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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Thoughts on the Controversy Re: President Obama's Invitation to Notre Dame 
7th-Apr-2009 09:33 am
University of Notre Dame du Lac
Mom wrote and asked me about what I thought about all the controversy regarding President Obama's addressing the graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame. I hadn't consciously articulated my thoughts until she asked, but now that I have, I thought that I would just copy it all down here. I would preface my comments by reassuring or informing anyone who found them objectionable from a Catholic perspective that I'm twice as orthodox as they are and am willing to prove it in public, internationally-televised debate, and that I can successfully do so with two glasses of wine on an empty stomach in my system, which proves both that I'm a notorious lightweight and that I am so orthodox that I'm willing to invoke Paul and foolishly boast about it because it's so true that I don't have anything to gain or to prove from it. That's my response to anyone whose most beloved rhetorical strategy is to deny the faith of anyone who disagrees with them, which has been more embarrassing in all this affair than anything having to do with the actual invitation to President Obama. So, as I wrote to Mom:

The Notre Dame thing is more irritating to me than anything else. It's a kind of short-sightedness that I find sometimes irritating or sometimes just disappointing. The same thing happened with Bush in 2001, but I don't know that that was made into such a big deal by the press, perhaps because the press felt any protest regarding Bush was part of the natural order of things. I call it short-sighted because I think it's an illusion at best that anyone would expect a President of the United States to perfectly line up with Catholic teaching. There are a number of things in the party platforms of both Democrats and Republicans that are utterly opposed to Catholic ethics, so this should be no surprise. Even someone perceived to be as politically "Right" as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, publisher of First Things, had warned those around him that they ought to always expect the Republican Party to betray them, despite the current seeming alignment of Republican interests with some of the concerns of his circle. In the same way, when you were younger, it was taken as a matter of simple fact that the Democratic Party, the party of the "little guy," was the party that Catholics and Evangelical were going to be naturally aligned with. But then came the shift of the "New Left" in the 1968-73 period when what it meant to be "Left" in the Democratic leadership underwent an astonishing ideological transformation, not least in its new hostility to religious belief and expression. The Republican Party in the late 1970s made a conscious and concerted effort to pick up the Evangelicals as a voting block, with great success. Since the 2004 Presidential election, the political Right has gone back to that playbook and has been making a major effort to do the same thing with Catholic Americans, though not with such visible success, except among some bishops who ought to be a bit more circumspect and clever about the extent to which they are being used for partisan politics.

The basic political issue, both in the Notre Dame snafu and in the past several years, is of course abortion. Because human life in particular is held to be sacred, with each human being possessing the dignity of being the image and likeness of God, a human rights ethic that has any consistency includes an opposition to abortion. This has been the case in Christian teaching since the late first century, when we see the topic first addressed explicitly, or in parallel secular ethics like in the unedited version of the Hippocratic Oath, where ancient physicians of that school swore to protect life even in its earliest stages. With respect to the sketch of the political context of this Notre Dame debate that I just gave, I have seen very little evidence that the leadership of the Republican Party is interest in pursuing the abortion issue as a priority beyond using it for the gathering of a voting block: a few rallying cries during elections, blocking the use of American funds to commit abortions overseas, sure, but nothing beyond that. There has been nothing like the forcing of the issue in the way the Abolitionists did in the lead-up to the Civil War.

The shape and nature of the argument involved in all of this has great significance. The logic used to justify the act of abortion itself, that the undeveloped fetus is not yet a "person," is a philosophical logic. That the fetus is human and is alive is a simple matter of genetics. People who debate using that language are just being sloppy. The question of "personhood," or of "humanity" as a philosophical concept, is more hazy. But Catholic ethics has increasingly become sensitive to the use of this argument through history, where invoking the debatable nature of someone else's humanity ("so-and-so isn't really human": no one has ever used this argument with regard to their own humanity) has been the justification for every other atrocity that people now repudiate. We pride ourselves on being the sort of people who would never have done that awful thing, whether against Jews, Africans, Native Americans, Cambodians, Rawandans, Sudanese, whoever. But it seems significant that the logic and the shape of the argument is the same. Catholics led the opposition to legalized abortion when it became an issue in the United States and when it culminated in the Roe v. Wade decision at the same time as that hard Secularist shift in the Left. So abortion has in many ways been popularly perceived as a particularly "Catholic" issue by those on both sides of the argument. Within Catholicism, this has become as much a "litmus test" issue as it has by those supporting the idea of a right to abortion, who throw their support behind anything even perceived to have anything to do with abortion, such as recent debates over the use of fetal stem cells in medical research. (The logic being that if any ethical qualms are shown here, it amount to becoming too close to admitting that unborn human beings have political and human rights, and so therefore no ethical concerns can be allowed to be raised on this issue. If you look at the lobbying groups supporting such research, it is abortion-rights groups that lead the way: "science" as such has very little to do with the politics.)

