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On War and Abortion: A French Emigrant's View

From where I stand, I see a line being drawn in the sand, with the war in Iraq on one side and abortion on the other. Each side offers a cohesive worldview, but with one large, blind spot.

Republicans and  Democrats


(This article was sent to us unsolicited by a reader. It expresses a view that we believe deserves a hearing, a view shared by many Catholics but which, unfortunately, has no place in the current political debate - The Editors).

As a French emigrant, settled in California for thirty years, I am often puzzled by the subtleties of the American political system, with its primaries and conventions, and I am recently saddened by the increasingly bitter political fight between the Democrats and the Republicans.

But even more than my French background, it's my Catholicism (I'm a returning Catholic) that defines me, and gives me a unique perspective from which to add my voice to the clamor surrounding this year's election. My voice is that of an assenting Catholic—sometimes to my own surprise.

War and abortion are different faces of evil.
From where I stand, I see something unfolding and I wonder what God wants us to do with it, and why it's happening now... I see a bottom line being drawn in the sand, with the war in Iraq on one side and abortion on the other. Each side is appalled at what they see tolerated by the other sidethe one thing they abhor. Each side offers a cohesive worldview, but with one large, blind spot. And in the end, we will all suffer, unless we are able to take the beam out of our own eyes first.

One camp (the Democratic worldview) holds the war in Iraq to be wrong. They feel deep sorrow for every report of casualties; they cringe inside at the very thought of all the troubles and sufferings in Iraq. They want peace here and abroad, and Bush is held accountable for going into Iraq (against the Pope's wish and against the wish of many Western countries). The Democratic camp fears: "What else is he going to get us into?"

As soon as they hear this, I can see the eyes of my Republican friends going blank. Each death in Iraq does not resonate with them, because they see the whole affair as something very unpleasant and difficult, but something that had to be done. They've hardened themselves against any mention of the gruesomeness of war. Their goal is also peace here and abroad, and they believe this war will help bring it closer.

Now the other camp (the Republican worldview) holds that life, every innocent life, is a gift from God and should be treasured; the 2,000 daily abortions in the US bring them great sorrow. They cringe at the thought of the sufferings for all involved—not only the little lives snuffed out, but also the mothers wounded and the fathers ignored. The Republican camp trusts that Bush shares their worldview on "life issues" and fears that Kerry has given so many wrong signals, that they ask, "What else is he going to get us into?"

Pro-lifers need to promote life with one hand and always offer forgiveness and understanding with the other hand.
As soon as I start talking about the "life issue," the eyes of my Democratic friends start going blank. It doesn't resonate with them; they think that, of course, "life" in general is precious, but people can define it for themselves. My Democratic friends don't cringe at the mention of the sufferings and troubles involved in abortion, because it's off their radar. Abortion is something they will not do themselvesit's unpleasant and wrong. But in their favoring of individual freedom, they have hardened their hearts against the gruesomeness of abortion.

Grosso modo, that's how I see the two camps—who have more similarities than they realize. More importantly, they are both American, they are all of us.

Instead of entrenching ourselves deeper into opposing sides and blaming the other one for every wrong, I wonder if our faith could be the agent that promotes bridge building and better understanding. I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus meant when He told us (repeatedly) to love one another. Each side of the political divide needs to pray for discernment, for insight beyond their own limited view, and for God's mercy.

War and abortion are"in themselves and of themselves"—different faces of evil. Pray to see the evil which is not obvious to you. And then actively listen rather than dismissing the others as crazed and heartless. We still have six weeks to go, a short window of opportunity to stop looking only at what's in our neighbor's eye, and examine the beam in our own.

I often test my theories on my friends: to pro-lifers, I say they need to articulate their case for life with joy and patience, humility and compassionwith the acknowledgement that the stand they take can scare people off. Pro-lifers need to promote life with one hand and always offer forgiveness and understanding with the other hand. One of the major temptations of pro-lifers is self-righteousness—which has never converted anyone to anything. Try to have compassion for those whom the life issues are not clear. A key question for the pro-life side to ponder is: "Would you rather have abortions made illegal tomorrow with abortions going underground, or stay legal but have the numbers dropped by half right now?"

