Jonah Goldberg
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Apparently, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are both theocrats willing, nay eager, to use state power to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

In last week's vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the two Roman Catholic politicians "to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion."

"I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith," confessed Ryan. "Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life." But he went on to make it clear that his views on abortion are based as much on "reason and science" as they are on his Catholicism.

Then it was Biden's turn. He stopped laughing long enough to explain: "My religion defines who I am, and I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. ... [Catholicism] has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who -- who can't take care of themselves."

Biden says he personally accepts his church's "de fide doctrine" that "life begins at conception ... I accept that in my personal life." But he refuses to impose it on others who don't share his faith. Unfortunately, given his pious bravado, Biden badly garbled church teaching: Catholic opposition to abortion isn't in fact theological dogma (de fide) but a scientific and moral conclusion, much as Ryan suggested.

Reaction to the exchange has been predictable. Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker, for instance, was outraged -- at Ryan. To say that faith informs everything you do is "disturbing and scary," Gopnik insisted. "That's a shocking answer -- a mullah's answer, what those scary Iranian 'Ayatollahs' he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well."

By that standard, Gopnik must consider the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln mullah-like too.

And Biden. Biden freely admits that his faith informs his "social doctrine." And social doctrine is a euphemism for political worldview. It's just that on abortion, his liberalism is more important.

Indeed, this has been the standard liberal Catholic Democrat argument ever since Mario Cuomo's 1984 address at the University of Notre Dame. Cuomo argued that one could support the church's abortion position personally while refusing to impose it on others. Cuomo's argument impressed secular liberals but not the church itself.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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