About the Author

Thomas Fleming is the editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and president of The Rockford Institute. He is the author of several books, including The Morality of Everyday Life.

See All Posts by This Author

Clueless Catholic

[Subscribe online to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Click here for details].

feature photo

A regular correspondent on our website sent me this priceless paragraph (from NRO) from that noted philosopher George Weigel, commenting on the Pope’s meeting with Nancy Pelosi, with the question: What does this mean?

He told Pelosi, politely but unmistakably, that her relentlessly pro-abortion politics put her in serious difficulties as a Catholic, which was his obligation as a pastor. He also underscored — for Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Rose DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, and everyone else — that the Church’s opposition to the taking of innocent human life, at any stage of the human journey, is not some weird Catholic hocus-pocus; it’s a first principle of justice than can be known by reason. It is a “requirement of the natural moral law� — that is, the moral truths we can know by thinking about what is right and what is wrong — to defend the inviolability of innocent human life. You don’t have to believe in papal primacy to know that; you don’t have do believe in seven sacraments, or the episcopal structure of the Church, or the divinity of Christ, to know that. You don’t even have to believe in God to know that. You only have to be a morally serious human being, willing to work through a moral argument — which, of course, means being the kind of person who understands that moral truth cannot be reduced to questions of feminist political correctness or partisan political advantage.

The answer is: It means very little.  Mr. Weigel is one of many victims of modern Catholic education and the Neo-Thomist ideology that has more to do with Hegelian rationalism than with the traditional teachings of the Church.  Obviously, the pre-Christian world included large numbers of  morally serious  people who believed in god or gods but did not entirely condemn either abortion or infanticide.  The argument, then, that all seriously moral people would oppose abortion  cannot be true.  It is a little like saying anyone remotely interested in science would agree with Newton or Einstein.  Obviously, something happened to change the discourse: the Incarnation.  A self-described Catholic is supposed to know these things.

Now, there is an element of truth in the argument, which is that just as we do not wish to be killed unjustly, we should not kill unjustly.  But what if abortion is not unjust?  What if we regard it as, in some cases, a necessity or at least a preferable option?  After all, just because we do not wish to be executed does not mean that we necessarily oppose the death penalty.  We might even say that were we to commit a cold-blooded murder, we should deserve killing.  Thus, if we think life is not worth living without an IQ above 75 or without a reasonably healthy body or without loving parents, we might say that abortion in such cases is reasonable and just and might even, honestly or not, say that we would apply the same criteria to ourselves.

It is also true that most of the arguments used to defend abortion are irrational arguments from analogy, implying that an unborn child is an alien space monster implanted in the womb or merely the seed from which a tree might grow.  Like virtually everything said  by the Left,  the arguments are childish and irrational.  But the fact remains that natural reason did not teach the Greeks and Romans that it is wrong to kill an unborn or newborn child, though some thought abortion shameful.  There was no prohibition on abortion in Roman law, except where the father was not consulted.  In that case, she was guilty of depriving him and his ancestors of an heir.  This is, at least, a more wholesome approach than our current abortion law, though it rests not on reason but on family loyalty.

From the beginning Christian women did not kill their babies.  This is one of the things we can learn from the early Apostolic Fathers.  Christians did not practice either infanticide or sodomy.  For both prohibitions, there is ample justification in natural law, as that phrase  was understood by Aristotle, Cicero, and St. Thomas.  We were not made sexual beings to violate each others’ anuses or to enjoy ourselves while disposing of the fruits of our coition.  Mothers, in this tradition, do not have a universal obligation to prevent abortion but a specific obligation not just not to kill their children but to nurture and cherish them.   This is not like some corollary deduced from a basic logic axiom: It is a specific duty that arises both from the nature that God created and from God’s love for us.

The real question is not  whether abortion is consistent with reason but rather,whether  it is  right  to lie in a good cause.  That is, at best, what Weigel has done.    Many  pro-life arguments I have studied come down to well-intentioned lying, by which I understand not only a conscious and deliberate lie but the reckless disregard for truth engaged in by pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to learning and authority they do not possess.

The most basic error is to cover  Christian truth  with the tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism that makes everyone owe everyone else the same duties.   Thus, we hear sweeping claims, expressed in a Kantian idiom,  that it is everyone’s duty to prevent a nonChristian female from killing her child, whether she lives in China or Peru.   Their arguments frequently rely on  misused or misunderstood Scriptural citations, which, if refuted, might unsettle the convictions of a poor Fundamentalist.   Among the worst are the utilitarian arguments that tell us we may be losing countless Beethovens and Shakespeares, to say nothing of millions of taxpayers who will pay my Social Security.  But what if if turns out that in economic terms, abortion is a net gain, in preventing the birth  of millions  of welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans?   Would that make abortion a civic duty?  Live by bad arguments, die by bad arguments.  The cumulative effect of much of the professional pro-life ideology is to distort and deflect the question, away from the really important thing, which is how to convert nonbelievers,  who will then be far less likely to kill their babies, toward comparatively trivial legislative policies  and judicial agendas.