A key question for my pro-peace friends to ponder is: “Do you really want peace in Iraq or would you rather just have Bush out of the office?
To my pro-peace friends, I say that they need to examine their hatred of George Bush and their knee-jerk reaction against what they label the Christian Right and traditional Catholics. They need to acknowledge that their scream for peace seems to be addressed only to certain groups (Iraqis or minorities), while they appear dismissive and full of contempt toward their own American neighborif that person holds more traditional values. They need to meditate on the fact that abortion is war on the next generation. One of their temptations is also self-righteousness, always asking others to change, but not considering changing themselves. A key question to ponder for them is: "Do you really want peace in Iraq or would you rather just have Bush out of office?

Surprisingly, I still have many friends—which has more to do with the Grace of God than with my own qualities...

This is such an amazing country that I hate to see it so divided. It's the place where I experienced my return to the faithin San Francisco, of all places! I am so grateful for everything that has brought me here and now, I actually see this corner of the earth as a terrific place to be Catholic, and this moment as a very exciting time to exercise my faith. (I take the word "abundantly" literally).

Although every election is important, I don't have to vote today. But what I elect to do today is decisive for my salvation. It's a test! To grow in love and compassion, to draw serenity from faith, trust from the wisdom of the Church and hope in the mercy of God. I offer this reflection as a call to restrain, an effort toward unity, so we can all work toward the common good—which, in my own worldview, is a pro-life culture in a pro-peace nation.

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September 25, 2004

Michele Szekely, born in France and raised in the French Alps, writes from Northern California, where she has lived for 30 years. She has been in full communion with the Catholic Church for 6 years. You can contact her at micheleszek@truevine.net

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READER COMMENTS
12.03.04   spy1 says:
PS, the issue of what would happen if all Christians suddenly began to turn the other cheek is, I think, a complicated one, and hard to predict, especially if Jesus' other teachings were really followed...because all of this would throw our whole industrial-consumeristic complex into utter chaos, which would through politics into utter chaos, since it is based in large measure on economic greed, far as I can tell...so who knows. But I'll tell you this: St. Francis, the beggar, the one who gave up everything for Christ and kept nothing for himself, no money, nothing, went into the Middle East in a time of great hostility between Christians and Muslims, and the Muslim king or whatever whom Francis visited said that if all Christians were like Francis, there would be peace between Muslims and Christians. Maybe if all Christians were like Francis, all the Muslims who aren't terrorists would reign in the terrorists and by force of numbers (because most people are not terrorists!) or even social pressure, stop them. Because the terrorists are tolerated by the people around them to a certain extent. Well, it's interesting to think about, and challenging. The wild card is the utterly unreasonable hatred of Jews that, in my opinion, is the real source of Muslim terrorism, not U.S. arrogance. If we didn't help Israel, I don't think they'd care much about harming us.

12.03.04   spy1 says:
Fact of history: Christians' willingness to suffer persecution or die rather than give up their faith has often led to the conversion of unbelievers. It happened in the Roman Empire, and it happens today in countries like China, Sudan, etc. Not that we're glad to see anyone be killed for the faith, by no means. It's just a fact that the horrible killings of Christians often has led to conversions. Of course martyrdom is not about hating life or wanting to escape to heaven. It is about uncompromising faithfulness to Jesus Christ. True Christian faith holds human life in the highest esteem. That is the reason for loving one's enemy, rather than hating or injuring him or her--because even the life of the enemy has value. Here's the deal: There is something more important than preserving one's own life, and that is following Jesus Christ and being true to His teachings. Christians love being alive, but love Jesus more. No one should recklessly seek to be killed, of course...that would be a sin. I might add, the people who have the most effect on the world are those who see that some things are worth risking one's own comfort or even one's own life for. Primary example: Jesus himself.

