Friday, April 30, 2004

Whose Judgment?

Once again, a number of commenters have suggested various rationales that would make it permissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. Some of them are quite clever, involving comparisons of George Bush to gun dealers, or the supposition that John Kerry's unconditional embrace of abortion-on-demand, because it is only a "vote to allow some people to be potentially killed", whereas a vote for Bush is a vote complicit in his actually killing people in the war.

That's a clever argument, but it doesn't hold up, for several reasons. Firstly, George Bush does not wield the "power to kill" in war in some absolute sense. He does so in conjunction with Congress, which, I again remind you, authorized him to use military force in Iraq. So just as it was mistaken to characterize Bush as single-handedly executing criminals in Texas, so it is erroneous to describe him as single-handedly waging war. President Bush made the prudential judgment to go to war lawfully, using authority that was rightly his.

If President Bush made that prudential judgment in good conscience, then even if that judgment is erroneous, that's all it is: simply an error. And, to paraphrase commenter Zippy, the distance between being in error in a matter of prudential judgment, and deliberately cooperating in something categorically wrong, is the distance between here and the end of the universe.

Furthermore, the supposed difference between the "actual" killings of the war and the "potential" killings of Senator Kerry's pro-abortion policies is chimerical. For there can be no doubt that the policy of permitting abortion does in fact lead to actual abortions. We have almost 40 million deaths since 1973 to attest to that fact. One out of every four pregnancies end in abortion today. One cannot claim, because he does not know which pregnant women will have abortions, that death by abortion is some abstract "potential" for which he has no responsibility in enabling. That vast numbers of children conceived will die as a result of legalized abortion is utterly predictable. And Senator Kerry wants to further solidify and extend that "potential" for death in the womb.

An analogy may be helpful. I'll use the "gun dealer" analogy so favored by some of my commenters. Suppose there were no laws regarding who guns could be sold to. Now imagine I am a gun dealer, and I have 100 guns to sell. And suppose that I sold these guns willy-nilly to all comers, although I knew, because of crime statistics for my locality, that 25% of guns sold were purchased by criminals. When the wholly predictable wave of bloodshed commenced, would I be permitted to absolve myself of responsibility by saying "Well, I didn't know who the criminals were. Every gun sale of mine was only potentially enabling a criminal to commit mayhem. I can't be responsible for guns falling into the wrong hands." Of course I wouldn't be allowed to get away with that. I would rightly be charged with criminal recklessness. Indeed, we have waiting periods and background checks and other restrictions precisely to try to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

But unlike guns, there are no "right" hands into which we may allow abortion to fall. No one can "rightly" use abortion. So permitting abortion is not allowing "potential" deaths, it is permitting deaths certainly. And John Kerry, because of his absolute commitment to abortion, is not even in the position of the reckless gun dealer. He is the traveling gun salesman, seeking out wider and broader markets for his lethal wares, trying to put them into as many hands as possible, and trying to convince everyone why they need to have one.

Indeed, it is because of this utter lack of a good use of abortion that we as Catholics are obliged to seek its diminution and abolition, both as voters and as holders of elected office. The erroneous use or even misuse of prudential judgment, in an area which is its proper sphere, is not merely less wrong than a deliberate choice for a categorical evil such as abortion or cooperation in abortion. They are entirely different things.

And that truth, ultimately, is ignored by those who try to rationalize voting for Kerry. The decision about the applicability of the death penalty in any given case, and that of whether war is justified or not, are prudential judgments. They are capable of being chosen rightly. And when chosen rightly, they are actually morally good. This is never the case with abortion. Abortion can never be a morally good choice. And nothing can change that. Once again, the Church teaches that there is no position on another issue that can ever "excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life."

Those who say that the war in Iraq is unjust (which it very well may be) are also making a prudential judgment. And their judgment is just as susceptible to error (perhaps even more so) than those who have legitimate authority to exercise that judgment on behalf of the nation. To say "I can vote for Kerry because I believe the war in Iraq is unjust" is , in effect, to say "my opinion about this war is of greater weight and reliability than the teaching of the Church in a matter of fundamental and irreformable doctrine." By giving their judgment about the war greater weight than the Church's categorical teaching against abortion, and our duty to oppose it, they presume to place their prudential judgment about a contingent issue above the authority of the Church. When the church teaches on abortion, she does so in the name and with the authority of Christ. Not even the Pope, whose opposition to the war was unequivocal, claimed to do so with that level of authority.

Those who justify voting for Kerry because of their opposition to the war are placing their private opinion above revealed truth. It is to arrogate to oneself a level of authority and certitude on contingent matters that no one can have, to the detriment of one's duty in matters on which we do have certitude. We have no authority whatsoever to do that, and do so at great peril.

The bottom line: If you are opposed to the war, and judge it unjust, that is your prerogative, and you are free not to vote for President Bush. But you are not thereby permitted to vote for Kerry. There is simply no principle by which that is legitimate.