If everyone is rational enough to understand that abortion is wrong, why is it that so few defenders of the unborn are capable either of entering into a  rational discourse or studying history?

Catholics who call themselves  Neoconservatives  are truly “the kind of person” who reduce truth  to questions of  “political correctness and partisan political advantage.”   They have nothing to offer anyone except conservatives and Christians who wish to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.  If the Holy Father really wishes to clean up the Augean stables of the American Church–as I sincerely believe he does–he might, after excommunicating Pelosi and Biden, move onto  the people who claim to speak for him in the USA but have  censored and misrepresented his predecessor and continue to defend the immoral war he has explicitly condemned.  If Mr. Weigel really believes that anyone can understand the Natural Law, why is he incapable of understanding either Just War theory or his duty of obedience to the Holy Father?

[Subscribe online to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Click here for details].


To post a comment, you must register and be logged in.

This site does not allow anonymous commenting. We require all registered users to include their real names in their profiles. Personal attacks on writers or fellow commenters, and impolite language in general, will not be tolerated. Please stay on topic and refrain from posting hyperlinks. As this site is not monitored 24/7, violators will be banned, when we get around to it.

There Are 47 Responses So Far. »

  1. Neoconservatives, as a type of liberal, can not appeal to explicitly Christian prohibitions and justifications because to do so would violate their dogmatic commitment to universality. Because we are all supposed to know that pluralism and tolerance are the highest goods and those require universality. Hence the obsessive resort to “natural law.”

    Some of them understand what they are doing. I suspect Weigel does. But most rank and file pro-lifers don’t. They are pro-life because they are Christians, but they have been taught they can not appeal to explicitly Christians rationales in the public square. This is all very insidious.

  2. The thing that has always struck me about Weigel is how pompous he is, a condition that is only getting worse.

  3. I heartily concur with all of this. I have been baffled, and distressed, for some time at the excessively rationalistic dogmatism of
    George Weigel, Robert George, and other writers on abortion. And they are just as dogmatic on the nature of marriage–the whole idea of a homosexuality-precluding “one-flesh communion” is supposed to be a self-evident truth. I don’t think it is at all. They actually argue that any form of (heterosexual) premarital sex is just as morally wrong, and for the same reasons, as homosexual sex. Crazy!

  4. My mistake: I meant that they think any type of NON-marital sex (pre- OR extra-) is as morally bad as any kind of intimate homosexual act. Which to me is patently absurd.

  5. This website has a way of continually undercutting any beliefs I structure for myself. Being pro-life but agnostic, I’ve been a believer of the Natural Law or Moral Law case against abortion for decades. in fact, I’ve structured a whole series of biological, evolutionary biology, an biochemistry arguments backing the case, and used them to great success in argument with friends and colleagues. Dr. Fleming destroys it all by simply pointing out that historically there hasn’t been a natural law inclination against abortion.
    I guess this is why you need more than a technical education and a scientific mindset to understand the world. Lesson learned

  6. Absolutely brilliant! Until Christians in general and Catholics in particular cease to be infected with Enlightenment rhetoric and thought they will never change anything.

    Dr. Fleming, when I read pro-life material and publications, a questions arises in my mind. Has the pro-life movement become a pseudo left-wing cause? Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that abortion should not be opposed as utterly and intrinsically immoral, but the very language that the pro-life movement uses is so typically liberal that I can hardly stand it. Their arguments are always abstract, universally applicable, and purely rights-based. How could any of this prevent a woman from murdering her child. They also encourage activism in the same way that many leftist causes do.

  7. Mr. Stonehouse,

    I believe that your scientific grounds for opposing abortion would be necessary in making a moral (and also a legal) case for defense of preborn human life. For example, on a couple of occasions I have heard Professor Jeffrey Hart mock opponents of processes that destroy human embryos, saying that these embryos are nothing more than the period at the end of the sentences he writes. Aside from the fact that in terms of size, in the total historical and cosmological sweep of things, none of us is significantly more than a tiny dot, it can be brought to attention in response to Professor Hart the mind boggling complexity of a human embryo. In fact, a dot made with the point of a pen has its own impressive comlexity, but nothing in comparison to the specifically human nature of the human embryo. A scientifically based understanding of preborn human life, as distinct from, say, an ink dot, would not close the moral arguement, but it would be a necessary component in an informed moral judgement on destruction of such life.

  8. Mr. Stonehouse,

    I might add a reflection of Dr. Leon Kass, whose moral seriousness and intelligence one would need a collosal nerve to question. Dr. Kass does not believe in legal prohibitions of abortion, but based on his scientific understanding of the human embryo, he said, “I stand in awe and reverence before this very human beginning, because I know that if we ran the process backward, all of us came from that.” (http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/human-frailty-and-human-dignity)

  9. No science is necessary. From the early centuries A.D. the prohibition on abortion was an outgrowth of the prohibition on contraception, which is part of the basis for regulating all sexual activity. In fact, I recall at least one moral theologian expressly stating that he did not believe it was not a human life being taken but that the practice was nevertheless morally impermissible as it was a perverse obstruction of the natural order. It was not until the 19th century that the medical world discovered that human development begins at the moment of fertilisation.

