Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Todd Akin and the Sense of the Tragic

I'm sure most of you read the Darwins' excellent blog, but just in case you haven't seen Darwin's post on Todd Akin's indefensible remarks about "legitimate rape" and conception yet, here is a link to it.  As Darwin notes:

My own thought is that we as Americans find these kinds of moral issues very difficult because we have no tragic sense: we labor under the illusion that doing the right things means that bad things won't happen to you, or that if misfortune comes doing the right thing will necessarily lessen our suffering right away. Often it doesn't. 

I would add to this the fact that our culture is falsely predicated upon the notion that we deserve happiness, which was, perhaps, the basis of Sharron Angle's offensive suggestion that conception by rape should be regarded by the victim as a "lemonade situation." Surely it's not cooperating with evil to acknowledge that every rape victim would not welcome her rapist's child.

I would suggest further that conservatives study and learn from liberals' sense that some things are incredibly difficult and that there's simply no remedy for it. If Todd Akin and Sharron Angle had not tried to find happy little hedges for their difficult and painful beliefs --  because, while I agree that abortion is not the answer to these tragedies, this is a difficult and painful belief -- I would not regard them with ridicule, which I do.


J.C. said...

I really think it's funny that there is such an uproar about this amongst people on the same side of the abortion debate. Are we really to assume that Akin and Angle are unsympathetic idiots as the media portrays? Isn't it more likely that they are actually kind, empathetic individuals, but that the media latched onto the least articulate sound bite they offered in the very unenviable position of publicly defending children conceived from rape? I'm not suggesting that either of them couldn't use some improved spinning rhetoric, but this was obviously a political rather than philosophical defense of opposing abortion even in instances of rape. I do see how silly and "wishful," as Darwin put it so well, Akin sounds, but I don't find the isolated use of the word legitimate so scandalous, when he is obviously using the word to differentiate between statutory or even dishonest claims of rape. Not saying it was wise...but not a reason to find either of them ridiculous or insincere. Darwin is absolutely spot-on in his assessment of the American mindset, but I would argue that it is precisely Akin's and Angle's understanding of this reality that caused their blunders and not necessarily that they are personally naive or indifferent to the suffering of pregnant rape victims. Finally, though, Pentimento is right to regard them with ridicule, but the reality is that in our country at this time, you must be ridiculous if you hope to be elected by an equally ridiculous constituency.

Otepoti said...

I think you're too hard on Angle, who is culpable for no more than using a maladroit cliche as a verbal shortcut.

Angle described a situation she knew of, where good had been brought out of evil. She has experience as counsellor, unlike Akin. She also says that "two wrongs don't make a right", and this is also true. Tired platitudes and happy talk are ways that simpler thinkers (like me, I have to say) put a face on the exigencies of absolutes, because it's hard to be nuanced about right and wrong.

FWIW, I also know a child conceived by rape of a teenaged girl. The teenager's mother said to me, "After what's happened, it's one way her body can do something good for her." At the time, that seemed a strange example of the mind/body dichotomy, but if the mind/body dichotomy helped that mother to remember that in her personhood her daughter was not only unviolated, but unviolable, then I'm all for it. Sometimes paradigms, which devolve into cliches at the lower end, are the only way to sort through difficult situations.

Don't knock the power of cliche too hard, is what I'm saying.

Pentimento said...

I always appreciate your thoughtful and articulate comments, J.C.

If Todd Akin had said, "I am categorically against abortion, and do not support exceptions in the case of rape, and I know that's not going to make me popular, but here's why," and then gave a reasonable -- or even emotional, from the heart -- and honest explanation of the theological underpinnings for this belief, he would have my vote, at least metaphorically, since I don't live anywhere near his district.

But saying that "the female body" has its ways of "shutting that whole thing down" to avoid an unwanted conception in the case of non-statutory rape is wanting to have one's cake and eat it, too. It suggests that to have a truly principled stand against the rape exception isn't really necessary, since conception is a long shot.

This strikes me as disingenuous.

J.C. said...

Yes, I think your assessment is right to some extent. I think politics teaches you to emphasize your point in a rhetorical manner in order to give advantage to your goal--to the detriment of honest free intellectual discourse. Is spin disingenuous? Probably. He obviously wasn't doing a very good job, but I think he was also trying to convey the old pro-life talking point on this subject that abortions for rape comprise a minute percentage of all abortions (1% or less). The general population is often under the mistaken impression that abortions are few and undertaken for only the gravest of reasons. (Not to minimize the subjectively painful reasons any woman would resort to an abortion, but I think you understand what I am saying...) That is the sad situation in our country today: the rational argument that would appeal to you is beyond the reach of most voters or would not move them. Politicians are necessarily catering to the lowest common denominator, otherwise they are out of a job.

ex-new yorker said...

