears are more or less acute.
We could add that, in heaven, the more appreciative hearers will immediately turn to share their insights and joys with the less appreciative, like benevolent art critics. Thus, the greater in heaven will be said to appreciate God more, and this indeed will make them a happier lot. But they will ineluctably pass on their greater appreciation to the rest of us, which will in turn make everyone happier yet.
Stephen R. Patton
Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis by Avery Cardinal Dulles brings to mind the perplexity I experienced after reading and reflecting on Deus Caritas Est .
This perplexity had less to do with the encyclical’s content than with its omission of a definitive explication of how the nature and possibility of love is inextricably grounded in the Trinitarian nature of the God whom Christians profess. What I mean is the following: If it is true, as Christians and various other monotheists maintain, that God is a loving God, then, somehow or other, love must be a characteristic of the essence of God apart from his relationship to anything outside himself defined as creation. But if God is the purely monotheistic god of Jews, Muslims, deists, or monotheists of whatever stripe, then the only kind of love that could characterize the essence of such a god would be narcissism raised to the power of infinity.
In contrast, in the essence or internal life of the revealed Triune God, consisting of three distinct persons, fully sharing one nature, there are others for each to love and be loved by! As a consequence, the otherness and diversity of creation, especially that of humanity, can be more intelligibly and readily conceived of as an overflowing of the love of a community of persons eternally in love with one another. In addition, the injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves can be seen to follow directly and logically from our creation as the Triune God’s image and likeness.
Of course, it hardly needs saying that these implications of Trinitarian theology are readily apparent to Pope Benedict, as well as to Cardinal Dulles, and constitute the entire basis for the pope’s reflections. Yet for the edification of adherents of purely monotheistic faiths and to elucidate the intrinsic limitation of their conception of divinity, these implications of Christian monotheism could have been explicitly expressed.
Thomas J. Kleist
Avery Cardinal Dulles replies:
Jonathan Wilson in his letter to the editor imputes to me much more than I said or intended to say. I was not putting forward a general Protestant philosophical position based on the work of two theologians. I observed only that the ideas of Nygren and de Rougemont on eros and agape exemplified the kind of either/or that is commonly seen on other grounds to be typically Protestant. The same is obviously not true of C. S. Lewis. But it may be questioned whether Lewis was typically Protestant. He belongs within the Anglican tradition, which in many respects seeks to be comprehensive and to mediate between Catholicism and Protestantism. But to dilate on this question would go far beyond the scope of my article.
Clever, but Snarky?
David Hart (Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark, January) uses the rhetorical trick of claiming that religion does not actually exist but only reflects the existence of a variety of different belief systems we call religion for the sake of convenience. If his point is that religion, like culture, is hard to investigate with the methods of science, then he is correct. If his point is that religion and culture cannot be studied with the methods of science, then he is clearly mistaken. Otherwise, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, etc., would be disciplines without subject matter.
To follow Hart’s logic, culture does not exist, music does not exist, art does not exist; ironically, only science would seem to exist, since there are not many scientific methods in the way there are many religions or cultures. It doesn’t take a linguist to point out that such terms as religion and culture are universal and used to speak about specific religions or cultures. We might not be able to point to religion, but we can point to many specific religions. How do we know what is a religion and what isn’t? We do seem to know, by the way, or else we could never know if we belonged to one or not. So we know it when we see it, and therefore it is not beyond the bounds of the scientific method to study it. Hart’s point here is of no consequence; he illustrates a semantic difference that makes no difference.
Hart thinks that if Dennett is to understand religious belief truly and empirically, he should study it from the inside, that he should pray. As if the only way to study a phenomenon is from the inside”whatever that means. I hope Hart means this sarcastically, which would be consistent with the overall tone of his article. Hart argues that Dennett’s naturalistic, evolution-based explanations of religion are empty abstractions, but he offers no explanations other than that religious practices and beliefs are somehow different from other human behaviors because they feel that way. We just know that prayer makes things happen; we have subjective certainty not open to scientific analysis. This isn’t an explanation, only a rationalization.
Hart is clever, but ultimately he is just one more parrot”not snark”for a theology that rests its claims on concepts that cannot be falsified. Hart considers Dennett’s rhetoric childish and responds with his own brand of childishness. I can hear the argument: Just because you have never seen a snark doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Maybe so, but we can devise ways to calculate the probability of the snark’s existence and develop alternative explanations as to why people tend to believe in it. Dennett’s challenge to religious believers cannot be dismissed with surface criticisms such as those found in Hart’s article.
I cannot remember a book review I enjoyed more than David Hart’s Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark. And from Lewis Carroll, a little more debunking verse:
He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
A fact so dread,’ he faintly said,
Extinguishes all hope!’
David B. Hart replies:
My thanks to Mr. Brown for his passionate”albeit deeply confused”response to my article. I would be more grateful, admittedly, had he made an effort to follow my argument; at least, it would have been courteous of him, I think, to have taken the trouble to understand in what sense I denied the existence of religion. He might also have noticed that this is only one point I make among many. And if he thinks that mine are mere surface criticisms, he certainly needs to read the piece again; they may be false, but if true they are quite comprehensively solvent.