  10. “If the Holy Father really wishes to clean up the Augean stables of the American Church…”, the Pope also needs to publicly take out more than a few “bishops” (2 or 3 would have been enough for Paul VI, but he let that pass). All of the ones who are so publicly ignorant of not only the natural law but also of Church law. He might also try to legislate the prohibition of the use of the word “but” by all clerics and chancery inhabitors.

  11. 2 Comment by Tom Piatak on 20 February 2009:

    “The thing that has always struck me about Weigel is how pompous he is, a condition that is only getting worse.”

    You fogot to mention that he also drones on and on in a monotone voice that makes simple Gregorian chant sound baroque with five voices. The word boorish comes to mind every time his name is mentioned. Here is a guy that makes his bread by pretending authoritative on matters Roman for we rough cut Americans and then uses this position to template Neo-conservative causes — pre-emptive war in Iraq, reducing the supernatural to a moral code of conduct, reducing religious freedom to intellectual license, and reducing the “natural” law to a Cartesian rationalism –where thinking is equivalent to charity and mercy is confused with justice. The good news for him ( as for most of us) is that even those who come to work late in the day will be given the same wages as the better, wiser and more devoted servants as long as they come in good faith. However his recent screed in Time magazine lecturing the Holy Father on the merits of John Courtney Murray, Americanism and Vatican II spiritism makes me wonder. Cheers

  12. No real need for the Holy Father to excommunicate the “Catholic” politicians. They are already latae sententiae excommunicated. They fall under various strictures of Canon Law and are guilty of aiding abortion and heresy, the latter since they hold, typically, that the Church errs in its teaching on abortion or that, under certain conditions abortion can be licit. Hence, to refer to these people as Catholic is an error. They have, by their actions, separated themselves from Holy Mother Church. Alas, too few, perhaps no, Church leaders ever express this fact publicly. Not even the Holy Father as far as one can discern.

  13. Robert,

    Your summary of Weigel is outstanding. Thanks.

  14. It is not that there is no rational or scientific basis for opposing abortion. From a sociobiological point of view, the purpose of existence–though they would not like the word purpose–is reproductive success, which makes abortion and contraception undesirable. But this would not justify a prohibition, for example, on destroying a child who could not reproduce or was certain to be homosexual, or would be feeble-minded and thus be a drag on the family’s resources. There is a convergence of science and moral theology, but, as my friend Sam Francis warned me years ago after reading my first book, a gap remains between is and ought. (I might add that Hume’s argument has been distorted and misrepresented, as Stephen R.L.Clark argued some years ago in an excellent article)

    While it is true, as St. Alphonsus says, summing up a long tradition, that people who perform or procure abortions should be regarded as excommunicate, this in no way relieves the Church of the responsibility of publicly denouncing such people and their advocates. I should add that, while students of theology are free to make general statements on what the Church teaches, it is not up to a layman to make these judgments in any particular case; indeed, it is a grave error to do so.

    Not being a fan of Leon Kass and having failed to learn from him anything I did not know already, I do not see that he has a great deal to contribute to this discussion. Aristotle, who is a formidable figure, regarded abortion as a reasonable way of limiting family size. If the creator of systematic logic did not see a problem–though he too would have deplored the abortions for frivolous causes that are the overwhelming majority of American abortions– as unnatural and counter-productive, we can hardly say that acceptance of abortion is inconsistent with reason.

  15. Weigel is Newsweek’s official “Catholic” columnist.Are you referring, Robert ,to his late January article in Newsweek ? If not,check out his wobbly and cowardly response to the Holy Father’s moves to reconcile with (his term) the Catholic right in the Jan.26(?) issue.

  16. David @ 21: True about latae sententiae excommunications apropos abortions; however, if the Pope in a solemn rite of excommunication, televised to the world, excommunicated Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden and the rest of their ilk (including certain American Catholic Bishops), in sonorous, doom-like tones, that would have a tremendous psychological impact, besides making public their heresy and their ejection from the Kingdom of God. It might even bring them to a state of conversion and reparation. Outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.

  17. Leo @15

    Yes that was the article of his I read last. I try not to read him because it always aggravates me to anticipate almost precisley what he is going to say, and then read that he actually says it. He also headed for the neo-con comfort zone years ago when Pat Buchanan was first speaking honestly about immigration, endless wars in the desert, outsourcing American labor, and a clash of cultures. Perhaps alot of my rancor towards him is the perceived injustice in such a low caliber catholic making such good money writing gibberish, using his friends and position to pander to the more principled enemies of conservation. “Useful idiot” is used too much today to describe everyone we disagree with, but for an allegedly serious man like Weigel, I think it is a fitting, if not sufficient, explanation in his case.

