American Culture

Pro-Life, Pro-Obama: is it possible?

That’s the debate I’ve been having with an old college friend whom I’ve recently reconnected with.He’s become a Catholic since we knew one another back in the ‘80s, and is a deep-thinking, deeply principled man.He will not be voting for Barack Obama in November.Nor will he be voting for John McCain.He will vote, but he will cast a blank ballot.He urges me, if I am serious about my moral commitments, to do likewise.Neither candidate, in his opinion, cares enough about ‘life issues’ to merit an affirmative vote.

The New York Times reports that other Catholics are struggling with what do with in the upcoming election. The most troublesome issue for many remains abortion.Some, like Joe Biden, believe we must make accommodations for differing views in a pluralistic society, despite his own embrace of personhood at conception.Others, like my old friend, see Biden’s support for legal access to abortion as no different from espousing the Holocaust – if not in deed, then in complicity.

Can a Catholic possibly vote for a Democratic candidate who has regularly received a 100% approval rating from Planned Parenthood and indeed, as a state senator, voted against an Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection bill passed by Congress?Can I, as a person of faith who believes all life is sacred?I am going to answer ‘yes,’ and in so doing, proclaim myself also a utilitarian and a realist, with all the moral conundra that pragmatism involves.

If you’ll stay with me in this somewhat lengthy exposition, I’ll do my best to lead you through my reasoning.Along the way, I want to call liberals and conservatives alike to a fresh engagement with these most critical of issues, questions of the nature of our humanity and our obligations to one another, scrutiny of our mutual hypocrises, and a renewal of our willingness to tackle these profound dilemmas in a manner that can help us reach “common ground for the common good,” an expression used often at the inaugural Faith Council caucus at the Democratic National Convention, and at the DNC panel discussion of Democrats for Life.Only by refusing platitudes and rejecting ideology will we ever begin to achieve progress on these divisive concerns that continue to rend our body politic and erode our civility.

Although I am not Catholic, I am drawn to the “seamless garment” perspective that proclaims a holistic reverence for all life, and calls for a consistent pro-life ethic that seeks to protect life wherever it is threatened, whether by abortion, war, poverty, racism, capital punishment or euthanasia.I share the goal expressed by Consistent Life, a network of progressive pro-life interests, that what we are trying to achieve is “a revolution in thinking and feeling, an affirmation of peace and nonviolence, an infinite gentleness, a value for the life, happiness and welfare of every person, and all the political and structural changes that will bring this about.”

Within that overarching moral framework I see complexity, particularly when the pro-life interests of individuals conflict.Which is more deserving of protection, embryonic stem cells, or an adult suffering and ultimately dying from Parkinson’s disease?Is it ever justifiable to sacrifice thousands of civilians in a war to resist an evil regime that would otherwise kill even more innocents?Can one insist on the birth of all conceived babies while at the same time support, even laud, the use of capital punishment in a race- and class-biased system where innocent people are wrongly killed? Are the lives of babies lost to abortion more important than the lives of AIDS orphans in Africa lost to poverty and disease and warfare?Is one murder by intention and the other murder by neglect, and are there therefore moral distinctions between the two?

The challenge for shaping public policy in a manner that honors life amid such philosophically complex and often conflicting “life interests” does not lend itself to cut-and-dried, black-and-white terms or positions.What does “pro-choice” really mean?Does the fetus get a choice?Does it deserve one?Are conservatives willing to create a social structure in which a mother can choose life and be confident that the quality of her child’s life is also part of that ethos?Are liberals willing to examine the moral inconsistency of a worldview in which prairie dogs are accorded more value than unborn human life?There are plenty of folks in Boulder, Colorado, where I live, who regularly campaign for the welfare of the proliferating rodents yet refuse to recognize that a woman’s “right to privacy” involves a private choice to kill developing human life, which is what happens when you “terminate a pregnancy.”Their opponents on the right, however, disdain the importance of protecting the very ecosystems on which all life relies, failing to recognize, for instance, that the prairie dog is a keystone species whose presence contributes to a rich diversity of life that sustains us.Often, those who are first to speak against abortion are the same people, like Sarah Palin, who are also quickest to advocate destruction of the very environment that a Christian worldview deems God’s sacred creation, to be stewarded with care for all generations (for more on this, see Tom Yulsman’s 9/17 post).

