Sunday, April 11, 2010

Freedom to Express Your Views – Unless You Are Catholic?

There seems to be some shoddy reasoning going around the Internet regarding Catholics in the political arena.  Generally, the attacks are along the line that those who are Catholic either have no right to participate in the arena due to the sins of some of her members, or else that whenever the Church speaks out, it is imposing an ideological agenda on the rest of the nation.

Neither one of these ideas have any basis in reason, but are instead making an appeal to emotion, using charged words to frighten or anger people.  In the past, it was the "Catholic politicians are taking orders from Rome."  Now it is, "Catholic politicians don't have to listen to the Church, and if they are acting according to what they believe is right, it means the Church is controlling them."

Let's look at some of the errors of assumption.

PART I: "Clean up your own Mess first."

There are many variants of this attack.  Right now, it is the false reports of the cover-ups which are being thrown in our faces.  There have been others in the past.  The Galileo case was used for quite a long time when the Church spoke on the moral issues of science.

The main flaw with the argument is that even if the charges are just (and they certainly aren't in this case), it has absolutely no bearing on whether one should speak out on another related issue.  It's an ad hominem attack, akin to the defense lawyer seeking to remove the credibility of a mob informer by pointing out he is a criminal.  Very true, he is a criminal.  However, that has no bearing on whether or not his information is true.

It is also poisoning the well.  A negative example is used to poison the minds against whatever the opponent says instead of considering the facts of the matter.

Finally, it is a Red Herring, in that it actually is irrelevant to the case at hand.

So let's take a real example, the issue of Nancy Pelosi voting in a way which entirely defies Church teaching.  One person who agrees with Pelosi argues to the effect of, the Church should clean up its own mess before trying to tell others how to live.  That the Church may need to clean up a scandal is true.  However, it is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand: Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic voting in a way which is in defiance of what the Church she professes to be a member of actually teaches.

Really, this kind of attack is just a cheap shot to appeal to the emotions of the audience.

PART II: "The Church shouldn't tell others how to vote."

This argument is essentially a straw man fallacy.  The Church isn't telling people how to vote.  Rather, the Church is saying that if one professes to be a Catholic they are required to live in accordance with the teachings of the Church.  Now a person may not be automatically excommunicated if they do not, but the Church can exact penalties aimed at bringing the erring Catholic back to the proper understanding of what Christian behavior.  Pelosi is free to go on voting to kill unborn infants of course.  The Supreme Court made it legal, and that is unlikely to change.  However, she does not have the right to call her behavior Catholic, and the Church does have the right to tell her, that she either follows Church teaching or change her religion.

Of course this brings us to another objection some pose: That the politician votes in order to represent the population which elected him or her, and therefore cannot do anything different.

This sounds nice of course, and Mario Cuomo exploited it back in the 1980s.  The problem was, Cuomo often did other things (like commute death sentences) against the will of the people who elected him… Cuomo, in those cases, because he felt them the right thing to do.  Let's not get sidetracked here on the issue of the Death Penalty and abortion.  In terms of this article, Cuomo invoked the will of the voters only when it suited him.

There is a third attack which is often used: The Church moral teaching is often treated as a narrow ideology, and when the Church opposes a certain policy (for example, so-called Homosexual marriage), Catholics are told that their view is pushing ideology on people who don't believe it.  [Cuomo also used this excuse when he made his "personally opposed but…" argument.]

The irony here is that we could easily use the same argument against the proponents of homosexual marriage.  It is something new which a small group of radicals are trying to foist on the people of a state.

Exactly who decides what is justice and what is ideology?  Unless there is an absolute we can look to, any person can label their opponent's position as "pushing their views on others."  So Muslims in certain nations oppress women, and the West is considered trying to push a decadent ideology on them.  South Africa in the apartheid era and China in terms of its dissidents today accused the West of interfering with their own values.   ALL of these examples were quite real.

So here is the flaw with the "pushing ideology" argument.  Unless there is a set of moral absolutes to begin with, everything is an ideology and the strongest can impose their will, while the others are suppressed.

Now this view may seem fine when it is your view on top.  The problem is, if anyone can use this argument, you have no argument if an Islamist government or a Fascist [in the sense of the philosophy of fascism, not what liberals label moderate conservatives as] government imposes their views on you.


The examples I gave in this article are quite common on the internet, and are being used to negate the rights of Catholics from practicing their freedoms of speech, religion and others, making use of logical fallacies and shoddy appeals to emotions to make people fear the old Nativist view of Catholicism as a power just waiting to take over America and make it a property of the Pope.

Personally, I'm tired of it.  If a person honestly thinks the Catholic Church is wrong on an issue, they have the right to use their freedom of religion and freedom of speech as well.  Such a person does NOT have the right to deprive Catholics of these rights.

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