I have said before, repeatedly, that I find the abortion issue to be entirely poisonous to the political discourse of this country—largely because it inspires single-issue voters on both sides to overlook huge faults in one candidate just to vote against someone who disagrees on this one point. I've also said that I wish people would just let the issue rest a while so we can get back to other issues and stop arguing over a stalemate.
And yet I keep finding myself drawn back into the argument.
I think this is, in part, because I have sympathies on both sides, and as someone comparatively neutral I get really irritated to see the sheer misrepresentation flying around. Most recently, I've been witnessing the Roman Catholic Church trying to self-destruct over the issue.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, many bishops and priests launched a full-court press to get McCain elected, using crass threats about the Eucharist and salvation to cudgel voters into voting against Obama. Having failed at that, the political wind continues, as quoted in a recent TIME article (hat tip to Whispers):
"There's more fear here than wrath," a senior Vatican official told TIME with regard to the Catholic hierarchy's attitude toward Obama. However, if Obama signs the Freedom of Choice Act in his first months in office "it would be the equivalent of a war," says the same official. "It would be like saying: 'We've heard the Catholic Church and we have no interest in their concerns."
The Vatican and the USCCB are now reaping what they have sown. When they say with one breath that Catholics should consider all issues when voting, and with the next that abortion is the most important issue and trumps all others, they set themselves up as politicians playing the game rather than voices of morality. By telling millions of Catholics that they, as Catholics, must not vote for Obama, they risked their position as spokesmen for all Catholics; and when a majority of Catholics voted for Obama anyway, they lost that position. Even if most Catholics are pro-life (and I think we are), the vote served to discredit the politician-bishops, showing that they do not speak for a majority of their members and that they do not control the votes of their members.
Of course, as soon as they lost, they tried to make nice, as politicians do. "Voting for Obama is a mortal sin" suddenly became "We need to seek a compromise position" when the bishops' political dicta were roundly ignored, but now it's too late. I at least haven't noticed large numbers of people hanging back from Communion, though admittedly I haven't been paying close attention and my sample size would be small in any case; but I'm pretty sure that the 54% of Catholics that voted for Obama did so with a clear conscience, contra anything the bishops claimed about their eternal salvation being in mortal peril. Had they stuck with their original stated position—that many issues are important and voters need to look at the whole candidate—they could make reasonably credible claims on this issue. But the quote about 'war' doesn't pass the laugh test, and the last piece of the quote, that the government has no interest in the concerns of "the Catholic Church", is a truth of their own making: having demonstrated that "the Catholic Church" really means "the hierarchy" and not "Catholics", they've made themselves politically a lot less relevant.
The real tragedy, religiously speaking, is that it makes them morally less relevant as well. When religions really do stay above politics, they retain a moral authority over their congregation and a moral influence on leaders, even leaders of other religions. When they descend into politics, they become politicians, and relinquish moral authority in the eyes of their congregation (at least those that disagree politically) and in the eyes of outside observers (who may or may not disagree)—it looks like they're saying it just to get votes for their guy.
"Chicago enjoys a myth about itself---tough, brawling, but also amiable---that's grounded in a certain amount of bad behavior. A lot of people here like the legend of corruption, if not the actual practice. Corruption makes good stories." --Mary Schmich
Responding to my recent letter, another reader of the paper responded with his own, "We can choose life or death". My response (posted in the R-M comments forum as they only allow people only one "official" letter every thirty days):
You have not addressed a single point that I made in my letter, instead using it as an excuse to write a tangentially-related letter about abortion. To recap, my points were: 1) the flyer distributed in at least two Galesburg churches was not completely accurate, 2) the flyer and bulletin together convey a clear pro-McCain endorsement, which puts the churches' tax status at risk, 3) threatening voters with excommunication over their vote is unethical and desperate, and 4) single-issue voting is counterproductive anyway. Did you intend to actually refute any of these points?
To expand on #3, I'd also like to point out that automatic excommunication for voting for a pro-choice candidate is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church or of the US bishops; so-called 'latae sententiae' excommunication only follows from serious sin (like abortion itself). Last I checked, the official word was that one should pay close attention to abortion as an issue of top importance, but not focus on it to the exclusion of all else; and that though one shouldn't support a candidate solely for their pro-choice stance, one can vote for a pro-choice candidate for other reasons (as long as they are important and not frivolous). You claim that 'all' of the other issues are of 'this world', when there are numerous other life issues out there, including war, health care, welfare, and the death penaltywe can argue about their relative importance, and the RCC does indeed put abortion at the top of the list, but it is deeply disingenuous of you to pretend they don't exist.
"Chicago is not the most corrupt American city. It's the most theatrically corrupt." --Studs Terkel
The reason I'm only just now posting is I just got back. I was at an election returns gathering, and after Obama's speech I started walking home. When I was at Cherry Street and the tracks, I heard loud cheering and chants of "O-ba-ma!" coming from the direction of campus—I assumed they had to be at the square but later found out they were at the quads seven blocks away. On the spur of the moment I decided I didn't want to miss it, so I walked over. Getting closer to campus I saw small groups of people chanting and skipping (really) down the street towards the middle of the campus. I dropped off my stuff in my office, and followed the cheering. At that point it was coming from a crowd that was streaming from the tennis courts area toward Old Main.
At Old Main, on the south face, were hundreds of people cheering and chanting "O-ba-ma!" and "Yes we can!". Packed in tightly, less than half fit on the raised platform, with many spilling over onto the grass. At one point the cheer switched to "Main Street! Main Street!", which was momentarily puzzling, but then the crowd started peeling off to walk up Cherry Street towards Main. A few police cruisers showed up with their flashers and stopped traffic for us. Along the way, the crowd in Duffy's spilled out and cheered us on, and a bunch of people who had been at Cherry Street for the Dems' returns party were there cheering with us too. We rounded the corner and headed for the square, where the at least four hundred people were filling the (dry) fountain, standing on the edge, and again spilling out into the grass. More chanting for a while, and then someone started the anthem, which everyone sang like it was a beloved drinking song, and then the crowd streamed back towards campus.
Back at campus, some people split off into other directions, but a lot headed in the direction of CFA, where I thought I heard actual instruments, and indeed, someone in one of the jazz groups had a key and had dug out their equipment, and a jazz combo was playing. The energy and exuberance was incredible; the atmosphere was electric. People were dancing and partying and just having fun, with frequent spontaneous chants springing up either between songs or right in time with them. When the party finally broke up at about a quarter to one, everyone headed back to the dorms, where I imagine they'll be continuing for hours yet.
The best part was the sense that we were part of a party that was going on across the country and indeed around the world. Never in my lifetime have I been witness to anything like this, and if we had hope before it's doubled now: the depressing future we had waiting for us is not set in stone and things can and will get better. We can! We will!
"We are not a collection of red states, and blue states, we are the United States of America and in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again." --Barack Obama