  18. Robert @11

    I guess Weigel now succeeds to the role of official intellectual Catholic spokesman now that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has slid off the exit ramp to eternity.

    J Meng at 16. Indeed, while excommunication would be a redundant exercise, the public announcement of the act would surely be salutary. One can speculate on the how a person like Biden might respond—he, judged second only to John Warner as the stupidest person in the Senate. Can you imagine his self exculpatory offering!

  19. Robert @ 11
    Apropos Fr. Neuhaus, I am reminded of the wag who quipped that he had never killed anyone, but read with great pleasure many obituary notices! Or, in this instance, Henry II’s comment in Eliot’s Murder…
    which energized the knights who dispatched Thomas a’Becket.

  20. “I guess Weigel now succeeds to the role of official intellectual Catholic spokesman now that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has slid off the exit ramp to eternity.”

    Oh indeed and that was the plan for many years. Always beware of young men who boast of their published works before being asked about them, or men who boast of their friendships with insiders and people more famous than themselves, of men who are more loyal to perfect strangers than old acquaintances, of men who boast of their sobriety among drinkers, of men who boast of their obedience to superiors, and last of all beware of men who will say or do anything for the love of God but hardly anything for the love of women, friends or good manners. Such a one has no music in his soul and is fit for nothing but those strategems described by our greatest English poet and playwrite. This has nothing to do with religion by the way, even Canada geese will mate for life, and the slippery salmon will risk everything for his last adventure in returning home to die. But when deciding the merits of conservative journalism today, I would much prefer my children grow up to read and understand Taki, than to misunderstand Mr. Weigel.

  21. I agree with both Lee and David above. I consider those political hacks as already ‘gone’ from Holy Mother Church, but I’d also like to see them publicly done for. Several cardinals also come to mind.

    And the sooner the better.

  22. Dr. Fleming,

    Leon Kass’s remark about being in awe of embryonic human life occurred to me as a contrast to Jeffrey Hart’s facile dismissal of it. Those of us who are not in a position to speak on our own authority might do well to refer to those who can. In this case, since I have seen nothing to dissuade me from belief that Dr. Kass is a very learned man who has reflected seriously about human embryos, I cited him as support for defense of human embryos. If I had taken more time I could have cited others, but the Kass remark came to me at the time and seemed to fit.

  23. While you are taking care of Neuhaus and Weigel, don’t forget Michael Novak.

  24. I never understood the glee of these Catholic neo-cons such as Weigel in the support of ungodly led and Machiavellian immoral wars (Gulf 1&2, Afghanistan) that were vehemently opposed by Pope John Paul II. If you believe in the Culture of Life in all its aspects including abortion, then supporting, rationalizing and promoting unprovoked wars with hundreds of thousands of innocent lives destroyed is illogical and immoral. In Weigel’s case it is more baffling since he looked to the late Pope as his muse and as an intellectual giant in the 20th century. The only explanation is that the funding for an ‘intellectual’ is much better if you are singing in the Amen Corner choir rather than taking a more principled and Buchanan like stance.

  25. Yes, you are correct Dr. Wilson. Birds of a feather flock together. The redeeming quality of Mr. Novak is that he is such a poor writer he cannot disquise the fact he is anything but a water bearer for the oligarchs he serves. Whatever my criticisms of Weigel and Father Neuhaus, they could from time to time, like the proverbial blind hog, find an acorn. So far as I know, Mr. Novak is still rooting around in the deep woods of corporatism preaching the personal benefits of hunger.

  26. “If the creator of systematic logic did not see a problem–though he too would have deplored the abortions for frivolous causes that are the overwhelming majority of American abortions– as unnatural and counter-productive, we can hardly say that acceptance of abortion is inconsistent with reason.”

    One need only conclude that on this point Aristotle was not exercising his reason to the best of its ability. Aristotle is not infallible. Abortion is inconsistent with reason and the facts regardless of what Aristotle thought. We do not need divine revelation to come to the conclusion that abortion is wrong, just as we do not need divine revelation to come to the conclusion that there is a single God and that He does not resemble the Zeus of myth (on the last point, Vatican I is emphatic — it is a dogma that reason alone arrives at the existence of God). The pagans who accepted abortion and infanticide belonged to morally corrupt cultures. St. Paul says of them that their idolatrous religion corrupted their hearts and minds and turned them away from the laws of nature. Simply put, “believing in god or gods,” if you mean the immoral and idolatrous deities worshipped in Greece and Rome, is a mark against one’s claim to be morally serious. Worshipping a celestial adulterer (Zeus) is not “morally serious,” as men as early as Xenophanes (in one of his more “morally serious” moments) knew. Nor is the line between moral seriousness and rejection of abortion so contingent as the line between scientific interest and agreement with this or that empirical model. I dare ask, are not self-described Catholics supposed to know this?

