Politics & Society
May Wed 06, 2009
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The on-going discussion concerning the alleged torture of prisoners by American investigators during the Bush II Administration’s “war against terrorism” reveals an interesting reversal of roles when compared to the current discussion about abortion.
In both cases there is a division between moral absolutists and moral relativists. In the case of abortion, the moral absolutists are mostly associated with the political right wing. These will accept no compromise in drawing up legislation to regulate the current abortion right legislation. For them, it is a matter of a constitutional amendment eliminating all legal abortions. On the left of the political spectrum we find those who will accept no legislation limiting abortion rights. These insist on the passage of a “Freedom of Choice Act” that eliminates all current abortion right legislation.
During the last campaign for the Presidency, Barak Obama associated himself with this position. Senator John McCain and the Republican Party took the moral absolutist position against legalized abortion.
In the case of torture of prisoners in the struggle against terrorism, the roles are reversed: the moral absolutist position is supported by the Obama Administration and the left wing of the Democratic Party which advocates bringing criminal charges against those in the Bush II administration who authorized torture, including the former President himself, while the right wing Republicans and some conservative Democrats insist that there are certain circumstances in which national security might make torture of prisoners necessary.
The only coherent position in the debate about these two issues is that of the Catholic Church. On the one hand, religious conservatives tend to be more open to the possibility of approving torture in special circumstances, while the secularists concede no such possibility of compromise. Only those who embrace the position of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church condemn equally both abortion and torture in all cases. Other Catholics (many serving in Congress and in the Obama Administration) follow the secularist arguments condemning torture but defending abortion rights. The President, who professes an abstract “middle ground” on abortion, unequivocally condemns torture in all circumstances.
In the words of a Jesuit defender of the Church’s position: “Church teaching is clear: torture is never permissible, even for the gravest reasons…That’s because the Church has a deontological or rules-based approach to ethics. In other words, moral standards are objective and absolute and based on the inviolability of the human person. That contrasts, he said, with a utilitarian approach that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number, suggesting that a utilitarian model would permit torture in the event, say, of an imminent nuclear attack.”
A small number of Catholics, however, assert that the Catholic position is not based on philosophical arguments for a “deontological or rules-based approach” to ethics, but upon faith in Christ. Evangelical or conservative Protestants also favor the primacy of faith. For them, faith is separate from reason, thus the secularist can easily accuse them of wanting to impose their faith on others. For the Catholic Church, faith is the origin of the moral judgment, but faith is not separate from reason. It can and should be verified by a rightly understood reason in all human beings. The Catholic Bishops are still searching for effective ways to make this argument.
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