Pauline Theology of the Body and “Prolife” Rhetoric

As we have discussed in the past, one of the classic strategies of the MAGAfied “prolife” movement (as distinct from the authentic–and magisterial Catholic–Consistent Life Ethic) is that the “prolife” movement in the employ of the GOP Crime Syndicate always deploys, “We have to focus on abortion” rhetoric in order to focus, not on abortion, but on defenses of whatever today’s GOP Crime Syndicate Panic du Jour is. This strategy has served the GOP for decades and people still fall for it, because they buy the fraudulent argument that until abortion is magicked away, no other moral issue matters. As a result, they feel free to make war on nearly the entirety of the rest of the Church’s social teaching, just so long as they mouth “prolife” slogans. This notion that Opposition to Abortion Taketh Away the Sins of Conservative Catholics is one of the most pernicious falsehoods plaguing the Church today. Here is a little piece of my book, THE CHURCH’S BEST-KEPT SECRET: A PRIMER ON CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING, to show how to break the spell of that specious reasoning:


The argument works, or seems to work, this way: Why should we spend time and energy on things like capital punishment or deportation or the fact that the United States is now a gigantic prison state when 1.5 million babies are dying each year? The same objection is typically advanced for nearly everything listed above. All these things are (goes the objection) “prudential judgments” and not gravely and intrinsically immoral as abortion is; therefore we can pass over them and, as the saying goes, “focus on abortion, which is non-negotiable.”

But the problem with this approach, as the language about “diluting the brand” hints, is that the Church’s teachings about these issues are not really passed over in favor of defending the unborn by those who use such language. On the contrary, the Church’s teachings are actively opposed by those who claim to, but do not, “focus on abortion.”

Here’s the deal: There is plenty of room in the Church’s tradition for specialization and focusing on specific issues, needs, and ills. Dominicans specialize in preaching. The Sisters of Providence specialize in healing and building hospitals. Jesuits found schools, and so forth. As Paul says, different members of the body do different things (see 1 Corinthians 12). So somebody who truly wants to focus on abortion and the protection of human life from conception to birth is perfectly free to do so.

But healthy members of the Body of Christ do not declare that other members “dilute the brand” by focusing on other issues or by caring about multiple issues at once. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Somebody who says “We need to address the sadistic cruelty being meted out to refugee chil­dren, snatched from their parents at the border and disappeared into a concentration camp system that cannot even figure out how to unite them with those parents again” is not “diluting the brand” of the Church’s teaching, nor “dis­tracting” from abortion. They are simply being consistent about the Dignity of the Human Person from conception to natural death.

Likewise, the person who is fighting to uphold the Church’s teaching about the necessity of a living wage—a teaching as old as James 5 and the basis of the Church’s tradition that depriving the worker of his wages is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, exactly like murder—is not somehow “distracting” from abortion. Indeed, one crucial point of the Church’s insistence on economic justice is that families cannot happen if people cannot afford to marry and have kids. Poverty, in fact, is the #1 abortifacient. A living wage is crucial to our dignity and to the foundation of families.

Another related issue is capital punishment. Recently, Pope Francis—echoing a call for the abolition of the death penalty also sounded by Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—formally changed the Catechism to read:

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inad­missible because it is an attack on the inviola­bility and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. (CCC 2267)

This development definitively places the good of the human person over mere judicial retribution and says, in effect, that if we do not have to kill somebody we should not do it, even if they have it coming—especially since about 4% of our prison population (the largest on Earth) are wrongly convicted. Fighting this development in the Church’s teaching not only means killing people unnecessarily, but killing innocents in order to do it and (no small thing as well), turning ourselves into people who are willing to kill innocents in order to kill the guilty unnecessarily.

“But these are all prudential judgments,” returns the Focus-on-Abortion interlocutor. “Aren’t we free to disagree with the Church on prudential matters?”

Actually, no. We are not free to ignore, or worse, oppose the Church’s guidance without very grave cause. It is vital to remember that “prudential judgment” concerns not whether, but how best to implement the Church’s whole teaching. If your focus is on abortion, fine. Focus on it. But do not pretend to focus on it while actually spending your time and energy fighting against the Magisterium and in favor of capital punishment, fighting against Laudato Si’ and in favor of policies that harm the environment, fighting against a living wage and in favor of laissez faire capitalism (condemned since Rerum Novarum was written in the 1890s), fighting against a century’s worth of magisterial calls for universal health care and denouncing the Church as “socialist” to shout down that call. None of that is “focusing on abortion” and none of it is prudential judgment. It is weaponizing the unborn in order to fight the rest of the Church’s teaching by making the unborn the opposite of and competitor to all the human lives harmed and even killed by sins in these other areas.


2 Responses

  1. Poverty, in fact, is the #1 abortifacient.

    Ah, but that’s *exactly* the point. Get the poor to abort and it reduces the total number of people living in poverty and lessens the need to do something about it because if poverty reaches a critical mass, it will cause the society to break down completely. And that’s bad for the stock market.

    Putting aborting mothers in prisons achieves two things: there’s no child born into poverty and you get a free slave to work for you in the prison system.
    If for whatever reason, this works and abortion in fact is magicked away, expect the same people to call for relaxation of anti-abortion measures.

    Some time ago, I noticed an interesting thing about the high officers and generals/admirals in the US military since women were admitted. There were very few of them and those who actually achieved the highest ranks were either single or married with no children — much unlike men, who typically had families. I thought that it was a pretty clear indicator that those women preferred careers over raising a family since the family would take too much time and energy for them to rise in the ranks, but after reading up on history of abortion in USA, I realized that it’s simply not the case. Before Roe vs. Wade, it was possible to get a legal abortion in the US military and the military leaders pressured female officers to abort and continue with their careers. Those who didn’t cave in to pressure simply dropped out, they didn’t even try to get back into active service.
    That’s why I fully expect that the GOP will eventually lead initiatives to relax the law: they don’t really believe it, they know they can’t keep it going and they will need women to get into the workforce rather than raise children.

  2. Virtues almost always come together. The men who use prostitutes, like Trump, are not actually “prolife”. I think we need to consider if we are going for prescriptive or proscriptive rules. Should we develop a culture of life which inherently includes many other virtues which we need to work on as well, or should we control people by threats of imprisonment. The problem is that Americans don’t really like these kinds of threats. So legislative fights end up being futile a lot of the time. That legal battle is about control rather than developing virtue.
    Not that we shouldn’t mKe an effort to align our laws with what is right. But that cannot be the only battle we fight. We need to recognize its serious limitations. For example: if we simply outlaw the supply of abortion providers, the demand is still there. There are other nearby countries that provide abortion. So we cannot ignore the demand. We must address that.

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