Lee Irons has posted a rather odd response to prolife opponents of Obama. He says he is “respectfully” requesting that they tone down the “overwrought rhetoric.”
Before we turn to the specifics, let me say something about “respect.” There is more to respect than tone. If he’s really concerned with the respectful treatment of his opponents, then he needs to treat their arguments with respect. “Tone” is a very superficial criterion of respect. If you stereotype your opponents and caricature their positions, then you’re not being very respectful.
It’s also rather incongruous to place a priority on “tone” and “rhetoric” and “respect” when we’re talking about life and death issues where one candidate favors unrestricted abortion up to and including infanticide.
It’s morally shallow to take offense at prolife rhetoric, but not take offense at proabortion policy. One is about words, the other about actions. Shouldn’t Lee be less indignant about the rhetoric, and more indignant about the reality?
It’s like discussing table manners with a cannibal. There are bigger issues than whether the cannibal is using the right knife and fork. There’s the underlying issue of his culinary preferences. Should we call a butler or a policeman?
It reminds me of an old Vincent Price movie—Theatre of Blood. As long as you’re a homicidal gentleman, does that make it better?
However, I just hope that those of you who think voting for Obama is a sin are consistent. I trust that you will have the courage of your convictions and do the following.
Once again, before we delve into the details, suppose, for the sake of argument, that prolife opponents of Obama are inconsistent? So what?
If you’re inconsistent because your belief in A conflicts with your belief in B, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop believing in A. Maybe you should stop believing in B.
Take Lee’s own example. He says that McCain’s position on abortion is inconsistent with his position on embryonic stem cell research. And he’s right about that.
Does this mean that McCain should liberalize his position on abortion to bring it in line with his position on stem cells research? That would be consistent—consistently wrong!
It’s better to be inconsistent as long as you’re inconsistently right than to be consistently wrong. So even if prolife opponents of Obama are inconsistent in their support for McCain, this doesn’t mean they should back down on their opposition to Obama.
Moving to the specifics:
(1) You will not vote for John McCain, since he (a) supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which would kill just as many millions, and (b) is opposed to a federal ban on abortion (he thinks the states should be allowed to decide).
i) Of course, this is fatally equivocal. The question at issue is not a comparison between fatalities due to abortion over against fatalities due to stem cell research, but the combined fatalities of both. Both candidates support stem cell research, but in addition to stem cell research, Obama also supports abortion. Lee is artificially isolating the consequences of each position as if it makes no practical difference whether you support one or both. But the net total is quite different.
If one candidate supports a policy which entails the death of 5,000 innocents while another candidate supports a policy which entails the death of 50,000, it would still be the lesser of two evils to support the candidate whose policy lowers the overall body count rather than raising the overall body count.
ii) In addition, a center-right candidate who is fairly prolife to begin with is more susceptible to pressure to move him further to the right, in a more consistently prolife direction, than a far left candidate.
Obama wants to sign into law a bill which would sweep away all state restrictions on abortion.
While a Federal ban would be better than leaving it up to the states, that would still save more lives than Obama’s alternative.
Frankly, one wonders what value Lee places on the life of an individual. In his book, how few lives are still worth saving?
During WWII, some brave Christians sheltered Jews from the Nazis. The number of Jews they saved was a small fraction of the number who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Does Lee think their efforts were misguided? Who cares about a few Jews? Who cares about a few babies? Or nursing home patients?
(2) In future elections, you will not vote for any candidate who has adopted a stance similar to McCain’s.
Is Lee even trying to honestly represent the prolife rationale at this point? The question at issue comes down to a choice between two candidates. It’s not an endorsement of McCain’s position. Rather, it’s a question of the contrast between his position and Obama’s.
In future elections, if we have a better choice, we should go with a better choice. That’s irrelevant to this election.
(3) In the still farther future - who knows, 20, 30, 40 years from now? - when the Supreme Court concludes that stare decisis means that Roe v. Wade is settled law and no longer open for re-consideration, and there is no viable political party that seriously intends to implement a federal ban on abortions, you will withdraw from electoral politics and stop voting altogether.
Once again, is Lee even trying to honestly represent the prolife rationale at this point?
If, hypothetically speaking, the abortion policy were frozen in place so that no candidate’s policies would either increase or decrease the rate of abortion, then that would cease to be a distinguishing issue in choosing one candidate over another.
But that’s irrelevant to this election. And it’s also a highly artificial scenario.
(4) You will seriously ponder the arguments in favor of lawful killing in defense of the innocent and explain to the rest of us why you find those arguments to be morally repugnant. I am not accusing you of holding this extreme position either explicitly or implicitly, but in view of your overwrought rhetoric, you have an obligation to give us a more cogent explanation for why your rhetoric does not, should not, and cannot lead to such a violent conclusion. It won’t do to merely claim that you disagree with it.
