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'Commonweal' in 'America'

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Cathleen Kaveny's article "Catholics as Citizens: Today's Ethical Challenges Call for New Moral Thinking" over at America, along with Lisa Fullam's response (other responses here).

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A couple of years ago, I published a paper called "Responding to Evil." In it, among other things, I drew on Karl Jaspers' concept of "political evils" as one often overlooked sort of moral evil. Political evils are moral evils the effects of which have become institutionalized in some community or society. Racial segregation in our society was one such evil, the effects of which are by no means all in the past. These are evils perpetrated by people in positions of authority or power that establish practices or policies that wrongly favor or disfavor some group or class of people. Members of favored groups that profit from such a legacy of injustice bear some responsibility for remedying these harms regardless of their own individual acts or their degree of acquiescence in these practices. They are morally obligated to somehow redress these evils that continue to benefit them.If we reflect about such institutionalized evils we'll see that they occur not only within the realm of politics but can also occur in other groups, e.g., religious congregations, professional associations, etc. For example, there can be discriminatory practices within lawyers' bar associations, or within church congregations. Given our history, we can rightly say that there are patterns of institutional evils in which many, if not most, of us are enmeshed that are so complicated that it is a practical impossibility either to disentangle one of these evils from all the others or to formulate a generally applicable program for addressing them. An example of such a tangle are the institutionalized evils that beset our social safety net and inflict such harm on so many poor people. I concluded that for any of us "acting effectively against some institutional evils ordinarily requires leaving some others unaddressed, at least for the time being. Furthermore, though some institutional evils are worse than others, there is no general formula for determining how any particular individual ought to attack these evils.We can only make prudential judgments about priorities. And prudential judgments are always subject to reasonable challenge."The applicability of all this to the recent national health care debate ought to be obvious.

The powers that be over at Mirror of Justice thought it wiser to close down the discussion of this topic over there rather than to let it continue in the direction it was headed. I haven't read all of the pieces in America yet, but I will definitely do so later today.

Cathleen, great questions. I look forward to Part II of the article, in which you provide all the answers :-)Your point about the intersection of individuals and larger movements/aggregated agency is interesting. During the Civil Rights struggles, some white people actively worked for racial justice, but of course many others declined to take part, even though doing so would not have represented a tremendous burden. (And of course all white people benefitted in some way from the unjust social structures of racial prejudice and segregation). Is it a sin of omission to decline to work for justice when the opportunity presents itself? (Or does the remote-material-cooperation calculus take over here?) If it is a sin of omission, does that same logic extend to pro-life justice?

I'll close this one down too if it gets ugly.

It is true that the Internet makes us average people better-informed and more well-connected. It also provides the opportunity for us to expand our spheres of influence. Posters and commenters here have the opportunity (risk?) of influencing however many people read our contributions. My act of voting is inarguably an individual act - I'm a drop in an ocean of voters. When I advocate for my favored candidates here, or slam the ones I don't like, I might be influencing a number of others people. I am exercising a sort of power and authority (in this case, whatever persuasive power is to be found in my comment) that can help to build, or tear down, God's kingdom.

Can a person, in good conscience, eat a Hershey bar? Can a person, in good conscience, vote for a politician who is not determined to stop the imporation of goods produced/harvested by children? http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/article_fe0505b4-55a2-5f8c-b28b-efb... that:"After a decade of negotiations with industry, Tulane University and Global Exchange reported in September that Hershey, Mars and other American chocolatemakers have made little progress toward promised reforms to address the worst forms of child labor in their cocoa supply chains."At least 2 million children currently are involved in the production of cocoa in Ghana and the Ivory Cost. Children as young as 5 work instead of attending school, and they handle dangerous agrochemicals, wield machetes to hack open cocoa pods and carry backbreaking loads. Even worse, there is evidence that children from Mali and Togo are trafficked into forced labor to work on the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast."

Jim,though you didn't ask me, let me say that the upshot of what I have tried to say is that often we can only take modest steps to rectify injustices and that there is always more left over for us, and others, to do. Hence most, if not all, of us are never finished with the work of rectifying some injustice from which we still derive some benefit. For example, as a white male I have had a lifetime of advantages that I have not earned and that have accrued to me by way of the racial policies in place when i was young. Because of my limitations, I have an excuse for not having done more thus far to rectify the injustice, but I still have an outstanding obligation to do so. Again, because of my limitations it is a near certainty that I will die without discharging all of them.So I can never believe that I can rightfully conclude that I am a sheep and I know how to divide the human family into sheep and goats. The approach that Abp. Burke has taken about voting in these last few days exemplifies exactly the kind of approach that presupposes that he knows just how to divide sheep from goats. This is just one example of the kind of excessive claim to righteousness that I have argued is intellectually unsustainable.