In any event, I meant to make both of the points he describes in his first paragraph. The former, after all, is ultimately only a weaker version of the latter; for, given the nature of how empirical science must proceed, and given also the particular hermeneutical difficulties involved in identifying and isolating the object religion, the former leads logically”inevitably”to the latter. As for his concerns regarding what this implies for sociology, anthropology, social psychology, etc.”well, yes. However, Brown seems to be confused regarding what we are discussing here. Culture, humanity, psychology, and religion (insofar as there is such a thing) can be studied in broad, methodologically consistent ways, some of them with more precision than others. The results thus produced, of course, will not be like the results of the hard sciences: They will always remain largely conjectural and impressionistic, and painfully predetermined by assumptions made before the investigations commenced.
None of these things, however, can be investigated in the way that Dennett suggests, for reasons I give in my article. Indeed, in a sense, all I do is point to something very obvious: Any careful reader cannot help but note that Dennett does not advance a naturalistic, evolution-based explanation of religion; rather, he tells a story that, despite its claims to scientific probity, is most definitely and indisputably immune both to verification and falsification. (For goodness’ sake, half his argument is entirely dependent on the empirically worthless concept of memes.) It is also a story that seems plausible only so long as actual religious beliefs are not examined.
It does not follow that to be logically consistent I would have to deny the existence of, say, music. There the object of analysis and its internal rules are very easy to identify. But Brown makes my larger point for me: Yes, we can point to many religions and say we know religion when we see it; but that is an act of interpretation, not simply observation, and hence the object under study is not a thing but a reading of a thing generally perceived and then even more generally abstracted from. As such, the method appropriate to its study (if any such method exists) is of a radically different kind from that appropriate to the study of fish or supernovae. In the case of something like religion, conceived as a subject of scientific inquiry, we have no choice but to remain inflexibly nominalist in our epistemology ( et de nominibus nihil nisi altera nomina dici potest , as I am sure Brown would grant).
As for whether an object under analysis should be studied from inside, it all depends on the nature of what one is studying and what truth claims attach to it. One cannot investigate a historical claim (like the Resurrection of Christ, for instance) in a laboratory; if a faith claims that there is a method of experiencing God or knowing God, then the only way to test that truth is to attempt to employ that method, to see what it yields, and so on. I doubt any of this will get the researcher very far, but it is the only empirical or scientific approach that bears any resemblance to the empirical methods of genuine science.
Brown is right, though, in saying that I offer no contrary, scientifically analyzable explanation of religion; but that is because (as Brown may have forgotten at this point in his letter) I do not believe that there is any object corresponding to such an explanation.
Finally, I cannot help but note that, in his closing paragraph, Brown manages entirely to invert the central metaphor of my article. My claim is not that just because you have never seen a snark doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I start from the (admittedly hasty) assumption that there are no snarks. There may be, of course. There may even be memes or some discrete substance out there called religion. But nothing in Dr. Dennett’s book gives me cause to think so.
My thanks also to Mr. Severance for the lines he adduces from The Mad Gardener’s Song. I do not know if it is quite germane to Dennett’s book, but it was a poem that delighted me as a child, and it is always good to be reminded of how a healthy mind works.
Fear and Dissembling
In his review of Jan Gross’ Fear (January), Andrzej Fister-Stoga demonstrates his failure to engage the subject when discussing the role of communism in 1940s Poland. There is no attempt to unpack the complex issue of the stereotype of the Jewish communist or the reality of collaboration. On this issue, the author is deliberately obfuscatory. The treatment of communism and the role of the Soviet Union is one of the most troubling aspects of this book. Although the author presents a relatively detailed account of the occupation of Poland, there is no mention whatsoever of the mass deportation and murder of Polish Catholics by the Soviets from 1939 to 1941, which is merely described as Sovietization. Indeed, the only mention of deportations by the Soviets are of Polish Jews, leaving the impression that only they were so victimized, when in fact Polish Catholics made up the overwhelming majority of the Soviet terror’s victims.
More serious is Gross’ astonishing endorsement of communism as a legitimate political alternative: The motivation of youthful converts to Communism in this period was selfless and altruistic . . . [communism offered] the promise of a bright, happy future for generations to come. This is written about a system whose selfless and altruistic followers murdered millions and whose Polish adherents sought the dissolution of their own country. Moreover, the author describes postwar Stalinist terror and repression as making Poles tired and irritated, as if mass arrests and the killing of thirty thousand people were something that could be treated with aspirin and a nap.
Any reviewer who read the book with care might also have noted some logical inconsistencies. For example, Jews who joined the Communist party are portrayed as non-Jewish, and thus their actions are not representative of Polish Jewry but of communists, whereas those communist functionaries who were Polish Gentiles are treated as representative of all non-Jewish Poles but not representative of communists. Anti-Semitic acts by Polish Catholics are treated as representative of the Polish-Catholic imagination, but anti-Semitic acts by communists are not seen as representative of the leftist imagination.