11.29.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
"If all Christians turned the other cheek" to violence against them, it would be but a matter of months until all current haters of Christianity (regardless of ethnicity, religion, national origin, et cetera) succeeded in their 'holy war.'I guess a good indicator of one's faith is the willingness to submit to death for it. Martyrs-R-Us. (He writeth with tongue planted firmly in cheek) Sounds too much like that faith which holds human life in low esteem!If this is what people believe Christianity to believe("Thou shall not murder" mmm, killing must be allowed in other circumstances...) then Christianity is a fraud. It is a religion of martyrs, victims willing to die because (fill in your comfortable phrase), "life is painful," "life is not worth living," "by dying I get to Heaven quicker," "because Jesus willingly died so why not us?" Come on, now, do you really think that death is to be preferred to life and that turning the other cheek would lead to conversion of the unbelievers???!!!Jonathan

11.25.04   spy1 says:
Perhaps if all Christians turned the other cheek, the whole world would be won over to Christ.

11.09.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
I agree with Rick. In abortion, there is no choice for the abortee. Usually in combat there is a choice. Does this issue hinge on Free Will? We choose to defend our political, cultural and religious interests. We choose to kill others before they (continue) killing us. I wonder what would happen if all Christians turned the other cheek and became martyrs for their faith.The world will be full of Islamic terrorists (the kind that seeks obedience and conversion from all infidels) and no one else. No parousia, no Jerusalem on a Hill.Maybe that's what Jesus really meant when he said, "...the meek shall inherit the earth," He meant "be buried in." Aramaic is such a slippery language!Jonathan

11.02.04   RickH says:
This is a fine article. I truly applaud the thoughtfulness. I have only one dissenting comment. I believe the equating of abortion and killing in war is flawed in one important aspect. A distinction must be made in the case of war as to whether it can justifiably be said to be in self-defense or not. Most people would agree that killing in self-defense (though it may be a result of evil) is not, in itself, evil. Likewise, if a war is clearly an act of societal self defense, even if innocent people are killed, can not be said to be evil. For instance, is it evil to shoot a terrorist who is going to blow up a day care center?Therefore to equate all war with abortion is as incorrect as to consider abortion to save the life of the mother the same as first degree murder.So the real argument is whether for intance the war in Iraq is a war of self defense or not. I happen to believe that it is, but I realize that I may be wrong, and I also realize that President Bush should rightly be judged on this point. Today is the day that the American people will do just that.

10.11.04   spy1 says:
There are many important issues, but killing human beings tops them all. All forms of killing are equally serious, but in many places no form of killing is so prevalent as abortion. Certainly this is true in the U.S. I think that makes it top priority. Not that we should ignore other things...etc etc : )

10.10.04   alexander caughey says:
I have always agreed with you on the matter of abortion. I abhor abortion and do my little bit to help to change the mindset. My point is clear. Violence manifests itself in a variety of forms, apart from abortion.To improve our society we must necessarily tackle all its ills and there are many just as serious as abortion. To repeat myself would add tedium to the list of other ills that I am imposing on our fellow readers who must by now be seeking relief in a bottle of good wine. Kali orexi.

10.09.04   spy1 says:
I would not say that all our troubles come from abortion. In fact, abortion is a symptom of deeper troubles. But the widespread acceptance of abortion marked a leap in brutality for our culture. Many subsequent problems do come from that brutal mindset, and because of that, we can't heal the whole unless and until that part is healed. That's my opinion anyway.I may have been overly pessimistic when I said it's unlikely solutions to poverty will come from people who accept abortion. But I think it's no accident that most Westerners think that solving poverty must include access to abortion and the use of artificial birth control. Our policies towards the third world have consistently boiled down to this: there are too many of you. In many cases, food aid has actually been tied to family planning quotas and the like. In my opinion, we prefer to oppress the unborn rather than to see that our social structures are inhospitable to children and their parents, and to change that. I'll bet we agree on that! Good back and forth on this issue!