The irony, the non sequiturs, the hypocrisy, are enough to turn anyone into a cynic, or at least further jade an already polarized society unwilling to engage one another in good faith on these enduring concerns that continue to split our electorate.Is it foolish to speak of “common ground for the common good”?Can we, amidst a field of always-flawed candidates, still find enough faith to vote in relatively good conscience and hope that within the parameters of our decisions, we can work toward policy outcomes that reflect at least some of our basic shared values?In this regard, should we not be able to agree on at least the fundamental premise that reducing the number of abortions in this country, or the number of lives lost to war, is a desirable thing?

To do that, we must summon the willingness, the energy, and the character to plunge into further discussion on life issues in a manner that seeks such bridge-building.The Democratic Party was right to include events such as the first-ever interfaith caucus, and to sanction Democrats for Life, as part of this essential effort.At the same time, the party is home to secularists as well, with whom we – including conservative Republicans — must co-exist.

As Jim Wallis, moderator the DNC Faith Council, said, the answer to the religious right is not a religious left, but a moral center.But few on either side seem invested in trying to get there.

My sense on the streets of Denver during the DNC was that many convention-goers were tired of, dismissive, even bored with the graphic photos of dismembered fetuses held high on signs outside the gates to the Pepsi Center and displayed in bloody, brutal relief on the sides of the Operation Rescue truck driving through downtown.Some turned away but most ignored the images, including that of a perfect, miniature hand laid against a quarter, perhaps the size of George Washington’s head.More chose to pay attention to equally gruesome photos of Falun Gong torture victims, whose faces were methodically burned by electric batons, or whose genitals were torn off.

I was arrested by all of these images, which were paraded side by side along a full block of 15th Street.Though I adamantly reject the harsh, often hostile efforts to engage passersby by many anti-abortion demonstrators in Denver (I was told by one that I was “going to hell” when I challenged him to use more Christ-like methods in his delivery), I just as adamantly believe there is a place for their message, including such photos.If liberals are going to argue against Chinese terrorist methods used in religious suppression but support the suctioning of late-term fetuses’ brains while their heads are exposed outside their mothers’ bodies, there needs to be an honest, explicit engagement with that apparent moral disconnect, and non-combative efforts to explain why.If conservatives are going to reject all embryonic stem cell research, they need to make a careful case as to why the sacredness of those microscopic cells is greater than that of my uncle who is declining with Parkinson’s and will likely see a premature end to his life as a result.

And if Senator Obama agrees that it is infanticide and a crime when a new mother discards her newborn infant in a trash can, yet supports doing nothing when a fetus survives an abortion and is placed in a medical waste can, then he needs to be forced into an engagement with the moral incongruity of that position.Obama has claimed that the reason he did not support a similar Illinois state version of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act that was simultaneously passed by a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate is because of a concern (and I am paraphrasing here) that it would create an undue burden on the mother who sought the abortion, and would create a slippery-slope situation potentially leading to an undermining of legal abortion access of any kind.

Obama has claimed that his position on abortion is one that respects the plurality of moral views in American society.He wrote in The Audacity of Hope, “If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons but seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

With regard to the overwhelming bipartisan support for the Born Alive Infants Act, Obama is clearly outside the critical mass that deems that fully born infants should not be left to lie alone to die.Obama’s critics are correct: he is in effect saying that the potential erosion of a woman’s right to choose is more important than the life of a baby that emerges alive from an abortion.It is more important to let that baby die than to jeopardize – even hypothetically — abortion rights.

I could not disagree more.And yet I am going to vote for him in November.As my Catholic friend beseeches me to explain, “Why??”How could I?

And there is where my pragmatism comes in.On virtually every other issue that ties into the preciousness and quality of life, an Obama presidency would be more beneficial than another round of failed Republican policies and philosophies that serve the rich and powerful far more than those most in need.From the economy to health care to energy to climate change and the very future of our ability to live on this planet, an Obama administration would be more likely to effect policy change that would realize the social justice aims that are so important to many voters of faith, including my own progressive Christian faith.

One prominent Catholic is in agreement with me, and it’s gotten him banned from taking communion, just as Joe Biden has been.Douglas Kmiec is a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and a former law faculty member at Notre Dame and Catholic University.He was also head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.He spoke on an interfaith panel at the DNC Faith Council where he provided an answer to that posed in the title of his new book, “Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama.”