For those opposing President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame, the assumption is that any perceived acceptance or honouring of Obama as President is tantamount to an endorsement of his position as a supporter of abortion. This is, of course, foolish. That argument, extended logically, would imply that any recognition of the authority of the government of the United States implies an endorsement of its current policies. This is the exact opposite of what a democracy entails, of course, where everyone can cheerfully oppose the policies of their government without recourse to succession or civil war: one just has to convince their fellows to follow another course during the next general election, and thus we have revolution without bloodshed. So the basic argument against recognizing President Obama in this way falls apart. Notre Dame has recognized and received a number of Presidents over the years, every last one of which can be found to be in violation of Catholic ethical principles on one point or another. (Whether President Obama's choice of accepting the Notre Dame invitation over the hundreds of other commencement invitations he has received is driven by any particular political agenda is not a question I'll bother to consider here.)

But, say those who push this point, the abortion question is a special one: it is a fundamental crime against humanity to kill those least capable of defending themselves, depriving them of the chance to achieve any potential in their lives. They point out that John Paul II highlighted the particularly egregious nature of this act as perhaps the most fundamental violation of human rights that we have ever committed. All true. If so, that raises the question of complicity again. We are either complicit in aiding and abetting our society's support of abortion or we are not. Honouring a President who supports the idea of abortion rights, they argue, creates a tacit support that is incompatible with being Catholic. Myself, I cannot accept this argument, for the reasons described above. If their argument is true, these people are also aiding and abetting abortion by remaining citizens of the United States and by recognizing the legitimacy of this administration. To be truly consistent, their options could only be emigration, revolution, or utter non-recognition of the government in a state of permanent civil disobedience, probably no matter whose administration is currently running the show. Any position other than these seems to me to be opportunistic and disingenuous, if they have really followed their logic to its natural conclusions. That is, one that is opposed to President Obama on a more individual and personal level, and is using the abortion issue as a front for that opposition, but without being willing to follow their own logic to its natural ends. To insist that there should be this utter "line drawn in the sand" over the mere appearance of the President of the United States at the University of Notre Dame, or even the specific honouring of him for other goods shown in his life, and not to therefore question whether there is the same "line in the sand" between their Catholicism and their American citizenship is to "have their cake and eat it, too." There are a few Catholics who have been that consistent regarding issues of church and state. I do not see it happening here, which to me undermines the seriousness of the protests being raised.

The question becomes one of the greater good. Which is the greater good? To exist together in a democracy where freedom from the threat of civil war is seen as more important than even disagreement on fundamental issues of human rights such as that seen in the abortion debate, where the status of even a human being's development and acquiring of human rights is questioned? Or to exist in a country that guarantees that right to life (and all attending human rights, even those opposed by the Political Right but supported by the Catholic Church) even if guaranteeing those rights must come at the cost of the political union of the nation itself? Unless people follow their arguments all the way to the fundamental issues, which to my mind is the same thing as saying that they admit what they are really arguing about, then I think they are just wasting their time. Or worse, showing off for the cameras, whether to demonstrate to others how serious they are, or whether to reassure themselves.

