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Thursday, October 09, 2008

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Shaun G

You write: "contraceptives are essentially forms of abortion"

Let's not give those on the other side of the issue any fodder like this — they'll retort with things like, "Oh, should I be charged with homicide every time I kill a sperm?"

Let's be clear: Abortion ends a human life. Not all contraceptives do.

HOWEVER ... some devices billed as "contraceptives" are actually abortificients (like Plan B, the so-called "emergency contraception"), which prevents a fertilized egg (i.e. an embryo/zygote/etc. -- a human life) from implanting in the uterus. And it would be correct to say, in regard to these types of "contraceptives" that they are essentially forms of abortion.

Helene

Thank you for not-so-simplistic response. I finally actually understand it and could probably even hold my own when my siblings start in with the ol' "Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion" thing. Guess what? It does. Thanks!

LJ

Well said, well argued, Carl, and exactly right.

I would add two simplistic statements that you stopped short of because they were not part of the argument and another whole discussion.

Marxism (the discussion of Obama's associations is really a discussion of his ideological formation) has been demonstrated not to eliminate poverty but rather to univeralize it.

An individual or society's rise in prosperity does not correlate with, nor cause a similar rise in moral behavior. In fact, most evidence demonstrates the opposite. It is not the reason that Catholics help the poor.

Evan

"And that, folks, is my not-so-simplistic response."

Indeed! I think this is a much better take on the issue, and it does a better job of getting to the heart of the problem with Obama's pro-choice stance. I'd like to make a few comments, but they shouldn't be interpreted as a lack of agreement with the general direction of your argument. I'd also say that I appreciate the candid response to my criticisms. It never ceases to amaze me how blogs meant for conversation nevertheless work to stifle disagreement. I've always found blogs where everyone simply said, "Yup", "yeah", "amen", etc. rather boring. Worse, doing that doesn't help us think through these issues in a rigorous fashion.

On the analogy to slavery- I think this is helpful. I would amend it a bit, however. Someone who is "pro-choice" without being "pro-abortion" is more like those who opposed government outlawing of slavery altogether but nevertheless had a moral opposition, if ambiguous, to it. The attitude of Washington and Jefferson with regard to slaves would fit this bill. This is not to say that the opinions of Washington or Jefferson are morally defensible with regard to slavery, but rather to point out that an ambiguity or even a moral opposition on some level to an evil institution can be found alongside a political support of it as institutionally licit. We might even say the same thing for St. Paul regarding slavery (and here I know I open up a floodgate... I'm just throwing this out and legitimately curious about what others think).

The point, however, is that it is unhelpful to deconstruct one's entire moral stance based on implications and constructions that the person would not themselves grant. That's not to say that a valid moral critique can't be leveled against such a person, but moral decisions which they do not hold based upon differences of assumptions should not be attributed to them as moral thinkers simply on the basis of the coherence or even the truth of the deconstruction that's being offered. This is simple Christian charity, and doesn't bar us from criticizing Obama or anyone else quite severely on the basis of morality; it simply bars us from attributing to him a spirit or intention that is based not on his own moral reasoning and choice but rather upon our's.

While Obama's record on contraception should indeed be troublesome to the Catholic- two wrongs certainly don't make a right- I'm not sure it's so obvious that this strategy is "central" to his plans. I also don't think that it's well advised to brush aside economic or educational reform as a "crap shoot" in the voter's booth. This is why we have economists, social scientists, and educators- because serious analysis is important to make an informed decision about these issues. Addressing Obama's policies in comparison to McCain's is no crap shoot. A reliable, if not infallible, assessment can be made.

As I say, there is much of your argument that I agree entirely with. While you (or any readers) may find them to be gravely mistaken, it is probably best to take a pro-life Obama supporter at their word that they are legitimately pro-life and that there will be a significant amount of overlap with your criticisms of Obama and their own. To a large extent you're preaching to the choir about the issue of abortion itself; the point of contention concerns the role of elected officials, the extent of their influence upon particular policies, and the circumstantial factors that make a vote for a moral agent (rather than a moral platform) wise or unwise in a given election year. And I think that this critique offers a better approach to addressing these questions.

Mark Brumley

Thanks for the complexity.

It would be helpful if so-called prochoice politicians would explain to us what they find problematic about abortion. I want to know why they don't like abortion and why they think "no one likes abortion".

"Prochoice" may not equal "proabortion" in the sense that one necessarily holds that abortion is a good thing, but "prochoice" does equal "proabortion" in the sense that one holds that the right to get an abortion is a good thing. You example of slavery shows this.