    The righteous among the pre-Incarnation pagans rejected the immoral customs of their societies. We see in Greek tragedy that people felt pain and guilt over exposing children and felt pity toward those who were exposed. Christian apologists who preach against infanticide and abortion do not speak as though their audiences simply were ignorant. Rather, the apologists say, “You already *know in your hearts* that these practices are wrong. We put that knowledge into practice. That is why you must change your religion and your life and join us.” When the Church Fathers speak of the “righteous pagans who lived before Christ,” to the extent they admit of this category, they tend to name men who rejected the prevalent customs of their countries and paid for it. Socrates and Heraclitus are among the examples I remember.

    NB: When I speak of idolatry, I do not mean first and foremost the worship of cult statues. I include worship of deities made in the likeness of sinful mortals — the adulterous Zeus, the lustful Aphrodite, etc. Even without cult statues, these deities still represent the substitution of the creature for the creator.

  27. Excuse me, for “empirical model” I meant “scientific model,” such as Galileo’s model for understanding astronomy or Einstein’s model for understanding physics.

  28. @14: Dr. Fleming, I was perhaps a bit too hard on science. Science is an excellent means for knowing truths about the state of the natural world, but like all good Earthly things, it must serve a higher end. You are correct when you hint that to subvert morality, civilisation and culture to science would end in eugenics.

    Also, your warning vis-Ă -vis excommunication is fully warranted and should be heeded by all Catholics. Many basic Catholic concepts are profoundly misunderstood these days even within the most well-intentioned and traditional strains.

    As a related concept, further more on your article, I would add that the fact that this debate is framed in terms of “pro-life” versus “pro-choice,” emphasising the personal “rights” of the baby versus the personal “rights” of the mother, rather than “moral order” versus “pro-murder”, emphasising the serious blight to society of this mass infanticide, only illustrates the total collapse of civilisation on the North American continent. It is endemic of a mass mob of people (I cannot even call it a “culture”) who are each obsessed with themselves as individuals and nothing more.

    Incidently, the slogan, “My body, my choice!” can increasingly be seen on the other side of the Atlantic as of late, as well. It is interesting because popular opposition to this deplorable ritual is fairly understated on the Continent. I wonder if they are getting scared, and, I wonder, of what…?

    Finally, while I do not in any way condone watering down of history or philosophy, I wish to acknowledge that I quite possibly owe my own life to the culture of “well-intentioned lying” that has flourished in the “pro-life” movement since the 1960′s. Without going into too much detail, I was a very unexpected arrival at a time that can, in both relative (to our time) and absolute terms, was rather inopportune for my mother. However, I am assured that she knew from the start she was having a baby and that there was never any question of an abortion. My mother, a victim of 12 years of post-conciliar “Catholic” school, “may have missed the boat on many Catholic teachings,” she wrote, but that was one thing that had stayed with her.

  29. A list also needs to be drawn up of the apostate bishops, archbishops and cardinals, mainly in western Europe and North America, who have not just slowly drifted away from Church teaching, but have fled wholesale from it in ever more bizarre searches for innovation, novelty and heresy.

    Also, those clergy in positions of power and influence who facilitated the ongoing rash of pedophiles, moving them around among various dioceses. Bernard Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston, comes to mind. He talked a great line but in the shadows the known predators got moved around and were allowed to continue their predations.

  30. My point was not to denigrate Mr. Kass, only a few of whose articles I have read, but to suggest that in a discussion of Christian theology, he does not have much of a part to play. If he has made original and true arguments, I would be delighted to attend to them. I did not find any in what I read of him, though I would never lump him in with the Neoconservative Trinity or even with Robert George, who, I believe, is sincere in what he writes. I think he must be a very nice man, though I have never met him. We did talk at length on the issue of ancient homosexuality, but at the end of the conversation I knew I had got nowhere with him, so determined was he to push a particular line, with or without historical evidence. This was the famous Martha Nussbaum “perjury” case, as some called it, and he was certainly on the right side.

    The obvious problem with the “right to life” is that it was a “right to privacy” that was used to justify a mother’s right to kill her unborn baby. Rights are toxic to the sense of personal responsibility.

  31. “Rights are toxic to the sense of personal responsibility.”


    Thus, the proliferation of “rights” to ‘affordable housing,’ health care, homosexual marriages, ‘quality’ and ‘equitable’ public education (a real laugher in light of the last few decades’ experience), etc., etc. With no end in sight.

    The worst of these, of course, being the ‘right’ of mothers to murder their children and the ‘right’ of ‘fathers’ to have zero responsibility for the original act of sin and either agreement with, or indifference to it.

