Near the close of the Vice Presidential debate in Kentucky on Wednesday night, moderator Martha Raddatz asked Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan about the relationship between their faith and their politics.
What she really wanted to know about, though, is their respective views on abortion.
Biden and Ryan are both self-avowed Roman Catholics. As such, one would expect that the Church’s 2,000 year-old prohibition of abortion would count for something by their lights.
And, to hear them both tell it, it does indeed.
Biden and Ryan insisted that, along with Catholics past and present, they reject abortion. Biden’s answer was particularly interesting.
“With regard to—with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a—what we call de fide. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.”
To judge just from these remarks, the Vice President’s position on this issue appears unequivocal: he accepts the Catholic Church’s view that abortion is an intrinsically immoral act. However, not unlike every other prominent contemporary Catholic Democrat, Biden is quick to qualify his stance with the assurance that, unlike his opponent, he would never attempt to “impose” it upon others.
“But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and—I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.” Furthermore, Biden adds, “I do not believe that—that we have a right to tell other people,” particularly women, that “they—they can’t control their body.”
In an age when moral inconsistency is the rule of the day, it takes some doing to distinguish oneself as the moral idiot par excellence. Yet this is just what Biden succeeded in doing here.
Biden claims that he agrees with the Church’s judgment that a human life comes into existence at conception. And he claims to agree with it that abortion is an evil. But the Church judges abortion as an evil simply and solely because it consists in the unjustified destruction of that innocent life that began at conception.
Abortion, that is, is evil for the same reason that it is immoral to unjustifiably destroy any human being—regardless of whether he is in the womb or outside of it.
In other words, if Biden is sincere about agreeing with the teaching of his Church on abortion, then he has just as much an obligation to do what he can to prevent the destruction of unborn human beings as he has an obligation to prevent the destruction of those human beings who have already been born.
However, Biden maintains that he hasn’t “the right” to proscribe women from pursuing an abortion. This, evidently, means that he holds that it is immoral for him or any other champion of the sanctity of human life to “impose” their belief upon others.
This is a most peculiar line of reasoning—especially as it is coming from a man who just finished informing a national audience that his “religion defines who I am.” What in your faith, we may ask Vice President Biden, which teaching of the Church, prevents you from “imposing” this view of yours on abortion upon others?
Biden says that it is his faith—“Catholic social doctrine” specifically—that motivates him to care for those “who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.” It is on the basis of this religious belief of his that he supports a robust welfare state. Democratic politicians from John Kerry to Barack Obama, Charley Rangel to Andrew Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi to, now, Joe Biden, routinely seek to justify their leviathan of redistributionist policies in terms of Christianity’s teachings on helping the poor.
That is, Biden certainly has no reservations about “imposing” this view of his upon those who either reject Catholic teaching in this respect or Biden’s interpretation of it.
To put this in perspective, Biden, for some reason that remains unclear, thinks that it is wrong—a violation his faith?—to “impose” upon those who don’t share it his belief that abortion is unwarranted homicide, yet he does not think it is wrong for him to coerce his fellow Americans to part with their hard earned resources in order that others may take possession of them.
So, it is ok for Biden to impose some of his religious beliefs, but not others—or at least not his belief that abortion is immoral.
We are left with one of two possible answers to this question. The one possibility is that there is some Catholic doctrine or other that requires Catholics and Catholic politicians to put up zero resistance to abortion in public life. The other possibility is that Joe Biden is full of the very same “malarkey” of which he accused Paul Ryan of being full.
As a practicing Catholic myself, my money is on the latter option.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.
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