Wednesday, November 5, 2008

His proposal was more attractive to a majority of Americans

This is what it all boils down to, and I really hope that those who share my passion for life will take notice. Rocco Palmo, in his post, Scenes from a Repudiation, has some very interesting statistics on the election, and I entreat you to take a look at them. It is not that our fellow Americans haven't heard our message. It is not that their hearts are evil. It is simply that we have not done our work well. Two points:

  1. We are against abortion because our awareness of the infinite and irreducible value of human life makes life more beautiful, richer, more zestful. I am not convinced that we made this case during the years and months leading up to this election.
  2. We have not answered the clearly articulated desire for freedom that has been central to the pro-abortion lobby. Why is the "pro-choice" slogan so compelling to our fellow citizens? Is it so hard to see? We need, as Catholics, to understand what we really believe about freedom -- we need to first teach ourselves, really delve into the mystery we adhere to when we repeat Christ's assertion, "The truth shall set you free." What is it about the fact, the truth, of our infinite irreducible value as human beings that makes us free?
In only one case is...this single human being, free from the entire world, free, so that the world together and even the total universe cannot force him to do anything...This is when we assume that [the person] is not totally the fruit of the biology of the mother and father, not strictly derived from the biological tradition of mechanical antecedents but rather when it possesses a direct relationship with the infinite, the origin of all the flux of the world ... that is to say, it is endowed with something derived from God...So here is the paradox: freedom is dependence on God. It is a paradox, but it is absolutely clear. The human being – the concrete human person, me, you – once we were not, now we are, and tomorrow will no longer be: thus we depend. And either we depend upon the flux of our material antecedents, and are consequently slaves of the powers that be, or we depend on What lies at the origin of the movement of all things, beyond them, which is to say, God. -- Father Giussani, The Religious Sense, page 91
And I have already heard some express the opinion that it would be good if the economy should tank during Obama's presidency, so that we can hope for another outcome in the next election. I just want to say that we cannot place our hope in a human eventuality, particularly one that will cause so many of our brothers and sisters pain. Our hope is in Christ, who loves the poor in spirit. Let's truly follow him. Let's do the hard work of communicating the beauty we know and love. We cannot place our hope in market forces, dashed dreams, punitive measures. Only Christ, in his beauty, will advance the beauty we hope for. If we won't look at him, how can we hope to convince anyone else to follow our gaze?

How many
times have
you said:

The most used and least known word
in the human vocabulary.


Marie said...

Those are some pretty staggering statistics (from Whispers).

While I'm certainly not going to disagree with your conclusions (particularly per our in-person discussion), I have a few thoughts to add in.

First, only a certain percentage of voters who supported Obama self-identify as Catholic (per the exit polls I read). And only a certain percentage of them self-identify as regularly (weekly or more) participating in worship services. So, the pleas of the Bishops or even awareness of the abortion issue cannot be seen as being foremost in the minds of Catholic voters.

Also, many people simply don't vote based on candidate's proposals, but on party, on the basis of wanting to be part of history (in electing the first black president), on not liking the other guy, etc.

So, I guess I'm just saying that I don't think the majority of people sat down with issues (let alone sanctity of life vs. freedom) and chose the latter. I think all we can realistically know for sure is that more people voted for him.

The other thought that struck me from your post was about this line:

We are against abortion because our awareness of the infinite and irreducible value of human life makes life more beautiful, richer, more zestful.

In that, I see this: #1) infinite value of human life -- this is the "thou shalt not kill" part which universally appeals to reason. Frankly I think this is the primary motivation for people opposing abortion. But when consciences have been seared and #1 universal no longer touches a sensitive spot, we have to say WHY #1 is a big deal, and that's #2: what is this human life? It is an amazing, divinely given gift, meant to experience all manor of Beauty. In other words, when Life meets Meaning, one sees God, the Ultimate, that beyond which there is nothing.

So yes, the point is, those who "preach life" need to encounter Life and then the amazement in our eyes will register something as we say "life is precious" that is beyond "these group of cells is human, and killing a human being is unjust."

Of course, there is always human freedom to reject the Beauty, and there are other factors in the blindness to it.

(Sorry for the monster-length comment!)

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I think something else is interesting, how the communication happens. Too many bishops start from a negative hypothesis. By this I do not mean that they don't begin by affirming the infinite value of each and every human being, but that from there it becomes a repetition of what we cannot, or must not do. I guess you could say that the failure to evangelize also serves to negate the message. The negative hypothesis is that without a stern letter we don't know better, we don't want better. Of course, there is even less credibility when individual bishops, I am not just writing about Martino in Scranton, give guidance that is at odds with Faithful Citizenship.

This is certainly not true of all bishops. I think Archbishops Niederauer and O'Brien are exceptions in many ways. This is why I like your analysis, Suzanne. I think, too, the issue of freedom is key. As Giussani shows in volume 1 of Is It Possible?, freedom is not maximizied, or realized by having options from which to choose. Rather, "freedom is the need for total satisfaction" only and One can satisfy us totally (pg. 154).