Jackson

Carl, I'm glad to see you address this at length. When I saw that wretched sophistry parroted by Evan, I thought it cried out for a response. Will read it later....

Father Thomas

This is the very first time I've heard anyone in the discussion bring up the contraception aspect. Why hasn't anyone else mentioned this and challenged Obama's Catholic supporters like Doug Kmiec? Have faithful Catholics reached the point where this argument is not worth making anymore because no one in the wider discussion (including many Catholics) takes it seriously?

Kmiec and Co. want to convince people that Obama's abortion position is compatible with the Church's teaching. Even if Obama's position on reducing abortions were compatible (and, I am convinced, it clearly is not), he runs up against the Church's teaching on contraception. As Carl says, you can't avoid a gravely moral evil by choosing another gravely moral evil. Undecided Catholics who are trying to live the Church's teaching need to hear this, because all they're getting in the secular media is Doug Kmiec's apologia.

Just because Kmiec and Co. (and many other Catholics, for that matter) may see nothing wrong with this issue and, if confronted, may simply trudge out the worn (and refuted) arguments for dissenting, the faithful should not be dissuaded from challenging them and making this argument. Catholics must believe the whole truth.

Ed

Carl--Terrific as always. May I add, though, Mr. Obama's own comments that, as it were, "prove" that his is "pro-abortion"? Didn't he say that he would teach his daughters morals, but that he didn't want them "burdened" with an unintended pregnancy? Sounds like a full-fledged endorsement to me...

Tom Fennelly

Carl,

Thanks for a concise and not-so-simplistic-yet-clear response to the linguistic gymnastics of the pro-choice argument. Especially chilling is your quote by Pieper, I had not heard it before but made me cringe when reading it in light of our current political season. Words have meaning and consequences; even "is" has a particular definition, contrary to what some former Presidents claim. But to claim that pro-choice is something other than pro-abortion is not even credible. Or rather it should not be credible but it somehow is to a large population because, once again, words mean whatever we decide they mean in order to fit the circumstances and our pre-existing beliefs.

Pro-lifers should get very familiar with the analogy used above and learn to charitably propose it whenever we get accused of "imposing our religious beliefs" on others. Thanks for the post.

Dan Deeny

I didn't know that "Obama has spoken out and consistently worked to lower abortion rates." Does anyone have any examples?

Carl E. Olson

Dan: One example, from his 2007 talk to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund: "We need to tackle the tragedy of unintended teen pregnancy. When seven hundred and fifty thousand teens become pregnant every year, and half of Latina and black teens will become mothers before reaching their twenties, it’s not just a public health problem. If we reduce teen pregnancy, we can also reduce poverty." He has used similar language in other settings.

Evan

"When I saw that wretched sophistry parroted by Evan, I thought it cried out for a response."


Quite the accusation, Jackson.

I've got better things to do if my questioning the logic of these posts can't be engaged with apart from charges of sophistry. Carl has graciously entertained my criticisms and given my a generous response. You, on the other hand, do moral thought no service here.

Boldness that questions sincerity without any justification for doing so is no virtue.

Mike

There are even secular sources that say the pill, and various other forms of contraception, are abortifacients.

"Prevent pregnancy. Birth control hormones prevent pregnancy in three ways. They stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). They also thicken the mucus in the cervix. This makes it hard for sperm to travel into the uterus. And birth control hormones change the lining of the uterus, which makes it harder for a fertilized egg to attach to it. " (From http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/combination-hormonal-birth-control-methods-pills-patch-or-ring#te7769)

"The primary mechanism of oral contraceptives is to inhibit ovulation, but this mechanism is not always operative. When breakthrough ovulation occurs, then secondary mechanisms operate to prevent clinically recognized pregnancy. These secondary mechanisms may occur either before or after fertilization. Postfertilization effects would be problematic for some patients, who may desire information about this possibility. This article evaluates the available evidence for the postfertilization effects of oral contraceptives and concludes that good evidence exists to support the hypothesis that the effectiveness of oral contraceptives depends to some degree on postfertilization effects. However, there are insufficient data to quantitate the relative contribution of postfertilization effects. Despite the lack of quantitative data, the principles of informed consent suggest that patients who may object to any postfertilization loss should be made aware of this information so that they can give fully informed consent for the use of oral contraceptives." (From http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/9/2/126)

Finally, see http://www.aaplog.org/collition.htm.

