Politics & Policy

Kaine’s Abortion Dodge

(Reuters photo: Rick Wilking)
As it turns out, there are pro-lifers who are not Catholic.

Did you know that the study of cuteness is a legitimate and rather busy field of academic inquiry? It is not as trivial as it sounds.

The features that constitute cuteness, and the response of human beings to them, are nearly universal. Cuteness is partly related to infantile physical features — babies are cute for the same reason that puppies are cute — and is heightened or triggered by certain contexts, such as helplessness or distress. That is why the baby with the bowl of spaghetti upturned on her head is cuter than babies in other contexts, and why sad and penitent-looking puppies are cuter than puppies that are ripping the stuffing out of something living like the natural carnivores they are.

Cuteness brings out our protective paternal and maternal instincts, in light of which fact the cult of kawaii in aging, childless, sterile Japan is less evidence of pop-cultural eccentricity than it is the bright and cheerful wrapping paper around a parcel of profound and mortal sadness, a self-bought birthday present for a nation of cat-ladies.

We feel protective toward that which is cute, and those who study evolution believe that this serves an obvious adaptive purpose: that we, as families and as a species, are better off when adults are instinctively protective of the young, the tiny, and the vulnerable. This is so deeply ingrained in us that we do not need to be taught it. The Apostle Paul had not heard of DNA or natural selection, but perhaps he had it about right when he wrote of those who had not been instructed in religious law who nonetheless were bound by “the law written in their hearts.”

(Or thereabouts.)

Tim Kaine apparently is blissfully unaware of the fact, but it is a long part of the Christian tradition, and especially prominent in the Catholic tradition, that the basic facts of the universe — physical and moral — can be discerned through the light of human reason, independent of religious revelation. In his famous notes on the Bible, the American Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes expands on Paul’s language:

The revealed Law of God was written on tables of stone, and then recorded in the books of the Old Testament. This law the Gentiles did not possess, but, to a certain extent, the same requirements were written on their hearts. Though not revealed to them as to the Jews, yet they had obtained the knowledge of them by the light of nature. The word “hearts” here denotes the mind itself, as it does also frequently in the Sacred Scriptures; not the heart, as the seat of the affections. It does not mean that they loved or even approved of the Law, but that they had knowledge of it; and that that knowledge was deeply engraved on their minds.

The idea was an ancient one by the time Paul got around to writing his letters, and it is by no means a uniquely Christian concept (Marcus Aurelius understood it well) or a European one (as the thought of Siddhārtha Gautama shows). It is not even the exclusive property of the religious and the spiritual: The famously atheist Ayn Rand argued throughout the entirety of her tedious oeuvre that morality is not merely a question of opinion but a discoverable facet of the reality in which we live.

RELATED: Is Tim Kaine a ‘Devout Catholic’?

Intellectually, Tim Kaine’s argument about abortion is incoherent and indefensible; it is, in fact, illiterate. He argues that while his own Catholic devotion points him in a pro-life direction, the fact that we are a pluralistic society with a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom precludes him from supporting initiatives that would enshrine certain Catholic preferences in law. That did not stop him from campaigning against capital punishment and from using his gubernatorial powers to that end (the Catholic position on the death penalty is not absolute and, given the history of the church, hardly could be; its prohibition of abortion is absolute) any more than the First Amendment has stopped any cookie-cutter progressive with an Italian or Irish surname from citing the example of Jesus when arguing for this or that social-welfare program. (Never mind, for the moment, that this misconstrues that example.) Back in the ancient days when he was running for president, Barack Obama cited his faith in explaining his opposition to homosexual marriage.

But it is not the hypocrisy that rankles so much as the stupidity: There are millions, perhaps billions, of people on this planet who oppose abortion who are not Catholics, who are not bound by Catholic practice, who are not informed by Catholic teaching. There are pro-life Jews, Protestants, Mormons, Muslims (though those who denounce the so-called Religious Right as the “Christian Taliban” would do well to appreciate how liberal sharia actually is on the question of abortion), Hindus, pagans, agnostics, atheists, chiropractors, witch-doctors, and people who believe in horoscopes. My friend and colleague Charles C. W. Cooke is a pro-life non-believer.

RELATED: What Tim Kaine Learned on His Mission Trip to Honduras: Liberation Theology?

I very much doubt that I am the only person in the world who is Catholic in part because he is pro-life, and not the other way around. My religious views have changed over time, but my opposition to abortion never has. One of the things that drew me to the Catholic Church years ago was the mystery of how that particular corporation, practically alone among the important institutions of the world, fully appreciated the inhumane violence of abortion, understood the ways in which that violence echoes far outside of the local Planned Parenthood abattoir, and placed that knowledge at the center of its public affairs.

Kaine’s understanding of the teaching of the church to which he purportedly belongs is, properly understood, not religious but superstitious. The Catholic view is not that a thing is true because the church teaches it, but that the church teaches it because it is true. The difference is profound: It is the difference between something being “true for Catholics” and true.

Emotionally normal and mentally stable human beings do not need to be taught that butchering babies is wrong at all. We naturally recoil from it.

Tim Kaine has it exactly backward: It may be that one needs to be pro-life to be a Catholic — perhaps the Most Reverend Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, bishop of Richmond, has some thoughts on the matter he’d like to share with the congregation entrusted to his care — but it is indisputable that one need not be Catholic to oppose the horrifying brutality of abortion. We do not need to be taught this in Sunday school: Emotionally normal and mentally stable human beings do not need to be taught that butchering babies is wrong at all. We naturally recoil from it.

That people understand this instinctively is why abortion advocates in places such as Colorado have — First Amendment be damned — prohibited abortion protesters from displaying images that simply make clear what it is that an abortion does. The evil of abortion does not need to be explained to a functional adult any more than does the cuteness of a baby. Kaine’s silly and illiterate arguments notwithstanding, it is the pro-abortion side that has retreated into convenient metaphysics — the nonsensical issue of “personhood” — while the pro-life side is content to deal with the biological facts of life, i.e., that what is present in the womb of a pregnant woman is not a rutabaga or a catfish.

#related#On the subject of abortion, Tim Kaine is a mess intellectually and a coward morally. That some people find his argument persuasive is only another sign of how attenuated we have become, nationally, in our facility for reasoned argument. The facts of abortion are the facts of abortion, irrespective of what any pope, president, governor, senator, or mere justice of the Supreme Court says.

Being a Catholic is one reason to oppose abortion. Being a human being is another. Tim Kaine, a cheap and shallow sophist, isn’t a particularly inspiring example of either.


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