So no, I don't find the people debating President Obama's presence at and honouring by Notre Dame to be persuasive. I am a Roman Catholic Christian, who has thoroughly investigated and has been convinced of the truth of the questions of that faith. I am also an American, excited by the prospect of a diverse democracy built upon a fundamental conception of Natural Law and Human Rights – the intellectual children of the Medieval Catholic universities which were then fostered by the Modern age. I am also a loyal son of the University of Notre Dame du Lac, excited by that school's distinctive gift and history of voicing Catholicism into the university, national, and international cultures of our time. The presence of the President is one more day at Notre Dame, one more person present who is in the midst of the ongoing conversation or story of their life. I was never in doubt about the Catholicity of Notre Dame, so protesting President Obama's presence does nothing to convince me any more of Notre Dame's Catholicity. I was never in doubt of President Obama's not being Catholic, so protesting his presence does not tell me or him anything that we didn't already know. The willingness of several of the prominent protesters to call Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins's Catholic faith into question over his issuing the invitation? That doesn't convince me any further of the depth of their Catholic faith. Instead, I find the moment, the conversation, the appeal to decency, logic, law, the Good – all things that are good – I find that the appeal to these sorts of things that the President and Notre Dame would be talking about, these are all aspects of God's creation, of the action of the Word and the Spirit in the world. That being the case, all that the President actually has to talk about are those things that the Catholic Church affirms, even if he has yet to make some of those connections, himself. I'm content to let that process happen, to even pray for the occasion, and to let God do any convincing necessary, having long since learned the lesson that my being loud or rude in no way assists God in this work.

President Jenkins put it entirely sensibly when he said, "We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope . . . for this to be the basis of an engagement with him," as well as adding that, "You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them . . . show respect for them and listen to them." Former President Fr. Ted Hesburgh also put it well when he said the other day, "No speaker who has ever come to Notre Dame has changed the University. We are who we are. But, quite often, the very fact of being here has changed the speaker."

Hmm. And that concludes my thoughts. Sorry about the length, Mom: you asked. (And you're the Irish parent.)

Mike
Comments 
7th-Apr-2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Well said.
7th-Apr-2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks! And thanks for posting that Hesburgh bit the other day: that got me thinking about this a little more explicitly.
7th-Apr-2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing all of this out - I had wondered if you'd address the issue in your journal, and am grateful you did.

To be quite honest, I was all ready to put President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame in the same category as gay marriage (Things that Catholics Want Me to Care About that, Sadly, I Do Not). I felt as if it wasn't my battle, either, having no connection to the university - I don't feel at all invested in Notre Dame's 'identity,' Catholic or American or anything else; I don't think Obama speaking at Notre Dame says anything much about American Catholicism individually or Roman Catholicism generally. I know I'd feel honored if the President spoke at my alma mater, but then, Hopkins is a totally secular school, so the Catholic issue doesn't apply...

But I'm glad to read your perspective here, though I don't have a dog in this fight. Of all the blog entries I've seen about this issue, yours was the only one I watched for and read in its entirety. :)
7th-Apr-2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
Huh. Had I only known you were waiting on me, I wouldn't have spent the last several days dancing to my favourite 80s tunes while singing into a hairbrush.
7th-Apr-2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Hey, that sounds like a good use of your time, too. Depending on the '80s tunes, of course.
7th-Apr-2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
Excellent, thoroughly thought out commentary. I - for what its worth - agree with your line of thought. And I don't believe that bullying tactics, however righteous would serve the good of the Church.
John
7th-Apr-2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, the style betrays something in the substance, and the conduct of this has betrayed too much.
7th-Apr-2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
I don't know that I find much to object to about Notre Dame simply inviting Obama to speak at commencement. I'm more disappointed at their giving him an honorary law degree, but then I don't understand this kind of exchange of fake honors that goes around at the university level. Maybe it's just an objection to/my misunderstanding of that whole honorary system, but considering his political record as a lawmaker, and his legal record re: abortion specifically, I'm not surprised people find that an especial affront. I'd rather see this kind of kerfuffle and open protest, prayer vigils, etc. if/when the FOCA and other legislation comes to the floor, though.

I don't really see what the Republican record on abortion has to do with any of this, though. Obama has openly declared his intentions to override pro-life legislation at both the federal and state levels... it's no exaggeration to say that he's the most radically pro-choice President we've ever had. His positions are bad enough on their own; I don't feel the need to put my trust in the Republican party just to make that judgment, or to criticize his leadership and protest his being honored by a Catholic institution.

