A Parable for 2010

There once was an island in the Mediterranean Sea, small and poor and far from here.  The island had no oil and no gold deposits, and despite its fair climate held little interest for tourists.  It had been overlooked by the European Union.

The island was suffering from the global economic downturn; unemployment was up and the people were restive.  But the king of our island was young and optimistic (and good-looking), and he was determined that our far away island’s best days should still lie ahead.

Bartolomeo Amabo, for that was the king’s name, had ascertained that at the root of all the island’s problems was its antiquated health care system.  Life expectancy was down and infant mortality was up.  Hospitals in the capital and largest city, Notgnishaw, were still using X-ray machines they had salvaged from torpedoed British navy supply ships at the end of World War II.

King Amabo had consulted experts and crunched numbers and come up with a Plan.  He had presented his Plan to the country’s parliament and all had agreed, even the opposition, that his Plan would solve the nation’s problems.  Disease itself would beat a hasty retreat once the Plan had passed.  The country’s germs were in a panic.

Furthermore, it was even speculated in the local press, in the Notgnishaw Times and the Notgnishaw Catholic Reporter, that as soon as the Plan was passed, because health care was such a large part of the island economy and a contributing factor to so many other national issues, other social problems—crime, poverty, boredom—would melt away as well.  There was only one problem.  There was not enough money for the Plan.

“We can’t just print more money,” the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the disappointed king.  “We aren’t Americans.”

And without funding the Plan looked doomed.  And with the Plan the reign of Bartolomeo Amabo.  And with the reign of Bartolomeo Amabo the future itself.

And then a private jet landed at Notgnishaw International Airport in the dead of night, and King Amabo had a visitor.  The visitor’s name was Alfredo Spork, and he was the inventor of the spork, which was not, as many erroneously believe, named by combining the words for “spoon” and “fork.”  In this case, the chicken preceded the egg.

Needless to say, Alfredo Spork was a billionaire many times over, and he offered King Amabo a modest proposal to complement his Plan.  He, Alfredo Spork, would make up the Plan’s missing funding.  The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that with Spork’s fortune the Plan could be easily implemented—even made better than anything previously hoped for.  “We will all live to be a hundred!” the Chancellor exclaimed.

“Why would you do such a thing for us?” King Amabo asked Alfredo Spork, delightedly.

“Benevolence, munificence, goodwill,” the billionaire responded.  “And I have only one small request in exchange,” he added.

Mr. Spork’s lawyer—for he always travelled with his lawyer—then laid out the situation.  His client, he said, had been on a spiritual journey of late, a journey of rediscovery, rediscovering the religious traditions of his Finnish ancestors.  “Our island is a home for all faiths,” King Amabo interjected, eager to please.

“We had hoped you would be so enlightened,” the lawyer continued demurely.  “Because not all governments look upon the practices of my client so tolerantly.  You see, in order truly to be authentic, we must, four times a year, at the changing of the seasons, sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice?” said the king.

“Oh, just a little person,” said the lawyer.  “Not a big one, preferably just an orphan no one else wants, one which would grow up unhappy anyway, maybe one with a terminal disease.”

“You’re talking about killing innocent children?” exclaimed the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  It was a breach in protocol, really.  Most uncouth.

“Now, now, inflammatory language is so unhelpful,” said the lawyer.  “Surely we can agree to disagree.  And we would anesthetize the orphans anyway.  We aren’t barbarians, after all!  Mr. Spork firmly believes that human sacrifice should be safe, legal, and rare.  But sometimes, you see, it’s necessary.”  And the lawyer, a keen judge of human character, could see that the king, though troubled, was considering his offer.

“I will need some time to think about it,” the king said at last.

“Of course,” was the gracious reply, and there were cordial handshakes all around.

“This story has suddenly become rather gloomy,” the king said, when his guests had left.

“Yes, killing the innocent has a way of darkening the mood,” replied his Chancellor, but the king’s angry glance reminded him not to use inflammatory language.  “I’m sorry,” the Chancellor apologized.  “I was raised Catholic.”

“Tut, tut,” said the king.

Your chronicler is not a political historian, so I will not trouble with the precise details of the negotiations that ensued.  The private jet carrying the lawyer—Alfredo Spork did not negotiate directly—shuttled between Notgnishaw and Helsinki many times over the next few months, and in the end a compromise was reached.

The Chancellor managed to talk the lawyer down from four human victims per year to two, for the vernal and autumnal equinoxes respectively.  The sacrifices would be allowed in the countryside outside of Notgnishaw, where no one was likely to notice, and though parliament would not change the law to make killing innocent human beings legal (who would dream of such a thing?), the legalities would be so arranged that Alfredo Spork could never be charged with any crime.  The island’s citizens were not to be harmed; those individuals needed for sacrifice would be procured elsewhere.  And they would be taken from among those unfortunates who would only be unhappy anyway.

The king was relieved.  The Parliament was relieved.  The soothing editorials of the Notgnishaw press had even calmed the Chancellor’s troubled conscience.  When Alfredo Spork returned for the signing ceremony, the mood of the whole country was ebullient.  The king and Alfredo exchanged a warm hug.

And then the lawyer took out another piece of paper for the king to sign.  “What’s this?” said the king.

“Oh, just a formality,” the lawyer said.  “We would like you to contribute one dollar to the building of the temple where the ceremonies will be performed.”

“But you have enough money!  Why should the king pay?”  The boorish Chancellor again.  The king silenced him with an upraised hand.

