Wednesday, March 3, 2010
What's Wrong with the "Seamless Garment" Theology
This subject is very dear to my heart, because I am often caught in the confusion that results when one's thinking is not crystal clear in this area. And it is so easy to become full of doubts about one's beliefs when accused of being a "single-issue" person, or of being someone who makes others feels uncomfortable, or when told not to talk about certain things because it will cause disunity. Since all of those accusations have been levelled at me over the past year, I found this article by Archbishop Raymond Burke absolutely affirming.
The article is long, but well worth the read. I have lifted a few paragraphs that I found particularly enlightening.
Archbishop Raymond Burke is the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the "supreme court" of the Catholic Church) and the article is Reflections on the Struggle to Advance the Culture of Life
For Christians, the acceptance of others who are not of the Christian faith is not a matter of tolerance, but of love which adheres to the truths of the faith while respecting the beliefs of those who are not Christian, as long as those beliefs are coherent with the natural moral law, that is, coherent with the respect for the "inalienable rights" with which God has endowed every man. Christian love does not have its foundation in blind tolerance of others and of what they think and say and do, but rather in the profound knowledge of others and their beliefs, and the honest acknowledgment of differences of belief, especially in what may compromise the life of the nation.
The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered conjugal act retains its integrity... The so-called "contraceptive mentality" is essentially anti-life.
Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and even destructive of individuals and of society itself.
Regarding the faith and political life, there has developed in our nation the false notion that the Christian or any person of faith, in order to be a true American citizen, must bracket his faith life from his political life. According to such a notion, one ends up with Christians, for example, who claim personally to be faithful members of the Church and, therefore, to hold to the demands of the natural moral law, while they sustain and support the right to violate the moral law in its most fundamental tenets...It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself politically in this manner.
Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development.... Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development.
When those who profess to be Christian, at the same time, favor and promote policies and laws which permit the destruction of innocent and defenseless human life, and which violate the integrity of marriage and the family, then citizens, in general, are confused and led into error about the basic tenets of the moral law.
Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin (Lk 17:1-2)
It is clear that Our Lord taught as a primary responsibility, with the gravest of consequences, the avoidance of scandal, namely, of any act or failure to act which could lead another into sin. Our Lord's words are nothing less than vehement.
To ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, for example, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation. The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law (Code of Canon Law, cann. 915; and 1184, § 1, 3º).
Pope Benedict on "human ecology":
If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other (Caritas in veritate, no. 51).
One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church...What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society. Lying or failing to tell the truth, however, is never a sign of charity. A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church's unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life. Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.
At the root of the confusion regarding the moral law is a form of distorted moral reasoning called proportionalism or consequentialism. The Servant of God Pope John Paul II addressed the error of proportionalist moral thinking in his Encyclical Letter Splendor veritatis. At root, the error places all moral issues on the same level, failing to distinguish between intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts which are always and everywhere wrong, and acts which may or may not be wrong, depending on the objective conditions required for the act to be morally right. It is also given to the confusion of ends and means, judging the goodness of an act by the end it achieves, without reference to the immorality of the means used to achieve the end.
According to the proportionalist way of thinking, procured abortion, which is always and everywhere wrong, is placed on the same plane with acts of war which may or may not be wrong...According to the proportionalist way of thinking, each of us has the right to choose what are the most important moral issues. Ultimately, it lacks any relationship to the objective truth of actions. It fails to realize that unless the fundamental moral goods are safeguarded, that is, human life and the sanctuary of marriage, other moral issues, while having an importance, lose their ultimate meaning. In such a way of thinking, for instance, one can accept a program of universal health care, even if it includes the compulsory provision of abortion and the rationing of health care to the benefit of those considered to be "productive," while providing for the hastening of death for the aged, the weak and those with special needs, that is, for those considered to be "unproductive," according to the reasoning of whoever has political power.
Whatever the good intention of using the image of a seamless garment to talk about the moral issues regarding human life, it has become identified with the proportionalist way of thinking in which, for example, acts of war, the use of the death penalty, procured abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia are viewed as matters of equal moral weight. In other words, the image covers over the distinction between intrinsically evil acts and acts which are not evil in themselves but can become evil, if unjustly taken. The moral questions pertaining to the safeguarding and fostering of human life are all related to one another but they are not of the same weight. To use the image of the garment, they are not all of the same cloth. The use of the metaphor of the seamless garment, while it may have been intended to promote the culture of life, has, in fact, been used to justify the acceptance of acts essentially contrary to a culture of life for the sake of attaining some seeming good. Whatever good intention those who have developed the "seamless garment" argument may have had, it falsely places intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts which are always and everywhere morally wrong, on the same plane with acts which, according to prudent judgment, may not sufficiently safeguard human life.
Sometimes, we hear that we as Christians or as apostles of the Gospel of Life must be careful to get along in society, not to separate ourselves or to appear to be counter-cultural. One wonders how such language squares with the essence of the Gospel, that is, to be "a sign of contradiction" (cf. Lk 2:34). At the same time, one cannot help but think of what Christians getting along and being politically correct has meant in other nations whose leaders had embraced an agenda of death and the totalitarianism which advanced it.
When insistence on the elimination of legalized abortion in our nation is dismissed as a kind of "single-issue" approach, as the obsession of the "religious right," which fails to take account of a whole gamut of moral issues, then we have lost the sense of the horror of destroying a human life in the womb. In a similar way, when the denial of nutrition and hydration to the gravely ill is seen as a "single issue," then we have lost a sense of the horror of failing to give basic care to a brother or sister who has grown weak for whatever reason. It is not a question of a single issue but of what is fundamental to life itself and to society.