Thursday, March 01, 2007

Soul Sisters: Frances Kissling and Phyllis Schlafly

What do these two women have in common? A lot, actually, despite deceptive appearances.

Until very recently, Frances Kissling was the president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a group claiming that a pro-abortion stance was compatible with Catholicism. Sitting at the polar opposite of the political spectrum, Phyllis Schlafy is a right-wing icon. She founded the Eagle Forum, and was central to derailing the Equal Rights Amendment. Although a Catholic, her worldview owes more to a strong secular nationalist ideology, with shades of American exceptionalism. In fact, she sounds more like a fundamentalist than a Catholic-- she has, for example, condemned evolution. But I want to make a more fundamental point. Schlafly is also a firm believer in the use of nuclear weapons, having once pronounced that "the atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." She defended the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the grounds that it saved lives especially American ones: "Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima meant the difference between life and death to hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest young men". She even dubs it, perversely, the "lifesaver bomb".

Let me set out two basic moral principals, fundamental to Catholicism. First, it is never licit to do evil so that good may result. To say otherwise is an exercise in consequentialism. Second, the deliberate taking of innocent human life is always wrong. A nuclear attack on a city by its nature targets non-combatants, making it intrinsically evil. And, as we know, an intrinsically evil act is evil is its object, so that it can never be justified by either intent or circumstance. Thus a directly-procured abortion cannot be justified by appealing to the consequences of having the child, such as the economic situation of the mother. And dropping an atomic bomb on a city cannot be justified, even if it manages to save millions of lives. Consequentialism is misguided, utilitarianism is misguided, proportionalism is misguided.

What many fail to realize is that appeals to the morality of abortion spring from the same flawed philosophy as appeals to the morality of nuclear weapons. Note that many moralists holding the strongest positions against nuclear weapons are also some of the staunchest opponents of abortion and euthanasia. Moralists like Germain Grisez and John Finnis argued that even the nuclear deterrent is deeply immoral, on the grounds that nuclear deterrence entails an intention to kill innocents. Elizabeth Anscombe dubbed Truman a war criminal, and vehemently protested Oxford's granting him an honorary degree in 1956. She noted that in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end". Anscombe, by the way, coined the term "consequentialism" in the first place. She knew what she was talking about. Frankly, I do not understand those on the right who can oppose abortion and yet can support the use of nuclear weapons, or unjust wars, or torture.

So, at the end of the day, Kissling and Sclafly are not so different. They both defend the taking of innocent life because they perceive some "greater good". They both reject fundamental Catholic principles, and see no prolem with that. Soul sisters indeed.


Anonymous said...

I came here from Amy Welborn's blog.

Good points about the use of atomic weapons, but Catholics are free to disagree on evolution. Mrs. Schlafley didn't say anything too diferent from Cardinal Schoenberg on that issue.

Morning's Minion said...

Well, I think Cardinal Schoenberg was a lot more nuanced than Schlafly. But the real issue is on the use of nuclear weapons-- there is little moral difference from defending their use and defending abortion.