Carl E. Olson

While Obama's record on contraception should indeed be troublesome to the Catholic- two wrongs certainly don't make a right- I'm not sure it's so obvious that this strategy is "central" to his plans...

Evan: Perhaps not. But one thing I learned in putting together my post is that Obama talks a lot about contraception and the need for universal access to it. Just one more example, again from his address to the Planned Parenthood group: "We need, we need to ensure that pharmaceutical companies can offer discounted drugs to safety net providers like Planned Parenthood [Applause] and university clinics so that access, so that access to affordable contraception is not just a privilege for the few but an option for all women. It’s amazing how many women tell me the stories of how important it was for Planned Parenthood to provide them services when they were in college and they did not have the health insurance or the access to a regular doctor that they needed. To be able to have somebody they could trust to deal with so many of their basic and essential health issues."

Aaron

I find it fascinating that with all the health-related issues regarding chemical contraceptives, that Sen Obama refers to them as "basic and essential health issues." Funny, I never considered breast cancer, cervical cancer, high blood pressure, infertility, and a range of other maladies healthy.

Jackson

"Boldness that questions sincerity without any justification for doing so is no virtue."

Evan, I took your sincerity for granted. What I questioned was your sincere distortion of the truth, and as Carl has shown, there was plenty of justification for doing so. It's about truth, not sincerity. Reject Oprahism.

Diana

I'm curious as to the origins of the term "Pro-Choice"?
Does anyone know who first used this term and when?

My bumper sticker reads: Pro-Choice? That's a lie! Babies don't choose to die.

Jackson

I like that bumper sticker, Diana. Check out ones I made here:

http://tinyurl.com/47bf9n

&

http://tinyurl.com/4cht7x

&

http://tinyurl.com/4bn2fe

Evan

Jackson,

It's certainly about truth, but sophistry is an accusation of deception made against one's sincerity. If you had simply told me I was wrong, then we'd be talking about truth right now. Oprah has nothing to do with it. And I fail to understand what justification Carl has supposedly offered for saying that I "distorted" truth; if anything he has reinforced the legitimacy of my call for a better argument by offering one. Otherwise I assume he wouldn't have felt the need to do so.

I am curious of what others think of my response regarding the slave analogy. What of presidents Washington and Jefferson, who demonstrate an ambiguous but at least present moral rejection of slavery while standing against its institutional condemnation? This seems a better analogy to me. Given this comparison, Obama seems in good company (well, bad company, but you know what I mean!). And lest we forget, McCain's support of funding for embryonic stem cell research puts him in the same boat, differing from Obama by degree only. Perhaps Catholics should learn from the Anabaptists and refrain from voting in order to avoid provision of refuge to intrinsic evil? I don't think that's advisable, but then, I have the luxury of not being chained to the particular moral calculus that others are here. How would you answer these questions? They seem to be unavoidable given the way that you understand Obama's moral position as a pro-choice politician.

Dan

Diana, this is just based on a recollection that I have not double checked, but I think Dr. Bernard Nathanson has taken "credit" for devising the strategy of using the rhetoric of "choice" as a means of selling to the public the notion that there should be a "right" to abortion.

It is remarkable how all the rhetoric from the pro-abortion side obfuscates or decieves. When people say "I'm for choice" or "they want to take away our choice" or "he's anti-choice," they seem to recognize that one not dare speak the "a" word. The piece of rhetoric that outright deceives is when people say that outlawing abortion is a limitation on a woman's "reproductive freedom." Abortion does not in any way, shape or form limit a woman's choice about whether to "reproduce." Abortion by its nature occurs only after the woman already has reproduced. What upsets the pro-choice crowd is, as Diogenes put it in a recent article, "the reproductive right known as reproduction."

Dan

People who say they are pro-choice but not pro-abortion very likely view abortion as an unfortunate event, but not an evil act. The difference between being pro-choice and pro-life in this case reduces to different views of the moral status of abortion.

Jackson

The word "choice," it seems to me, was a diabolically savvy selection. As a consumer category, it's powerfully resonant in a thoroughly consumerist culture like America, where truth has been consumerized via relativism such that I have "my" truths, you have "your" truths, he has "his" truths etc. The "pro-choice" position is the ultimate in consumerism: life itself is consumerized on the altar of "choice" and "convenience."

By the way, as everyone here probably already knows, Fr. Frank Pavone has some good vids posted on youtube. Here's one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugEe2KBs4R8

Mark Brumley

Founders such as Washington and Jefferson who owned slaves were either untrue to their principles by owning slaves or they judged it expedient for themselves or their slaves that the slaves not be emancipated right away. Whichever it was, their actions do not justify a so-called prochoice stance on abortion today.

