“America is not a theocracy.” Since the Supreme Court draft opinion leak, that phrase (or some variant of it) is written and spoken everywhere. It has appeared in op-ed after op-ed after op-ed, been emblazoned on the signs of pro-choice protestors, and uttered by Democratic party representatives, strategists, and politicians (including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Pro-choice demonstrators dress up as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale and appear outside the homes of Catholic Supreme Court justices to decry what they label as the unjust codifying of religious-based coercive law.
Of course, the entire argument is erroneous and absurd. The words “theology,” “religion,” or “Christian,” do not appear anywhere in the leaked draft. (“Catholic” appears twice and both times in reference to amicus briefs not germane to the legal reasoning of the Court.)
Yes, it’s true, many pro-life organizations and advocates are religiously-motivated—but many of them make anti-abortion arguments using solely secular reasoning to appeal to the sensibilities of their interlocutors. For decades, pro-lifers have argued that abortion is immoral not necessarily because of what the Bible (or Catholic Church) says but because of the principles found in modern science, medical ethics, and secular philosophy on human freedom.
Let’s call the “theocracy” and “religious dystopia” charge what it actually is: anti-Catholic bigotry. Catholic Supreme Court justices—and American Catholics writ large—are apparently not allowed opinions on abortion that might influence the public square. Sure, pro-choice advocates say, pro-lifers’ opinions on abortion might not make any explicit reference to their religious faith, but we all know that it’s their Catholicism that is really driving their opposition to abortion.
It doesn’t matter what Catholics say about abortion, or on what grounds. Simply that they are Catholic is enough to reject and denounce their words. It is argumentation via red herring and ad hominem at its most base level.
It’s also terribly disingenuous. When Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated for the Supreme Court just a few months ago, she spoke in detail about the importance of faith in her life and how it informed her worldview and opinion. “I must also pause to reaffirm my thanks to God, for it is faith that sustains me at this moment,” Jackson told the Senate confirmation committee.
During the 2020 Democratic National Convention, speaker after speaker gushed about the connection between Joe Biden’s faith and his career in public service. Senator Chris Coons declared that Biden’s respect for the dignity of all people who are “made in the image of God” was learned from “nuns and priests who inspired in him a passion for justice.” Even AOC credits her Catholic faith for her positions on health care and the environment.
The double standard is both obvious and noxious. Pro-life Catholics are accused of trying to impose a theocracy on America; pro-choice Catholics, informed by their religious faith and its emphasis on charity and empathy, are rightly respectful of women’s bodily autonomy and the difficult choices they face.
Sometimes this absurd argumentation appears in the same breath. Feminist pro-choice pundit Monica Hesse, in a 23 May Washington Post op-ed, argued that “America is not a theocracy,” but a few paragraphs later she asserted that “forcing women to bear children…is not the Christian thing to do.” Do go on, Ms. Hesse.
And it gets worse. Following San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s decision to refuse House Speaker (and outspoken Catholic) Nancy Pelosi Communion because of her outspoken support for pro-abortion policies, liberals have attacked Archbishop Cordileone. “The abortion issues [sic] is starting to blur the lines between church and state,” said Whoopi Goldberg on The View. Illinois Democratic Senator (and fellow Catholic) Dick Durbin likewise criticized the decision, claiming it was an attack on his “conscience.” Pelosi labeled it “very dangerous.” In other words, pundits and politicians know the Church’s teaching better than her bishops.
There’s a third dimension to the thinking that underlies this anti-Catholic bigotry: namely, that certain opinions have public value and others do not; that certain values are universal and can be coercively imposed on fellow citizens and others cannot. We know the latter includes Catholic- (or Christian-) informed beliefs about the origin or telos of the human person. As for the former, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book Western Culture Today and Tomorrow: Addressing the Fundamental Issues, identifies three which he describes as “predominant in the general consciousness,” and “[pose] a threat to moral reasoning today”: progress, science, and freedom.
These three are what Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) terms “myths” in part because their conception and articulation are typically not based on sound logical principles but, rather, irrational emotivism. Progress, Ratzinger warns, encourages “escapist and deceptive prospects for the future.” Science, while accomplishing much good, also has “pathological” manifestations, “distortions of its possibilities for the sake of power, whereby at the same time human dignity is attacked. Science can also be put at the service of man’s inhumanity to man.” And freedom untethered by nature-imposed limits can be “anarchic,” “anti-institutional,” and an idol. “Authentic human freedom,” argues Ratzinger, “can only be the freedom of just reciprocal relations, the freedom of justice; otherwise it becomes a lie and leads to slavery.”
We can perceive how all three of these myths are used as rhetorical weapons against Catholics in the public square. The Catholic Church, we are told by feminists, is against progress in its perpetuation of traditionalist, patriarchal norms. The Church, they say, is opposed to science in its obsolescent rejection of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or transhumanism. And it is an enemy of freedom in its teachings on human sexuality, and, by extension, abortion.
The myths of progress, science, and freedom serve as (fallacious) foundations upon which secular woke progressives build their own understanding of the human person, society, and government. Yet, unlike their Catholic counterparts, they are myths that lack logical consistency or internal coherence—just look at their position on abortion, which ignores (or rejects) their very own principles about progress, science, and freedom.
Science has identified a human heartbeat at six or seven weeks and human DNA from conception. Why does the mother’s freedom trump that of the unborn child? What happened to that liberal talking point about prioritizing the most vulnerable? Don’t wait too long expecting any answers—if you’re a devout Catholic they don’t even believe you are entitled to ask the questions.
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