The Question: Are We Pro-birth or Pro-life?

When looking at the mystery of resurrection life that begins at our baptisms, I often pose the question to people: what is the opposite of death? And invariably the answer is shouted out: life! And that answer, is of course, wrong. The opposite of death is birth and what happens in-between is life. Life begins at conception but it does not end at birth: it develops and shifts massively in each individual, but the major portion of one’s life is after birth, not before it occurs. This is a simple yet essential point to make when one is looking at morality, ethics, politics and economics. To concentrate on issues that pertain primarily before birth is to start at the wrong position, and so, often get nowhere quickly. It would be as though a doctor studied pre-natal medicine and as soon as the child was born, the job was finished and the child, and mother and everyone else was left to fend for themselves and let nature or politics take their course. And so, in morality, ethics and Christian values, to begin with or concentrate on, or to suggest that one portion of life or the way one views one particular group of human beings before they are born constitute a bench mark or norm for decision-making and Christian living is problematic at best.

It is worth noting that the existing law of the land is in favor of individual rights and responsibilities in regards to the issue of abortion. It is NOT THE LAW OF THE LAND and it is not enforced as it is in other countries. There are many many more people who are against abortion than against the individual freedom of choice that is the law at present. However, the law of the land is the enforcement of the death penalty, the use/misuse of nuclear weapons and the existing government has not signed on against the use of children soldiers (treaty), the land mine (treaty), the use of cluster bombs among civilians, the World Court of Justice, the Rights of Children, or anti-pollution treaties such as the Kyoto Agreement. The United States CatholicChurch must grow up and become adult believers who practice their belief by offering alternatives to those who wish to stand up for their values with medical care, education/housing/jobs/support and inclusion within the community rather than being content with condemning those who do not chose to try to change the law, but help those who are struggling with the burdens of decision-making now. President Bush has in the last few months reiterated his position that he will NOT introduce any legislation that would call for a change in the existing law, to make abortion illegal. Thus it becomes lucidly clear that the issue is not abortion but the Christian values that begin with the womb and continue throughout the lives of more than six billion people alive on our fragile planet who deserve to look to the Catholic/Christian community to provide the essentials for choices for life and hope for all in a country where there are still avenues of personal rights and looking at persons who will vote along the spectrum of needs of the people will lay the foundation for the change of law while providing services now for the common good of the majority.

There are, according to recent reckonings more than six and a half billion people in the world, all struggling to survive in increasingly difficult circumstances. More than 85% of the world goes to bed hungry every night-25,000 people a day starve to death. The biggest problem world-wide at the present is clean water and food that is not contaminated or polluted. Even in the United States, almost half, or more than half by most estimates, of the population is without health insurance, with the largest group of people lacking such an essential right of justice being women of child bearing age and children under the age of 15-the group that needs it the most for any development and a healthy life. At this particular time in the world and at any time, more than 1/3 of the population is in motion: from drought, other ecological disasters (often called acts of God, but due in large part to greed and war) migration, immigration and forced evacuation from areas of bombing, national and international conflicts. The gap between rich and poor, between the poor and those in squalor and human misery is better described as the grand canyon that is worsening daily. The bulk of the poor live and die on less than $2 a day while the US alone constitutes less than 5% of the world’s population, uses more than 80-86% of the world’s resources and contributes more than 75% of the world’s pollution.

And then there is the need for the US to be held accountable for its war of aggression, it’s pre-emptive strikes-just another name for unprovoked attacks on other countries for regime change (as in Haiti and Iraq) and for attacking countries in retaliation and fear instead of seeking any other avenue of response or defense (Afghanistan), and for making a show of its military might without regard for the rest of the world. Closely aligned with this issue of the military budgets of $422 billion for the year, which does not include $87 billion more tagged onto the war in Iraq or any of the billions spent monthly on terror and home-land security and the $130 billion for what has been described in the NYTIMES as Bush’s ‘pie-in-the-sky’ missile defense program. These items do not include the troops ‘for hire’ from private security and intelligence companies that are enmeshed in the war, massive tax cuts for the already-wealthy, sweet deals for drug corporations and reconstruction work awarded to companies with ties to the sitting-government. (for instance the Bechtel Corporation that privatized the water supply in Cochabamba, Bolivia and within a month the people were paying more for their water than they were paying for housing and transportation monthly. The people revolted and drove them out, and now the company is suing Bolivia for $25 million dollars in lost revenue-with Bolivia the poorest nation in South America). And this is the company in charge of water in Iraq-where raw sewerage and contaminated water is still the norm for the civilian population.