Such founders, I think, thought slavery should (and would) eventually be legally abolished. Candidates who hold a so-called prochoice position do not generally hold that abortion should be legally tolerated only for now but should eventually be legally abolished. They generally hold abortion to be a fundamental right and by implication they deny either the humanity of the unborn child or the fundamental equality of all human beings before the law. In that they are like those slaveholders who regarded efforts to abolish slavery not simply as inexpedient, whether for society, the slaveholders or the slaves themselves, but as a violation of the slaveholders' fundamental property rights.

Experimentation on embryonic human beings is intrinsically evil. However, it does not seem to differ from abortion only in degree. Some people who support embryonic stem cell experimentation reason that since the embryos involved are going to be discarded and therefore will die anyway, such embryos should be "put to good use". That is a flawed moral judgment since we are all going to "die anyway" and human beings should never be used as mere means (Kant got at least that right). Nevertheless, that seems to be a different moral judgment from the one that intends, from the outset, that unborn children may be killed if their mothers choose to kill them and that the state must permit this choiced as a legitimate and fundamental right.

Those who adopt a prolife stance re: abortion are inconsistent if they support such experimentation: the dignity of human life is at stake in both instances, but it seems that the error of supporting legal abortion is different from the error of permitting experimentation on embryonic human beings on the grounds that they are going "to die anyway". One line of reasoning sets out to justify killing of very young human beings (embryos, fetuses) as such, by denying them the fundamental moral status as beings with the fundamental right to life; the other attempts to justify the deadly use (abuse) of very young human beings (embryos) who have, for all intents and purposes, already been sentenced to death. Some people who support embryonic stem cell experimentation do so because they deny (arbitrarily, in fact) either the humanity of the embryonic human beings experimented upon or because they deny the fundamental equality of all human beings before the law. Others, especially those relatively few who are also opponents of legalized abortion, fail to see that the supposed benefits to be obtained from embryonic stem cells do not justify deadly experimentation on embryonic human beings, even though these human beings were going to be "discarded" anyway.

Matthew

Carl, I still think you were a little hazy on whether or not being "pro-choice" is really being "pro-abortion". I think you need to be more specific and clear on this position - to wishy washy. That being said, the article couldn't have been written any more clear and concise on the issue, and is something that needs to be spread to the masses of "Catholics" who call themselves "pro-choice" or support those who are "pro-choice", because it isn't "pro-abortion".

Evan

"Founders such as Washington and Jefferson who owned slaves were either untrue to their principles by owning slaves or they judged it expedient for themselves or their slaves that the slaves not be emancipated right away. Whichever it was, their actions do not justify a so-called prochoice stance on abortion today."

As a matter of clarification, I wasn't trying to justify the pro-choice stance by bringing up the founders. Quite the opposite. While I think your point about the progressive hope for moral change in Washington and Jefferson is a good one, the problem that I find with Carl's original example of a "pro-choice" slaveholder still holds. You simply (and rightly) point out that my analogy doesn't work on the level of moral progression. But the main point of my analogy was the ambiguity of moral stance and practice, and I think this continues to hold quite well. With regard to this, Obama seems to be in the same position as a Washington or a Jefferson. Not a good position, of course, but some precedent from which we might glean some insight as we decide how to vote this year.

With your discussion of embyronic stem cells, I think you miss the point. You begin by saying that experimentation is intrinsically evil. Quite right. The same goes for abortion. You go on, however, to clarify the reasons for McCain (or anyone else) taking this stance, which you (rightly, I think) judge to be morally flawed, but so on a different level than the intrinsic evil of experimentation itself.

But how on earth can you separate this from Obama's pro-choice stance? McCain balances the embryo with the Parkinson's patient while Obama balances the unborn baby with its mother. I don't see why it should matter whether the basis of this balancing act is a supposed "right" of the mother or the medical benefit of a patient. Either stance is equally guilty of justifying government sanction of an intrinsic evil.

I think from here we have a two primary options:

1. Don't vote for McCain or Obama. Support of government sanction or even funding for an intrinsic evil is support for the evil. Doesn't matter if they say they're against it on a personal moral level, they betray this claim by their policies. Doesn't matter of justification for their policies is more or less adequate, neither of them meet the standards for approving of such an intrinsic evil. "Close", that is, only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades.