Fear is a monument to postmodern scholarship, in which the author merely makes a set of sweeping and simplistic generalizations with little supporting evidence. What evidence he does present is often questionable and/or contradictory. For example, the author states, In the Polish-Catholic imagination, Jews are God-killers, they use Christian children for matzo. (Note the use of the present tense.) Needless to say, Gross presents no discussion of the history, theology, or philosophy of Polish Catholicism, and his view of Catholicism is largely informed by the anti-Catholic polemics of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. In reflecting on the horrific Kielce pogrom, Gross states, What stands out on this gruesome occasion is the widely shared sense in Polish society that getting rid of the Jews, by killing them if necessary, was permissible. Once again, there is no attempt to present evidence that Polish society felt this way.
It is simply asserted as such and backed with selected examples of horrific violence and photographs of small Jewish children playing and attending school. Since several FIRST THINGS editors have more than a passing knowledge of Polish Catholic thought, one should expect a bit more critical discussion of a work that makes such statements.
John Radzilowski, Ph.D.
Piast Institute, Detroit
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota
Andrzej Fister-Stoga replies:
John Radzilowski presents several important points about Jan T. Gross’ book. There is indeed an entire chapter devoted to the Polish Catholic Church’s reaction to the Kielce pogrom and its purported anti-Semitism. Gross’ main point is that the Church didn’t immediately, openly, and directly condemn the anti-Semitic aspect of the events. Such accusations ignore the lethal political situation in which the Church found itself under communist rule, the context of the pogrom being a particularly sensitive issue, for government troops took part in it. Also, the Church was aware of the often justified perception present in Polish society of Jewish-Soviet collaboration and didn’t want to be seen as endorsing the oppressor. As with the rest of the book, this Catholic theme is confused and questionable; but, contrary to Radzilowski’s view, I see it as an interjection that isn’t relevant to the work’s wider thesis. After all, Gross’ historical interpretation is that Poles killed Jews not because of a Church-sponsored anti-Semitism, or because of the blood-for-matzo story, but because Jews reminded Poles of the alleged crimes Poles committed against them during the war”a thesis, it should be reminded, Gross completely fails to prove.
I am grateful to Radzilowski for the attention he gives to Gross’ endorsement of communism as a legitimate political system”something that happens too often in Western academic circles. I regret not having pointed it out myself. At the same time, the criticism of youths who saw communism as promising a bright, happy future for generations to come does open up an important question. Clearly, communism inherently is, was, and always will be an inhuman system. People who supported it made a mistake in doing so. Contrary to what popular culture says, there is no such thing as the right to make mistakes. Is it permissible, however, to show a degree of leniency toward those who, emerging from the war and Holocaust, had fallen for the lie it promised? Readers will have to answer that question themselves.
There are complaints in Radzilowski’s letter, however, that I cannot accept. He characterizes me as being deliberately obfuscatory when dealing with the stereotype of the Jewish communist and collaborator, even though I explicitly dealt with this issue and quoted a long passage from Karski’s report to show how shamefully biased Gross’ argumentation is. He also writes that I’m not careful in noting logical inconsistencies, particularly with regard to Gross’ identification of aggressors and victims. In reality, I address this problem, providing ample quotations to support it. Finally, in order to show that my review isn’t critical enough of Gross’ unfair treatment of non-Jews, Radzilowski provides a quotation from the book: What stands out on this gruesome occasion . . . Interestingly, that’s the very passage I use to point out Gross’ unfairness.
Voting for Life
In How We Got to Where We Are (Public Square, January), Richard John Neuhaus states that in 1972 too many Republicans were backing the abortion license”for instance, Colorado governor Richard Lamm. In fact, Richard Lamm is not a Republican but a Democrat. Furthermore, the Colorado governor in 1972 was not Richard Lamm but Republican John Vanderhoof, who succeeded John A. Love, who on April 25, 1967, signed the first legislation in the United States authorizing abortion. In 1970, State Representative Lamm proposed further legislation to expand the abortion license, which failed in the State Senate on an 18-17 vote. Twelve of the fifteen State Senate Democrats voted against that proposed legislation. Today there is not one pro-life member in either house of the Colorado legislature who is a Democrat.
John E. Archibold
Thanks to Father Neuhaus for his useful treatment of George McKenna’s article in Human Life Review regarding Democrats, Republicans, and abortion. Although this will not bring tears to the eyes of FIRST THINGS editors, liberally inclined Catholics like myself who take the Church’s teaching on human-life issues seriously are politically most unhappy. We are told that we should not vote for an abortion-rights candidate who, in other respects, is closer to the Church’s position on a large range of important issues. I take this to mean that, in a time-machine hypothetical in which we could get a do-over on, say, the 2000 election, we would still be obliged to vote for George W. Bush, even knowing what we know now about what his presidency has brought us.
To put it mildly, I don’t like voting for abortion-rights candidates. But I cannot accept the idea that the only proper Catholic vote must always be based on the formula Vote for the pro-life guy . That calls for a dreadful lack of engagement by Catholics in the electoral process. This is why we’re unhappy.
Dale Wisely, Ph.D.