BY JOHN HILL
Last week’s debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the two Catholics in running for the US vice presidency told us a lot about the way we can look at the abortion issue. Abortion is sure to have a major impact on next month’s presidential election.
Biden and Ryan both identify themselves as Catholics. Yet each has a different perspective. They accept the teaching of the Church that abortion is wrong but, from that point, they part ways.
Ryan, the pro-life advocate, would have us hold that the authority of the Church is of a higher order to that of the state, and therefore it is able to demand of its adherents obedience to its teaching over and above what the State requires. That allowed Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former Archbishop of St Louis who is now Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, to state that it would be a grave sin if Catholics voted for Obama because of his pro-choice stand on abortion.
A fundamental question needs to be asked in order to clarify the positions of these two Catholics. Do we obey the Church first and the state second? Where are our basic loyalties? What divine right does the Church have to require absolute obedience from all Catholics?
I can personally agree with Tony Abbott that abortion is not the right way to go, but I do not see it as the “easy option”, which is how he has described it in the past.
While I am Catholic, I cannot impose my views on others who have been brought up in a different tradition to me. I do not have absolute truth, and I don’t believe that the Church has a monopoly on the truth.
In fact absolute truth is nothing but a concept. It is a chimera. The only truth I know is my truth, and that is what I have learned from childhood.
The Catholic faith, which has always been part of my life, has determined much of the way I look at the world. In turn, it has developed in me a compassionate perspective on life, or at least that is what I like to think.
No creed can define God. No set of laws and no systems of morality can control what is in the heart of any human being.
I have learned to be reserved in making judgements because, once I make a judgement, it is a matter that I am right and the other person is wrong. There is no in-between ground. This in turn means that any form of dialogue is terminated. Blind faith is not faith at all. Once you live with certainty you no longer need faith because you have espoused an ideology which places you in the position that those who don’t concur with your position are wrong. That makes it the end of the argument.
That is why religion at times can be a bad thing, in fact a dangerous one, if its sole purpose is to become a comforting blanket in times of chilly turmoil. We can readily cite what goes on in the name of religion and which in fact at times is nothing but sheer fascism or totalitarianism e.g. The Taliban, The Crusaders, The Inquisition and the litany goes on and on.
According to the philosopher David Hume, errors in religion are more dangerous than errors in philosophy. It is because a supreme conviction overrides all else in the name of faith.
It is precisely here that the abortion debate must be viewed. While I do not believe that abortion is right, I do not have a divine right to impose my position on another.
I remember that in Boston almost two decades ago, a man with a rosary round his neck shot and killed a doctor and nurse at an abortion clinic. He justified his action by saying the victims were accomplices in murder. This mentality will continue to cause havoc all for the reason of placing ideology above faith.
The saintly Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago was on the right track when he said life issues must be a seamless garment. If we are to be taken seriously in our objections to abortion we must seem to be consistent on our attitude to war, gun control, poverty elimination etc.
I find it sad that the Right in the US, including their core base in the Tea Party, is are using abortion as an election issue. Unfortunately they have dragged the Catholic Church into defending this cause.
Even the US bishops are saying that a vote for Obama is a vote for abortion, with their document distributed in churches on Sunday directing Catholics to not to vote for candidates with positions supporting an “intrinsic evil”.
One can only hope that US Catholics will be discerning in the way they apply the principles outlined by the Bishops.
John Hill blogs from Kensington in Sydney.
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