A Ton of Prevention, Redux

November 30, 2008 § Leave a comment

The big brains who brought us preventative war under the One Percent Doctrine are now encouraging the President to issue preventative pardons for war crimes.

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

(Emphasis mine)

Because listening in on phone conversations in Pakistan is, by the way, in the same category as torturing captives. So subtle.

I’m sure these guys are available to craft arguments in favor of the desired predetermined outcome.

(HT: Mark Shea).

Lead Your Conscience

November 29, 2008 § 3 Comments

I don’t know how often I’ve seen or heard someone say something to the effect that “at the end of the day, I have to follow my conscience”.

I could not possibly disagree more. At the end of the day we do not stand before our own judgment. We stand before the judgment of truth.

Now it is true that in the very moment in which we act we ought to follow our consciences, properly understood — that is, our consciences properly understood as an interior witness to the truth, often set against our desires, impulses, rationalizations, and comfortable self-affirming biases. But the notion of conscience, and the sincere following of conscience, as the ultimate arbiter and justifier of our behavior, could not possibly be more wrong. Instead of elaborating on this in more detail in my own words, I’ll leave you with some explanation from the authoritative Magisterium of the Church:

To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment [that one acts rightly] is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment. …

[T]here is [an erroneous] tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. …

Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: “Conscience has rights because it has duties”. …

Conscience, as the judgment of an act, is not exempt from the possibility of error. As the Council puts it, “not infrequently conscience can be mistaken as a result of invincible ignorance, although it does not on that account forfeit its dignity; but this cannot be said when a man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin”. In these brief words the Council sums up the doctrine which the Church down the centuries has developed with regard to the erroneous conscience. …

In any event, it is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives. In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true. It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. …

The words of Jesus just quoted also represent a call to form our conscience, to make it the object of a continuous conversion to what is true and to what is good. …

… because freedom of conscience is never freedom “from” the truth but always and only freedom “in” the truth …

I repeat the admonition: do not follow your conscience. Lead it; lead it to the truth. The reason we have a conscience, a fallen and often erroneous conscience, is to help guide us to prepare and be ready for the day when we stand fully naked before the Truth, with no excuses: no excuses including the excuse “I was following my conscience”.

On the Irrepressibility of Conscience

November 28, 2008 § 2 Comments

You never can tell about people, of course, but the truth is that you can tell a whole lot more about people – and I include myself here – than we would like to admit. That thought regularly crosses my mind when I read certain blogs.

We know what Catholics who endorsed Obama would be busy doing if their reasons for doing so, however objectively flawed in my view, were fully sincere. And to the credit of some, we do see evidence of that misguided sincerity. On the other hand there are things we should expect as the result of the pangs of a guilty conscience; and we see plenty of that too.

Gravity Makes the World Go Around: NFP and Voting

November 19, 2008 § 7 Comments

There seems to be reasonably wide agreement that when one formally cooperates with grave evil in how and why one votes, it is grave matter: the “grave matter” in the triad of conditions for mortal sin, that is, grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent.

On the other hand the gravity of various acts of remote material cooperation with grave evil in how and why one votes is more controversial.

Commenter msb at Catholic and Enjoying It made the following interesting argument:

I think voting for Obama even if it was [remote material] cooperation was grave matter. Faithful Citizenship says that your proportionate reason to do it must itself be a grave reason, meaning that the vote is grave in the first place.

I think this argument has some force; but it may be worthwhile to consider other situations where the Church has authorized certain practices under a rubric of “grave reasons”:

“But if, according to a rational and just judgement, there are no similar grave reasons of a personal nature or deriving from external circumstances, then the determination to avoid habitually the fecundity of the union while at the same time to continue fully satisfying their sensuality, can be derived only from a false appreciation of life and from reasons having nothing to do with proper ethical laws.” – Pius XII, Apostolate of the Midwife

And yet the same Pope Pius XII later tells us:

“Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955

So there is precedent for a Pope in the exercise of his teaching office – let alone the USCCB – to say on the one hand that “grave reasons” are required, and yet that the discretionary limits of action are still “in truth very wide”.

This leads me to the question of gravity when we are talking about remote material cooperation with grave evil. Jeff Culbreath suggested below that the gravity of an act of voting (as remote material cooperation) for a candidate who actively pursues a policy of murdering the innocent probably depends on the reason why one does it, even if that reason is not proportionate in truth. I think that makes a great deal of sense. For the answer to the question “is X a proportionate reason” is not always an unequivocal “yes” or “no”. That is to say, prudence is a scale, not binary: one may act very imprudently, somewhat imprudently, somewhat prudently, or very prudently; or anywhere in between. In addition, everyone’s understanding of the facts will vary to some extent, and one can only act based on facts one actually knows and one’s understanding of how things work. If I believe I am acting prudently that doesn’t mean I am in fact acting prudently, but there is a morally nontrivial difference between willful imprudence, apathetic imprudence, and simply mistaken imprudence.

So I think it is, well, imprudent to assume that every act of voting for Obama (or McCain for that matter) was necessarily grave matter simply because Faithful Citizenship says that reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate must be “grave”. There is precedent for the Magisterium to require grave reasons, on the one hand, and yet say that the acting subject has wide lattitude on the other. In addition I think Jeff Culbreath’s suggestion that the actual reasons why make a significant difference here is eminently reasonable; even if, as an objective matter, the reasons why the voter voted the way he did were not proportionate.


November 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

I can’t quite figure out why, but reading this made me think of this. It is as if Jerry Seinfeld were the John the Baptist of the current age, ushering in an era in public life which is fundamentally about nothing. And we know who is the Messiah.