Kmiec has stunned fellow conservatives with his endorsement of Obama, acknowledging as he addressed Democrats of faith at the DNC that “It’s unusual to be here.”Challenging those “who are making the argument under the guise of faith that it is a sin to vote for Barack Obama,” Kmiec has come to see Obama as “the best representative of the Catholic ‘path of life’” and a man of “deep faith…great intelligence, great integrity and great honesty.”

“That label of pro-life has to be a commitment to all of life, to a culture of life,” Kmiec said, contending that such a culture includes things like a living wage, adequate shelter, access to health care, and a recognition that we must live in community together.

But how does Kmiec, or how do I, or any other voter concerned about abortion as a moral crisis, ignore Obama’s views on such a central component of a consistent life ethic?We don’t.We search for and work together for that common ground.A Catholic, Kmiec argues in his book, can support the “non-negotiability of protecting human life” through the use of “imaginative means within Catholic social teaching to supply that protection.”

Kmiec quotes Obama:

“And so for me, the goal right now should be – and this is where I think we can find common ground, and by the way I have now inserted this into the Democratic Party platform – is how do we reduce the number of abortions, because the fact is that although we’ve had a president who is opposed to abortions over the last eight years [not to mention a majority of Supreme Court justice and federal judges who are Republicanappointees – my addition], abortions have not gone down.”

Kmiec continues:

“If Republican Faith Partisans [those who condemn a vote for Obama as a sin – my addition] were actually capable of protecting human life through their singular focus on overturning Roe, the claim might have greater plausibility.”

Here again my pragmatic bent enters in, yet it is not incompatible with my overarching philosophical/religious orientation:I do not believe that Obama’s extreme views in support of abortion rights — and they are extreme, if we look at a basic bell curve of American opinion, with Obama on one end and Sarah Palin on the other –are likely to gain real traction in Congress or among the judiciary.Nor, for that matter, would Palin’s or McCain’s positions be likely to be turned into policy, given the moderate views held by most Americans.I do not anticipate that the Freedom of Choice Act will be passed, nor that Roe vs. Wade will be reversed, and even if it were, how likely is it that real inroads would be made in reducing the abortion rate as a result?The matter would merely be thrown back to the states for even more contentious and vitriolic political wrangling.The approach advocated by Obama and embraced by Kmiec, to enact policies that would reduce current abortion rates, is much more likely in the realm of political reality to be effective.

Polls continually show that Americans see abortion as a complex, multi-faceted moral issue.Most make distinctions between taking a morning-after pill that would expunge a fertilized egg versus a partial-birth procedure that sucks the brains out of a potentially viable, developed baby’s head.And most see a difficult continuum of developmental stages, each with ramifications for the morality of “choice,” in between.In a 2008 Gallup poll that asked voters whether they supported abortion in “all circumstances, some circumstances, or no circumstances,” respondents came down largely in the middle.

Many Christians, even Catholics, see such a spectrum of gray.My Catholic friend does not, and I respect him for the consistency of his position.Within his moral framework, human life – human personhood – begins at conception, and to destroy it for any reason is equivalent to committing murder.We have laws against murder in our society, and they trump our right to privacy.A woman enduring domestic abuse may wish to make the private decision to murder her abuser, but society says his right to life trumps her individual choice.If one believes, as my friend and many Christians do, that abortion is no different from murdering anyone already born, then there is a moral imperative to deny the legality of such a practice.To his credit, he is consistent on sanctity of life issues: unlike far too many religious conservatives, he doesn’t oppose abortion, then turn around and vote for a candidate who supports the war in Iraq or policies that keep kids in ghettoes well stocked with machine guns and assault rifles so they can keep killing each other (the same invalid slippery slope argument Obama makes applies most of the time to gun rights advocates, too).

I cannot make that same choice not to participate.As I see it, we humans are fallen and flawed and our institutions are, too.But they are the only structures we have within which to work toward our nobler goals of justice, fairness and the common good.There is a lot we can do outside of government.But government, whether a “necessary evil” or agent of our “better angels,” is a fixture in our collective welfare, and I believe we have a moral obligation to participate in it.

When it comes to resolving the social problems that prompt so many women to have abortions, I have faith that Democrats can do more to solve them than anything Republicans are proposing, despite their claim to be the pro-life party.As Kristen Day, head of Democrats for Life, said in an interview with the New Republic last month, “Republicans do nothing to help pregnant women who are facing pregnancy…Many women don’t have the resources to sustain a healthy pregnancy, let alone a child.”Data shows that Democratic policies such as those espoused in the Pregnant Women Support Act endorsed by Obama – providing prenatal resources, expanding health care – are effective in helping to reduce abortion rates.