I woke up from some much-needed sleep to see the top headline on Google News claiming, "With Akin's help, unwelcome abortion issue hangs over GOP." I actually would love it if Republicans took the Senate, all for what I sincerely believe are very Catholic reasons -- but seeing that I felt really aware of the danger of imagining that God is also viewing these things from a perspective of how they affect the chances of getting Republicans elected. I know in our earthly lives we can hardly expect to pursue the good only through means that avoid all remote cooperation with the imperfect or evil... but, though calling it a "national conversation" on a subject like a woman's relationship with her innocent unborn child when the pregnancy was the result of an extremely grave injustice done to her may be a bit too optimistic a view of this latest media frenzy, I have trouble imagining that God's thoughts on this could be paraphrased as something along the lines of, "Urk, and we almost had the Senate. How can Romney and Ryan shift the subject back to Obama's economic failures?"

Pentimento said...

I think it comes back to the lack of a sense of "the tragic," as Darwin suggested. For "pro-life" politicians to make exceptions for rape and incest is itself what I called in the post a happy little hedge. A truly principled pro-life politician would agree with Akin that pro-life equals pro-life across the board, but would explain that an innocent life should not be taken because its mother was assaulted and victimized; that that would be misplaced justice at best.

But then a truly pro-life politician would be constrained to go further and say, "We all know that unwanted children are conceived under all kinds of unfavorable circumstances, and the reality is that it's all too easy for conflicted or brutalized mothers to choose to end the lives of those children because it seems like a simple solution. We have come to know, however, that abortion is never a simple solution. Therefore, my administration will earmark XXX dollars for trained counselors to help these women, and, if the mothers do not want/are not ready etc. etc., my administration will facilitate adoption placements for the millions of couples who wish to adopt."

Any Republican, however -- and we have to assume that any politician espousing pro-life sentiments is a Republican -- who suggested solutions that used taxpayer money to help the most vulnerable would be laughed out of his party.

Pandora's box was opened with the legalization of abortion. We can't assume that human nature can be changed. But any principled pro-life politician would, I believe, work to advance the pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family platform with policies like what I've suggested above. Let's be realistic: restricting abortion access won't stop people from getting abortions. Offering a caring alternative will. Why don't pro-life politicians talk about that? Because they are aligned with the ant-tax, pro-big-capitalism business, an unholy alliance at best.

Pentimento said...

I meant "pro-big-capitalism party," not "business," though I was probably thinking "pro-big-business."

Anyway, what I meant to say was that talking tough is easy, but allocating funds for things that REALLY WILL discourage abortion is something that no Republican seems to want to touch.

ex-new yorker said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Rick Santorum would have done something like that, which is why many Republicans/conservatives (of the blogging/commenting kind) think of him as not a true conservative or downright in favor of "big government." Still, many Republicans/conservatives favored Santorum, because many of us are more about "social" conservatism than anything.

But I don't really see that the government *needs* to be funding all these things for it to happen nor for those in government to claim to be principled pro-lifers. What if they put significant amounts of their own money where their mouths are, even if they don't propose government spending on it.

In theory the government will just let private individuals take care of things and we will have more freedom to use the money we earn to support those causes. YES -- I know -- in reality, to date, the government keeps on spending money on lots of things that are not strictly necessary for the government to fund. I don't think the Church has a position either that the government needs to fund everything we want to see happen OR that it should handle nothing but, say, defense, law enforcement, and maybe public roads or something (the extreme view of what "subsidiarity" means).

So, I think if the government started spending its money (from taxes and whatever else -- not that I can even begin to understand this whole debt/deficit issue and how much money the government doesn't owe some other country or something) on counseling women away from abortion, that would be a positive step, regardless of whether Ron Paul might think it is unconstitutional. But I still think it would be a great, voting-Republican-worthy improvement for the government officially, legally to defend unborn life while leaving the work of changing-hearts-and-minds and providing support beyond the standard "social safety net" (which I do *not* think most Republicans want to simply remove) to the many private people and organizations who would like to do that and already do that.

There may be a few Democrats (even "pro-choice" ones) who would support funding for women in difficult pregnancies to receive counseling that did *not* offer abortion as a solution, but I really doubt it is a hopeless cause ever to get a Republican to propose or vote for such legislation. If it was proposed I don't think too many Republicans on record as pro-life would want to be caught voting no on it. Honestly, the people who are really really into conservatism of an almost libertarian nature seem to have trouble finding an elected or even campaigning Republican who is as stingy/prudent/conservative/whatever with spending as they would like.

Pentimento said...

If you're going to make restricting access to abortion an important plank in the platform you are proposing to implement if elected, then I really truly believe that you have to also propose an alternative. All evidence points to the inability or unwillingness of private citizens to mobilize an alternative "system" to abortion on any kind of massive level, which is what's needed. Maybe special tax breaks for private donations? There must be a way that wouldn't offend the fiscal conservatives who are also pro-life. I mean, you gotta say SOMEthing about an alternative, or else you lose an election because you have totally alienated the undecided voters who perceive you as harsh and out of touch.

