Fr. Rob has an excellent post on the “seamless garment” argument and the moral relativism that it employs.
Just today you can see this moral relativism and the issues Fr. Robb talked about in in various articles and editorials.
And what about all of the other issues the Catholic Church views as priorities? Why don’t we see Catholic Republican politicians criticized on some of them (such as the death penalty or the Iraq war) [source]
The weekly National Catholic Reporter, a leading voice of liberal Catholics, took issue in an editorial last week with “those among the Catholic laity and hierarchy . . . who argue that abortion trumps all other issues in the upcoming election.”
The editorial reminded Catholics that there are “other issues — war and peace, immigration, tax cuts, housing, the death penalty, economic justice, welfare reform, the federal deficit, civil liberties, education, health care, crime, and on and on.” [source]
As a lifelong, practicing Catholic, I have been appalled by the Catholic Church’s discourse regarding Catholics in public life. Why is no one calling to prohibit Catholic politicians from receiving Holy Communion because they support the death penalty or voted for the Iraq war, two positions that are in direct opposition to the Vatican? It is disheartening to see the anti-abortion movement consistently dominate Catholic political debate at the expense of Catholic social teaching as a whole. [source]
These types of arguments when advanced by Catholics I find to be extremely irritating, especially since these arguments can not pass even a casual glance compared to what the Church teaches. Cardinal Bernadine first proposed the seamless garment argument which entailed naming a list of about sixteen social issues. These included abortion, homelessness, poverty, problems in countries overseas, capital punishment, nuclear disarmament, and others. In effect giving these issues equal weight or that at least is how how it has become to be used.
Abortion = Death penalty = War in Iraq = etc
This algebraic statement can only be evaluated as true under moral relativism.
Abortion – always wrong in every circumstance
Death penalty – “rare” necessity of the death penalty today and requires prudential to determine
War – can be just and requires prudential decision to determine
Death Penalty – 859 Executions since 1977, with 71 in 2002
Abortion – 44,000,000 Executions since 1973 with 1,313,000 in 2003
So every half hour as many children are aborted as are executed on death row in a year.
Medical triage was developed from the need to prioritize the care of those injured. If a medical team was rushed to an area with 70 casualties instead of an area with over a million casualties then there priorities would be seen as disordered. Even if abortion and the death penalty were exactly morally equivalent, societal triage would require the brunt of its effort’s to be on abortion. This does not mean that we don’t work towards both eliminating abortion and making the death penalty rare. If we truly work towards a culture of life where we don’t kill our children we will also be a culture that will not want the death penalty in most circumstances. Every state has legalized abortion, but not every state even has the death penalty and some of those states that do rarely exercise it.
Unlike the Roman guards at the crucifixion we must rip the seamless garment in two and work towards the goals it entails by the priorities they deserve. A society willing to kill its children is a society that will become and has become warped in other ways. You can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners and how it treats its most innocent members, the unborn. Looking at these realities it is hard for me to understand why these morally equivalent arguments are used in the first place? Fr. Rob ponders the same thing and I concur with what he say.
As I said above, I do not doubt the sincerity of many Catholics who are concerned about things like the death penalty. And by saying that issues like the death penalty are of less importance than abortion I’m not saying they are trivial. They are just less important. But I cannot help but wonder at the motivations of some of the advocates of the so-called “seamless garment” approach. Why is it that their seamless garment always seems to result in downplaying, or even dismissing, the protection of the unborn? Why is it that protection of the innocent always ends up on the fringes, the tattered edges, of their “seamless garment”, if not trimmed off altogether? I cannot help but think that, at least sometimes, it is because they really think that issues such as the death penalty, poverty, saving the whales, etc., are more important than the lives of unborn children. I cannot help but suspect that, for such people, voting for the Democratic Party, and what it represents for them, weighs more in the balance than innocent human life. I hope that this is not the case, for those who do so are indeed selling their birthright for a mess of pottage.
Tom of Disputations has some thoughts on the subject in a post called “What I like about grave evil.” Well what I like about Disputations is the quality of monkey wrenches he is able to throw into a discussion.