-or-

2. Recognize that both of them are guilty of serious evil in their support of policies that will kill unborn children, and make the decision that a vote for one of them does not mean that you are thus supportive of their policies on unborn life. Go on to choose Obama and McCain for whatever other reasons seem appropriate... economic stability, support of just approaches to war, educational policy, or whatever else.

Given the choice of option 2, there needs to be at least some recognition of the fact that political support can be offered legitimately where moral support is not attendant. Which, however, brings us back to the initial question of pro-life supporters of Obama.

Given the choice of option 1? Well, that may be the morally upright thing to do. I'm not convinced that it is, but I have much less of an argument with that one than with the position that's being articulated here.

Kevin Cary

It would be a lot easier to take Obama at his word that he wants to reduce abortions if he didn't do things like this:

http://www.nrlc.org/obamaBAIPA/Obamacoveruponbornalive.htm

Even if it is possible to get to a point where you can say that McCain and Obama are equally morally problematic, you have to reconcile support for a candidate who is in favor (actions speak louder than words) of infanticide. Even if you argue that he voted against the bill for 'other' reasons and not because he wanted to let babies die on a stainless steel table somewhere, those 'other' reasons are that he felt the bill watered down Roe. In other words, Obama's actions do little to convince that he actually wants fewer abortions.

Mark Brumley

But how on earth can you separate this from Obama's pro-choice stance? McCain balances the embryo with the Parkinson's patient while Obama balances the unborn baby with its mother. I don't see why it should matter whether the basis of this balancing act is a supposed "right" of the mother or the medical benefit of a patient. Either stance is equally guilty of justifying government sanction of an intrinsic evil.

Your question is easily answered: I wasn't referring specifically to Obama vs. McCain :).

But in any event I do not see the relevance of your comment in relation to what I stated. I distinguished support for state authorization of the killing of unborn babies by their mothers from support for state authorized experimentation on embryos who are, sooner or later, going to be killed for other reasons already. Both are wrong but they are wrong in different ways.

Someone might say that he objects to the creation of embryos who will eventually be killed but since they have already been brought into being and are otherwise going to be destroyed that he supports experimentation on them. That is morally objectionable, of course, but it is not the same as saying that one supports creating embryos for the purpose of experimenting on them. Nor is it the same as someone saying that he supports the legal right of mothers to intend to kill their unborn children and to carry out that intention.

Again, the point is that both positions are wrong but they are so in different ways.
As far as either stance being "equally guilty" (sic) of "justifying government sanction of an intrinsic evil", I don't think I said otherwise. The point was not that one involved government sanction of an intrinsic evil and the other did not. The point was that there is a distinction between support for state authorization of mothers killing their unborn children and support for state authorization of lethal experimentation of embyronic human beings on the grounds that those human beings are going to be killed or are going to die anyway. To say that both positions are intrinsically wrong is not to say that they are intrinsically wrong in the same way or wrong to the same degree. Nor does the fact that both are intrinsically evil activities mean that a candidate who supports the one must necessarily be equally good or equally bad as the candidate who supports the other.

Sergio Flores

Pro-choice is an evil euphemism for pro-abortion, just like "interruption of pregnancy" is an evil euphemism for abortion.

Dr John James

Correct me if I'm wrong and realise that I'm watching this campaign from afar, but I have not seen the Life issues seriously raised in this campaign since the Saddleback interview. Surely, Palin especially, should go on the attack, pointing to Obama's terrible voting record and public statements, particularly in the Illinois legislature in relation to the Born Alive Act, his attitude to late term abortion and the Supreme Courts ruling on Partial Birth Abortion. I would personalise the debate in the sense that Palin could point to her son with Downs and ask why Obama would denies his right to Life? What of other children with disabilities diagnosed in utero? Take the battle to the him!

Mark Brumley

2. Recognize that both of them are guilty of serious evil in their support of policies that will kill unborn children, and make the decision that a vote for one of them does not mean that you are thus supportive of their policies on unborn life. Go on to choose Obama and McCain for whatever other reasons seem appropriate... economic stability, support of just approaches to war, educational policy, or whatever else.

Given the choice of option 2, there needs to be at least some recognition of the fact that political support can be offered legitimately where moral support is not attendant. Which, however, brings us back to the initial question of pro-life supporters of Obama.

Given the choice of option 1? Well, that may be the morally upright thing to do. I'm not convinced that it is, but I have much less of an argument with that one than with the position that's being articulated here.