I guess there is a strange intersection here between his being known publicly as our President, and his being known publicly as a radically pro-choice politician. I think this is an interesting place to push him; for some reason I've always had the impression that he is actually very naive about how major an issue this really is for conservative Christians. I remember in his famous answer about meaning to pass the FOCA "first thing", he made this very silly and -- I'm not sure if it was simply naive, or arrogant -- comment about "getting past the culture wars". His plan of action for putting all this abortion nonsense behind us, as he went on, was to pass the FOCA. For me, I think these next few years will be a difficult time for pro-life Christians, because I think many of us truly want the dialogue between both sides to become more reasonable, less harsh, more productive in finding common ground. But given Obama's stated "ambitions", and his general benign (if naive) reputation among many Christians, these next few years seem like a very dangerous time to be quiet.
7th-Apr-2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, Courtney, you rightly point to the granting of the honour as the key point in this, beyond just addressing the graduates. A number of people and sources have pointed to a 2004 directive by the U.S. bishops (including many self-described "traditional" Catholic sources who have no qualms about ignoring the U.S. bishops when it suits their purposes, I was amused to see) that specifically warned against the giving of academic honours to those with blatant conflicts with Catholic teaching, exactly for the sake of avoiding an endorsement of such positions. Given the explicit nature of what Fr. Jenkins has stated is being lauded in President Obama's rise, and where the Church and the University stand in opposition to the President, I don't think there can be any reasonable confusion on this.

My reason for invoking the Republican record on abortion simply has to do with the way I see that Party trying to magnify Catholic/Democratic Party conflict for what seem to be simply their own political advantage and not for a deep commitment to human rights in an anti-abortion stand. But yes, that raises the question of whether we should avoid an explicit stand on the question of the rights of the unborn just because we are afraid of being used by the political Right. Of course not. But I do think a certain care to stand apart from the American political polarization is desperately needed right now, and I see a number of bishops failing on that point, and being manoeuvred into political statement that end up blankly endorsing Republican political positions (no matter the conflict with Catholic teaching) because of the primary importance of a right to life. And I don't think that that is good or helpful in either the long or short run, not even for furthering a cultural shift on the abortion question.

I agree with you on the point of a certain naïveté in Obama on this point. I think that that has been the weakness overall in the political Left on this point: you cannot have a fundamental human rights ethic without this piece in it – the "seemless garment" approach that has been highlighted in the past. Thus my commenting upon the shape of the argument allowing abortion as being fundamentally of a piece with some of the awful arguments made in the past for other political positions. In no way was anything I've said, or anything the Notre Dame administration has done to this point, been able to be construed as "silence" on the question of abortion. That's why I think it is important: this is perhaps the most important window we will be given in the Obama Administration to create a productive dialogue and common ground between Obama and the best of Catholic thinking. And too many well-meaning Catholic leaders have been much more content to slam the door shut and be content that that will show him where we stand. And I think that that's what we get for letting the overwhelming American cultural insistence that there are only two options (being all Right or all Left) pollute American Catholic culture over the last generation.
7th-Apr-2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
In no way was anything I've said, or anything the Notre Dame administration has done to this point, been able to be construed as "silence" on the question of abortion.

Well, I just meant in general -- I agree that the whole tone of the conflict surrounding abortion needs to change at some fundamental level, on both sides, but translating that desire into our specific actions as each "event" or challenge comes our way, requires our paying a lot of attention. Certainly there is the risk that, by leaning too far back, especially in regards to specific legislation, much ground will be lost, perhaps indefinitely. It's a risk I'm willing to take, but carefully.

As far as this particular incident goes, I agree that this time at the beginning of Obama's administration is an important window. But I guess I'm confused as to how this event (without all this controversy) could open up dialogue. I don't know what really goes on at the social-connections level, during these kinds of high-profile appearances, but Obama isn't giving a lecture, or participating in a discussion, he's giving a symbolic address and receiving a symbolic degree/honor. If anything, I'd hope the negative response to his invitation will challenge him, but unless the administraion was already willing and ready to make abortion an issue when he was first invited, I don't see the opening for productive dialogue in the visit, itself. (I'm not doubting the ND administration; I really don't know their original intent.) I personally think it would be fascinating to see intelligent, faithful pro-life Catholics publicly invite Obama to an open debate about the issue, but I think we all know that will never happen.