“But we had agreed that Mr. Spork would provide his own victims,” the king said, his eyes pools of sincerity.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said the lawyer.  “We will still provide the victims.  We’re just asking you to contribute to the building of the temple.  It’s only a dollar.”

“But I can’t for the life of me see why.  Why is this important?  Why is this even an issue right now?”  The king looked sad, as if his feelings had been hurt.

“You see—”  Mr. Spork himself stepped forward, his voice rich and kind, and placed a comforting hand on King Amabo’s shoulder.  “You see, this will mean you are helping me.  You aren’t merely looking the other way, but we are partners.  True partners.  Working together.  Like brothers.

“And,” he went on.  “This way if any moral busybodies at Interpol—there are a few—ever come looking for me, I know that you will protect me, because if we’re partners, you and I, then they will have the same claims on you as they have on me.”

The Chancellor bit his tongue.  The king looked sad, then irritated.  “But,” he said, “I want this story to have a happy ending.”

Alfredo Spork nodded.  “So do I,” he said in a fatherly tone.

“I so want this story to have a happy ending,” said the king again.

And he nodded to the Chancellor, who took out his wallet.

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36 Responses to A Parable for 2010

  1. Pete Lake says:

    Anthony, this is absolute genius a la C.S. Lewis. It’s also an effective reminder that we need to stay spiritually fit (as St. Ignatius would have us be) lest we fall into the temptations of Mr. Spork and his followers, which can, to people of good will, be presented as something good but which has a very unhappy ending. If only the king had practised and prayed for discenrment of spirits. Let’s pray that he does before signing and making us all take out our wallets.

  2. François-Marie Arouet says:

    Next time (spoiler alert!): Mr. Spork is unmasked as a vengeful spy from the neighboring island of Qari, where 600,000 to 1 million Qarians were sacrificed by King Amabo’s predecessor, Lord Hsub, in hopes of finding their secret and invisible Whimdees. On his teevee program, wise and judicious spiritual leader Array Normoody confers with one of Hsub’s chancellors: should Spork be given an extra-special bath as punishment? And were those sacrifices (and the bath) licit under the Very Special Book of the island?

    The subjects of the island are confounded; no parables on their favorite blogs can be found to give them guidance, and they are sad, for that would have made an equally compelling tale.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Well, OK, here’s your sequel:

      Our island is struck by a series of vicious terrorist attacks. Thousands are killed. One house of our legislature passes a Terrorism Prevention Bill. All the experts agree this Bill will halt terrorism, saving thousands of lives. Even better the TPB contains a flowery preamble explicitly condemning torture.

      There’s only one problem. Despite the preamble, the TPB also contains a provision allowing our island’s government to send captured terrorists to Jordan (sorry, Jordan, I couldn’t come up with a clever fake name), where they will be tortured for life-saving information. Our island will provide the Jordanian government with a modest subsidy to help defray the costs of torture (electric bills and such).

      So should the other house of the legislature pass the TPB? Remember it will save thousands of lives…

    • Qualis Rex says:

      The invasion of Iraq is not up for debate in the house right now. While I did not support the invasion either, that is simply not the topic of this thread and you would do well not to try and hijack it for your own agenda.

  3. Sarah Fetterhoff says:

    I certainly don’t want a legislature which supports abortion at all, much less through the back door and appreciate your story as such. I’m always so thankful that you and your co-bloggers take the time to write such well written, thought-provoking posts!

    What I wish you included, though, was the fact that if done right–i.e. preserving the Hyde amendment as stated by the bisphops in their reason for opposing the revised bill–health care reform is a good thing and in line with Catholic social teaching. I wish the rhetorik of the issue took a step back from bi-partisan sparring to take a look at what else is at stake. Once I finish up my M.A in May (sweet rhyme!), I’ll be uninsured. And with the economy as it is, getting a job soon is looking unlikely. I share this pressure and fear with a lot of other recent grads, 20 somethings trying to give their parents a break and become independent, and millions of other Americans of all ages. Universal health care would lift a huge, huge burden (esp. because where I’m living, one must be insured or pay a big fine).

    Again, I don’t want any bill to include ambiguous language about abortion; I don’t want our money to be quietly doled out to “clinics” aka death stars.

    I just wish that the discussion would include–not focus on at the sake of slipping the abortion question under the rug but include–the fact that for many, univ. health care would vastly, vastly improve the quality of life. Keeping the discussion solely about the higher ups involved reduces the whole issue to just another right vs left, let’s rain on Obama’s parade, ping-pong with an ivory ball game.

    Maybe in the continuation of your story, the elders of Notgnihsaw could take the officials to task, affirm the overall goal of the Plan, and after explaining the bill, inspire the faithful to action?

    PS-I hope my response doesn’t sound angry–it’s not meant to! I truly appreciate your post and since the topic is so current and important, I felt called to respond. Peace!

    • Jeff Johnson SJ says:

      I agree with Sarah. The parable doesn’t adequately take into account the reality of the situation–health care reform is desperately needed. Too many people die needlessly or suffer from inadequate care in a country with so many resources. If we are seriously pro-life, then that fact should scandalize as well as the number of abortions in this country each year. Too many Catholic commentators gleefully denounced all of health-care reform and artfully hide behind their pro-life stance.

      P.s. Sarah, you don’t sound angry. You sound thoughtful and concerned.

      Jeff

  4. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Sarah,

    I do indeed hope that the “real” story ends as you suggest and not as my parable does. What you say is not angry, but quite sensible. It sounds rather like what our bishops are saying.