  32. I don’t see why Mr. Fleming sets reason and revelation over and against one another, as he seems to be doing.
    Both reason and revelation reject abortion.
    On the natural side of the argument there is simply what JPII has said so eloquently and tersely: if it weren’t human to begin with it could never become human.
    Nothing could be more obvious or self-evident. And the taking of a human life ought to be of the gravest of considerations, especially when that human life is utterly innocent in the active participation of the sin of Adam. The innocence of the victim puts the taking of such a life into the category of murder.
    On the side of revealed truth there is man in the image and likeness of God; a de fide article of faith.
    True, there is no reasoned proof against abortion as some regard proof nowadays. But reason today is not the robust and sanguine reason of older and better, saner ages.
    The reason of today fails to “convince” because we have pared it down in our post Cartesian world. It has lost its true sanguine nature and become something cold and reptilian; an instrument more of doubt than of proof; a tool used to confuse more than convince.
    Hillary Belloc reminds us in his Essays of a Catholic that proof is of many kinds, and its methods and content vary according to the object under scrutiny.
    We forget so often today that life is not a laboratory, while the protagonists of our brave new world would have us conflate them more and more, reducing man and his existence to the categories of a lab rat. (PETA would have us elevate the rat.)
    We must accept proof of the truths of life in many forms, just as a jury would accept the force of evidence in the court room. And proof “beyond a reasonable, REASONABLE doubt” is sufficient to convict.
    Now, as then, accepting the truth, even when the evidence is so overwhelming as to be beyond a reasonable doubt, even when it is so circumstantially powerful it would hang any accused murderer from the highest tree in the county, is not a matter of intellect. It is a matter of the will. No, the reason that would hang a murderer in a court is not sufficient to save the innocent in the abortuary.
    Reason in the modern age constitutes the primary tool it establish what amounts to a hermeneutic of suspicion. It is used to rationalize the rejection of reason as authoritative and binding on the will and to replace its authority with a radical subjectivism.
    As one lady responded who was going for an abortion when asked if she knew what it was she was carrying within her, “It’s whatever I want it to be.”
    Thank you modern philosophy!
    Once the use of reason to discredit reason becomes common, choices are always based upon some personal prejudice or perceived momentary advantage.
    But some don’t even bother with consulting reason in any way. They rightly believe that when all is said and done, reason cannot prove its own authority.
    Here’ the plain truth:
    We must accept reason by faith just as we do revelation: based upon the evidence.
    Accepting the truth has always been a problem of the will. The mind’s highest power cannot become operative unless the will is humbly disposed to accept it.
    Since Christ came, and before, the mind and the will warred with one another in the battle of Salvation. Modern man has ended the war by assassinating the mind, denying the freedom of the will and ascribing all, good and evil, to what Chesterton calls, “doom.”
    (It is something to note carefully that in the age of religious faith more people believed in the authoritative binding power of reason than do today in this so-called enlightened age. It is also not insignificant that the Citadel of Revealed Truth, the Catholic Church, is today almost the sole institutional defender of reason in its full and classical form and the binding power of its conclusions on the human will.)
    The perverse will refuses to seriously consider ALL of the evidence, copious though it may be, that Jesus is the God-man and the Redeemer of the world. Most, but not all, who refuse to consider Christ’s divinity also refuse to consider that these little unborn babies might be human, with a claim upon the right to life equal, and perhaps even superior, to their own.
    And so the human tragedy of deformed and fallen human life goes on––for yet a little while longer. To some Mr. Weigel’s arguments are very meaningful and they can clearly see their authoritative, binding power. Others simply refuse to look at the evidence. They, like Ms. Pelosi, have too much to lose in this world by doing so. To those who are moved by Mr. Weigel’s points I can only say amen. I am heartened to see any act of faith informed by charity in this faithless and empty age of sham and shallow religion.
    Can anyone dare to say that God is not supremely patient?

  33. @ # 14
    “Aristotle, who is a formidable figure, regarded abortion as a reasonable way of limiting family size. If the creator of systematic logic did not see a problem–though he too would have deplored the abortions for frivolous causes that are the overwhelming majority of American abortions– as unnatural and counter-productive, we can hardly say that acceptance of abortion is inconsistent with reason.”

    Aristotle had many positions that can hardly be understood to be informed by reason or the product of sustained reflection, but which were more the products of his time and culture. His view of women is another good example. St. Thomas also held several views on women that were hardly the product of the rigorous exercise of reason.
    For better or for worse we are creatures of our time. We can’t help it, no matter how hard we try.
    Each of us has a mountain of things we accept that we have never thought of bringing the critical eye of reason to bear upon; we simply accept them as a part of our lives, as practical or as necessary or common. We are not reasoning machines and the best of us are inconsistent and sometimes down right sloppy. Let’s face it; not even the greatest minds have time to question and consider everything. Plus, we don’t have all of Aristotle’s work; we can’t compare the evolution of his thinking from early to late as we can more recent thinkers. Who knows, Aristotle might have come to reject abortion late in life, just as Sartre came to believe in God.

  34. Weigel is beneath contempt. Read his take on the 2008 elections in “First Things.” Why Obama won because of BDS-”Bush Derangement Syndrome.” One would expect such idiocy from Ann Coulter and the usual talking heads spinning the Grand Old Pravda. But Weigel is supposed to be a leading Catholic voice in this country. Too bad he puts the GOP over God.