Do you think that Obama will take the Catholic position more seriously, or open up new relationships with pro-life Catholics or Christians because of his visit? I don't really know what to think at this point, honestly. I don't know what might truly change Obama, or the political Left, or anyone who takes as uncompromising a stance as he has in the past. Of course this is not the only important issue clouded by ideology and political-social entanglements on both sides, but it's probably the biggest. I'm not hopeless, I guess I'm just stymied. We pray every Mass here at school for Obama's (and all others') change of heart, and for me at least, it is hard to know what else to do at this point -- besides, in the meantime, defending what ground we've already tried to stake out.
11th-Apr-2009 10:33 pm (UTC)
Sorry about the delay in getting back to you: I was a bit fuzzy the last few days with a sore throat and I didn't want to be equally fuzzy in reading what you had written. I think you're right in highlighting the very indeterminacy of this encounter, particularly so early in a presidential administration. A few thoughts:

... to see intelligent, faithful pro-life Catholics publicly invite Obama to an open debate about the issue...

I don't know that debate is the correct term for this encounter, nor whether that would yet be a constructive format for such an encounter. If anything, debate as such means defending a position, and such an invitation to President Obama would be instructing him to not reconsider his position.

Do you think that Obama will take the Catholic position more seriously, or open up new relationships with pro-life Catholics or Christians because of his visit?

I am certain that simply snubbing him, posing over a line we draw in the sand, or making abortion the sole issue right off the bat would do nothing but encourage him to dismiss the possibility of relationship with pro-life Catholics or Christians. So in proclaiming our own righteousness over this issue we will then collaborate with him in guaranteeing his commitment to an abortion agenda. That's the short-sightedness I see here in the "line in the sand" position: insisting on an adversarial relationship effectively pushes forward an abortion agenda at the very time you claim to be forwarding a human rights agenda instead. Not so Pro-Life in the end, other than the self-satisfaction of having been publicly correct. Confirming the status quo profits no one other than those who would profit from the political status quo.
7th-Apr-2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
For those opposing President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame, the assumption is that any perceived acceptance or honouring of Obama as President is tantamount to an endorsement of his position as a supporter of abortion. This is, of course, foolish. That argument, extended logically, would imply that any recognition of the authority of the government of the United States implies an endorsement of its current policies.

I do not see how that follows. Not at all. Recognizing authority and honoring the decisions that come from that authority are fundamentally different.

Also, I do not see what the Republican Party has to do with it.

Also, I do not see it as all or none. That is, in order to take up the abortion issue and to give it the priority the Church says it should have, I must somehow separate from the Union, or I am a hyprocrite. But, then, I suppose that that relates to the above cited premise which I reject.


Unfortuantely, I think that most folks, including Catholics (and I am not saying that you are in this camp), do not really accept the idea that abortion is the killing of innocent life. That is really what it all comes down to. For, if one did accept this, then abortion would be viewed as equal to the killing of any adult members of our society. Do you think that Obama would have been invited to Notre Dame if he advocated for that? That is, if he sent out assasins in the middle of the night to silence his political enemies, for example? I doubt it very much.

11th-Apr-2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
Recognizing authority and honoring the decisions that come from that authority are fundamentally different.

That was, I thought, my actual point. This invitation amounts to such a recognition of authority and achievement, but has explicitly been distinguished from any "blank check" approval of all of this administrations policies, as has been the case with all previous Presidents recognized by the University.

I bring up the related issue of Republican Party politics simply because I have been watching the Party make a concerted effort over this last decade to absorb Catholics as a voting block in the same way that they did Evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore to look at this issue as though there are not a great many mitigating factors behind the motives of those aggravating this encounter seems to me to simply play into other agendas than truly Catholic ones. That is not to say that Catholics or Christians ought to avoid any statement or commitment that might be construed as plugging into someone else's politics – that's impossible, of course. But I think that there are a great many voices being raised here that were not being raised at the Bush appearance at Notre Dame. (And vice-versa.) The Church or the Pro-Life movement have no real profit in pushing this issue, other than self-satisfaction. But there's an awful lot of other political profit to be made in inflaming this meeting, and I'm not content to be used in that way.

Also, I do not see it as all or none.
...the idea that abortion is the killing of innocent life. That is really what it all comes down to.


