NatReview: Kathleen Parker – In praise of criticism

Here is a good piece by Kathleen Parker of National Review, with my emphases and comments.

April 18, 2008, 0:00 a.m.

‘Out of Step’
In praise of criticism.

By Kathleen Parker

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the U.S. has afforded the American media and others an opportunity to remind us that the Catholic Church is “out of step” with modern times.

That is both a criticism and compliment — praising with faint damnation. [Very nice!]

What exactly about modern times would compel a pope to change his institutional mind about the fundamental belief in, say, the dignity of all human life?  [It is amazing that some people gripe at the Catholic Church thinking that the Church is going to wake up one day and say, "Hey!  Let’s change our doctrine on the diginity of human life!"]

The central life issue is, of course, abortion, [Maybe so… but I am inclined to think that this is two-fold: it is about abortion insofar as it is about genetic reseach, but also abortion is lumped together with contraception.] about which even a majority of American Catholics (58 percent) differ from the Church’s view. Other related concerns include embryo-destructive research, cloning, and assisted suicide.

The Catholic Church persists in opposing all of the above, insisting that life begins at conception, all life has value, no human being has the right to terminate the life of another. Case closed.  [Not quite.  The Church’s doctrine, though it was made somewhat more circumscribed by John Paul II and Evangelium vitae and the CCC, still allows for capital punishment in some circumstances and still foresees the possibility of a just war, self-defense, etc.]

And, really, who would insist otherwise? In the abstract, few. In practice, millions.

Though we know that life biologically begins at conception, we’ve decided to disagree about when that life becomes “human.”  [If is begins biologically at conception, then what else matters?  What was conceived is human, not a giraffe.]

And, though we sort of believe that all life has value, our actions suggest that we think imperfect life has less value. Increasingly, Down Syndrome babies today are terminated, for instance. [So, people are conditioned to ascribe value to others insofar as they are useful or, at least, not a burden.  But they don’t think in terms of intrinsic value.]

If we quantify human life only according to productivity, then imperfect life inarguably is less valuable. But is it less human? Nazi eugenicists thought so. [Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood think so.]  But measuring productivity requires a detached calculation — and, inevitably, bureaucratic enforcement — that defines inhuman.

This is not, by the way, a judgment of people who have made difficult choices. None of us really knows which path we would take until presented with the intersection that forces such contemplations. [True, which is why we must deal with people who have in fact made the wrong decisions, in the tangle of their lives, with compassion.]

Finally, all agree that no human being has the right to take another’s life except in self-defense. [There is it.  Good.] Since most abortions are for reasons other than the mother’s health, our current practices are possible only if the unborn are considered “not human.”  [The problem with this is that when you kill in self-defense, you are killing an aggressor, usually a culpable aggressor.  Babies are not culpable aggressors.]

Keeping that definition alive is the trick. Human or not? Who decides?

A majority of Americans are comfortable with the view that a woman, her doctor, and her God should decide. But what if there were irrefutable proof that a fetus at conception is fully human? Would we then feel that government has a role in protecting unborn life?

These questions are especially tricky for Catholics. For those who side with the pope, [Actually, this goes beyond the Pope.  Popes didn’t make this stuff up.  They clearly articulate the teachings.  They are obvious spokesmen.]  the answer is clear: If life is a gift of the creator, then only the creator can be the ultimate arbiter of conception (though the Church does allow for limiting and spacing babies on the basis of informed conscience, just not through artificial means).

To believe in God’s autonomy over human life, however, is a hard sell. [It wasn’t always.] How does one justify creating more mouths [WE don’t do the "creating".] when so many can’t be fed? My own Catholic grandmother, the youngest of 11 children, was handed over to the nuns at age 4 when her family could no longer feed her.

And yet, the nuns did feed my grandmother. And she did manage to grow up and marry and create my father, who then created me. So.  [We cooperate in the God’s creation, we don’t create.]

Pro-choice [Let’s call it for what it is: pro-abortion.] arguments are, nonetheless, compelling. Privacy from government intrusion, yes. Women’s autonomy over their own bodies, yes. All children wanted, well, of course. But none of those testaments to logic [I don’t think I will accept the premise that those things are entirely logical, not when they wind up the pro-abortion conclusion.] alters the essential truth that life begins [The truly "logical" starting point.] when egg and sperm commingle and that every one of us was at that far end of the life continuum before we were able to dabble in ethics and trifle with electronic keyboards.

The question is how we reconcile what is true with what is merely convenient? That we might choose a path other than the pope’s is the prerogative of a free people — and no one recognizes that freedom with greater consistency than this pope. No one has to be Catholic.

But to ask Benedict to change the church’s rules to suit modern appetites and lifestyles is to ask that he forsake the sanctity of human life for the benefit of earthly delights. Those are not his concerns.

Even for non-Catholics like me, there’s something comforting about a stubborn pope in a world of moral relativity. Like a strong father, he ignores his children’s pleas for leniency knowing that his rules, though tough, serve a higher purpose.

If Benedict were to relent and compromise the value of human life, what would be left to debate? Perhaps only one’s own time to die. And then …

Who decides?


There are some holes in the piece, but all in all this is good. 

What I particularly like is the fact that Parker, as a non-Catholic, has taken the time really to think about what it means to have a single figure who can speak authoritatively on a matter of ethics.

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  1. Frank C says:

    Hello Friends,
    Sad and alarming news (if true),

    A reader of this blog left a message and a link alerting me of an Ebay post that purports to be selling a Consecrated Host from today’s Papal Mass. It could be legit, I don’t know. Either way, please contact Ebay to stop this Sacrilage . If you have a blog, please do post this to you blog, and let others know what is going on. Contact Ebay to stop this. Or, go to the Catholic League, and tell them. This is evil

  2. Suzi says:

    The “logic” of this article meanders all over the place, but in the end, I agree that it is a fairly good piece. I especially like the “comparison” of the pope being like a strong father not giving in to his indulgent children. Hmmmm, out-of-the-mouth of the Left. . .