We have to engage the reality that the human person is a direct relationship with the Mystery. Somebody has to recognize this reality, they cannot be argued into it. To forget this is to assert yourself against reality, which is to become an ideologue. This is why it does not matter whether people "sat down with the issues".

For us "affective attachment is born from following another" (IIP pg. 145). This puts me mind of John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments"- loving, which is obeying, occurs after following, after seeing. How many times, in returning to the story of John and Andrew, or talking about the Bread of Life discourse, does Giussani say the disciples followed without knowing why? A lot! We have to be witnesses, that is, friends before we can be teachers.

Suzanne said...

It always feels fabulous to receive long comments! Someone actually wants to engage with what I've written. So, no more apologies!

I agree that for many (or most!) much irrationality and sentimentality goes into the process of deciding for whom to vote, Marie. And I don't mean to suggest that abortion was the reason why people voted for Obama -- I suspect and hope the opposite is true -- that many voted for him despite his views on abortion. But looking at the election results from the pro-life perspective, surely we have to ask why the life question just didn't matter, or it wasn't attractive enough to supersede other considerations?

The elation over the "historic" event -- our first black president -- that has been expressed in so many places helps me to understand that many who voted for Obama and wanted him to win the election did so because the race question was indeed important to them. This tells me that there was a moral and ethical concern that the injustice of racism and our history of slavery should be overcome. There was a good that people were hoping for when they voted for Obama, and that this good has been fulfilled has brought them joy.

So then I have to ask myself why the injustice of abortion doesn't have the same impact, doesn't bring the same yearning for fulfillment? I suspect that the reason has to do with what Deacon Scott articulates in his comment. Our rhetoric isn't attractive. It's not just a question of respecting the pro-choice voters' desire for freedom. Catholics also desire freedom, and the way in which many who are passionately anti-abortion speak about the issue seems to me to force others' freedom. Using the threat of hell as a stick to frighten people is about as useful as using a sieve to carry water -- this is true, even in a culture that is more susceptible to such an argument than our own. Obedience is so intimately and truly friendship (and threats, guilt trips, stern lectures, and dry discourses are antithetical to friendship) that when people do what others tell them out of some other motive, then we cannot call it obedience. It's just an exercise of power and control. Ultimately, even if a person should do everything "right," if he does it because he's told to, without any desire to do it, without any affection or certainty that he does it for himself, for his destiny and the destiny of the world, then these "right" gestures and words are simply motions and sounds -- in short, distractions.

In any case, our nation is a culture of young teenagers, who desire freedom -- and the parents have left them to their own devices. The Church is a Mother, the wisest of Mothers, but in the U.S. she has been behaving more like a stern father who wags or points his finger but who has no authority to take away the keys to the car. Many Catholics either endure or ignore the lecture and then speed off for a joy ride.

There's no use wishing that papa could take away our keys -- we'd still have the same problem -- that most Catholics would rather be on the road going ninety (to really stretch this metaphor thin). And for us the problem is not with controlling traffic but with addressing the desires of the human heart. The latter only takes place within a friendship. This is why obedience, being about the heart, is friendship.

And just to extend something Deacon Scott says at the end of his comment -- I don't think we're ever teachers, but always and everywhere witnesses. Christ is the only teacher. We witness to what he teaches us. We never go beyond being witnesses. But as Ben Harper articulates so well: I am blessed to be a witness.

Marie said...

If this is the case:
in the U.S. she has been behaving more like a stern father who wags or points his finger but who has no authority to take away the keys to the car. then it seems a point for us to ponder (sling that phrase into CL lingo if that sounds too bald) is Mt. 21:25-27, about the need for the 12 to be servants as opposed to lording it over. And of course not just the 12; this is the mark of Christian culture.

But a program "becoming better servants" is not the answer, either. The call is always the same; living with Christ which develops deeper fidelity to Him in us over time. For me, this calls me to wonder "what are the needs, what might be asked of me?"

My apology was more about this head cold taking away my sense of being able to get a coherent thought across concisely. Then again, why should I start to worry about coherence and conciseness now?!

Suzanne said...

Thanks, Marie. I think that the theme of the 2007 Spiritual Exercises, "Christ in His Beauty Draws Me to Him," is the best answer to most everything we lack. The title is taken from the work of the Franciscan poet, Jacoponi di Todi. I think it would be amazing to have a bishop who really articulates this deep understanding of what it is that causes people to follow. Both Sofia and Don Gius write and speak about wonder -- as Sofia writes: “The nature of wonder is not a force that pushes us passively from behind; it is situated ahead of us and attracts us with irresistible force toward the object of our astonishment; it makes us advance toward it, filled with enchantment.” In my opinion, this is the only force that has the power to "make us better servants."

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Can we compormise and say that teaching is a form of witnessing? I am not sure that I want to bracket off the word teacher. If teaching is not a form of witnessing, then it is not truly education, which requires the teacher to communicate something of her/himself. Teaching is a communication of truth, beauty, and goodness, which is always, regardless of the subject, a communication of Christ.

Suzanne said...

Yes, Scott -- we can compromise that way! I guess my main objection is with the thought that one "graduates" from witness to teacher. If teaching IS witnessing, then no problem here.

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."