"No one is pro root canal"

November 17, 2008 § 2 Comments

Tom puts the big Dominican kibosh on the idiotic claim that no one is pro-abortion. Excerpt:

No, what they think seems to be that no one [practicing abortionists, for some reason, excepted] actively desires anyone to be in a position where they would choose to get an abortion. They mean it, in other words, in the same sense that they might mean “no one is pro-root canal.”

But this reduces to the singularly uninteresting observation that no one is pro-nuisance. And we note the empirical fact that, given the nuisance of an unwanted pregnancy, tens of millions of Americans want to be able to abort the child.

Size Does Matter

November 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

I keep encountering what strikes me as a bizarre resistance to the manifest proposition that as the scale of an election goes up, other things equal, an individual voter’s influence over the outcome goes down. In an election with a hundred and fifty million voters a single voter has far less influence over the outcome than in an election with ten voters. Some folks do not want to accept this as manifest. I have a very difficult time taking such resistance seriously, but I’ll give it one last shot.

Imagine that we are faced with the following scenario:

A vote is to be held to overturn Roe vs. Wade. There are two options. Either the entire electorate will vote on the question, or 9 individuals will vote on the question. You are one of the nine.

Do you think your personal influence over the outcome is greater, less, or the same if the issue is decided by the committee of nine on which you personally sit, or as one individual voter out of a hundred and fifty million voters? In which scenario do you personally have more influence?

If a voter’s influence over election outcomes does not attenuate with the scale of the election, then a Supreme Court justice has no more influence over cases brought before the Court than the average voter has over the outcome of a Presidential election.

Obviously this is ludicrous, whatever arguments are rallied to attempt to support it. If an argument comes to a contrary conclusion that means the argument is suspect, it doesn’t make the principle suspect. So can we put this one to rest?

A Remote Material Controversy

November 16, 2008 § 19 Comments

A number of people have pointed out this to me:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”

Much as I am temperamentally inclined to support the priest, and I’m also inclined to believe that the confidence many have that they personally voted for Obama without sin is unwarranted, in this case the priest is wrong on the moral theology.

We can consider Catholic Obama voters in two general categories: those who voted for Obama in spite of his wicked and vicious policies, for other reasons, while opposing his wicked and vicious policies; and those who voted for him because of and in support of his wicked and vicious policies. The former is remote material cooperation with grave evil, which can be justified in the presence of a proportionate reason (that is, can be justified either implicitly or explicitly under the principle of double-effect); the latter is formal cooperation with grave evil and is always itself gravely wrong. Formal cooperation with grave evil is “grave matter”; remote material cooperation with grave evil is not (necessarily) grave matter. Mortal sin requires grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent. An Obama voter who voted for him because of his support for legal abortion has knowingly and deliberately chosen grave evil: that is, has committed mortal sin.

That is why Cardinal Ratzinger, in a private letter to Cardinal McCarrick during the 2004 Presidential campaign controversy over politicians and Communion, wrote:

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia.”

“When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Now I happen to believe that there was no proportionate reason to vote for Obama (or McCain, for that matter, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), which means it was objectively wrong to vote for Obama even if one did so while opposing his evil policies like his support for legal abortion; but that doesn’t make voting for Obama in itself grave matter. It is objectively wrong to tell a white lie, but it isn’t grave matter to tell a white lie. Telling a white lie is venial sin: we shouldn’t do it, but it doesn’t cut us off from the Sacraments, which are the ordinary means of salvation. And remote material cooperation with grave evil is not necessarily grave matter. (That isn’t to say that it is never grave matter; just that it is not necessarily grave matter).

So a Catholic who voted for Obama in part because of Obama’s support for legal abortion should indeed go to confession and do penance before presenting himself to receive the Blessed Sacrament. A Catholic who voted for Obama for other reasons while firmly disagreeing with Obama’s support for legal abortion does not necessarily have to do that.

Functionally Pro Abortion

November 14, 2008 § 11 Comments

We define as “functionally pro abortion” any person who willingly voted for Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history. Persons who voted for Obama may or may not be pro-abortion in their private sentiments, and may profess to be pro-life; but as political actors they are indistinguishable from the most committed of pro-abortion voters.

There seems to be something about being functionally pro-abortion but confessionally pro-life that badly distorts the capacity to reason. For example, one functionally pro-abortion blogger, who has himself endorsed and made common cause with the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history, recently suggested that the pro-life movement should stop making common cause with such bad actors as … wait for it … big business and the National Rifle Association.

Mind you, I myself have said in no uncertain terms that pro-lifers should not vote for presidential candidates who actively pursue policies of mass murdering the innocent as part of their agenda; and included in that category this cycle were both John McCain and Barack Obama. On the other hand, John McCain voters were not functionally pro-ESCR: that is, they could not be counted on to vote for the most pro-ESCR candidate. A great many of them clearly would have voted for an anti-ESCR major party candidate, if one had been on the ballot.

I should point out that, in addition, I have myself been critical of big business and gun libertarianism.

But I would not for a moment suggest what is ludicrously being suggested here: that, simultaneously, a coalition with the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history makes prudential sense for pro-lifers, and a coalition with businesses and gun rights supporters does not. Physician, heal thyself.

Pope Says Organ Trafficking is Morally Wrong

November 10, 2008 § 18 Comments

I still can’t believe that this is controversial among some Catholics, but the Pope has said that buying and selling organs for transplant is morally illicit:

“The problem of availability of organs for transplant, unfortunately, isn’t theoretical but dramatically real,” the pontiff said in a speech to participants of a Vatican-sponsored meeting on organ donations.

But any “buying and selling of organs … would go against the meaning of donation” and would be “morally illicit,” the pope said.

(HT: Inside Catholic)

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