Liberals and Life

CARROLLTON – I was reading some tribute letters in my new favorite magazine First Things about Richard John Neuhaus, who recently died. Father Neuhaus was the founder of the magazine, and wrote each month the keystone of the magazine, The Public Square, subtitled A Continuing Survey of Religion, Culture, and Public Life. This section of the magazine has quickly become my favorite, both for its breadth and depth as well as his wit. Sadly, I only just discovered this magazine and have been reading it since November 2008.

Among many other things that he was in life, Father Neuhaus was in the 60s a Lutheran pastor and a “left wing radical.” With Rabbi Heschel and Fr. Daniel Berrigan he founded Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, one of the largest antiwar groups of the day. He was pastor of an inner city Lutheran church of largely black congregants, marched with Martin Luther King, and in 1968 was a McCarthy delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Joseph Bottum, in an article titled I Measure Every Grief I Meet and published in the April edition of First Things, noted that as Fr. Neuhaus moved Right and became Catholic, it was not so much he that moved as the world that moved around him. As an illustration of this relative movement, I was struck by this observation from Mr. Bottum. He noted that in 1968 Fr. Neuhaus, while still a Lutheran Pastor, was awarded best editorial of the year by the Catholic Press Association for an essay on abortion,

and he cried, “The pro-abortion flag is being planted on the wrong side of the liberal-conservative divide.” It ought to be those heartless conservatives who want to define the fetus as a meaningless lump of tissue; it ought to be caring liberals who want to expand the community of care to embrace the unborn.

And therein lies something that has confused me for a long time. Historically Catholics have largely aligned themselves as Democrats as the stated political positions of Democrats more closely mirror Catholic Social Teaching. Issues such as care for the Poor, the Sick, the Elderly; championing the cause of the weak and dispossessed; these are Democratic Party positions. These are Democratic causes pursued in opposition to the Big Business Every Man for Himself leanings of Republicans.

It seems some legerdemain happened while the Democrats pursued these life and people affirming issues. The most defenseless of our nation went into the magician’s hat as unborn babies and came out as meaningless lumps of tissue. How did this happen?

As all to often happens in politics, a marriage of convenience took place, one side giving way to the benefit of the other, and in the rush to the altar compatibility was not considered. Abortion was seized by certain extreme factions of the woman’s movement as the ultimate assertion of power over their biology. At this level of thought, their biology was seen as the problem, the issue that was “keeping them down.” In a by-product of muddled thinking combined with a heady power trip born of a certain desperation, negation of the most clear and obvious reality of womanhood was seen as the only way to be equal to men. A whole lot needs to be explored regarding the self-loathing at the core of this mind-set. Regardless, the Democratic Party seized on the woman’s movement in general, and abortion in particular as defining positions in their support of the weak and dispossessed. Fr. Neuhaus recognized the bitter taste of irony in 1968, several years before Roe v Wade.

To paraphrase Richard John Neuhaus, a two part question remains – why is it the mean conservatives that are defending the defenseless, and why have the loving liberals abandoned those in greatest need?


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