For consideration: an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame:
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.
The question, then — the question then is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?
I’ve been thinking about the President’s words today.
A soldier and a lawyer may disagree over this or that aspect of U.S. foreign policy. (Measures taken “to protect the country from harm” are presumably acceptable to the extent that they are in conformity with what is typically referred to as the just war tradition or in secular terms the “laws of war.”) There is little disputing that both can be motivated by a patriotic love of their country.
Responding to the horrors of HIV / AIDS, the evangelical pastor might counsel abstinence; the gay activist the distribution of condoms. That both are motivated by a desire to curb an epidemic is understandable; howbeit so long as they differ over the sanctity of marriage and the purpose of sexuality, we can expect little chance for “unity.”
Lastly, we can empathize with the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes and their desire to relieve pain and suffering. What is this, but the natural instinct of every parent?
And yet, I really have to wonder what does Obama’s “common effort” really amount to?
Is he so naive as to expect that our empathy for the other’s situation will compel us to muzzle our moral protest against the evil of utilitarian experimentation upon human embroyos?
The willfull murder of a child in the womb? or smothering the last breath out of the result of a botched abortion?
What does our President mean when from the pulpit of Notre Dame he asks us to “work through” such conflicts?
What does this actually amount to, except “can’t we all just get along” — in spite of, or at the expense of, our principles and convictions?
Our President wants us to be “firm in our principles” — but it seems to me that he has not seriously grappled with the implications of the Church’s teaching that
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”