Abstracting from the particulars of Obama vs. McCain, for what I am about to say applies to many other races, it is difficult to follow the line of reasoning that seeks to equate candidates in the way indicated above. It is correct that it is wrong for a candidate to support state authorization of experimentation on embryonic human beings, even if his support is based on the idea that these embryos are going to be discarded anyway. It is also correct to say it is wrong for a candidate to support both state authorization of experimentation on embryonic human beings and state authorization of mothers killing their unborn children. Since the first candidate supports only the one wrong thing and the second candidate supports both wrong things, it seems that if one's purpose in voting for one candidate over the other is to minimize harm done by the candidates' support for certain gravely evil things, one should vote for the candidate who supports only one wrong over the candidate who supports two wrongs. It does not make sense to try to redescribe the situation by claiming that it is simply one in which both candidates support wrong things so the candidates are the same and therefore one must look at the other differences between them to decide. Unlike many evils, the wrong things supported by the two candidates in the example above can be compared because one candidate supports both evils and one candidate supports only one of them.

Mark Brumley

But the main point of my analogy was the ambiguity of moral stance and practice, and I think this continues to hold quite well. With regard to this, Obama seems to be in the same position as a Washington or a Jefferson. Not a good position, of course, but some precedent from which we might glean some insight as we decide how to vote this year.

I am trying to understand this statement. Does it mean that even if Washington and Jefferson desired the eventual outlawing of slavery, the fact that they owned slaves and therefore at that time supported keeping slavery legal puts them in the same position as prochoice candidates who dislike abortion but presently support legalized abortion and who insist that it is a fundamental right and therefore should remain legal? That seems to be the thrust of the claim. It seems obviously false.

It also appears false to hold that Washington and Jefferson's concession to expediency, either in their own self interest or the interest of others (the unity of the newly formed government or other forms of social stability or the slaves themselves), would, by extension of principle, underwrite the prochoice position on abortion. Since, on this view, Washington and Jefferson both looked forward to a day when slavery would be illegal and they merely tolerated its legality in their own time, their stance would not be analogous to that of those prochoice advocates who dislike abortion but who nevertheless insist that it is a fundamental right that should always be legal.

Kathy

Father Thomas,

You stated, " Didn't he say that he would teach his daughters morals, but that he didn't want them "burdened" with an unintended pregnancy?"

What Senator Obama actually said was even more revealing and incriminating:

"Look, I got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old," he said. "I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

Evan

"Unlike many evils, the wrong things supported by the two candidates in the example above can be compared because one candidate supports both evils and one candidate supports only one of them."

In addition to identifying these two evils, however (which, to be sure, are comparable), my example above leads us to the conclusion that, given we are prepared to choose the "lesser of two evils," we cannot simply boil this election down to a rejection of intrinsic evil. We've given up that mantle when we deem McCain a morally reasonable choice to make, as he is still tied into a web of intrinsic evil. Quite simply, you are not rejecting these grave evils as you might have had you refused to vote for ANY candidate that advocates government sanction of intrinsic evil.

Once this step is taken, "intrinsic" evil cannot be pitted against any other evil in a fashion which allows you to balance it as categorically more basic than decisions about poverty or unjust war. You've given up the integrity with which to do this by choosing the lesser of two evils, and at this point you are recognizing a much more realist, pragmatic understanding of the political sphere. At this point the categorically unique nature of "intrinsic" evil is not reflected by your political decisionmaking, and it's disingenuous for you to use this as a supposed knock-down argument against a pro-life Obama supporter.

Now, one might still reasonably vote for McCain because he is 1 for 2 rather than simply 0 for 2 on these issues, but making this decision cannot be fairly characterized as a rejection of intrinsic evil in a way that a vote for Obama isn't.

Mark Brumley

In addition to identifying these two evils, however (which, to be sure, are comparable), my example above leads us to the conclusion that, given we are prepared to choose the "lesser of two evils," we cannot simply boil this election down to a rejection of intrinsic evil.

Evan, I am not sure who "us" and "we" refer to. You quote me in your comments but your conclusion is not one in dispute in my argument.

Forgive me for my bluntness but since I am not sure of what the point is of much that you say in your reply above, I can only make some observations that seem pertinent to the general subject matter and hope they pertain to what you are trying to say.

It is true to say that between two candidates who both affirm positions that support intrinsically evil activities that the state may not authorize, one cannot decide simply by supporting that candidate who does not hold a position supporting intrinsically evil activities. Obviously!

