Applying Andrew Sullivan’s proposal to the highly charged abortion issue, we might consider referring henceforth to the self-described pro-life contingent within the U.S. Christian community as "pro-birth" rather than as "pro-life."
I first heard this idea raised, in a far different form and context, by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, a prolific author and lecturer, on the Easter Sunday installment of NBC’s "Meet the Press."
Many, but surely not all, in the so-called pro-life movement are politically and socially conservative on issues affecting the quality of human life after birth: child care, health insurance, education, housing, safety standards in employment, a clean environment, immigration, non-discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, the right to unionize, equitable tax policies, capital punishment, war and peace.
Indeed, Catholics identified with the self-described pro-life movement have been quick to criticize their own bishops for pressing a consistent-ethic-of-life approach over against one that focuses almost exclusively on abortion, with embryonic stem-cell research, homosexuality, and the continuation of life-sustaining measures (as in the Terri Schiavo case) running not far behind.
Clearly, such Catholics are pro-birth. Whether they are also pro-life in the comprehensive sense that the U.S. Catholic bishops are pro-life is another matter entirely.
It seems that Fr. McBrien becomes even more morally incoherent with each passing column. Now he is spreading the pro-abortion talking point about how pro-lifers only care about pregnant women. Even dumber is that he uses the Terri Schiavo case to buttress his argument that these Catholics are pro-birth and not pro-life. Last I checked Terri Schiavo was already born before they decided to starve her to death. He then goes on to equate support for life with what are quality of life issues. As if abortion and child care are moral equivalents. And of course what he means by child care is a right to demand government funded child care. The other issues brought up are also silly. What was the last time you heard someone who is pro-life demand that the environment get dirtier, that we should discriminate based on race, or that we should have unsafe working environments? These issues are non-sequitors and are thrown out as some kind of proof when it is really evidence of somebody drowned in Democratic party verbiage and who has abandoned reason.
If he is so worried about discrimination based on religion then whey did we never see a column on Massachusetts religious discrimination of Catholic Charities? What about the issue of euthanasia? Why are so-called pro-birth Catholics also against euthanasia? Or is this just a inconvenient fact that didn’t fit in with his column? What about the "pro-birth" Catholics who spend their time volunteering to help the needy? Another inconvenient fact? I don’t know what the actual statistics are, but I would also not be surprised to find that a majority of pro-life Catholics also see the death penalty as something that should be restricted and that it should only be used in very limited circumstances. Looking around just St. Blogs and articles I have read in Catholic periodicals this seems to be the majority opinion on the subject and mostly falls behind the thinking layed out in John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life.
Fr. McBrien has not offered any analysis but a caricature instead and that in no way advances the culture of life. It is no surprise that he uses the term sexual orientation and then goes on to disparage Catholics because they actually believe what the Church teaches. By his argument Catholics who are pro-abortion can I guess be described as anti-birth but pro-life if they support government-funded child care and OSHA. Again last I checked you have to be born first to experience job safety, clean environments, equitable tax policies, etc.
Gerald also has some good commentary on this article.
Dick really needs to resign from his cushy job at an elite private school and experience the real world. Like any parasite, his ingrained antipathy and hostility toward his host is the only thing that allows him to survive.
Hey, I support child care.
I support homes with mothers and fathers.
McBrien and Sr. Joan are the last, dying products of Cardinal Bernardin’s seamless garment “theology,” which was dismembered by Cardinal Ratzinger “Worthiness to Receive Communion” document in 2004, which Cardinal McCarrick (late of Washington, D.C.) lied about.
What’s interesting about this is that he uses this new euphemism to propagate the oldest anti-prolife slam in existance. He can’t even leave his snearing at the orthodox to come up with an original argument, but then again doesn’t ideology usually trump originality?
Steven, Fr. McBrien is currently under investigation for plagiarism… AGAIN. He has no originality. He is both intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Janice said “McBrien and Sr. Joan are the last, dying products of Cardinal Bernardin’s seamless garment “theology,” “
If that were only true. Our new priest who dresses like McBrien (no collar) also pulled the seamless garment crap on right-to-life Sunday (or whatever it’s called). He, like the other two “theologians” quipped about how anti-abortion foes aren’t helping the people already given life and doesn’t see a lot of outpouring of support for the end of the death penalty.
For crying out loud. That jackass (is it ok to call a priest a jackass) slapped every one of the pro-life advocates in the face that day. Those people in our parish who run the pregnancy resource center are also the ones heading up the food pantry, prison ministry and help start the free clinic. I’m not even one of them and it pissed me off to no end.
this was a great article and commentary – thanks for getting my blood boiling again.
I hate to admit it, but McBrien has a point, as evident from BillyHW’s comment above. I realize that some of the most active people are completely pro-life, like the people in Cathy’s parish. But there seem to be a lot of loud sarcastic people who take shall we say a much less than generous stance towards the actual complex of problems that an unwed mother faces.