Rodak said...

Another thing to consider is the absolutely hellish life many of these unwanted children will have if abortion ceases to be an option, unless a truly humane, compassionate, and all-encompassing alternative is found at the societal level. Private charity has never even come close to providing such an alternative, and it never will. Pro-lifers talk of the millions of abortions performed. Where will the millions of loving foster homes be found? It becomes apparent that the majority of pro-lifers don't give a hoot in hell about the children born because the unfit mother couldn't get an abortion. All they want is to be able to stand before the Throne on that Fateful Day and say "It wasn't me, Lord!"

Pentimento said...

Rodak, I don't agree with you about the majority of pro-lifers, but that may be true of politicians who claim to be pro-life but vote against programs to support mothers and children in poverty.

I want to make it clear that I agree with Todd Akin's anti-abortion stance. I just thought his suggestion that a "rape exception" wasn't necessary because, if raped, the female body shuts "that whole thing down" was completely idiotic.

Anyway, anyone who sasy "I'm pro-life, except when it comes to rape, incest, or the life of the mother," is essentially lying, because if you say that abortion is okay even if only under these dreadful circumstances, you are denying that each human life has an equal and incalculable sacred value. Ergo, you are not pro-life.

Politics, strange bedfellows, etc. I really don't think there's any political situation to this problem. I'm not sure really if changing any laws is the way to go about it.

J.C. said...

I agree that changing hearts and helping mothers and children is very important, if not fundamental, as Pentimento would argue, to achieving pro-life goals. However, I think statistically, it is absolutely undeniable that changing the law would save lives. It's just a question of probabilities. And that is the bottom line. Would it disproportionately hurt the neediest and most vulnerable? Surely, but it would save many more lives than it would potentially endanger, even taking into account the ever-looming scenario of illegal back-alley abortions. The outright statistical lies by abortion advocates were exposed years ago by ex-abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Catholics should always seek to conform positive law to natural law, especially on the most fundamental level of protecting innocent human life. There are other legal issues that are up for legitimate debate--immigration, helping the needy, healthcare, even legalizing drugs. Abortion is not one of those. And for Catholics, this killing of pre-born unbaptized infants has the added eternal repercussion of almost certainly precluding these poor souls from Paradise.

Pentimento said...

I agree with you on everything, J.C., except the "almost certainly precluded from paradise" point, which has been refuted by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Beyond their redefinition of doctrine of limbo, God would not be God if He created life only to condemn it.

Pentimento said...

Otepoti, I'm sorry, your comment got buried under the shuffle and I didn't see it until now. It seems that what the grandmother of the baby conceived in rape said was exactly the opposite of a cliché, but there's something beautiful about it. The real truth of tragedy, even in the happy cases where something good comes out of it, is that it can never be erased. Not that there's not happiness possible after it or even through it, but it's misleading, I think, to suggest through certain clichés -- lemonade situation, or the female body shutting that whole thing down -- that tragedy can be lessened or negated when we change the law.

J.C. said...

If you read carefully, these Popes only emphasize our hope in a merciful and perfectly just God. They cannot contradict the Biblical and Magisterial doctrine taught since the beginning of the Church that baptism is necessary for the salvation of souls. It is this difficulty we have with the idea of innocent souls sent to Hell that gave rise to the theological explanation of Limbo as an extension of Hell in which there is no suffering. God loves these souls more than we do. He is incapable of injustice. Ultimately, we don't know with absolute certainty what this means. We pray and we hope for our salvation and theirs. However, if aborting children has the certain effect of sending their souls to Heaven, how can we consider it an evil? If a mother could choose instant and eternal salvation for her unborn child over uncertain salvation and difficulty of raising a living child...it just isn't logical. The devil would never advance and rejoice in the sin of abortion if the effect was to fill the Heavens with the very souls he seeks to devour.

Pentimento said...

As you say, J.C. it just isn't logical. Neither is Christ's mercy, which defies all logic, and trumps His just justice.

As you say, too, we don't know what this means. Therefore, it seems headstrong at best to assert that these souls are "almost certainly" precluded from paradise.

J.C. said...

What I described as illogical was that, if in fact, aborted children go to heaven, then a mother who does not abort her child affords her child less than a certain opportunity for salvation than one who does. Simply put, how is abortion bad if it sends souls to heaven?