    Jeff, for the purposes of argument, I will grant you whatever you want about the direness of the current health care situation and the potential benefits of the Plan. Say it really will solve all our problems, as it does in the parable. And instead of funding a network of community clinics that perform abortions, say, we only have to contribute one dollar to the killing of just one innocent person, who we won’t even have to see. For the utilitarian, such a scenario is not so grim. For the Catholic, rather more so.

    Incidentally, the bishops do not object only to the funding of abortion in the current Senate health care legislation, but also to the inadequate coverage for immigrants and lack of conscience protection. The lack of coverage for immigrants has led some pro-choice Democrats (Luiz Gutierrez, IL) to oppose the Senate bill as well.

  5. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    PS From the fact that health care reform is desperately needed, it does not necessarily follow that we should automatically support any legislation labeled as “health care reform.”

    Even if it is put forward by a party we normally like.

  6. Jeff Johnson SJ says:

    Anthony,
    Of course I didnt mean to imply that any reform is good reform. I mean that too many Catholic voices are too eagerly denouncing any reform, and the pro-life stance of the Church provides nice cover for other reasons for objecting to health care reform. Moreover, I don’t think anyone is arguing that health care reform will solve all our problems. Many are simply recognizing the relationship between health and life.

    I don’t understand the point regarding the Democratic Party. I would hope we arent enamored by or beholden to any political party.

  7. Sean Salai SJ says:

    Very clever. The writing reminds me of Evelyn Waugh’s “Black Mischief,” a thinly disguised satire of King Haile Selaissie’s attempts to modernize Ethiopia. I’ve never read that book, but it’s a famous example of the characteristically sharp wit in early Waugh.

    The health care debate is a very complicated situation that I don’t pretend to understand. Certainly, it’s clear to me that health care reform is necessary, but it’s also clear that no Catholic can in good conscience support a bill that includes funding of any sort for procured abortion. One needs to see both perspectives, not just the “eager denunciations” emerging from each side, which only serve to divide us.

    I covered Washington politics as a newspaper reporter. It’s an unfortunate reality that our political system often does more to perpetuate the balance of power than to solve real problems. As is usually the case in DC, I’m sure a compromise bill will eventually pass that does more to preserve the political status quo than to actually help anyone.

  8. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Jeff,

    Fair enough. I start to get nervous, however, with any argument that requires me to judge the motives of, in this case, certain Catholic commentators. I don’t think all the arguments I’ve heard advanced against health care reform are good, just as I don’t think all of the arguments advanced for it are either.

    But if some commentator advances a pro-life argument against the bill, I don’t think we can legitimately dismiss that argument because we assume that he is really motivated by, say, partisan mean-spiritedness. I’m not entirely convinced that all those in favor of the bill are motivated by the purest charity, either.

    One can, after all, be either for or against certain parts of proposed health care legislation for reasons entirely unrelated to abortion and still be well within the bounds of Catholic social teaching.

    So when motives are concerned, a certain amount of caution is in order.

    Tony

  9. Maggie Stahl says:

    I agree with both Sarah and Jeff. What has left me disheartened about the health care bill debate is the fact that the by and large gut reaction of many, many Catholics was not a cry of

    “Hooray! It is about time we recognized that health is intimately linked with life. It is about time that we provided for those in most need – the poor and the immigrants!”

    But, rather, it was

    “Don’t you dare make my tax dollars pay for abortions!”

    I am absolutely pro-life, but while discussing universal health care, I think it is absolutely inappropriate to assume that the affront to life which abortion poses is somehow graver than the affront to life which lack of health care poses.

    I am also a 25 year old recent grad, and I am lucky enough to have health insurance through my employer, but I tell you, what I pay monthly, combined with my co-pay is enough to keep me from going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary—and that is *with* coverage, mind you. The fact that even with health insurance I am not sure if I can afford a trip to the doctor is terrifying, and I can only imagine how helpless a parent must feel if they cannot afford coverage for their child. How dare we pretend that it is a graver loss to have a baby aborted, than it is for a family to decide between having food on their table or getting treatment for a grave illness? Both are deeply, deeply regrettable. I think it is time to admit that health care is not, in fact, a luxury to be enjoyed by those with the money to buy it.

    I see our reaction to the health care bill as a sign of the greater issue that Catholics have—an inconsistent ethic of life. We give lip service to our opposition of Capital Punishment, but do we come together as a Church and march on Capitol Hill in protest, like we do every January to end abortion? Do we rally around immigrants’ rights?

    Below is a link to a Commonweal Magazine blog about the Catholic Health Association’s endorsement of this reform. You can read the full article from a link on that page. It is absolutely worth a read:

    http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=7260

  10. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Maggie,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Obviously health care and abortion engender a great deal of emotion, and emotion is not always a bad thing in political debates. It can gives us the energy and motivation to work for a more just world, but strong emotions and good intentions are not enough. We also need to be guided by solid moral reasoning, which means evidence and argument. And, as I mentioned in an earlier response, one thing that tends to destroy good moral argument is questioning the motives of opponents. We can’t always avoid doing so, but in general I’m disinclined to give much weight to an argument that relies mostly on someone’s subjective psychological state. So for example, I don’t think it is helpful to judge the “gut reactions” you attribute to other Catholics. (You and I really don’t have access to their gut reactions.) I also don’t give much weight to the statement from CHA that expresses “major concern” on life issues. If “concern” is not backed up with concrete actions it doesn’t amount to much; if by “concern” I mean “I am prepared to ignore the problems regarding life issues in the given bill, but I feel bad about doing so” it doesn’t carry much weight. The same thing if a politician claims “I am pro-life” but has a 100% voting record from NARAL… well, in that case “pro-life” doesn’t amount to much more than one’s subjective feelings, feeling bad about abortion.