Dick’s point is as valid as questioning whether we should oppose slavery because so many people who are opposed to it are selfish, loud, arrogant, unconcerned, etc.
If Prof. Mc. were to investigate his own cadre of dissenters and pro-abortion activists, he would find a much more unconcerned and unactive band of people than those he criticizes by implication. He can’t make direct accusations, so he simply implies that the pro-lifers are personally unconcerned or less active in social justice. He knows it isn’t true, however.
Jay, he has a good point when he says that many pro-life Catholics do not have a consistent life ethic.
Some do. But a lot don’t. Some Catholic pro-lifers champion the whole Republican platform without thinking whether they can do that and be truly pro-life. Then they congratulate themselves because in the last election the line was drawn at abortion. Of course it was: abortion is the greatest moral evil in our society. But it is hardly the only one.
Another case in point that I hate to admit: None of the “conservative” Catholic weekly papers takes a clear and Catholic position on the death penalty–except The National Catholic Reporter.
What I am trying to say is that there are cafeteria Catholics on both sides of the aisle. There is a huge difference in degree between the abortion cafeteria types and the social justice types. But is there a difference in kind? I don’t know.
(I should have said “only the National Catholic Reporter.”)
Kathy, Fr. McBrien is acting as an apologist for abortionists. His true point seems to be this: Abortion supporters can be nice folk who do otherwise good things. “If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.” If abortion supporters have no love for the youngest and most innocent among us, their works are straw.
Nazi analogies are appropriate when discussing a holocaust. The Nazi party garnered much support through its charitable activities. Should we have overlooked their crimes because they helped the poor? God forbid.
Yes, he does have a point with captial punishment, but it is buried in the midst of objectively false implications and used to advance a false premise.
McBrien has no interest in combating the death penalty here and I can’t recall him ever speaking against the injustice anywhere else in the world. He only brings it up to defuse his enemies who object to his agenda and the agenda of those he associates with.
He isn’t concerned with quality of life issues themselves. It’s just a tool for his theological dynamiter schemes. He knows very well that the Church’s “opposition” to capital punishment and abortion are on qualitatively different levels. Even if they were equal in nature, would he give “Catholics For The Death Penalty” as much positive spin as he does “Catholics For A Free Choice”? Never. It’s not about consistency for him, but about setting off the last bomb that topples the institution of his childhood before his corpse expires.
Perhaps I should clarify my aversion to what McBrien is peddling. Yes, he makes a valid point that many Catholics are inconsistent in their ethic of life by demanding execution for the sake of justice. This is true and something we need to constantly witness to, but we don’t need McBrien to tell it to us.
If you look at McBrien’s work in a larger context, you can see where the individual pieces fall into a larger whole. In this article, he is clearly equating the Catholic imperative to help the poor with a certain political philosophy (party, really) that states that state programs are the only valid solution to child care, health services, education, housing, and all the other social issues he cites. That is a political opinion, not a theological one. While he is expanding the realm of the necessarily secular state on one side, he is also defining the Church in such a manner that its goal and end is to serve as an agency for social services provider on the other. From these two fronts, he is attempting to redefine the Church in such a manner that it must eventually be assumed into and/or replaced by the state. His rejection of and attempted deconstruction Catholic sacramental theology as well as ecclesiology form the central anti-pillar in the larger scheme.
It is very clear why McBrien doesn’t join the episcopal church, the DNC, or another faith that suits him. His goal has everything to do with the Catholic Church and nothing to do with God.
At least that is my perception, and I would love for Dick to prove me wrong..
I’m not all that concerned with what one academic’s agenda is. I’m concerned about the unity and credibility of the Church. And it’s just not enough to fight the obviously good fight against abortion, while missing the boat completely on other matters that are also important. Such as making it possible for children to thrive once they arrive.
(I’m not saying McBrien is a prophetic voice, but that doesn’t mean he can’t once in a blue moon get something right despite his agenda.)
Kathy: I won’t concede that McBrien’s right on this. People who are active in the pro-life movement are usually also involved in other charitable endeavors. We’ve ALL seen this. Given that, what point does he have left? Other than, “Vote Democrat, they support equitable taxation”??
I hope you’re right, Consanescerion.
You don’t think that, because of the way things went in 2004, some people “learned” that Catholicism = Republicanism?
I hope I’m wrong.
Personally, I would almost certainly vote for a pro-life Dem over a pro-death Republican. Unfortunately, pro-life Dems are the most endangered species around.
I know several older, pro-union ex-Democrats. The party left them. THEY didn’t change.
As worthy as some of the other issues are, they just don’t rise to the level of the human slaughter going on. And candidates that support the culture of death often support a host of other initiatives that I have moral objections to.
“Their party left them.”
Sad but true.
Hang on. I know it’s a petty point, but did you call the NCR a conservative paper?
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