So doesn't that make it "all or none?" Either abortion on demand is a genocidal industry or it is not. You're right in saying people (likely) wouldn't be so forgiving if the President was murdering adult members of society (not that this hasn't gone on all the time though the last century, once you have a good-enough reason to "sell" genocide).

But what I am saying is that you, too, accept that there are other mitigating goods in this equation: goods from being in the Union. Otherwise why do you "recognize authority" in such a government? There must be some goods here, or otherwise in the face of such killing of millions, why have we not risen up to overthrow this government? Our own government's principles, outlined in the Declaration, would support that. But both constitutionally and in terms of Christian ethics, we seem to find real reasons not to do so, to not take even the taking of innocent life that seriously, unless we simply haven't done so out of convenience, fear or laziness.

Does that make sense? As far as I can see, what I'm writing still follows from your presuppositions, it's just not something that people generally bother to say out loud or follow to its logical end. Thoughts?
7th-Apr-2009 09:44 pm (UTC) - Authority
As for recognizing authority: Much of this may very well come to a "head," if and when (and it is very likely that it will) we have nationalized health insurance that covers abortions, and when doctors are denied conscience objections to performing them.

At some point, those bishops whom you casually dis, may in fact call for outright civil disobedience, all the time "recognizing the authority" of the govt to place them in jail.

It may very well be that option or the option of recognizing that the tenents of our faith have no place in the public square.

For, at some point, nuanced philosophical arguments give way to Christ's admonition that "he who is not with me is against me", and the Catholic belief that being with His Church is being with Him.

10th-Apr-2009 05:08 pm (UTC) - Re: Authority
Just so you know, when I was referring to "nuanced philosophical arguments," I was not referring to your post, but to all of those highly regarded Catholic professors that, during the last election, received much attention for their arguments about how it was o.k. to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. (Not that I believe that there truly could not be such circumstances that would justify it, but only that these arguments were not it. )

Peace.
11th-Apr-2009 11:00 pm (UTC) - Re: Authority
Agreed. Again, this highlights the question when these apparent common goods we are recognizing as mitigating actually run out. This would be a mirror situation of what I fear is happening with this Notre Dame debate: if the American Left so forces this issue, it could be self-defeating for their own ultimate agenda.

Odds are, though, standing with Christ on this issue in a political way will not lead to any furthering of a Pro-Life ethic, but only our crucifixion.
(Deleted comment)
11th-Apr-2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
No, I think that you rightly point out (by implication, at least) that the honour being given to Obama here is not a particularly religious one. He is not being given a bishopric. Or an honourary degree in Theology. The Doctor of Laws degree is pretty much an affirmation of "Hey, you're the President!" It's equivalent to the Doctorates of Divinity that have been awarded to priests when they are made a bishop: it really doesn't imply anything about the quality of what will come out of that person's mouth. It's a recognition of a certain level of achievement, and I think that we can say safely that merely becoming the President of the United States involves a certain achievement. I think that the greater problem being evidenced here is those who see nothing but demons on the political poles opposite to their own, regardless of what issue they can point to as being especially "Catholic," even a biggie like abortion.

George Weigel, in opposing Notre Dame here, said, "Commencement and the award of an honorary degree is a statement on the part of the university this is a life worth emulating." I still think that I, as a Catholic, can say that there's an awful lot in President Obama's life that is worth emulating. I do not sign off on this as saying he is free from serious sin. I wouldn't do that for any saint of the Catholic Church. So I think there's an awful lot of inflating of the importance of what has happened at Notre Dame: and that inflation is important, because without it the grandstanding in opposition would appear pointless, or be more obviously the politicking that it is.
10th-Apr-2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
As seeker101 mentioned, your presentation of the issue confuses the lines between politics and faith. The question at hand is the capacity in which Obama is coming to the university. Obama is not coming for a dialog nor is he coming to be touched by Notre Dame's teaching. He is coming to be honored at a particular point in his life and at a particular point in his administration.
Here is the situation of his administration: Obama campaigned on respecting the dialog of people who see the abortion issue in morally diverse ways. Aside from campaign promises to enact FOCA and use the pro-abortion position as a litmus test for judicial nominees, Obama has raced to enact every form of a radical pro-abortion agenda he has at his disposal. He is now sending US tax dollars overseas to fund abortions, he is attempting to remove conscience clauses for those in the health-care field who cannot support abortion, and he has pushed ahead with stem cell research in a manner which makes cloning not just possible, but likely. As such, the choice to honor Obama as he sends the Notre Dame graduates out into the world is absurd.
Boiling all moral issues into a pot and implying that no moral issues trump others or even that few individuals can claim a perfect record of obedience to Church teachings is a false road.
B16 said it well and recently in 2004:
Not all moral issues have the same weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

