Saturday, January 26, 2013

Can You Be "Pro-Life" Without Being "Pro-Culture Wars?"

I really like what Cathleen Kaveny, a pro-life professor of theology and law at Notre Dame, has to say in this interview at Religion & Politics.  I hope I get a chance to read her Law's Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society.

Here is a taste of the interview that is pertinent to the title of this post:

R&P: You write eloquently in this book about your position being one that is “pro-life without being pro-culture wars.” Describe what you mean. 

CK: My basic commitment is to the dignity and value of all human beings, and I include the unborn and the dying in those categories. I would like to see a legal framework that honors that. At the same time, I think the way our disputes over abortion and even euthanasia (though it’s a somewhat different debate) have gone undermines our attention to what we have in common together as a nation, what we do agree on; and interferes with our ability to discuss complicated issues of law and public policy. Some of these questions are really, really hard questions. Abortion is a really hard question, even if you do see the unborn as having equal value, because unborn life is really physically dependent upon a woman and puts a physical burden on her, and that’s a really unique situation. So we have a lot of issues we need to talk about, and a culture war mentality doesn’t let us talk about those hard questions in ways that say, well, you know I can see your point even if I don’t come down in the same place. So I guess that’s really what I wanted to say. 

R&P: Can you see those kinds of conversations taking place behind the scenes? Classrooms, for instance, or smaller conference venues where the cameras aren’t watching? 

CK: I think they do. I think that E.J. Dionne had a really good comment on that  a few years ago. Basically, he was saying that most of the volume on these hot-button issues are taken up by (say) 10 percent of the population clearly on the one side and 10 percent clearly on the other. In my view, opposing activists tend to feed off each other and leave no room for honest, nuanced, and even anguished conversations that we need to have. He was saying that the culture wars run through most people—because they have very ambivalent feelings about these issues. I’d like to reclaim the public space for the discussions we need to have. In a sad way, the activists on both sides feed off each others’ energy and they almost honor each other more than the people who are raising questions on each side because they validate each others’ view that this is a clear issue with a clear resolution, even in a pluralistic society; and anyone who expresses any doubt or question is immediately shut down. And I think the media does feed this, at least the form of media we’ve got now. You know, you’re booking someone for a show so you get one person clearly on the one side and one clearly on the other, and you’re looking for a fight. It’s turning political discussion into wrestling or something, and it’s wrong.