Friday, May 30, 2008
Kyle Cupp has a provocative post up, suggesting an approach to dialogue on life issues that controverts the culture-war paradigm. It got me thinking about Dorothy Day, whose cause for sainthood is being promoted by the Archdiocese of New York (they have a stylish website up to publicize it, too). I can't help but wonder if Dorothy Day's acclamation as a saint would ruffle feathers among American Catholics, who are already rather starkly aligned along the lines of conservative and liberal, orthodox and dissenting. These designations, however, are misleading; like most aspects of American Catholicism, they bear the taint of what Pope Leo XIII referred to as the heresy of Americanism. Most orthodox or conservative Catholics identify their spiritual beliefs with conservative political beliefs, while, conversely, liberal Catholics align themselves with liberal American politics. So conservative Catholics are pro-life, but many of them are harshly opposed to any governmental solution to ameliorating the lives of poor women who choose life, and they tend to be for the Iraq War and for capital punishment. Liberal Catholics, on the other hand, believe that abortion is a right, while condemning the execution of criminals and the prosecution of the war. Perhaps Servant of God Dorothy Day is just who we need to guide us out of this impasse.
Dorothy Day was a true political radical and a true religious orthodox, someone who sought to defend and protect the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. She endured the suffering of divorce and abortion, and underwent a dramatic conversion from communism to Catholicism. While her approach to aiding the weakest was transformed in light of her conversion, her dedication to justice and peace was unwavering throughout her life. It seems to me that her life and work are a true reflection of Catholic belief.
As far as the pro-life cause being a conservative one, this essay, published in The Progressive in 1980, was one of the earliest to make the powerful case that the protection of the unborn is rightly under the purview of the political Left. Read Mary Meehan's concise and cogent arguments in support of a leftist pro-life movement: "It is out of character," she notes, "for the Left to neglect the weak and helpless . . . . abortion is an escape from an obligation that is owed to another."
Some of my readers know that I grew up in an off-the-charts progressive family. I have never been able to understand why pro-lifers stereotypically oppose any measures, such as increased welfare and food-stamp benefits, subsidized childcare, and a guaranteed wage subsidy (supported, incidentally, by that great liberal Richard Nixon), that would assist the women who are most vulnerable to abortion but who courageously choose life. Should women and children be left to live in poverty? Should women already abandoned by the fathers of their children be further abandoned by our society? Is that Christian? Is it American? Dorothy Day, pray for us.