Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nice Try, But No Cigar

Tim Rutten's column in today's Los Angeles Times looked like he was going to get it right with respect to the issue of abortion/choice.

Every four years, an astonishing array of conservative commentators and Republican campaign strategists suddenly discover an intimate concern for Catholic consciences and an overriding preoccupation with the Roman church's sacramental and liturgical norms.

Last time around, for example, you couldn't toss a dart at the average Op-Ed page without hitting a right-wing columnist with a firm opinion on whether the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, ought to be denied Communion because he's pro-choice. You could virtually feel the hunger for a good old-fashioned auto-da-fé and hear Karl Rove in the background disappointedly whispering, "Are you certain they don't burn people at the stake anymore?"

For a time, it looked as if war and recession would push "values issues" back into perspective in this election cycle, but abortion is too large a wedge issue to abandon casually. In the last few weeks, commentators began a campaign over the Democrats' failure to invite to Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to their convention. Chaput was one of the handful of bishops who argued that Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. More recently, Chaput's book, "Render Unto Caesar," argues that Catholics may not vote for pro-choice candidates. Under the circumstances, the Democrats' snub was graceless but understandable.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Rutten seems to get it that the whole anti-choice campaign is simply a cynical, manipulative strategy used by the far right of American politics. Or does he?

Apparently not. The rest of the column is spent discussing the American Catholic's difficulty in teasing out a viable solution to the seemingly intractable theological dilemma. He excoriates House Speaker Pelosi for her muddled response to the question of how she can be a practicing, devout Catholic and still further pro-choice stances in her job and in her party. Now, while Ms. Pelosi's answer deserved his critique, the basis for that critique (and, in fact the rest of the column) seems to be operating on a whole false set of assumptions and presuppositions.

The first is that only Catholics are concerned with the morality of a woman's right to choose. That ignores the fact that the zealots of the Religious Reich have invested a lot of money and effort in stifling a rational discussion of a woman's right to choose.

The second is that only Christians are interested in the "values" discussion of that right and theirs are the only voices that matter. That there are citizens of other faiths or of no faith who might have important things to say about the issue is irrelevant.

The third, and most important, assumption is that the casting of the frame as a "religious" issue is acceptable in a country which was founded on the principle that the government must of necessity be divorced from religion, that there must be a wall between church and state. The whole point of that wall was to keep government from imposing any set of religious beliefs upon the citizenry, yet here we are talking about Catholic and conservative Protestant theology being the litmus test for candidates.

The irony is that Mr. Rutten gave us this as his last paragraph, which indicates that at least one candidate does get it:

It is this older line of Catholic moral reasoning that allows Biden, who has voted to ban late-term and so-called partial-birth abortions, to say he is "prepared to accept" the Catholic Church's teaching that life begins at conception while supporting Roe vs. Wade because, for now, it "is as close as we're going to be able to get as a society" to accommodating all religious views on the issue.

Nice try, Mr. Rutten, and I mean that sincerely. But no cigar. Not this time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have yet to hear about right-wing Rethug Catholics being denied communion for supporting aggressive war, torture and the death penalty. Cynical fetus-fetishism to dupe the droolers while they pick their pockets.

8:44 PM  

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