During an interview with Tim Russert that occurred back when Sen. Kerry was competing with his Democratic rivals for the Presidential nomination, the question of faith in God came up. At that time, Kerry expressed a certain distaste for President Bush’s frequent references to the Almighty in public venues. In the third presidential debate, however, Kerry spoke more about faith and God than the President did. I don’t know the Senator’s heart, so I have no means of determining how genuine his profession of faith is. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think that the sudden profusion of God-talk from Senator Kerry came off a little desperate and “me too-ish.” It certainly contradicted his sentiments at the time of the aforementioned interview with Russert.
Kerry quoted James 2:26 in the last debate, which states that faith apart from works is no faith at all. Since that night, Kerry’s “faith with deeds” slogan has become a frequent campaign refrain, designed to imply that the President’s references to his faith in God are so much empty rhetoric. If the President is a genuine man of faith (the logic goes), then he’d do more for middle-class families and the working poor instead of giving gazillions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
I think that’s a simplistic line of reasoning that fails to deal with the complexities of economics and market forces (to say nothing of the issue of government’s proper role or the morality of confiscatory tax rates), but I won’t argue with it for now. I’m more interested in applying Kerry’s “faith with deeds” credo to his own position on abortion.
“I’m a Catholic,” says Sen. Kerry, “and so I am not in favor of abortion. But my stance on abortion is borne of my faith, and I can’t impose my faith on others. Therefore, I continue to support a woman’s right to choose.”
Take the dubious appeal to church-state separation out of the equation, and Sen. Kerry’s position sounds like a lot of conventional moral pronouncements: “I don’t particularly approve of X, but I don’t have any right to force those who practice X to stop doing it.”
Ravi Zacharias, one of The MonT-SteR’s favorite Christian ministers, aptly illustrates the incoherence of such slushy, subjective thinking on morality. He tells the story of an encounter he had with a college student who didn’t approve of one of his lectures. Dr. Zacharias had been making a case for objective morality that both transcends and trumps the whimsy of human convention. The student approached him after his talk and said, “Who are you to tell me what is right and wrong? I don’t believe that there is such a thing as objective morality.”
“Let me ask you a question,” Dr. Zacharias replied. “What if I were to bring a baby up here to the podium and cut him into little pieces with a butcher knife right in front of your eyes. Would I be doing anything wrong?”
“I would not like what you did,” the student responded, “but I could not say that it was wrong.”
Most reasonable people recoil at such twisted logic. At a visceral, almost instinctive level, we all know that there are things that ought not be done. C. S. Lewis makes this very point in Mere Christianity:
[The] human idea of decent behavior [is] obvious to everyone. [If that was not the case], then all the things we said about [World War II] were nonsense. What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair.
Suppose the logic Sen. Kerry applies to abortion had been typical of the American attitude toward Nazi Germany? “I don’t particularly like unjust military conquest or the wanton slaughter of 6 million Jews, but I don’t have the right to impose my views on others.” What if we had applied such thinking to slavery? “I’m a Christian, and as such I believe that slavery is wrong. But that’s a position borne of faith, and I can’t impose my religious views on other people. So I will continue to support the slaveholder’s right to own or sell African-Americans as slaves.” Or, to borrow Bill Clinton’s phraseology, “Slavery ought to be safe, legal, and rare.”
Of course, neither Bill Clinton nor Sen. Kerry would grant that slavery should remain licit for any reason. Why not? Because it’s incontrovertibly wrong, and they are willing to support its continued prohibition on that basis. Without a doubt, they would both tell you that the Emancipation Proclamation — a decree that “foisted” the moral views of some upon others — was a great good in American history.
Anyone who asserts that one cannot legislate morality is full of donkey dust. Given the witness of history and everyday laws against theft and murder, it’s simply not a sustainable position. We learn from the likes of the Nazis, the Confederacy, and common criminals that there are those in this world who desire to practice wrong; beyond that, they may very well insist that the evil they commit is actually good. History also teaches us that standing up and saying to such people, “You cannot have the right to do what is innately wrong,” invariably stirs controversy and disputing. It may well demand great sacrifice from those courageous enough to unequivocally champion right and oppose wrong. In the end, however, it serves the greater good.
It is on this precise point that Kerry’s own faith is decidedly without deeds. In hiding behind church-state separation, he attempts to claim the luxury of being pro-choice and pro-life at the same time. If a politician tried to be pro-slavery and anti-slavery simultanously, he would get hooted off the political stage.
Truth by nature is exclusive; if something is true, whatever contradicts it is false. Morality that comports with truth exhibits the same exclusive feature; if something is objectively right in a moral sense, whatever contradicts it is wrong. Presumably, Sen. Kerry professes Christianity because he believes it is reflective of ultimate reality (if that’s not the case, then what’s the point of being Christian at all?). Thus, moral pronouncements that flow from a genuinely biblical perspective represent the truth and, by extension, actual right and wrong. If Sen. Kerry really does find that Christianity and abortion on demand are mutually exclusive, then his stated position on abortion is incoherent and self-stultifying.
He should be echoing the abolitionists of the past: “You cannot have the right to do what is wrong.” Instead, he has parroted a moral platitude that ostensibly allows him to play both sides against the middle.
Sorry, Sen. Kerry. You won’t get away with that here.
aka The MonT-SteR