    Another thing we have to be careful about in public debates is attacking vague entities. So your “many, many Catholics” and “certain Catholic commentators” make me nervous. We have to be careful about throwing charges indiscriminately. Who’s included here? Cardinal George? Bart Stupak? The House Republican caucus? Me? Rather than attacking vague groups — or even, perhaps individuals — we should try to focus on arguments that we find problematic or disagree with. I do, for example, find the argument that “government should do nothing about health care because government always makes things worse” to be less than compelling. But I don’t think it at all fair — in fact, I consider it unfair to the point of defamation — to attribute such an attitude or argument to the USCCB or all of the pro-life House Democrats who voted in favor of the health care bill that included the Hyde language. These Democrats clearly want a health care bill and they are under enormous political pressure to cave in on the abortion issue. I once worked for a pro-life Democrat and don’t think you can understand the nastiness that pro-life Democrats sometimes face for sticking to their guns. I consider it enormously unfair to attack these men and women of principle for working for a health care bill that reflects the bare requirements of Catholic social teaching.

    As for the charge of an inconsistent ethic of life, I would point out a few facts. Over the past decade the Church has been far more successful in her efforts against the death penalty in this country than against abortion. Several states have instituted moratoriums on the death penalty, and last year New Mexico repealed its death penalty statute. Not enough, I agree, but more progress than has been made on abortion, which remains legal in all 50 states. The political forces organized to defend legalized abortion are far stronger and the legal obstacles much higher than those in place buttressing the death penalty, so consequently more effort needs to be spent overcoming them. (There’s also a vast difference in the scale of the problem, not to mention the status of both issues in Catholic social teaching — the death penalty can be at least theoretically contemplated in some cases.) And as for immigrants rights, I would point out again that the Senate health care bill does not cover all immigrants — and that’s one of the objections the Church has to it. The USCCB has also been asking Congress for comprehensive immigration reform for several years.

    Now, after far too many words, the main point: when it comes to debating moral questions (and, yes, all the issues you mention, abortion, health care, capital punishment, immigration, are moral questions) we can and indeed must judge actions. And if my silly parable had a point, it was to debunk a particular line of moral reasoning that could lead to wrong actions — namely that it’s OK to do something wrong (ie, kill innocent people or torture people) in order to achieve a noble social outcome (ie, health insurance reform or protection from terrorism). Neither party has a monopoly on this particular line of insidious moral reasoning, which is why I think it deserving satire (and even outright condemnation). A version of it was employed to justify some immoral practices during the “war on terror” and a version of it is being employed now to justify voting for the Senate health care bill.

    And finally, finally to wrap up, even though I won’t offer my own health care plan, I would say that one of the tragic ironies of the current situation is that a reasonable health care bill in line with the basic demands of Catholic social teaching is by no means impossible — in fact, the bill originally passed by the House seems to come pretty close to meeting that standard. Sarah’s post was particularly helpful because it came close to expressing just such a sentiment — a truly pro-life health bill is possible even if it doesn’t seem likely right now… but it is worth praying for.

    Tony

  11. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, I say this with all my heart; you are a diamond in a coal mine. This was an excellent post. And of course, Obamatrons will come out of the woodwork here accusing you of treason and blasphemy without bothering to understand the well-thought out point you were trying to make. And rest-assured, it was made.

    P.S. I remember my first year of school in the US we had to read an article in anthropology class written in the 50’s in a similar mock-style centering around a group called the “Nacerima”. Did you ever read it?

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Qualis. I haven’t read the article you mention. In the interests of full disclosure, when I wrote the post I was thinking about a passage from The Brother’s Karamazov where Dostoyevsky asks, if you could establish a reign of peace and happiness on earth forever and all it took to do so was to torture and kill one innocent child, would you do so? Crime & Punishment provokes similar questions.

      • François-Marie Arouet says:

        This is a reply to both Tony and Qualis Rex, and it is intended to be challenging but also, I hope — at least esoterically — friendly.

        I don’t think, in regard to Qualis’ statement that this is a “well-thought out point,” that you, Tony, have established (by the basis of evidence and argument) that Catholics who support this health care bill are guilty of the unspoken charge you are making: namely, that they are consequentialists. Surely, this is what you mean when you invoke Dostoevsky.

        Is it the purpose of the health care bill to kill innocents? Is that written in it; are these the terms of the bargain? Have those Catholic politicians supporting the bill said that this is the case — namely, they are willing to sacrifice innocents and commit an evil (as in your parable) in exchange for a greater good? I suppose that this is what you espy in the legislation, but in no wise is it evident that this is the case.

        Your parable has great emotional appeal, as it speaks to the frustration of Catholics who know that abortions occur at each every moment of the day, and who want to find other culprits in addition to the moral agents directly responsible for those decisions. I think you wish to indict all of us as aiding and abetting these decisions through the use of our tax monies for abortion, but I would like to know the precise moral and ethical responsibility that we (and you do use the word “we” elsewhere in this post) share in it.