  35. #30 writes:”The reason of today fails to “convinceâ€? because we have pared it down in our post Cartesian world. It has lost its true sanguine nature and become something cold and reptilian; an instrument more of doubt than of proof; a tool used to confuse more than convince.
    Hillary Belloc reminds us in his Essays of a Catholic that proof is of many kinds, and its methods and content vary according to the object under scrutiny.
    We forget so often today that life is not a laboratory, while the protagonists of our brave new world would have us conflate them more and more, reducing man and his existence to the categories of a lab rat. (PETA would have us elevate the rat.)

    Mr. Ridenour your post is a shining example of why music is such an essential element of education. Only a man familiar with the “my”stery or “muse”-ical aspects of life, of poetry, wonder and solitude would notice this. Your post reminded me of Belloc’s advice when he said, “Dear reader, sail more and read less.” Or in your case, “Play more and post occasionally.” Thank you for a good post.

    PS Tom can speak for himself but his understanding of Hume is quite similar to yours when you write ,”Each of us has a mountain of things we accept that we have never thought of bringing the critical eye of reason to bear upon; we simply accept them as a part of our lives, as practical or as necessary or common.”

  36. Mr. Ridenour has obviously read this discussion in great haste. The point is not that opposition to abortion is inconsistent with reason or that faith and reason are opposite poles or that Aristotle was supremely rational and understood everything, but only that many otherwise rational people, gifted with high intelligence and critical faculties, do not agree that abortion is always wrong. I do not see how it is possible to argue with this, unless we suppose that average people today are more intelligent than the most brilliant pagans. Aristotle and Thomas were undoubtedly mistaken on many points, but on the question of sexual differences and the position of woman in society, they were far closer to the truth than most intellectuals today. It is always dangerous to assume that simply because a society has changed its mind about something–male dominance, for example–that it is made progress. Most innovations in society, as in evolution, are destructive.

  37. Dr. Fleming,

    Is the popular “Margaret Sanger was a racist” anti-abortion argument wise?

  38. I just approved the comments of Tobias and will respond only by saying that the repetition of dogma is a good thing but it is not the same as reason. If we say that we possess the whole truth and are therefore perfectly rational and then go on to judge all other cultures as irrational because they do not agree with us, there is no room for rational inquiry or debate. Simply declaring Aristotle to be wrong on the basis of a conciliar document is not a rational argument. If reason be defined as “that which the Church teaches,” then obviously everyone outside the Church is irrational, but then what is the point to any conversation whatsoever. Let us get some eloquent catechist to repeat to us over and over what we believe.

  39. In some contexts, but in general no. It is like the argument popularized, though not invented, by Richard Neuhaus that abortion is like slavery. Is slavery, a social institution practiced generally by Christians and pagans alike, really as bad as killing your own baby? The same holds true for racial prejudice, which is universal in the human race, whatever we might like to say or even think about ourselves. Everybody prefers his own tribe. This does not mean that we do not like some members of other tribes more than we like many or most members of our own, only that in general we prefer our own customs, appearance, etc. So, is this universal prejudice really as bad as abortion and euthanasia? it is always, repeat, always a mistake to make a moral point by an analogy with a lower evil or good. This is what is wrong with the argument that abortion costs the nation future taxpayers. Is money a real reason why we should not kill babies? A similar argument was made by opponents of the death penalty–it is more cost-efficient. At that point, a morally serious person would begin to wonder if capital punishment really might be cruel and unusual. Thanks for the excellent question.

  40. The problem with reason and natural law arguments is that they are mostly hand waving. People can generally make reason and natural law say what they want them to say. One person’s reason and natural law says don’t kill your babies and another’s says women have a right to control their own bodies. So where has that gotten you?

  41. “This is what is wrong with the argument that abortion costs the nation future taxpayers. Is money a real reason why we should not kill babies?”

    Concerning the argument that abortion, and the avoidance of procreation in general, may lead us to economic disaster in the future, the point is not that we should have babies to help the economy but that there is something unnatural in a society that doesn’t procreate. We need a change of heart in the way we view families or else we will suffer the consequences.

  42. At risk of taking an intellectual beat-down from Dr. Fleming and others more able than myself, I am going to respectfully disagree with the premise of this argument–that there is difference between reason, natural law, and religion. For much of the last 20 years I have been searching for evidence of absolute truth, largely using the tools of the scientific method, logic, and simple comparisons of religious, philosophical, and scientific texts. If there is one thing I have observed over and over it is the different routes of inquiry into the nature of our existence all lead to the same end. We are all talking about the same thing in different languages. The validity of moral religious teachings can be shown through reason and honest evolutionary biology. Much of it is simply cause and effect (ie. homosexuality results in no descendants, higher incidence of chronic disease, etc.). Weigel is simply making a pro-life argument using a different world view, one that expands his audience to a wider population. As for those intelligent people who see no problem with abortion, I think they need to rigorously and honestly redo their homework using their preferred world view.