It is one thing to speak out about against abortion, as Republicans do, but quite another to take action that makes meaningful inroads against its prevalence.Toward that utilitarian realization of an end, as Day said, “If a voter’s top priority is reducing abortion, she should vote Democratic.”

For many Catholics, abortion is that top-priority issue.For me, the whole gamut of issues that concern our quality of life as human beings, on earth, in community with one another, are just as central.Those are central concerns to many conservatives, too.As my staunchly Republican cousin claims whenever we talk politics, “We really want the same things in the end…we just disagree on the means to get there.”In many respects I think he’s right.But where I think he is wrong is in believing that yet more Republican policies will get us anywhere near our shared desire for a more humane society.My faith is buoyed, however, that we are talking, that I am talking with my Catholic friend, that we are being honest and respecting one another while cultivating conversation.The seeds of that elusive common ground we so desperately need in this country can only germinate in the soil of civility fertilized with integrity.

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14 replies »

  1. Further evidence that the two-party system is a disservice to our country. To belong, a voter has to accept an all-or-nothing slate of issues, which is of course ludicrous in today’s complex world.

  2. common ground for the common good…if only we could all agree on that.

    All religions assume that humanity is basically flawed. Some religions do a better job than others in dealing with that flaw. The Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of Thathagatagarhba is the most elegant. The word translates to “Thusness embryo”. The idea being that all humans (and sentient beings, which include blades of grass) have the essential nature of the Buddha, thusness. That nature has, however, been dirtied by karmic action; by cleaning away the dirt, our true nature shines through. The Hindus have a similar theory in the Atman…which Alan Watts described as “God playing hide and seek with himself”.

    In my opinion, the Semitic traditions have a major failing in that that all three put God out there somewhere…rather than in here. It should be noted, however, that the spiritual origins of those traditions (particularly Christianity) do not place God outside. A God that must be attained is the God of the Church. This suits the purpose of the Church insomuch as the practitioner then needs to go through the Church to get to God.

    Politically, we see the same thing. Rather than making people moral and seeing that morality then reflected in politics, the attempt is to make politics moral and force the people into the decided upon morality.

    I should also note that while all religions recognize the flawed nature of humanity (let’s call it the existence of evil), some approach it differently than others. The Christian Churches, in particular, hold to the belief that evil can be wholly eradicated…though the texts that they found their belief on paint a very different picture. The spiritual disconnect that assumes that Good can exist without Evil is dangerous. It is an oversimplification of Levi Strauss’s theory of binary opposition, and it leads to the concept of spiritual warfare to attempt the eradication of evil. Unfortunately, that is simply not possible…which leaves us in a state of constant war.

    (Enlightenment is not “heaven”, it is the escape from the cycle of binary opposition…it is pure nothingness…or Thusness/Suchness.)

    Note: i’m not Buddhist, nor am i proselytizing for Buddhism…only speaking to what i know in an attempt to enlarge the conversation.

    Thanks, Wendy, it was a thoughtful post.

  3. Lex, thanks for your equally thoughtful response. I was afraid what I’d written was too lengthy for some to choose to engage my arguments all the way through, but I felt the complexity of the subject matter warranted the in-depth treatment. Hopefully I’ve provoked some thought elsewhere, too, even if others have not opted to comment.

  4. Wendy,

    That’s what I appreciate about this is the fact that you appeciate the complexity of the issue. This is what we desperately need in this country, as opposed to sound bite, cookie cutter politics.

    I linked this page to my myspace blog and got a few comments about it as well.

  5. Wendy,

    I come to S&R because i find thoughtfulness, and because thoughtful commenting is the norm. And i agree with Bob, wholeheartedly. Your appreciating of the complexity is, well, appreciated. I’ve been disappointed that this post did not attract more comments, as it would be a very good conversation to have…particularly if we commenters followed your lead in tone, etc.

    By the way, i think that you’ve been a great addition to the cast here.

  6. Wendy, I received your email inviting comments to your blog post and have read your essay several times. I wondered if you could clarify something for me. You are pro-life and anti-abortion, yes?

    You would like to support Obama, although you are not happy that he is a proponent of legal abortion. However, you will lend him your support because you see the Democrats as better able to address the underlying causes of why women seek abortions in the first place. Correct?