        The reason I phrase my question in this fashion can also be illustrated by how Dostoevsky envisioned his sequel to the Brothers Karamazov, in which Aloysha emerges from the monastery as a revolutionary assassin. Passive complicity in evil — which some of the commenters here seem to think we share — isn’t logically and ethically tolerable in a truly serious life. Contemplation and recusal from the world, for Aloysha, came to be condemnatory and unbearable. In the face of the apparently very real and concrete complicity in evil that I believe you are charging some of us with in your parable (or the bishops are accusing politicians of), it really is incumbent upon you to discern and articulate your own complicity in it as well. For those who support this version of health care reform, the idea that being *against* it places the other on the side of the angels really is, to use a phrase, weak sauce. (The other unspoken assumption here being that you are right about this, and we are wrong.)

        If you believe that we are crossing a line here when you say that “deliberately killing an innocent person is a red line over which we cannot step. Ever” then this entails some real decisions for you, because by the terms of your argument we (not just others) are already well over that red line. We’re there every day; this is life in the polis, I’m afraid. I don’t think that my paying taxes in states that subsidize abortion makes me complicit in evil, but it would seem that you would think that it does. The question is, then, what are you going to do about this grave situation? The least of your concerns should be instructing those who disagree with your philosophical conclusions, to which you must assume, on the basis of charity, that they have already given great thought. In this case, you really have an obligation to first attend to your own garden and provide witness that way.

        If — and this is addressed to others who have written here as well — your opposition and resistance consists only in words of ethical instruction to those who have apparently succumbed to consequentialism, then I have to ask: how have you been consequentialist today, too? Let your word be Yea, yea; Nay, nay.

  12. therese says:

    Maggie, The truth is that the “affront to life which abortion poses” is indeed very much more grave than the “affront to life which lack of healthcare poses”.

    The reason is very simple: Those who are aborted have no need of healthcare. They’re dead.

    I’ve been a nurse for 30 yrs. There’s no need to try to sell me on the mess our current healthcare system is. I see it everyday.

    I also know that the moral of this excellent post is that if we’re in for a dime, we’re in for a dollar…and, as of this moment, there isn’t a USA resident that isn’t to some extent responsible for the lives of children who are killed before they can take their first breath.

    As bad as not having insurance is, its not as bad as that.

  13. Maggie Stahl says:

    Therese, I simply don’t agree.

    Killing and letting die are the same evil.

    If we fund abortions, we are responsible for those lives lost as a result.

    If we withhold health care, we are responsible for those lives lost as a result as well.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Maggie,

      I think here we probably want to put the question more in terms of what obligations we have to people beyond simply not killing them…

      Here’s the thing. I don’t think you really believe the statement you just made “killing and letting die are the same evil.” And the reason I think you don’t believe it is that, even though we haven’t met, from all you’ve said, I think you’re probably a very good person. But if the statement you made is true — killing is the same as letting die — then you, Maggie Stahl, are a great mass murderer. Nothing personal; I’m in the same boat.

      You see, right now thousands of people are dying from malaria in Africa, a disease that can be treated and prevented. You are letting them die (unless you’re writing from Africa, in which case I’ll have to change my illustration). So, if the statement you said is true, and you’re letting all these people die, then you’re a mass murderer. (Me too.)

      You also probably went to college, as did I, and college cost lots of money — tens of thousands of dollars. But instead of using that money to save people dying of malaria, we let them die. We’ve killed more people than Jeffery Dahmer. Except, killing people and letting people die are not the same thing.

      A statement like that would make any sort of moral reasoning futile. On what grounds would you object to the death penalty? What’s the difference between putting people in a cell for the rest of their lives only to let them eventually die, when we can save them and ourselves the trouble by killing them right away? If killing and letting die are the same thing, then there is no distinction.

      Finally, this is a somewhat trite example, but I’ll use it anyway: suppose I’m a doctor and I’m treating five patients; they need new kidneys, a new liver, a new heart, and a new gall bladder. Well, letting them die would be a horrible thing, now wouldn’t it? The same as killing them. And it’s a bad doctor who kills his patients. So, assuming the blood types match up, I could solve my problem by killing someone, say another healthy patient, harvesting his organs and distributing them to save five lives. Since there’s no moral distinction between killing someone and letting someone die, on balance I’ve just saved four lives. But, I haven’t. I’ve committed murder — because killing someone is not the same as letting someone die.

      Now there are situations where the we have more obligation to try to save lives than in other situations. Letting a baby drown in front of me would be pretty darn close to murder. But we might have greater obligations to care for certain people, such as our parents or our children, than for others. And I’m guessing you’d want to say that, as Christians, we have some obligations even to strangers, and I’d want to say that too. But if we’re even to begin to have such a discussion — which would get pretty complex — we need to acknowledge that deliberately killing an innocent person is a red line over which we cannot step. Ever.

      In any case, what we’re talking about in the case of health insurance reform is trying to get health insurance to people who don’t have it, rather than simply saving people from immanent death. We aren’t talking about refusing to treat gunshot wound victims in an emergency room. We’d need to take that difference into account too.

      Tony

  14. Pete Lake says:

    Thank you all for your excellent posts. I’ve said it before, but it deserves mentioning again, that the level of, for lack of a better word, professionalism in the discussions on this website—on both sides of the issues and even in the disagreements—is, in my opinion, second to none. Tony, I appreciate your posts in particular because you calmly and intelligently not only make your points but delicately point on the flaws in the reasoning (moral and otherwise) of the arguments for and against the current Senate bill. I have no doubt the Lord has special things in store for you after you take your final vows. We’ll all be praying for you and Jeff and the others starting out in the Company. I would just reiterate that we are deceiving ourselves or are being deceived by the devil if we think that good can ever be achieved by doing evil (even if only one dollar’s worth). A bill that directly or indirectly funds abortion makes us partners in evil and no matter how much health coverage is expanded it can never really be considered good.