  43. If Mr. Stonehouse will but read the replies posted above, he will see that he is not in fact responding to the argument that has been made but to a strawman. I spent a decade doing research for my first book, The Politics of Human Nature, whose purpose was to show the convergence of what we think we know from modern scientific research and what we are taught by revelation and tradition. I selected Weigel, who is otherwise beneath contempt and not worth any attention, simply because I had been asked a question. Once again, I am being persuaded that writing books and articles is a complete waste of time. It is a lesson in humility a writer cannot learn too often or too well. It is at moments like this that I am tempted to burn the manuscript of the book I am working on and to destroy all the computer files. No one. it seems, actually reads anything any more: They only read in what they already believe. It is better to read nothing or, read good verse and mystery thrillers.

  44. It seems to me that many of the objections/complaints regarding reason have much less to do with reason itself and the logic that accompanies it and much more to do with the faulty/corrupt metaphysics that underlies the path chosen. Too many fault reason for its conclusions without seriously examining the fundamental principles on which the particular argument rests. Too many give too much credence to sentimentally nice/attractive assertions or demands that won’t hold up outside the cave. It used to be a principle of geometry, a subject which most used to take, that one way to prove/disprove a statement was to assume it true and then show that the result it lead to was false. Too many today would rather accept the falsity than reexamine the premises.

  45. Tobias,
    There are many true things about pagan religions and much more to our own Faith in Christ than simply doing good or being bad. The fact that we have reduced it to convincing ourselves and others of our own superiority in matters of faith and morals is part of the blindness that obstructs our path –which is indeed “the way, the truth and the life.” But I digress from my main point — I don’t trust a classics professor who never had eyes for Athena or the an understanding of what Ovid meant by metamorphosis. It is a differnt paganism that is searching for more light ( as were the Romans and Greeks) and the paganism that prefers the drakness. ( such as the post-christian pagans we have become in the West.) A man and woman may pass each other on a mountain trail, heading in differnt directions and say they are at the same altitude. But only for a instance, we are headed to hell as a culture and part of the reason is the pride of christian teachers like you who want to draw what little blood that still sustains the patient.

  46. #36
    “Mr. Ridenour has obviously read this discussion in great haste. ”

    You’re not exactly right on this point. I did not read the discussions at all. I did not have time. I only read the article, and it seemed to me you, in some degree, put reason against revelation, and by reason I mean the more robust reason of the Thomist as opposed to the truncated version of the scientific materialist. I will reread and reconsider due to your protest…but I do want to say this:
    Disagreeing with and discrediting someone on a particular matter, such a neocon sensibilities, does not mean all and everything about him is to be discredited and rejected. Thomism is a powerful and positive force in this age of doubt. I am no so quick to rejected the apparent clarity of Thomism and a Catholic moral code. Too many people of bad will and confused intellect would like to reject these things in order to confuse the teachings and do as they please, Ms. Pelosi being a prime example.
    In music I always told my students that musical performance is most certainly more than technique–––but it is never less than technique. In like manner, the Faith is certainly more than a moral code, but is it ever less? Did the saints ever attain sainthood by acting over and against the moral law?
    If some are moved to embrace the good and turn from the evil by Weigel’s Thomist arguments I can only say more power to him. In this time I’m all for Catholics using the kitchen sink to help save souls and fend off the sunami of evil engulfing us. I know in my own case all I would need to give in to certain urges and rationalize them away would be only the slight clouding of certain moral arguments.
    I’ll even accept Weigel’s efforts, even though he may be contemptuous of what he might call my “Neo-Confederate leanings” and my loathing of the Neocons (who I maintain are neither new nor conservative, but are simply warmed over Wilsonian democrats).

    “The point is not that opposition to abortion is inconsistent with reason or that faith and reason are opposite poles or that Aristotle was supremely rational and understood everything, but only that many otherwise rational people, gifted with high intelligence and critical faculties, do not agree that abortion is always wrong.”

    I was not contending that highly intelligent people disagree on this issue. I was trying to point out some, but certainly not all, of the reasons this phenomenon exists, and they range from unscrupulous, empty-headed low lifes like SanfranNan, who, unlike Weigel, truly do put their social ideology over the teaching of God’s Church (selling her soul for the glories of this world), and others who actually use a dwarfed, pared down, post-Cartesian version of reason as a means of equivocating on the issue rather than investigating it.
    My ultimate point was simply that the battle between reasoned truth and revealed truth is really beside the point. You can’t even use reason to convince someone they should accept the conclusions of reason. Every thing boils down to faith; even the acceptance of the authority of reason requires a cooperating Grace from God, and those who sincerely embrace reason and engage in a sincere, self-disinterested search for truth, do so by power they receive from God, and not from the cleaver conclusions of the operation of their autonomous and unaided intellect. Even so, perpetual Grace is needed, since reason, at any stage of the game, does not coerce, it only compels.

  47. What futility. Closed