The fact that his article has received some incredibly stupid responses, as provocative articles sometimes will, does not establish that Oderberg’s basic argument is sound. I think it is not, nor are some of the frills on top of it.
Oderberg contrasts the moral views of the late Pope John Paul II with those of our current president. Where the two agree, as on abortion, Oderberg agrees with both of them. Where they disagree, as on war and capital punishment, Oderberg believes Bush’s views to be more “traditional” and “defensible” than the pope’s.
First of all–and I don’t see how anyone could really deny this point–the fact that a particular moral view is “traditional” cannot establish its rightness, even if one judges the tradition of which a view is a part to be generally sound (and even if one therefore gives a particular traditional view a respectful hearing because it is part of that generally sound tradition). Oderberg’s references to Aquinas tend to establish that there has been a development of Catholic doctrine on the death penalty, but they don’t go anywhere in telling us whether earlier or later views were more defensible.
Second: What the heck does Oderberg mean by this? “Indeed it is somewhat amazing that John Paul seems to have remained so unmoved by the unrelenting violence, sexual decadence, and drug-fuelled vice of modern materialist society (the very society he chastised over and over for its naked greed) as never once to have advocated executing some of the criminals who make contemporary life such a misery for so many people” (emphasis his). Are we to picture JPII saying, “Let me–just this once–say, I really think this guy needs to be fried?” And to regret that it did not happen? And who is Oderberg suggesting that the pope should have come out for executing? Rapists? Drug dealers? Sellers of pornography? The passage sweeps pretty broadly. It’s a weird and troubling view of things that imagines that you haven’t been truly “moved” by negative social trends until you’ve been moved to kill people over them.