Orthodoxy Is Not Extremism

President Biden has stated how important his faith is to his political life.  At the same time, he has emphasized that he refuses to impose his Catholic views on the political landscape.  These two claims contradict each other.  If he does not want to “impose” articles of his Catholic faith, by his own admission, they are politically irrelevant.  He paralyzes himself when he refuses to impose anything Catholic.  At the same time, he praises himself for being broad minded.  As a result, he appears to resemble T. S. Eliot’s  “patient etherized on a table”.

Other Catholics have tied themselves in academic knots attempting to convince people that they can both express their faith and negate it while offering a coherent political strategy.  John Milloy is a former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister.  He currently serves as the director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther College.  He is the recipient of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board distinguished Graduate award” (2008).  

In an article printed in the Waterloo Record (February 1, 2021, A8), entitled, “Joe Biden proves that religion and politics can, indeed, mix,” he argues that Biden religious and political beliefs are compatible with each other.  Biden’s consistent and even extreme pro-abortion stance, nonetheless, is clearly incompatible with Catholic Church teaching.  According to Vatican II, “God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” (Gaudium et spes, n. 51). 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops President, Archbishop Gomez, reminded President Biden that,  “As Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”  In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II stressed that “to claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.”  According to Cardinal Müller,  “Even among Catholics, the absurd opinion has crept in that faith is a private affair and that in public life you can tolerate, approve and promote something that is intrinsically evil”.  There is nothing fuzzy about these statements, no wiggle room to accept and promote abortion.

Nonetheless, John Milloy thinks he found an out.  Some politicians of faith are concerned about the plight of the poor, seniors and refugees, and social justice.  “Their faith calls them to fight the poor of big corporations, dismantle systemic racism and work for a more robust social safety net”.  Yet, if these issues relate to Church teaching (and they certainly do), Biden must remain inactive for fear of “imposing” his Catholic views.  In essence, Milloy is saying that as long as faith is inspiring some good things, it is alright to neglect others.  Therefore, Biden “sends a message that faith perspectives in our public square don’t need to be limited to extremists”.

The implication, of course, is that pro-lifers are “extremists”.  Milloy casually avoids the salient fact that working to end abortion is working for social justice.  It makes no sense to grandstand about one’s commitment to social justice and blithely ignore the most egregious and devastating form of injustice going on in the world which is abortion.  If the unborn are killed in the womb, they have no possibility of receiving other forms of justice.  It is like a deranged baseball manager who wants to score runs but is firmly against putting runners on base.

It may be helpful to distinguish between a statistical norm and an ethical norm.  The former assigns normality to the majority.  Most politicians in Canada are pro-abortion.  The Liberal Party does not admit anyone with a prolife view.  From the standpoint of a statistical norm, abortion may seem to be an extremist position.  But from a moral norm, abortion, the killing of innocent human life is not extreme.  Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party nominee for president in 1964 was tired of being unjustly labelled an extremist.  His retort is legendary:  “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice:  and let me remind you also that moderation in a pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  Goldwater was exercising the ethical norm not the statistical one.

Abortion brings in a mentality of killing which spreads to infanticide and euthanasia.  It is not an issue that is confined to itself.  It has a dynamic that spreads through marriage and the family.  Not to oppose abortion is not to oppose a litany of evils that also includes utilizing fetuses, live or aborted, for scientific experimentation.  Moral issues feed into each other.  To pick and choose what moral issues fit the political agenda is to opt for a kind of ethical mediocrity.  “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” Christ said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-18).  Catholic faith does not command moral mediocrity.  Had Christ ever offered a sterner rebuke?

Orthodoxy is not a form of extremism.  It avoids moral extremisms that threaten it from all sides while maintaining a balanced realism.  Being pro-life embraces the born as well as the unborn, men as well as women, the poor as well as the rich, the infirmed as well as the healthy, the uneducated as well as the educated.  If one sets aside life, there is nothing left to promote.  Such orthodoxy need not be religious; it need only be humanitarian. 

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College.  He is is the author of forty-two books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on amazon.com.  He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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