11th-Apr-2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
And there is no diversity of opinion on the question of abortion here. There is a diversity of opinion on whether simply spurning the President because of his current thoughts on abortion has a greater chance of leading to conversation or conversion than an experience of him being treated with the dignity proper to his office and his own imaging of God.

I don't foresee gaining much long-term benefit from simply affirming what we already know to be our difference of opinion from the President, no matter how loudly or righteously we do so. I know that there's a great satisfaction that comes from taking a public stand in that way, but I don't think it is capable of having any persuasive effect. Notre Dame's invitation has, certainly in itself, very little chance of making the President reconsider his position. But I'm afraid that the proposal of simply drawing the "line in the sand" between him and us guarantees and reinforces his pro-abortion position. So what's so Pro-Life about that?
17th-Apr-2009 12:50 am (UTC) - Strom Thurmond would have been okay in 57, right?
Anonymous
The point is, commencement is a chance to send your students out into the world with a little boost from a new face that nevertheless represents the university (since in most cases speakers are brought in in order to be honored). This is never treated like a debate, nor is a chance to reach out in order to start a dialog.

The issue is the fact that Obama is the capstone of Notre Dame's graduating class. He is a radical promoter of this country's most easily identifiable and widespread intrinsic evil.

I can only assume that everybody who supports Notre Dame's invitation would be equally okay if Notre Dame had invited Strom Thurmond just immediately after he had attempted the filibuster of the 57 Civil Rights Act. This of course wouldn't be to honor the fact that he was a segregationist, but rather for heroism in WWII and the fact that he had made history as the only write-in candidate to win a senate seat. I wouldn't be okay with that. Wrong place and wrong time to send such a confusing message to your students.
12th-Apr-2009 01:13 am (UTC)
Sorry to be overly simplistic with so many "profound" comments/insights here. I am glad the president was invited to speak at Notre Dame and I hope everybody listens to each other.
12th-Apr-2009 02:54 am (UTC)
It's not a bad hope, and certainly to put "profound" in quotations with everything I've written can only be seen as proper! :-)
12th-Apr-2009 01:35 am (UTC)
I thought of this post when I read this Registar-Star article today, in particular this quote, "“The abortion issue, embryonic stem-cell research, let’s call them ‘life issues,’ ” he said. “These are first principles of the Catholic faith. ... On the life issues, the church is clear.”

I ask you because you're the only committed Catholic I "know": are life issues really "the first principles" of Catholicism or is this just the opinion of a small, but committed, group of Catholics?
12th-Apr-2009 03:10 am (UTC)
Hrm. I'd say that this was another time to invoke the classic college answer of "yes and no."

I would say that the phrasing is a bit inexact here. The life issues would better be described as first principles of Catholic ethics. The first principles of the Catholic faith are outlined in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, a list of such "first principles" of the Christian faith that evolved over the course of the first 350 years of the Church, being put in this final form for public liturgy and use in 381.

This is a classic aspect of philosophy: ethics follows from metaphysics – you can't say what you ought to do until you know what it is you believe to be true about reality. Christian life issues (with attending ideas of universal human rights) are based upon the doctrine of Creation, which goes back into the Jewish origins of the Church. God created the universe, the universe and everything in it is good, and human beings are especially good, being in some way an image or icon of God. Reverence for life, the world, and matter itself all flow from this, in stark contrast to ancient paganisms that often elevated the idea of "spirit" as separate and above "matter," and thus had a hostility or disdain for the physical aspects of human existence. You can see versions of that in everything from Platonism to Manicheanism. You can find explicit Christian opposition to abortion in writing by the late first century, and so no, it's been a long consistent feature of such ethics.
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