And what the United States is deliberating doing in regard to its war on terrorism (though it is not a war when there are no prisoners of war in Guantanamo Bay cells) is destroying human rights and security across the boundaries of the earth. Estanislao Oziewicz writes in THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Canada, on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 in the World section:

U.S. President George Bush’s war against terrorism has undermined international justice and made the world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International says in its annual report to be released today. “The global security agenda promulgated by the U.S. administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle, “Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan wrote in the foreword to the report’s country-by-country assessment. Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, “turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty.”

And as recently as Mr. Bush’s visit to the Pope on June 5, 2004, obstensively to give the Pope the medal of freedom from the U.S., though Mr. Bush disagrees with absolutely everything Pope John Paul II stands for in regards to peace, human rights, the necessity of bridging the gap between desperate nations and those with excess, and on the death penalty, the need for consultation and respect for other nations and to act in consort with them. Mr. Bush ignored the Pope’s call to desist from his plan of aggression against Iraq and to work with the United Nations as he ignored the hundreds of millions of people around the world, and every religious body (except his own small church). The Pope reiterated his dismay over the invasion of Iraq and exhorted Mr. Bush to work with the United Nations and work seriously at rebuilding the country that he so callously destroyed. THE NEW YORK TIMES described it thus: “the pope mixed praise for the United States with a diplomatically worded but unmistakable expression of displeasure with the war and its aftermath.” (June 5,2004) But the pope was also very clear that Mr. Bush knew his “unequivocal position opposing the war in Iraq” and aware of his commitment to the promotion of life and family values.

This question of pre-birth or pro-birth moral issues that do not necessarily include any moral issues after birth affecting the six and a half billion people already born is becoming crucial in this election year. Religion has an enormous influence on politics and economics and its influence should not be constrained or restricted by one issue that one party can use as a marker for whether or not one is moral or conscientious, let alone whether or not one is a believing practicing Catholic.

This is even more of an issue of both ethics and theology for members of the hierarchy who are intent on individually singling out Catholic lawmakers and politicians running for office, condemning them publicly and then announcing that they will refuse them Eucharist. It was only 44 years ago in 1960 when the then-nominee for the President of the United States, JFK, a Roman Catholic declared that he was running for office as President and would uphold the constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights and not enforce the beliefs or teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. His words on September 12, 1960 bear repeating again, as they were quoted in THE NEW YORKER, June 7,2004, p. 34.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute-where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote-where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end-where all men and all churches are treated as equal-where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice-where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any king-and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

The language may appear dated but the concept and hope is needed today. To expect anyone running for an elected position in the United States, locally or nationally to enforce the ethical and moral teachings of any one religion is no different than the Jewish State of Israel expecting all those who live or visit their country to follow orthodox Jewish laws, or any Islamic state to demand that everyone in their land follow their shira (sp.?) religious laws. Otherwise the specific religion becomes the state religion-intolerable in a world that is pluralistic in its seeking freedom and liberty.

Today Catholics and every citizen of the United States must look at the world and its massive ills, its dwindling resources, its greed and violence, its wealth and misery, its many religions and nation-states, the United Nations and the needs of the common good-usually defined as the largest number of people in the greatest need immediately, and look at a person’s values and over-all record and only then, vote for a candidate that they believe is the best hope for the human race, inclusive of the United States and every other country in the world. Perhaps a number of things to keep in mind when deciding how to vote:

  1. YOU MUST VOTE
  2. Vote for the person you think will do the most amount of good (or the least amount of harm on all issues)
  3. Vote for the person you think will allow you to do the most amount of good.
  4. Look at all the issues and do not use one to decide on what makes one a good human being in today’s complex world. Look at war and peace issues and monies being spent on new nuclear weapons, destruction and killing as opposed to nation-building and debt reduction of poor nations; poverty, especially children and women in poverty; universal health care and medication costs; unemployment and underemployment and a living wage; immigration and refugee laws; low-income housing and educational bills; and the candidate’s position on working with the United Nations and allies and seeking solutions that are without harm, in conjunction with building a safer society for all; look at the environment, pollution, waste, air, water and resources and the responsibilities of the wealthy nations for their tariffs, hard capitalism, global warming and debt. And then look at the more individualistic issues of same-sex marriage (effecting less than 3% of the population), euthanasia, stem-cell research, the death penalty (we are only one country of 4 left in the world that practice it, even on children and the mentally retarded), abortion and the issue of pro-choice under existing US legislation.
  5. Remember NO government is really about the coming of God’s kingdom of peace with justice for all. We must become a Church that offers alternatives of hope, under existing legislation, for those who need our help in living their lives according to the Church’s values and beliefs. No government will ever abide by Jesus’ sermon on the plain, forgiveness of all, including enemies and making sure that the least are taken care of first. That is our task at hand.
  6. Talk to others about what you believe should be the priorities for all those in the United States, and then hopefully world-wide. The judgment scene in Matthew 25 reminds us that we will be judged as nations and as believers in community and as individuals on what we have done for the least of our brothers and sisters, specifically in regards to food/water, shelter/clothing, medicine/health care, prisoners and whether we treated all 6+ billion of our neighbors as we would Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God.
  7. Pray, alone and with others, after reading, studying records, budgets, to see if candidates actually did anything connected to what they campaigned on-(i.e. all the years that Republicans or Democrats against abortion have been in office-all but the last 8 years, did any of them change any laws or was it rhetoric repeated year after year?) Discernment takes time and input from others. Do not decide to vote on anyone’s say-not a bishop or a buddy, a politician or a pope. However, do read the Scriptures of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and observe carefully how Jesus deals with issues of marriage, poverty, the need for health and healing, aggression and living by the sword, forgiveness, living without harm to anyone-especially one’s enemies. Remember justice is love expressed in terms of sheer human need and we are called to love-“one another as I, your God, have loved you” and those words are in the plural.