    I am so proud to be a child of this Papa!

  3. Fr. D says:

    Pro-aborts reject science!

    “Though we know that life biologically begins at conception, we’ve decided to disagree about when that life becomes “human.” [If is begins biologically at conception, then what else matters? What was conceived is human, not a giraffe.]”

    Right on Father! It’s amazing how unscientific the pro-abortion people are.
    Sometimes they use St. Thomas Aquinas who relied on the 4th c. BC biology of Aristotle. Aristotle, limited by his lack of information, thought the ovum was utterly disorganized and needed much time for the sperm to bring it to order after conception.
    Modern science, thanks to technology, knows that the ovum is already very complex and at the moment of conception the blueprint and epigenetic predecessor of the cerebral cortex is present in an individual human entity. Applying St. Thomas’ principles to the modern biology, no intelligent person can justify abortion.

    But, pro-aborts don’t reject reality and the facts in this matter.
    They live in a fantasy world of self-assertion and false freedom or rather license that the Holy Father just warned against.

  4. Matthew says:

    This article carries a nice sentiment, and is worthy of note.

    But oh, for the days of the National Review when folks like Buckley, Burnham, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn filled the pages… It used to be so much more.

  5. Chironomo says:

    “The question is how we reconcile what is true with what is merely convenient? That we might choose a path other than the pope’s is the prerogative of a free people — and no one recognizes that freedom with greater consistency than this pope. No one has to be Catholic.”

    Finally!! I have waited forever to see this thought articulated publicly. To all those who whine about “allowing women priests” or “allowing married priests” or “allowing contraception” or “allowing whatever….”…. you can always join the billions who are free of the restrictions of the Catholic Church… “No one has to be Catholic”! How wonderful it would be if all of the energy spent whining was spent obeying instead.

  6. Christopher Sarsfield says:


    I disagree with you and the author. This is one of the weaknesses of this Pope. We are not free to not follow the Pope. We will all be judged, and part of that judgment will be whether we followed the Pope. The Pope is not free to punish man materially in this life for not following him, but there are spiritual punishments awaiting those who would reject the Pope. The Pope does speak about consequences for our actions, but does he ever get to what those consequences will be.. sometimes but usually in the context of the material world, ie despair, suicide, etc. Those who do not cooperate with the grace of God and die in a state mortal sin will be judged and punished in hell for all eternity. That does not sound like we are free to commit mortal sin (or any sin for that matter) to me.

  7. Chris, the freedom that is being talked about is not the freedom you mean. Freedom, in other words, is not univocal. There is civil freedom: and certainly, in the United States, people enjoy a civil freedom to be Catholic or not. There is the freedom to make a moral choice (without which there is neither virtue nor vice): and within each person’s heart there is the freedom to obey or disobey. Then there is the freedom which I think you have in mind: the freedom to act with no consequences. And you are correct that the decision to obey the faith is not free of consequences, eternal consequences. But many of these folks whom Chironomo is speaking of, I suspect, do not believe that there are any consequences. Of course they’re wrong, but that is what they think.

  8. Paul Priest says:

    Sorry Father, but feel I have to respond to one of your comments:
    The CCC does not state the permissibility of Capital Punishment – but of a Death Penalty.
    There is a very distinct difference – one present even since the time of the Catechism of Trent [where the death penalty was deemed a self-sacrifice of the penitent in reparation] Death is not to be considered as a form of punishment; but of self-offered retributive justice [of course we could always argue that ‘There is but One Sacrifice’? and this negates any necessity ; and ‘charity goes beyond all demands for justice’ but that’s beside the point – a Justifiable Death Penalty within catholic Morality has NOTHING to do with punishment and has never been so except in limited subjective asides for centuries [cf. St Bernard’s refusal to condone the execution of heretics solely for being heretics] ]

    – the CCC goes even further – Death is not a VALID form of punishment !
    What is determined as a ‘permissible’ death penalty is naturally one within the exclusive remit of moral dillemma – where in order to directly save the immediate threat to life [where no other tenable means are available – i.e. incarceration ] it is potentially right action to take the life of another in order to save life. e.g. the shooting of a suicide bomber or sniper or threatening terrorist; [This [like killing in self-defence] is sometimes confused with the double-effect – but it is not within the same remit as killing another human is an intrinsically morally disordered act [i.e. acts only permissible when directly used in moral dillemma to prevent the only alternative of objective evil ] and NOT available to the remit of the double-effect [where secondary indirect morally disordered acts are permissible for a greater good].
    What the catechism and evangelium vitae are saying is that execution is only ever ‘critically’ permissible when it is in order to prevent an otherwise directly consequential inevitable evil – it’s basically an extension of three of the seven aspects of the Just war theory.

    There is NO accessibility to the consideration of the execution of the imprisoned as ever being coherent to moral order [and please do not attempt to use the specious Avery-Dulles speech to the USCCB , the situationist Leo X & Innocent III decrees or the miscontextualised Pius XII [inhumanity] to argue against this position – it is simply not possible – The councils of Arles, Quiercy, Valencia, Nancy & Trent reiterate Romans 8 – we are never allowed to kill as punishment ]

    I have to say I was also saddened that you should hold some spurious political presumptions regarding present papal policy – capitalism is an economical extension of the hegelian geist and is intrinsically marxist in demeaning and debasing humankind into a socio-economic pawn in a limited doxic ideology [ref rerum novarum ] – and His Holiness has condemned it accordingly ; as has every Pope for the past 200 yrs.

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