  15. At the risk of stirring the waters, I’m sticking
    my toes in on some of this stuff too, but only my
    toes, not the whole foot:
    – We Catholics are as illiterate on what this health
    reform is about as we are of our core theology,
    especially Moral Theology. Throwing examples around
    is childish: give me the theory: that’s harder!
    If Kierkegaard could, in his solo flight on the
    “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical Imperative”
    then darn it, YOU cadre of new Jesuit better get
    into this subject matter deeper than all the combined
    illiteracy in Congress and most general naysayers
    with no theology course to back up their spineless
    rants against this reform! I remain appalled, and
    shocked by what I read of my Americans while I
    reside in Canada!

    – IT IS better to PASS health care reform THAN to
    attack it because of our OWN in-house hangups with
    morality play issues: Hey, we Americans more than
    cow-tow to Separation of Church and State issues,
    but HERE act like the Vatican with all it rights
    as if WE are right on these matter for ALL other
    faithed citizens! I think we in time need more
    confession than we now recognize! It’s a sin what
    we are doing with our FAITH by forcing it on the
    national level when its domain is the personal:
    personal salvation, last I read and studied the
    Good News! Damn it any way! Our myopia, that is!

    AFTER health reform is attained, THEN go for reform
    of legislation therein we happen to disagree with.
    But since when in our Salvation History has
    “our way or the highway”
    become the clarion cymbal?! Wrong!
    Let’s debate core “thinking” errors like this,
    and not superficial topical matters!

    OUR Social Encyclicals are NOT complete nor definitive
    and so let’s return to humility, and not pseudo
    certitude!!!

    Nothing in Capitalism is being challenged by us
    Catholics: that’s where the ball 1st gets thrown from
    and not from abortion and all such 2ndary issues!~!
    Free reign on value-formation is given the Business
    Schools because our theologians are illiterate of
    Economic theory, etc., etc.!

    We need to get our own house in order on
    – Intellectual Catholics (according to America
    magazine, there next to aren’t any: all we have
    is Catholics parading their collective ignorance
    on religion, not even on core theology!).
    – Adult Formation: we have youth formation, but no
    formal adult formation, yet!

    Leadership is disoriented and fragmented and more
    on a par to that of St. Peter, needing a St. Paul
    to take him to the cleaners in a Church Council,
    for OUR times!

    • Henry says:

      You’ve definitely stirred the waters my friend, allow me to stir back!

      While there are some things in your post that I wholeheartedly agree with, there’s one statement that I’d like you to clarify. You wrote: It’s a sin what we are doing with our FAITH by forcing it on the national level when its domain is the personal: personal salvation, last I read and studied the Good News!

      Now, if you are trying to say that Christ enters into each of our lives in a personal way, a way that’s tailor-made for you and a way that’s tailor-made for me – then, of course I agree.

      If however, you are trying to say that the Faith is private, and should be private, then I strongly, strongly, disagree with you. And I can’t stress that enough!

      Isn’t Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life for EVERYONE? Isn’t Christ the answer to EVERY human heart? If not, then I am the biggest fool and you are too my friend.

      And make no mistake about it, secularism (or whatever it’s called today) is doing all it can to claim everyone’s allegiance. And I see this happening in my company everyday. I see this happening in America everyday. I and any of my friends oppose the redefinition of marriage and believe me when I tell you that we pay a price for that from those who claim to be tolerant.

      Pax,

      Henry

  16. Qualis Rex says:

    I think Maggie is misunderstanding the concept of the sin of omission. We are only responsible of letting someone die if it is within our direct power to prevent it. Were someone trapped in a burning vehicle in need of help 3 feet from us would merrit immediate action. Failure to do this is a clear case of the sin of omission. Arguably, having the means (money, time or other efforts) to help the poor, sick and dying around the world and locally but failing to do so is also a sin of omission, albeit to a much lesser degree. Both sins of omission and commission have degrees. So, Maggie, killing someone directly by paying for an abortion and letting someone die in your home state due to lack of medical care are absolutely NOT equal.

  17. Henry:
    Your good articulation is a combination, for my
    understanding of Providence acting in mystery, as
    Mystery:
    Christ is BOTH personal, and communal. Because His
    and the Trinity’s actions go outside or reason’s
    desires -normatively: extreme desires!- to “define”
    both faith, and God. Neither can be, defined!
    Both can be talked about, but not either defined
    or be predefined. They can only be EXPERIENCED!
    It’s a different kind of knowing!

    Catholicism today, has mired itself, has been
    hijacked, by the same forces that have driven the
    atheism of our times: we have started to actually
    worship reason! And hence border on erring societally
    on a par to the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition
    and the like! Even Joan of Arc was burned
    BY HER CHURCH! Who says we are spared such errors
    of judgment out in time?!

    Today, rather than focus on ‘aggiornamento’ we
    have over-focused -nay, only focused!- on abortion!
    Where the heck does single-issue material like
    abortion appear in the 2 Great Commandments?!

    Like Kierkegaard wrote, and like Nietzsche writes,
    God is dead TO US PEOPLE, and we need to wake up
    from our slumber walk in the easy comfort of
    Fundamentalism and return to growing in faith,
    and not secular issues (which are driven by the
    Father of Lies: Satan! Until the 2nd Coming!)….