Lee is now descending into demagoguery. Trying to intimidate prolifer opponents of Obama into silence by implicitly comparing their position to folks who firebomb abortion clinics and assassinate abortion “providers.”
There are several problems with this comparison:
i) Does Lee have any moral threshold in politics? Would he use this same tactic to silence critics on other issues? Suppose liberals follow up on abortion and infanticide with involuntary euthanasia? Or abolish the age of consent (so that homosexuals can seduce underage minors). Would Lee say that Christians dare not speak out lest they implicitly endorse violence against the perpetrators?
Why is Lee attempting to censure moral discourse and gag the church? I suppose the reason is his radical church/state separatism, which he inherits from Kline.
Yet Lee is very selective in this regard. After all, he’s been plugging Obama. What it comes down to, then, is that if you agree with Lee, it’s okay to voice your political opinions, but if you don’t agree with Lee, that’s out-of-bounds.
ii) There’s a fairly simple answer to his challenge. The Greco-Roman Empire was very decadent. The Apostles found pagan social morality repugnant. But they didn’t espouse vigilantism.
We’re not responsible for all the evils in the world. We can’t prevent them all.
But that doesn’t mean we should stand back and do nothing. We can pursue responsible remedies.
(5) You will advocate that members of your churches who voted for either Obama or McCain be subjected to church discipline for “material cooperation with evil.”
Lee is resorting to a bluff. Indeed, his whole line of argument, if you can call it an “argument,” is “daring” prolife opponents of Obama to be more consistent.
But why shouldn’t we call his bluff? As a rule, a pastor doesn’t know how a parishioner voted. Not unless the parishioner volunteers that information.
But there are situations in which a church member’s political preferences would be subject to church discipline. What if he voted for David Duke?
Or what if he’s voting for Obama because he agrees with Obama on the social issues? What if he agrees with Obama on the morality of abortion, infanticide, and sodomy, &c.?
At that point you have to ask yourself if he has a credible profession of faith. Does he believe the Bible? Does he believe in Christian ethics, as defined by Scripture?
BTW, arguments (1)-(5) are not a set of 5 independent arguments. Rather, (1) is his primary argument. (2)-(5) are contingent on (1). If (1) is unsound, then (2)-(5) fall by the wayside.
He may be able to get a few more moderate conservative justices like Roberts and Alito, but not extremists like Scalia.
What does he mean by calling Scalia an “extremist”? That’s ordinarily a pejorative epithet.
In a best case scenario, if he does succeed in getting a few more Scalias on the court, and Roe is overturned, McCain has said he is opposed to a federal ban on abortion and merely wants to “de-federalize” the issue, i.e., to allow each state to decide. Add to that his stance on embryonic stem cell research, and “the mass murder of millions of innocent human beings” will continue under a McCain administration!
I’ve already touched on the equivocation here, but this is misleading in another respect as well. Lee is disregarding the role of Congress. Social policies don’t rise and fall on Executive policy alone. If we had a majority of social conservatives in Congress, they could improve on McCain’s position.
As Christians we all have to live and vote in the real world and that involves making pragmatic decisions that don’t always align perfectly with our theoretical ideals. None of us can cast a morally pure vote. We vote for the candidate we think is best suited to lead our country at this particular junction in history and to deal with the issues that seem to us to have the greatest moment. Perhaps you think abortion is the number one problem facing our country right now. I think you’re wrong, and we can agree to disagree on that. But unless you have the courage of your convictions and are willing to be consistent, then I would respectfully request that you tone down the rhetoric a tad.
i) Lee is trading on the stereotype of the “single-issue” voter. The insinuation is that prolife opponents of Obama agree with Obama on every other issue except for abortion. And so they jettison every other issue in deference to this solitary issue.
Now Lee has certainly spent enough time in the company of the religious right that he knows this to be a parody of the religious right. As a rule, prolife supporters of Obama think he’s wrong on a whole raft of issues.
They highlight abortion because they have moral priorities. There’s a difference between a sin and a mistake. One can be mistaken about some aspect of foreign policy or economic policy without endorsing sin. But abortion ratchets up the moral register in a way that many other issues do not.
To a large extent, abortion is not a single issue. Rather, it functions as a hendiadys for a bundle of social issues. Implicit in abortion is a whole eugenic agenda. Likewise, folks who support abortion are socially liberal on abortion in particular because they’re socially liberal in general. Support for abortion is not an anomalous position in an otherwise conservative outlook.
ii) Also, the fact that Lee doesn’t think abortion is the #1 issue facing our country right now is not much of a justification for his alternative if Lee allows someone of Andrew Sullivan’s ilk to do his thinking for him on other, more “important” issues.
In sum, Lee has failed to show that prolife opponents of Obama are being inconsistent. And even if they were, that’s a purely ad hominem objection.
Given a choice, I still prefer a “hypocrite” who does good to an ideological purist who does evil.