    Where I seem to be getting lost is what it is you want your readers to do. Are you calling for more public debate on the topic of abortion? Are you asking your pro-choice readers to adopt your pro-life beliefs? Are you hoping to use this blog as a platform to catalyze a movement of Democrats willing to speak out against abortion? I’m a bit confused.

  7. Interesting and thoughtful work, Wendy.

    Of course you can be pro-life and pro-Obama. For the exact same reasons you can be pro-choice and vote for McCain. Politics is NEVER a one-issue animal. I admire your friend’s convictions, but turning in a blank ballot will only matter to your friend, and it will accomplish absolutely nothing. It will mean nothing to Obama or McCain, and it will mean nothing to those who support either candidate.

    It also misses the point about political campaigns.

    Political campaigns are about winning and power. I believe this to be true…with very, very few exceptions. It is also about selecting a person or position that may be flawed, but “less flawed” (in your opinion) than another person or position. This is where your idea of “pragmatism” comes in. You are pro-life (I am too) and you may not like Obama’s stance on abortion, but pragmatically, he seems more “pro-life” in other areas than McCain. Others will rank the candidates and their positions differently, and choose McCain. So, we choose and we vote. Then we take our lumps (and our victories) as they come down the road.

    Remember when the Democrats took over the Senate and the House two full years ago, promising to end the War in Iraq? What happened to that issue and that theme? Where did it go? The war continues and was even increased, because pragmatically, it is a dog to politicians. Today, the issue is Wall Street , mortgages, and and bail outs. Obama will not lay blame on anyone in his own party (just Bush), and McCain will only blame special interests (not Republicans). It is not in either man’s interest to do so, and until it is politically pragmatic, they won’t do it. Why? Because this is about winning.

    Obama talks about “Hope” and “Change” and “fulfilling the American Promise” (Interesting he picked that phrase, instead of “the American Dream” Now it is a promise) McCain talks about “Country First” and “Reform” and “Honor.” But these are campaigns, and they are ALWAYS designed to do one thing before all other things: win elections.

    I recommend Os Guiness’ book, “On Civility.” Good stuff

  8. As a Christian, I believe in panentheism, a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe. Therefore, I struggle with people who are anti-abortion but could care less about the environment because “God is going to destroy it all on Judgment Day anyway,” a heretical view of the end of time as shown in the Revelation to St. John. My other tension is that I don’t believe one can successfully legislate morality. The break-up of Yugoslavia is a case in point. The ethnic tensions that had been “successfully” suppressed under Communism flared up immediately after Tito was gone. All of those years of forced peaceful co-existence had no internal reality for the majority of people who went right back to hating each other the second they could. If we ban abortion, an evil I despise, it will simply drive it underground. If we force women to go through unwanted pregnancies, we will simply have more abused, impoverished, neglected children who will (often) grow up to perpetuate a vivcious cycle. The solution, in my mind, is to make our culture a “life-giving” culture in all ways, where we help women and men live to their full creative potential so that sex isn’t mindless entertainment or a form of power anymore. Pregnancies would then be welcomed (there will always be the exception here) and children would be cherished growing up with clean food, water and air in an environment that stimulates their minds and bodies to creative goodness. I hate abortion but to me it is simply the tip of a much larger iceberg of social ills and if we get hung up on the tip, our boat will sink.

  9. Well said, Jack. The role of politicians is to make us think that their campaign schtick is actually a promise. The role of voters is to get underneath that campaign schtick and vote for what we believe is the real person. It is a difficult job, made more difficult by the fact that the politicians are in control of how campaigns happen.

    These hot issues are great for politicians, hence the way they rise to the surface during important election cycles, because they make voting a matter of emotion rather than reason.

    One general question: is there anyone who isn’t pro-life? I don’t imagine that there are many who believe abortion (the act) to be a swell dandy thing to do. And if a person has no moral issue with aborting a fetus, is that the kind of person we’d really want raising a child anyhow?

  10. Valerie –

    I am not sure I can agree totally with you on the panentheism idea, at least not until you spell it out a little more. To some, panentheism means that God’s being includes and permeates all of creation, so that everything exists in God. But others take that further and hold that God is affected by each event in the universe, and thus God’s knowledge must change and grow over time. ..This does not fit with my idea of an omnicient and timeless God….Not sure where you were coming from.

    God is transcendent AND immanent to His creation, but he is also all knowing and eternal.