It does not follow, though, (and perhaps you don't intend us to think it does, though I can't be sure), that because two candidates both hold positions involving intrinsic evil that the category of intrinsic evil necessarily becomes altogther irrelevant in deciding between the two candidates. For, as I indicated in the discussion above, one candidate may support intrinsic evils X and Y, while the other candidate supports only intrinsic evil Y. If one's opposition to intrinsic evils includes trying to minimize them where possible, it makes sense that one would, ceteris paribus, oppose the candidate who supports intrinsic evils X and Y by supporting the candidate who supports only intrinsic evil X.

Of course one might decide to support neither and not vote. But if one chooses to vote, it would, under the principle just presented, make more sense to vote for the candidate who supported only one of the two intrinsic evils than to support the candidate who supported both of them.

Once this step is taken, "intrinsic" evil cannot be pitted against any other evil in a fashion which allows you to balance it as categorically more basic than decisions about poverty or unjust war. You've given up the integrity with which to do this by choosing the lesser of two evils, and at this point you are recognizing a much more realist, pragmatic understanding of the political sphere. At this point the categorically unique nature of "intrinsic" evil is not reflected by your political decisionmaking, and it's disingenuous for you to use this as a supposed knock-down argument against a pro-life Obama supporter.

I hardly know where to begin to respond. Let me try this. If one rules out voting, under any circumstance, for a candidate who supports any intrinsic evil, then of course in a race between two candidate who both support intrinsic evils it follows that neither candidate will receive one's vote. But of course one need not exclude voting under any circumstance for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil. One may vote for such a candidate for a proportionate reason. Such a proportionate reason could include, as in my example above, voting for a candidate in spite of the fact that he supports intrinsic evil X, in order to defeat his rival candidate, because the rival candidate supports intrinsic evil X and intrinsic evil Y.

At this point the categorically unique nature of "intrinsic" evil is not reflected by your political decisionmaking, and it's disingenuous for you to use this as a supposed knock-down argument against a pro-life Obama supporter.

I will assume that the "you" above is a rhetorical "you" and not take it as making a statement about the arguments I made here. I will therefore assume that you have introduced a point in your response to me that concerns someone else or something else, since my argument does not put me in the general category included by your rhetorical "you". Likewise, your comment about "a supposed knock-down argument against a pro-life Obama supporter" I take as referring to someone else. Otherwise, I must dismiss it as a red herring.

Now, one might still reasonably vote for McCain because he is 1 for 2 rather than simply 0 for 2 on these issues, but making this decision cannot be fairly characterized as a rejection of intrinsic evil in a way that a vote for Obama isn't.

It depends on what you mean. Instead of speaking of McCain and Obama, let's stick to general principles. Surely voting for the candidate who supports only one of two intrinsic evils (let's call him Candidate X) to prevent victory for the candidate who supports two of two intrinsic evils (let's call him Candidate X and Y), can fairly be characterized as rejecting intrinsic evil in a way that voting the other way around isn't.

If I vote for Candidate X in order to prevent Candidate X and Y from winning, and I do so under the principle of minimizing intrinsic evils, that would seem to be different from the way someone else would have to see things concerning intrinsic evils if he voted for Candidate X and Y in order to prevent Candidate X from winning--assuming the other voter and I agree about X and Y being intrinsic evils, the number of intrinsic evils at issue, and the positions of the candidates regarding X and Y.

Once this step is taken, "intrinsic" evil cannot be pitted against any other evil in a fashion which allows you to balance it as categorically more basic than decisions about poverty or unjust war. You've given up the integrity with which to do this by choosing the lesser of two evils, and at this point you are recognizing a much more realist, pragmatic understanding of the political sphere. At this point the categorically unique nature of "intrinsic" evil is not reflected by your political decisionmaking, and it's disingenuous for you to use this as a supposed knock-down argument against a pro-life Obama supporter.

Again, I am not exactly sure what you're trying to say. In any event, I have not been focusing on the distinction, per se, between political positions involving intrinsic evils and those which do not, in the manner implied in your statement above. That is another, complicated discussion and these comments are already long. Suffice it to say that when a candidate supports an intrinsic evil, I know that he is wrong on that issue. When he does not, I do not necessarily know that he is wrong. Other issues have to be brought to bear to assess his position, and those elements generally introduce uncertainty.

If I support the candidate, I materially cooperate. To do that, I need a proportionate reason. It is difficult, if not practically impossible, to come up with one based on the run-of-the-mill set of nonintrinsic evils and political positions, when the intrinsic evils at issue are great and fundamental contraventions of the purpose of political society.