    There is much here on this subject matter, Henry
    so I skim on some commentary only. May Ignatius
    guide his own to help us see through the darkness
    of these times so that the Light continues to
    guide, inform, and redirect our wandering ways
    in this desert of life as Urban Monks!

    And let us remember, that most of Kierkegaard’s
    genius is posited by one author, to be distillable
    into his own prayer, which basically says, that,
    thank God that “understanding” of Christianity is not
    mandated but only “faith” because the more he studied
    it, the more confusing plus paradoxical it became, is!

    • Henry says:

      Virgilijus,

      As you know, I personally focus on Adult Faith Formation, for a variety of reasons, one of them being, as you rightly pointed out in your previous post, that it’s a neglected area.

      Now, my experience has taught me that it is best to focus on “cataphatic theology”, rather than “apophatic theology” precisely because, for many, the “Unknowable” quickly disintegrates into the “unknown.” After all, the Mystery Himself, in Christ, especially the Living Resurrected Christ, has shown us (and shows us) that He still desires to tell us about Himself precisely because it is His nature to be a gift of self.

      So yes, I agree that it is vital to stress that “koinonia” was, in a sense, presented as a synonym of “ecclesia” by the first witnesses of the Faith. And the testimony of those witnesses tells us that the witness of the Father – namely Christ – made it clear that through Baptism, the Mystery calls us into the community of the Church and it is here, within the “koinonia” of the saved, i.e., that we strive to embrace our salvation.

      Regarding this issue, or any other issue we may confront, I’ve been taught that in front of life’s problems and challenges, what we hold most dear surfaces. Thus, when facing problems and challenges we will see “whether faith is really in the foreground, whether faith truly comes first, whether we really expect everything from the fact of Christ or whether we expect what we decide to expect from the fact of Christ.”

      And I believe this is the real issue!

      I conclude with a paraphrase of your beautiful sentence: May Our Lady guide us to see through the darkness of these times so that her son, Who is the Light incarnate, continue to guide, inform, and redirect our wandering ways in this desert of life as Urban Monks!

      Pax my friend,

      Henry

      P.S. thank you, as always, for your posts!

  18. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Francois-Marie brings up the issue of “social sin,” which is tricky. Part of the reason social sin is a slippery concept is that it’s difficult to tell who is responsible for it. But a response in general terms is not so difficult.

    First, Francois-Marie, be careful in not conflating judging the morality of an action with judging the subjective culpability of anyone involved in that action. To answer the question you pose, our guilt in cooperating with evil depends on the degree to which we cooperate with it, as well as other factors. So in the case of publicly funded abortion or, to use an example to which you seem more likely to take offense, publicly funded torture, simply paying taxes would only implicate someone quite remotely. And if one were actively opposing such funding by speaking out publicly, praying sincerely, working through legal means, etc, such a person would hardly seem culpable at all. If one were speaking out in favor of such an immoral practice, directly or indirectly, one’s guilt would be greater. If one were to vote for such a practice (say as a legislator or in a referendum), greater still… We could work out other levels, but hopefully these convey the general idea. In the parable, Mr. Spork’s guilt is much greater than either the king’s or the chancellor’s, whose guilt in turn is greater than the common citizens of their mythic isle… Social sin is always the result of individual choices.

    I should also note, that factors can mitigate one’s culpability while not changing the moral evil of the action itself. So in this case, factors that could possibly lessen legislators’ culpability would be the almost overwhelming psychological pressure they are under, in some cases bordering on coercion. (Congressman Stupak told CNN yesterday that supporters of the “reform” were placing so many threatening calls to his wife and children that his family had to unplug its phones.)

    Here’s another way to think about social sin — it’s tied to our responsibilities, which are tied to our rights. So we have a right to vote, and to the degree that we have a right we also have the responsibility to use that vote in a way that will not harm the innocent. Our culpability depends upon how we exercise our responsibilities.

    Finally, since a vote on the Senate bill is expected tomorrow and this is likely to be my last comment under this posting, I would suggest that whatever the outcome of this particular vote, this country needs a lot of prayer. If the bill does not pass, we still are stuck with a very problematic health care situation and will need God’s help coming up with (ethical) ways to improve that system. And if it does pass, (in addition to a still imperfect system) we will have a new structural evil to attempt to dismantle (the abortion funding, the exclusion of immigrants, the lack of conscience protections). And with the federal government becoming increasingly involved in both health care and abortion, there are likely to be more rather than fewer difficult debates such as this one in the future. The Church’s ability to exercise any sort of political influence on any issue is likely to diminish as a result of the failure of Catholics to speak with one voice… but in the end the Church has ways of influencing the world that have nothing to do with politics. And if only a few are spurred on to greater prayer and fasting, perhaps that is a surer source of hope than any human legislation…

    And for those less interested in the specifics of legislation and more interested in the “meta-ethical” reasons for our contemporary moral confusion, look out for my next post, coming soon. (Hint: which contemporary philosopher ends his most famous book by calling for a new St. Benedict?)

  19. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, you state this will likely be the last comment under this posting, and I hope it is because the subject matter will soon become a fait-accompli and NOT because of the tediously predictable strain of responses it received. Anytime you challenge someone who has “swallowed the kool-aid”, their responses is usually a dismissive “you don’t know what you are talking about” followed by a very defensive diatribe which betrays the fact that they knew very well you were on the money. Several of the comments here are laughibly formulaic.