There is another issue that must be addressed and that is the reality of individual bishops and their supporters using the one existing law under the United States constitution of pro-choice (and none of the others that are equally if not more destructive on scales of impact and numbers) as a litmus test for catholicity and using, in the worst sense of the word, the sacrament of the Eucharist as a sledge hammer or a club on other brothers and sisters in the Church. Canon law states that no minister of communion may refuse Eucharist to anyone who presents themselves even if, and especially if they know of a person’s failure or sin in any regard, or to cause that person embarrassment that might hinder them from becoming aware of their situation or harden them in their regard to the Church’s teaching. That’s Canon Law. At the last supper, Jesus washes all his disciples’ feet, including Judas and Peter, both of whom will verbally betray him, while all the others will follow in fear. Jesus dips bread in oil and feeds it to Judas at the table as a sign of intimacy and trust, never alluding to what Judas will do before the evening is over. Pope John XXIII spoke critically against those he called the “prophets of doom who in modern times see nothing but prevarication and ruin.” Some of his opening words at the Council were “The Church has always opposed.errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.” On his deathbed he said: “It is not that the gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better. Those who have lived as long as I have.were enabled to compare different cultures and traditions, and know that the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.” (from a holy card on the day of beatification Sept. 3, 2000, feastday October 11, the day the Council opened).

It seems in this year 2004 and since the millennium began we in this country are quick to denounce and ruthless in condemnation of anyone ‘who is not with us is against us’ as our slogan. However Jesus’ words are the exact opposite to his disciples, saying: “Anyone who is not against us is with us.”(Matthew) We need to adjust our spiritual and moral attitudes when we so easily accuse others of sin, evil and wrong doing and are so slow to look to ourselves and be accountable for our own failures that impact the world around us. (i.e. why is it that half or more of all Catholics in the U.S. are separated or divorced, and the bishops allowed the scandals of abuse and misuse of monies to continue unabated for so long? In addition, American Catholics are the richest religious group in this country and yet we are last of all the churches in what we give to the poor and the needy-why are we so selfish and heartless in our excess?)

There is an old Jewish story told about the Rabbi Zusia who could see into the hearts and souls of all around him. Once, he was visiting the Maggid of Mezerich a famous teacher and he saw a man talking with the Maggid about a business venture. He saw right through him and knew him to be dishonest and involved in many scams that had caused hardship and bitterness for many who were poor. Without thinking he walked over quickly to the two of them and blurted out what he knew to the Maggid. The man was appalled and left embarrassed. Zusia realized what he had done and was equally appalled at what he had done by shaming the man and exposing his faults and what he might do in the future (which of course he didn’t actually know). The Maggid turned to Zusia and told him that his words, his knowledge and his manner were getting in the way of dialogue, of repentance and healing and said that he would pray that he could see everything but he would only be able to speak of goodness, even if someone sinned right in front of him. And what he saw as evil, he would realize was part of his own sin and be careful in judging others out loud, knowing his own collusion with evil.

Now this might seem a bit drastic to us, but we are in desperate need of balance, of truthfulness and having the ability to see reality for what it is, not only through the lens of our own particular feelings, experience and agendas. We need the Gospel, the experience of our 6 billion or more brothers and sisters and the grace of knowing that one action is not the sum of a person’s character. Are we pro-birth, pro-pre-birth, or are we pro-life, the life of everyone, from the womb to the tomb, rubbing shoulders with the survival needs of everyone. It has always been the case, that the way the largest number of human beings are treated, is the way those least visible or the least number or the least useful are treated, not the other way around. The task before us is staggering, but it is the task of everyone who believes in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus-it is to love one another as we would love the person of Jesus-the way we love each and every person born and living in our world and those to come after us for the next seven generations. We must, in the end, be for LOVE, without violence or harm, with justice and mercy, with forgiveness and reconciliation and with peace on the earth for all. Love, stretch your heart and mind and then .. go vote!

Megan McKenna For Catholic Peace Voice, June 11, 2004

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