FAITH MATTERS: Trivializing evil is a GOP mistake

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By Uwe Siemon-Netto

It is disconcerting that probably the most compelling statement made in this year’s disagreeable U.S. election campaign has received virtually no public attention.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois warned Catholic voters of planks in the Democratic Party Platform “that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils.” He meant abortion and same-sex marriage.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki from Springfield, Illinois.

Bishop Paprocki went on, “[A] vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your soul in serious jeopardy.”

This reference to the intrinsic and thus genuine nature of these evils should be a terrifying warning to every Christian and all people affirming the universal moral code called natural law. It should give pause to Republican strategists and conservative pundits who decided that in this year’s race economic issues trump everything, including the paramount concern over the sanctity of life.

It should pipe down the brash Ann Coulter who in a Fox talk show called Rep. Todd Aiken a “swine” because of his refusal to resign his candidacy for the Senate after breaking a 2012 GOP taboo with a clumsy statement; the taboo was abortion, a topic not to be mentioned lest even the last single woman vote for Barack Obama on Nov. 6.

The moral flaw of the stereotypical dictum that the economy supersedes the destruction of 55 million unborn babies since Roe v. Wade in 1973 becomes even clearer when I use an analogy which I know will get me into trouble: the reasoning of these GOP strategists reminds me of Germans who said after World War II: “Well, it was of course wrong of Hitler to kill all those Jews, gypsies and handicapped, but he did do good things, too, didn’t he? He was good for the German economy. He built autobahns and created jobs.”

To be clear: I am not questioning the importance of the state of the economy in this campaign, but to deem it more important than the mindless daily slaughter of the innocent is tantamount to making light of an ongoing genocide.

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines the adjective, “intrinsic,” as “belonging to the real nature of a thing, not dependent on external circumstances.” Something intrinsically evil will not go away when you attempt to camouflage it with verbal dishonesty. The otherwise laudable Wall Street Journal, the commentators on Fox News, and assorted GOP spokesmen with the notable exception of the brave Sen. Rick Santorum and New Gingrich are consistently trivializing abortion as a “social issue.”

In my old-fashioned understanding, social issues, are the conundrums of whether you wear a dinner jacket or tails to a ball, or whether a worker is given two, three or four weeks of annual vacation.

Abortion is something wholly other. In his book, Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis and admired by many American liberals, wrote this about abortion: “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

I am not a U.S. citizen and must therefore refrain from opining publicly on political issues of another nation, except when it involves intrinsic evils because these transcend national borders; they must be by definition everybody’s concern, as were the intrinsic evils of the Nazi and Communist regimes. That said, even common sense should tell us how unwise it is to sideline, for the sake of short-lived electoral gain, the annual slaughter of 1.2 million unborn or to elevate deviate sexual behavior to the level of matrimony.

If I read this year’s polls correctly, the Republicans are having problems with Latino voters, even though this predominantly Catholic or evangelical segment of the population holds moral values identical to those of white conservatives. Whether these conservatives have treated Hispanic immigrants wisely and well should be the topic of another story. But to tell a family-oriented people that the nation’s paramount ethical issue is of secondary importance amounts to inviting these voters to join the other side: What qualitative difference is there between affirming the culture of death and remaining indifferent to it? The Republican campaign appears to confront the immorality inherent in the Democratic Platform with an amoral strategy; I fail to see any blessing in this.

Then there is the matter of the unwed women against whom the GOP is alleged to conduct a “war.” If the GOP had any guts it would challenge the ditsy mindset that seems to be prevalent among these females. I would ask them: “Do you really wish to define yourselves as women by your ‘right’ to kill your children? Don’t you recognize the frightening light the ‘war on women’ rhetoric sheds on all of you? Are you sure you want to take part in a war on babies?”

Punchy questions like these might not persuade the most stubborn devotees of the culture of death but perhaps shock enough unmarried women into enough sense of ethical reality to give Mitt Romney the percentage points he needs to be elected. However, this would presuppose of Republican candidates and strategists that they possess a quality Dietrich Bonhoeffer called civil courage.

Frankly, I don’t see it, and hence I fear that, to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, a “great masquerade of evil” will go on playing “havoc with all our ethical concepts.” Let nobody later say he didn’t know.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield has just warned us in the starkest possible terms when he spoke of intrinsic evils.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 55 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Capistrano Beach, California.