To amplify that last point: the discussion above involved not only intrinsically evil things but widespread, deeply serious, intrinsic evils that pertain to the very nature of political society (legal abortion, experiments on embryonic human beings) and, because they touch on the right to life, which is fundamental for the exercise of all other rights, they take priority over many other issues, which either do not involve intrinsic evils, are not as fundamental, or both.

But as I say, that is another discussion.

Jeannine

This is a great piece, Carl. May I add that Mr. Obama also reveals his true position on the abortion issue by his opposition to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, an act that was supported even by NARAL and by pro-abortion politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer. I just don't see any evidence that Mr. Obama ever encountered an abortion he didn't approve of. He is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate for president that our unfortunate republic has ever seen. Luckily for his campaign, the news media seems to be determined to make sure that very few people realize this.

I think that "pro-life Obama supporter" is an oxymoron.

The ESCR issue has been rendered almost completely irrelevant by advances in the study of adult stem cells. Yes, Mr. McCain's position on ESCR does involve support for an intrinsic evil, but his position is unlikely to be relevant for much longer. Indeed, I've noticed that this particular issue no longer gets much play in the press or in either campaign, since now too many people have noticed that actual advances are coming from adult stem cells and that the promises of cures for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's from embryonic stem cells were lies. The major reason for pushing this issue in the past was actually, I think, to justify abortion in the public mind. And when it comes to abortion, McCain is pro-life.

I hate to make the argument about numbers, but we ARE talking about 40 million unborn babies killed since 1973 when we talk about the abortion "choice." The sheer gigantic accumulation of evil involved here boggles the mind--pervasive, long-term, and fundamental evil. I am grateful that at least one major-party candidate in this race opposes that monstrous holocaust.

David

I respect the intellectuality of your article and of Mark Brumley’s exchanges with Evan in the comments that follow your article. Unfortunately, these exchanges somehow declined into the idea that both McCain and Obama are holding evil positions.

I do agree that embryonic stem cell research, as opposed to adult stem cell research, is evil, but for practical purposes in the coming election, the simple truth is that Obama would be a disaster for unborn babies.

McCain, like Bush, is not perfect, but McCain, like Bush, will appoint Supreme Court Justices who are likely to be pro-life, whereas Obama, like Clinton, will appoint Justices who are definitely pro-abortion. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a former litigator for the ACLU. Her pro-abortion vote was a certainty when Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court.) Until the Supreme Court is changed to more than four pro-life Justices (Justice Kennedy being a total uncertainty), attempts to legally protect the unborn will be fruitless. If Obama appoints one or two or three abortionist Justices, our legal fight is doomed for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years—as long as those abortionist Justices live.

The abortionist organization, NARAL, rates Obama’s voting record as 100% and McCain’s as a zero percent. The abortionists have no doubt about the practical effects of this election.

Obama has promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as President will be to sign the FOCA. This act will reverse all current legal restrictions on abortion, however weak those restrictions currently are. Obama three times led the opposition to the Infants Born Alive act in the Illinois legislature. He then lied that the state act was different from the federal act, and that this somehow justified his opposition. Obama stated (as correctly quoted above) that he did not want his daughters “punished with a baby.” To ignore Obama’s absolute and total commitment to unrestricted abortion, while labeling McCain’s position as evil and while quibbling whether “pro-choice” is a valid term, is a total distortion of the realities of the coming election.

There is no close call on which candidate will provide protection for the unborn, but the exchanges in response to your article make it sound as if McCain is barely, if at all, better than Obama. This muddying of the real political issues is a disaster.

McCain is the only choice of anyone who really seeks to protect babies and their mothers from the horrors of abortion.

Nino Baldino

McCain voted to confirm Ginsgberg to the supremes..an official of the dreaded ACLU so this 'hero' is hardly pro-life..the aclu also wants to legalize child porn..so McCain wont be babysitting for my goldfish either..pro-choice but not for the developing baby or the father..the temporary host only has the right to kill it..yet insurance compainies ,in an auto accident of a pregnant woman and her baby,,if both are killed they count it as two killings..another hobsons choice this year,,we have seen that the lesser of two evils is evil..hobson would rent a horse to you at his choice..this is what we are getting again..two CFR members who have no idea what it is to be a regular citizen in the work force.

Terry

How can a Christian be Pro-Choice? That is like saying Satan is a Christian! Oil and water do not mix like evil and goodness.

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