God can never defy logic; He supercedes it. If He appears to defy logic then it is our imperfect human reasoning that causes us to think so. For some reason, His own perfect reason, God in His mercy and justice, established the sacrament of Baptism as His way of eradicating original sin from our souls, with which we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The Church has restated this explicitly about unbaptized children for centuries--Church Fathers, Saints, but most importantly, ex-cathedra statements from Popes. I'm sorry if it appears headstrong to restate what the Church has always taught. Nothing about this has changed, except for the unprecedented slaughter of millions that has compelled us all to hope and pray even harder in the face of such widespread wanton and eternal tragedy. We are not wrong to cling to hope, but we cannot ignore reality either. And either way, we at least have the consolation that God will deal with all His creation in perfect justice, and that knowledge should grant us some peace.

Pentimento said...

The Church has also traditionally acknowledged that there are other baptisms sufficient for gaining heaven, not just baptism by water.

It does defy logic to imagine that there is a limbo reserved only for the souls of unbaptized infants who died through one means or another in utero or perinatally (since miscarried children would be constrained to spend eternity in such a place as well, and they are surely as innumerable as the stars).

ex-new yorker said...

I'm honestly a bit stunned by the turn this thread has taken. How is killing a just-baptized infant wrong if Heaven is assured them? J.C., I'm sure you agree that to kill a newly baptized newborn is one of the gravest sins imaginable, and yet (assuming a baptism with all the valid matter and form, etc., etc.) the happy destination of that child's soul is as certain as it gets without the Church's infallible formal canonization.

That's just one of the oddest moral calculuses (calculi?) I have seen, and I'm pretty sure I have seen it from atheists -- why not just kill your kids if you're sure they're going to Heaven? And I also believe I've heard of that rationale from troubled parents who *did* kill their kids.

And just to be brief, I have been spared all forms of child loss so I'm not extra-sensitive to this subject and I don't actually engage in consoling women that their miscarried or previously aborted babies are now "saints in Heaven," although I believe we can trust they are in God's loving hands, but the "how can it be a sin if we know they go to Heaven" argument doesn't work at all.

J.C. said...

Baptism by blood or desire, while taught by some Fathers of the Church, is not Church dogma, is it? Even so, neither is applicable in the case of aborted or miscarried infants. I don't see how limbo for for unbaptized babies defies logic. In fact, it was a theological construct with Biblical foundations to explain how an otherwise innocent unbaptized soul might sent to Hell. There were actually Fathers and Saints who held that these infants suffered the eternal fires of Hell, while the Church allowed the possibility of the idea of Limbo as a state of natural happiness. Limbo is not a dogma, but we are allowed to believe in it as an explanation to what the Church does teach dogmatically: "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Pentimento said...

If limbo is not a dogma, why do you state, above, that the souls of aborted children are "almost certainly" precluded from experiencing the beatific vision? (By logic, of course, this applies to miscarried babies as well).

And surely you know that the notion that baptism by water is the only valid baptism was condemned as a heresy by Pope Pius XII.

J.C. said...

I am not seriously suggesting that abortion or other killing would not be evil if we knew that the children went to Heaven. I'm trying to point out an inconsistency. We can't know whether or not they go to Heaven--that's precisely the point. And we actually have it on good authority that they most likely don't.

Pentimento said...

"Good authority" that something "most likely" won't happen just isn't good enough, J.C. The church has never claimed to know where the souls of innocent children who die perinatally without the ability to commit sin go after death, nor any other souls, for that matter.

You're free to believe what you want, of course, but it's important to note that your assertions are in no way doctrinally defined. The sad thing is that you may lead other souls to despair by the things you've written here, which is surely what the enemy would want for all of us.

Let no one inclined to despair forget that Christ told St. Faustina that His mercy is His greatest attribute. Moreover, Blessed John Paul II stated in Evangelium vitae, in a note to post-abortive mothers, that "nothing is definitively lost and . . . your [aborted] child . . . is now living in the Lord" (see http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/JP2EVANG.HTM). (That is, of course, an ex-cathedra statement.)

J.C. said...

Limbo, which is an innocuous part of Hell, but part of Hell nonetheless, is indeed not a dogma. The alternative to this explanation is to believe that unbaptized babies go to a painful part of Hell. Those are the only two choices. It is not necessary to enter into the debate about other possible types of baptism, since aborted or miscarried babies neither shed their blood for Christ, nor desire their own baptism, which are the only other possible (although not dogmatic) baptisms, and we know from the mouth of Christ himself, that baptism is required to enter the Kingdom of God.

Pentimento said...

No, those are not the only two choices. Cf. the reference to the encyclical Evangelium vitae in my previous comment.

You're free to believe what you want, but, as God makes clear throughout the Bible, His ways are not our ways.

I am not accepting any further comments on this post. Should anyone who regrets their abortion come upon this thread and feel inclined to despair, don't! Blessed Pope John Paul II, as quoted above, stated -- infallibly -- that your children "are with the Lord."

Anyone seeking further clarification on this issue should talk to a priest. Let nothing you read in a blog combox lead you to despair!