Oftentimes, when people ask me about my thoughts on abortion, they phrase it as a hypothetical situation. This is from a recent email that someone wrote to me:
To use an extreme example, a woman is raped, the doctor knows the child will have severe down syndrome. The state, whatever state, is unlikely to care of the child. Should that woman not be allowed to have an abortion?
Or a single woman of no resources is to produce a child in an african country with no reasonable expectation of adoptability and will be prevented from having the education that might allow her to prosper. Should that woman not be allowed to have an abortion?
Do not think that I am making fun of these questions, as they are fair and serious and should be taken seriously. Most importantly, they were asked with goodwill.
However, I can’t help but notice the same pattern of questioning when people in the Christian Just War / Just Defense camp ask me about what they call “pacifism.” This is a tongue-and-cheek video that does a good job of showing (though not explaining) what is wrong with logic that is based on hypotheticals: It’s not really logic at all.
If you are Catholic and you don’t understand what’s going on here – one of the richest men in the world honestly confronting his own mortality – then contact me and I will explain it to you.
Donald Trump wants to make a deal with Catholics. Hillary Clinton wants to put us out of business. Pray for both of them but don’t be an idiot and possibly commit a mortal sin by voting for Hillary and the Democrats.
From Matthew, Chapter 19:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘In truth I tell you, it is hard for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven.’ When the disciples heard this they were astonished. ‘Who can be saved, then?’ they said. Jesus gazed at them. ‘By human resources’, he told them, ‘this is impossible; for God everything is possible.’
From the essay “Beyond East and West” by Thomas Merton:
“We are no longer living in a Christian world. The ages which we are pleased to call the ‘ages of Faith’ are certainly not ages of earthly paradise. But at least our forefathers officially recognized the favored the Christian ethic of love. They fought some very bloody and unChristian wars, and in doing so, they also committed great crimes which remain in history as a permanent scandal. However, certain definite limits were recognized. Today a non-Christian world still retains a few vestiges of Christian morality, a few formulas and cliches, which serve on appropriate occasions to adorn indignant editorials and speeches. But otherwise we witness deliberate campaigns to oppose and eliminate all education in Christian truth and morality. Not only non-Christians but even Christians themselves tend to dismiss the Gospel ethic on nonviolence and love as ‘sentimental’. As a matter of fact, the mere suggestion that Christ counseled nonviolent resistance to evil is enough to invite scathing ridicule. One Catholic writer declares in so many words that he will stick to natural law and abandon the Sermon on the Mount to ‘Protestant ministers and Jewish Rabbis.’ It is therefore a serious error to imagine that because the West was once largely Christian, the cause of the Western nations is now to be identified, without further qualification, with the cause of God.”
The following is an email written by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.
Here is John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, section 52:
“The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behavior prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments.”
From The Catholic Encyclopedia, with Imprimatur:
“Christ in the Gospels laid down certain rules of life and conduct which must be practiced by every one of His followers as the necessary condition for attaining to everlasting life. These precepts of the Gospel practically consist of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, of the Old Law, interpreted in the sense of the New. Besides these precepts which must be observed by all under pain of eternal damnation, He also taught certain principles which He expressly stated were not to be considered as binding upon all, or as necessary conditions without which heaven could not be attained, but rather as counsels for those who desired to do more than the minimum and to aim at Christian perfection, so far as that can be obtained here upon earth. Thus (Matthew 19:16 sq.) when the young man asked Him what he should do to obtain eternal life, Christ bade him to “keep the commandments”. That was all that was necessary in the strict sense of the word, and by thus keeping the commands which God had given eternal life could be obtained. But when the young man pressed further, Christ told him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor”. So again, in the same chapter, He speaks of “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”, and added, “He that can receive it, let him receive it”.
This distinction between the precepts of the Gospel, which are binding on all, and the counsels, which are the subject of the vocation of the comparatively few, has ever been maintained by the CatholicChurch. The difference between a precept and a counsel lies in this, that the precept is a matter of necessity while the counsel is left to the free choice of the person to whom it is proposed.”
I do not know the Patristic roots of this distinction. I doubt it is in existence in the first three centuries. Today Mt 19:16 is the statement of Jesus used to justify it. McKenzie’s response to this line of thought is, “Nowhere does Jesus call His followers to be imperfect Christians.” It is also interesting that, since the Catholic Church in its official Bibles and documents has refused to translate “Thou shall not kill,” as “Thou shall not murder,” Mt 19:16 has Jesus saying as the first negative command, “Thou shall not kill.”
I know of no official list of the counsels of perfection, only that all that is not a negative command of Jesus is a counsel of perfection.1 Cor 7 is the text from Paul that is normally used to illustrate the distinction. But the general statement that only the negative commands are absolutely binding—and need to be followed to attain eternal life—covers everything else, e.g. “Love your enemies,” “Put up the sword,” ” I give you a new commandment love one another as I have loved you.”
A question that could be asked is this: Since the negative commands have been there for hundreds of years before Jesus, why does the Word of God have to become flesh? Also if Jesus, God Incarnate, names something a commandment, “a new commandment,” how can a commandment be merely a counsel of perfection? The same question could be asked in terms of all those imperative sentences of Jesus, e.g., “Love you enemies.” But without the distinction between negative commands as absolutely binding and positive commands as mere counsel war would be morally impossible for Catholic. Until they found another seeming loophole!
“I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvelous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility. The desires of the flesh — and by that I mean not only sinful desires, but even the ordinary, normal appetites for comfort and ease and human respect, are fruitful sources of every kind of error and misjudgment, and because we have these yearnings in us, our intellects (which, if they operated all alone in a vacuum, would indeed, register with pure impartiality what they saw) present to us everything distorted and accommodated to the norms of our desire.” Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
“When it comes to accepting God’s own authority about things that cannot possible by known in any other way except as revealed by His authority, people consider it insanity to incline their ears and listen. Things that cannot be known in any other way, they will not accept from this source. And yet they will meekly and passively accept the most appalling lies from newspapers when they scarcely need to crane their necks to see the truth in front of them, over the top of the sheet they are holding in their hands.” — Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
“Instead of a world living in peace because it is without religion, why not imagine a world without nation states?… Every major war in the last 300 years has been fought by nation states, not by the Church… The state apparatus for investigating civilians now is far more extensive than anything dreamed up by the Spanish Inquisition, although both were created to serve the same purpose: to preserve a government’s public ideology and control of society, whether based on religion or on modern constitutional order.
“…The point is that the greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making ‘laws’ beyond its competence.
“Few there are, however, who would venture to ask if there might be a better way for humanity to organize itself for the sake of the common good. Few, that is, beyond a prophetic voice like that of Dorothy Day, speaking acerbically about ‘Holy Mother the State,’ or the ecclesiastical voice that calls the world, from generation to generation, to live at peace in the kingdom of God.”