10.09.04   alexander caughey says:
When each of us attempts to heal our own being, we are contributing something of our worthwhile self for the good of our society. In healing ourself we are then more able to cope with the very real pressures of living in a society racked with political polarisation and pain facing us on every corner.Death finds its way into our lives dressed under different guises, yet it is death lurking in places where most of us fear to tread, that should also be attracting our attention. It is the poverty that faces us when we dare to enter the poverty stricken areas of the USA. To think that a Calcutta based sisterhood is also ministering to the poor in the richest country in the world. To think and to ignore all that is wrong, when focusing on one highly emotive issue, might suggest that all our troubles arise from abortion.

10.09.04   spy1 says:
Thing is, a nation which kills its own children in the womb will only grow more immoral, cold, and brutal, and this is precisely what is occurring. My personal opinion is that nothing will be right until we end this crime against the unborn. With so many families affected by abortion, and with complicity or silence among most of those who don't abort, abortion affects every one of us, just as slavery affected everyone in the country. If nothing else, it degrades the entire culture, which we all have to live in. If you want to know why our culture has gone from Leave it to Beaver to CSI, you don't have to look any farther than the local abortion clinic. A lack of respect for the most vulnerable of human beings leads OF NECESSITY to increasing lack of respect for everyone. So I myself doubt that any humane and effective solutions to poverty and the like will emerge from people who kill their own young. Possible, but not likely.

10.03.04   alexander caughey says:
Your comments on abortion and war are noted, for in the US Catholic media we are subject to over-kill, to the point where for many Catholics, the constant focus on these two issues, is creating an atmosphere of blasé indifference. There are other issues facing our daily struggle, which are closer to home for those of us who do not abort our children and are not engaged in fighting wars. I do my bit for supporting peace and to enlighten people on the evils of all forms of violence, but there is a real need to broaden the debate to include many other issues of equal importance to the common man and woman. Happily, this website understands, 'tis pity that the more privileged end of our Catholic media have yet to wake up to this reality.

10.03.04   spy1 says:
Factual note: there are more like 3,500 to 4,000 abortions every day in this country. Total per year is about 1.3 million. I agree that both parties have a big blind spot, but, I'm sorry, the blind spot about abortion is bigger. Abortion is worse than war because it ALWAYS intentionally targets an innocent human being. This is a moral distinction that is often ignored. Also, many more lives are being lost today from abortion than from war. Global abortion stats are incredible, it's just sickening to think of that many millions of human beings being killed and thrown away like they're nothing, and the fact that they're tiny only makes it more appalling, not less. That's not to say war is ok. It is also abhorrent. But one should notice that, at least in the West, the general idea in war is to try not to kill the innocent. I still think war is an evil, but I think abortion is more evil because, again, it always targets innocent life. Abortion is the most unjust war there can be.

09.28.04   alexander caughey says:
I have learnt to think for myself and despite the best attempts by many United States Catholic bishops to intervene in politics with a view to one candidate and not the other, common sense has finally overcome an attempt to take us back to the distant past, when the clergy dictated how the laity should think and act. The behaviour of so many of our clergy, now so clear for all to view, is perhaps good reason to rely on our own carefully thought out views on how we should live our own life. Certainly, the thought that I should vote according to the views of our privileged elite, found at home in their cosy routine of dictating how we should find the Kingdom of Heaven by voting for those who appear not to support abortion and yet support capital punishment, strikes me as rather hypocritical. As our previous subscriber has so eloquently reminded us, the fault for American society being presented with two mediocre presidential candidates, lies with the voter, for his/her failure to recognise that real change can only occur when society has faced up to its responsibility to support policies that will change the way people relate too and treat each other. Relying on an elitist media, dedicated to one party or another, will only serve to benefit the whims of the powerful, who abuse their privileged positions by failing to recognise that society's needs can only be addressed by those whose agenda is that of the needs and dreams of the people and not of the lobbyist and its self focused interest of serving itself and not the wider public.