    Food for thought, I guess.

  11. Thank you Wendy for providing a venue for healthy discussion of such weighty issues. I have some questions about your arguments; I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and answers.

    An early statement that you make is that we need to reject ideology. Since an ideology is a “set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system,” what else will we use as a foundation for an argument if not an ideology? I think it is incumbent upon me to point out that you want to reject ideology on the one hand while you submit an ideology of utilitarianism on the other hand.

    On what foundation do we then stand when we embrace utilitarianism? Moreover, who will define the word “good” in a system of thought that seeks to maximize the good?

    Brett W Paradis

  12. Well, it’s high time I responded to some of these thoughtful, and thought-provoking, comments. In the interest of time and brevity, I’ll reply just to the questions. So, first to “anonymous” (who must be someone I know, as I sent the e-mail referenced to a list of friends inviting their reading and comments – but I don’t know who it is): Yes, I would define myself as ‘pro-life,’ but in the full sense I tried to lay out in the essay. And I am anti-abortion in that I see abortion as largely a tragedy, and in many cases a moral travesty, though I’m not sure I think we should outlaw it, or that so doing is the best way to prevent it from happening. I do, however, believe that late-term abortions should not be permitted except in the most exceptional circumstances (i.e., demonstrated life or health risk to mother) — I’m always surprised to find that many people do not realize that third-trimester abortions are perfectly legal in this country (and not often so in many more liberal European countries), as long as one can find a doctor willing to perform them.

    As for what I wish my readers to “do,” I’m not calling for action here, other than to think harder about these issues — to scrutinize where contradictions may lie in one’s own positions on life issues, and to either reconcile, or at least be aware and continue to struggle with those ‘disconnects.’ And to be in respectful conversation with others whose views may be different. So often, abortion is such a divisive and knee-jerk issue that I think we can gain ground even by opening doors to such dialogue. If there is any middle ground on this issue, we need to find and pursue it.

    Now, to Brett’s tough question about whether my embrace, in this case, of utilitarianism is itself adopting a foundational ideology. I’ve thought hard about this, and I’m going to have to waffle, though not because I’m being intentionally evasive or disingenuous. I am not actually a utilitarian in all aspects of my life, or even my politics, though in the case of abortion, it seems to me the most worthy approach to actually trying to reduce the abortion rate in this country. There are in fact some incontrovertible principles I hold which I would not sacrifice, regardless of how ‘useful’ they are. But I’m not sure that I subscribe to a particular, unified ideology as the basis for a given [political] system, either.

    When I think of ideology,I think of it as a mostly subconscious, pre-existing framework through which all events, facts, circumstances, etc., are viewed and interpreted, such as a belief in individualism that then undergirds an embrace of the virtues of unfettered free-market capitalism. When I beseech people to put aside ideology, maybe I should nuance that and ask them to be more aware of, and critical of, their own ideological tendencies, in order to examine inconsistencies and be more open to conversation with others who think differently — in an effort to seek that “common ground for the common good.”

    And Brett, your last sentence nails the need for a foundational moral system if we are to talk about what is “good” or “right.” I was considered by some a modernist anachronism in graduate school in the 1990s when I argued that one couldn’t assert a moral imperative if one insisted all moral beliefs are relative. I have yet to see how a thoroughgoing postmodernist can really insist on a moral discourse. In this respect, I find myself in sync with C.S. Lewis’s opening chapters in ‘Mere Christianity’ that lay out a transcendent moral sphere in which our moral obligation is to love our neighbor as ourself, which we often choose not to do. When we recognize that, it is our moral conscience kicking in. When we realize we cannot ever attain that high moral standard, we are confronted with the doctrine of (unpopular word here in the 21st century) sin and how to escape its destructive grasp. Within this abstract context, however, we must negotiate the daily workings-out of how we treat others, and this is where controversy appears and complicates things.

    Well, I’m up to my usual late-night ramblings again, so if this is incoherent, I beg your graciousness at this 1:30 a.m. (!) hour. Happy to exchange more thoughts on this with anyone wishing to (and Brett, we could do this in person…I’d be up for that).

  13. I was considered by some a modernist anachronism in graduate school in the 1990s when I argued that one couldn’t assert a moral imperative if one insisted all moral beliefs are relative.

    As I recall, you weren’t alone in tilting at that particular windmill. Nor were you the most obnoxious in making the point.