Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Chosen" people

Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy.

Deacon Scott Dodge's recent remarks about Abraham Lincoln (Inherent complexity defies reduction) and the problem of abortion are very helpful. While he does not make any parallels between Lincoln's pre-presidential stance on slavery and that of Barack Obama on abortion, my own discovery (through Deacon Scott's work) that Lincoln's stance evolved, shines new light on questions I have been grappling with. And let me be very clear: Deacon Scott has been consistent (on his own blog and here) in his repudiation and condemnation of Obama, Biden, and Pelosi when it comes to abortion.

For some time, I have wanted to know why, in the end, politicians are "pro-choice," particularly when a majority of voters polled have responded on multiple occasions that they are pro-life, and when "
47% of all Democrats agree, 'abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter'" (Democrats for Life, by Kristen Day). The political process is supposed to guarantee that when a majority of Americans are opposed to a particular policy or law, politicians will shy away from supporting it, right?

It is tempting to think that money is the culprit, and perhaps it is. I tried to do some research on-line to discover just how much money Obama receives from pro-abortion organizations, but I wasn't able turn up any easy-to-find figures. This work will have to fall to someone more competent in this area.

Meanwhile, the problem of Abraham Lincoln's "nuanced" position on slavery, as documented by Deacon Scott, offers a fresh angle of approach to my own question. Lincoln, it can be presumed, did not practice politics within the same money-saturated political climate we find today. So, why did he, at one time, support slavery, albeit within limits? The answer to this question could go further toward answering the question that concerns me: How is it possible for a candidate to be personally opposed to something while exercising his or her political power to make the "regrettable" more likely to happen more often, even while those who have elected him or her have expressed their opposition?

Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery evolved over time. It may be that his personal opinion about slavery never changed. Perhaps he began with the belief that the overthrow of that loathsome institution would be impossible, given the cultural and economic situation of the country. Then, when he saw possibilities open up, he reached toward them.

It may be that Obama likewise supports the practice of abortion because he believes it is a regrettable given in our society. His voting and public statements, however, don't leave much room to hope that this is the case.

But, even more likely is the possibility that Abraham Lincoln was a man of his time and culture, that slavery was an evil he, like his compatriots, had grown accustomed to. When a great evil is legal and widely practiced in a given country, it is easy for citizens to make room for it, even if they recognize its evil. Rationalization (it may be wrong, but how else could our economy/culture/all that's good in us survive?) and relativism (not right for me, but for others...) sometimes seem to us the more intelligent, "nuanced," and urbane responses to social ills.

Let's put cynicism aside and assume that Obama means it when he says,

“I'm in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade… That's why I'm running, Democrats — to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality.”

Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, November 10, 2007

Statements like this one reveal Obama's real concern for his fellow human beings, particularly those who are weak or disenfranchized. So, why doesn't he fight, with the same passion, for the lives of those who are weakest and least capable of ensuring their own opportunity and equality? Perhaps he, like Lincoln, believes that while abortion may be evil, the alternative could be worse.

Or he has bought into a mentality that goes largely unarticulated, but which says that unless babies are wanted, let's say chosen, by their parents, then their lives do not carry the same value as the lives of others who are "chosen" by their parents. This line of thinking assumes that it is in the act of being "chosen" by one's parents that a person acquires value.

Of course, this notion, that human value derives from having been chosen, comes to us from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The difference is that for the Jew and for the Christian, human beings are valuable because each has been chosen by God. But in this new understanding of "being chosen," the people who choose are mere humans. The "pro-choice" stance is first of all a rejection of God as the One who gives each one of us value; it is an attempt to emancipate oneself from having been chosen by a power beyond us.


Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Just a note by way of clarification: in my earlier post I was not making a parallel between Lincoln's pre-presidential stance on slavery and that of Barack Obama on abortion. I was merely rebutting a statement that Prof Lee made in his letter-to-the-editor, namely that the same principle is stake in the abortion debate as in slavery in the nineteenth century. My point was to show that Lee is engaging in an unacceptable reduction.

I think I have been pretty clear in my repudiation, even condemnation, of Obama, Biden, and Pelosi when it comes to abortion. That may not have been clear from my post. I did want to make it clear. I am also clear about the fact that I believe there are adequately proportionate reasons for voting for Sen Obama for president.

Suzanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzanne said...

What you wrote is clear. I will change what I wrote in order to better reflect the original content of what you wrote. My own post was not so much a response to what you wrote as simply taking something you brought to my attention and then running with it.

Marie said...

The political process is supposed to guarantee that when a majority of Americans are opposed to a particular policy or law, politicians will shy away from supporting it, right?

This is a minor point in your overall post, but I would disagree with this assertion. This points to a primary difference between a democracy and a republic. The US is a republic, which is designed to be governed by elected officials. They are elected, presumably, because the population feels the candidates support the electors' views. A democracy is where the majority rules, more directly. That's not how we were designed to operate.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."