    I sincerely hope you can “shake the dust off your feet” as Our Lord commands and keep fighting the good fight. And please accept the request of a humble sinner and tonite remember Matthew 5:14, which Our Lord said referring specifically to YOU. TU ES LUX MUNDI!

  20. Thanks, Anthony for further clarifications!

    Could we all not also benefit by just some more
    basic text on “who is Mr. Ethics” in our theological
    world? Like, that ethics by definition is not a
    clear-cut case of black and white….???

    Applying a recent historical example of that is instructive (I assume?), regarding the Jewish
    Holocaust: few are guilty but all are responsible?!
    AND, that the “Universal Holocaust” got no book
    space, anywhere that I know of, but experienced
    exponentially more deaths! Because humanity is not
    even aware that this Universal Holocaust transpired,
    where does that sit in the Old Testament’s view
    of God’s decision on our actions or lack thereof?!

    While, individual conscience (plus its formation!)
    within one’s particular psychological setting,
    rules?! Since, inevitably, true love for humankind,
    is clandestine love for God: religious truth,
    in the end, is inevitable! Whereas our actions
    normatively are not! They lag true truth-seeking!

  21. therese says:

    “We are bound by an inescapable garment of mutuality: Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
    -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail, 1962

  22. Wise wisdom saying, Therese. Much of MLK’s theology
    was highly influenced by Merton! And, Merton was scheduled to give MLK a retreat around the time he was shot….

    “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness
    which is untouched by sin and by illusion,
    a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs
    entirely to God, which is never at our disposal,
    from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind
    or the brutalities of our own will.

    This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us…
    It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.

    It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together
    in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all
    the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…

    I have no program for this seeing.
    It is only given.
    But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”
    – Thomas Merton

  23. Much thanks on your spiritual words, and an honour
    to encounter another soul dedicated to the quest
    of Adult Formation, a forgotten mandate that
    opposes myth, and much more in our individual
    journeys!

    Would you have any further reflections towards the
    edge, the edges of growth, in adult faith, that if
    nothing else, exhibit identifiable markers?

    On the personal existential side, I find none that
    isolate Jesus as opposed to the Spirit’s movements
    in our souls, emanating in interior insights, that
    I’ve learned to distinguish from one’s mere
    psychology? Only on rational faith do I take such
    inner movements to be the Spirit’s, because Jesus
    said to Margaret to “let go,” or He could not ascend
    and then in turn, send us the Spirit
    who would remind us -teach us interiorly- of all
    that Jesus taught….

    While simultaneously, matured faith I’ve found
    exhibits a self-abandonment to Divine Providence
    which takes over one’s inner spiritual movements
    in significant matters, and ways, that in process
    nevertheless necessitate the will’s compliance
    and recognition of this. In which is experienced
    complete inner peace, despite one’ external life
    style….

    And so as you write about faith, it is the lead-up
    to this eventual transition, as long as one makes
    the committed effort continuously and interfaces it
    to ever more experienced grace, a complete inexplicable mystery!

    Such experience is hidden initially in the
    abstractness of ascetical language, when it speaks of
    the purpose of self-denial as attaining freedom:
    Asceticism frees us from compulsion so we can
    respond to reality with our whole self; the real
    self that God created and calls us to become
    Asceticism wakes us up so we can face reality
    to respond fully and no longer just partially.

    • Henry says:

      I knew you were a poet Virgilijus but now I see that you’re a mystic too.

      You ask, “Would you have any further reflections towards the edge, the edges of growth, in adult faith, that if nothing else, exhibit identifiable markers?”

      All I know is that those who have tasted the hundredfold that Jesus brings answer yes when asked: “Is it worth it to give your life to Christ?” And so, I watch, as a method of giving precedence to the action of the Living Resurrected Christ and His Spirit, who nurtures this new gaze on the real. And so, they eventually discover what I have discovered, that the New Testament is actually a diary of my experience!

      Pax,

      Henry

      P.S. I read alot of Merton, especially when I first converted!

  24. Henry says:

    Anthony,

    Your story and your comments / clarifications are spectacular – thank you for sharing them with us.

    Let’s always ask the One that has possessed us to help each one of us, and your fellow bloggers, to always say yes – a yes flooded with an wholehearted availability.

    Pax,

    Henry

  25. Henry:
    Merton is getting a 2nd wave/stage of scholarly
    review: initially like Kierkegaard, he was understood
    superficially. Now, depth perception has matured.
    And his real genius still being mined!
    At his death, there were about 50 plus books
    published. Since his death in ’68, another similar
    number!
    You might consider joining the American Merton
    Society website (free) to garner ongoing insights.
    I’m active with the Canadian side which came into
    existence only in 1997!

    I believe that he should be canonized, some day!
    For two structural reasons:
    1- because he won’t be just another sanitized capital
    “S” Saint to us small “s” saints! He is only one of
    three people in recorded history that maintained life
    Journals, hence both the scholarly interest in him,
    and his humanness bared for the world to see!
    2- because of his exceptional, in my opinion charismatic, Ecumenism 2nd to none! Which fostered
    his talent for writing and Existential Spirituality!

    (I believe strongly that Ignatius’ life needs an
    overhaul because he too wrote tons, and still has
    his exceptional mysticism misrepresented plus mis-
    understood! I find only Saward stating that Ignatius
    is John of the Cross’s EQUAL! Or maybe is it that
    we need the “Prophet Rule” here:
    a NON-Jesuit must accomplish this?!)

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