09.28.04   solablueangel says:
Thank-you for an excellent article. This was an interesting essay to me personally, for one major reason. I've agreed with such sentiment for a long, long time. As an American I am very disappointed in what has 'become' of our political system, and our political parties in particular. It is my belief that this strange predicament is not by some quaint accident of the tendencies of human nature naturally transferred to the human political arena, no, it is instead, I think, the DIRECT result of MASS MEDIA influence. The mass media is controlled by elitists in order to control the masses, to diminish their power, and to also squelch their faith, hope, and charity. The controversies and CHOICES that the MASS MEDIA and ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRIES present to us reflect the intent of the POLITICAL elitists to pit us against one another politically. This has proved a successful method to neutralize the effectiveness of common sense life ethics. These parties are meant to 'dis-unifiy' us on particular issues, to narrow down our political choices in a way that each party encompasses strictly a narrow view, rather than a broad common sense view. It is common sense which is "not" encouraged, the kind of common sense which can be found in the respect for all life, as is found in the "seamless garment" philosophy. Even the Catholic Bishop's have proclaimed the Seamless Garment philosophy, but the political press conveniently ignores this loving and egalitarian viewpoint. I blame the media and also those who control the political parties for putting us in this narrow predicament, where we can no longer vote for common sense, but must choose instead one of two lesser evils or one of two greater goods, at the expense of something else which is just as important, really. The bottom line is the mass media is the spokesvoice for the elites, it does not speak for 'the people', therefore it does not speak for 'common sense' and respect for ALL LIFE. It's goal is to separate us into parties, plain and simple. Not to separate us into pro-life and pro-choice, pro-war and anti-war, those choices are only DIVISIVE "tools" to perpetuate the parties' existence, to keep the politicians electable. It is a sad and tragic state of affairs that no party is the seamless garment party, but believe me, it is no accident; it is a premeditated state of affairs to keep the voice of the REAL PEOPLE silenced and DIVIDED.SolaBlueAngel

09.28.04   Kunegunda says:
There have been many good points made in this forum regarding issues to consider while voting. Of course, health care and other matters are important.But, if Catholics are to consider seriously the instructions of the Church's Magisterium, there are but five non-negotiable issues. These actions are always morally wrong and should never be accepted by our laws. "It is a serious sin to endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who realy wants to advance the common good will support any of the five non-negotiables." (Voters Guide for Serious Catholics", Catholic Answers 2004).They include: ABORTION, EUTHANASIA, FETAL STEM CELL RESEARCH, HUMAN CLONING, AND HOMSEXUAL "MARRIAGE".I will use these guidelines when I enter the polling booth. Need I say that the current president is in full agreement with the Catholic Church's teachings on these critical, non-negotiable issues. His opponent is the polar opposite. May God guide the American electorate. May the Holy Spirit inspire.Thank you. God bless.

09.26.04   alexander caughey says:
Just may be the issues for the coming election, are not abortion or Iraq but the more mundane fears and needs of Joe Public. That fervent Catholics appear to be firmly focused on a couple of issues, might suggest that their vision of life has been restricted by their own willingness to see that which is of some value to them. That the common man has a broader reach on living, might well indicate that either our committed Catholic voices, who command so much attention in the Catholic media, have found the trail leading to the Holy Grail or there is something radically wrong with the United States Catholic media, that it is unable or unwilling to spend more time on those issues that matter to the ordinary man and woman. European Catholic publications spend a lot more time covering a fuller range of matters of interest to the ordinary folk who cast their ballots in order to change their society for the better.Europe also knows terrorism and abortion but also recognises that these are but two of many important issues that form the equation that is society in being and growth. Perhaps American society needs less church going voters and more people conscious of their Christian duty to address all matters pertaining to the growth of a healthy society. Crime, health care, education, equal justice for all, need a lot more airing if we are to address the ills of a society lost in a fog of self interest groups, at odds with the needs of the total society.

09.25.04   Godspy says:
From where I stand, I see a line being drawn in the sand, with the war in Iraq on one side and abortion on the other. Each side offers a cohesive worldview, but with one large, blind spot.

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