I think it's unfortunate that Ms. Fullams response went in the direction of "pilgrims > prophets," which it seems to me Prof. Kaveny's original piece was straining to avoid.One think I want to note is that the defining characteristic of pilgrims is not their humility, or their willingness to bend the rules, but that they are *on a journey to a destination.* They are moving forward, not standing still.Movement and progress do not seem to be hallmarks of the conversations about voting for politicians who support abortion. We are having the same arguments we had in 2004.It may be acceptable to vote for politicians who do not share our views about abortion, but it should not be comfortable, nor should it be considered the new "normal" way we do things, where every two or four years we scour for "proportionate reasons" to support the politicians we are inclined to support.If we are pilgrims, then we should be in pilgrimage to a place where these questions are irrelevant. And if the choices we are making aren't getting us there, and we truly are engaged in reality, then we need to reconsider those choices.

Bernard, thanks for your comment to me. Very thought-provoking, the notion that our steps our modest, but that there is still an obligation for each of us to try to do more in the time we have left.

Can a person, in good conscience, eat a Hershey bar? Can a person, in good conscience, vote for a politician who is not determined to stop the imporation of goods produced/harvested by children?--If one were starving, I think one could eat a Hershey bar.If one knows about Hershey's labor practices, it would be wrong to build one's diet around Hershey bars (or a more nutritious product from a company with similar labor practices).I think that's a fundamental difference -- material cooperation with evil may be acceptable in some circumstances, but it should not be comfortable for us, should not become a habit, and our lifestyles should not depend on it.When we are at the point where we see the need to construct new theological scaffolding to support cooperation with evil, I think we are getting close to that point.

Lisa, your comments about the danger of prophets setting up a sort of collateral scandal are well-noted.Istm that for Catholics in the US, the tradition of prophecy is most closely associated with holy orders and religious orders: that becoming a priest or a religious sister is to reject what is unholy and impure in our daily lives, and embrace of a way of life that is holier and more pure. It is not simply the words of those who have chosen this way of life - it is the totality of the life itself: a holier way of living, that provides prophetic witness.(This is, to my mind, the great loss suffered by the American church of the last generations: the terrible dwindling of religious vocations means a loss of that prophetic witness, that holy way of life).The 'opposite scandal', I suppose that this prophetic way of life set up in traditional American Catholicism is the notion that it is *only* through the calling to a holy order or religious vocation that one could achieve this holiness.

Istm that for Catholics in the US, the tradition of prophecy is most closely associated with holy orders/...The opposite scandal, I suppose that this prophetic way of life set up in traditional American Catholicism is the notion that it is *only* through the calling to a holy order or religious vocation that one could achieve this holiness.--Weren't we all anointed "priest, prophet, and king" at our Baptisms?

"Werent we all anointed priest, prophet, and king at our Baptisms?"Yep. I'm not sure how well-appropriated this teaching is now among American Catholics, but I don't think I'm mistaken in my belief that priests and religious sisters have been, in traditional American Catholicsm, perceived as holier than laypersons.I'm not even saying it's wrong - those ways of life *should* entail a call to holiness. But we're all called to holiness according to our circumstances and modes of life. And we should all be living lives of prophetic witness. Surely it is the laity, rather than a bishop, who should be helping Catholics and others discern the right way to think about contentious political issues, whether it be abortion or immigration or health care.

Jim P. --It seems to me that the bishops do have some expertise in administering hospitals, so they have something to contribute to the community. But they should give their views *as individuals*, not as theologians speaking in the name of te Church. And, yes, they should also be expert in ethics if they are going to talk in the name of the Church about general ethical principles and arguments. True, they don't all always agree among each other, but that is probably just as well. That's the way clarity in philosophy (including ethics) is achieved -- by communal consideration and criticism of both old and new views.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'm coming to the tail end of a couple of months of heavy traveling. Just a couple of points.1. I LIKE the manualists in moral theology, and I like reading the manuals. I have a lot of respect for them. I'd like to meet Fr. Zalba, even if he wouldn't like to meet me! What I see in them is people trying very hard to bring the light of the Gospel to the hard, day-to-day reality of people's lives. But the line is a bottom line: Is this a sin or not?2. The principle of cooperation with evil was meant to do just that. I think of it as operating, very frequently, at the intersection of morality and exigency in very interesting ways. Does a man who's a janitor in a munitions factory have to quit his job if it makes counterpopulation weapons? Suppose he has a lot of kids to feed and a sick wife? IF you take seriously the idea that there are wrongful acts (and I do), then the question how one acts in the general vicinity of those wrongful acts becomes very important. But it's not the only question.3. My point in the America article was this: The principle of cooperation wasn't meant to handle questions of how to resist big systematic evil like abortion--or other issues. Pretty much every individual contribution to a big systematic evil is going to end up in the catch-all category of remote material cooperation. It also focuses on avoiding individual sin. That doesn't help a whole lot in addressing big systemic problems. To say it's not (or even that it is) a sin for a custodian to clean the floor of a nuclear plant isn't to say much at all about how to coordinate broad program of social reform against counterpopulation weapons. To say it is not (or even that it is) a sin for a person to vote for a pro-choice candidate doesn't tell us anything about how to coordinate political action in a positive, ethically responsible manner.The principle of cooperation with evil was never MEANT to do that. SO we moralists need to do more work on thinking about individual responsibility in the face not only of conspiracy (a coordinated action) but in the face of informal currents of action--networked action. It's to show a place that the tradition needs more work and development. How do we think about the ethics of organizing and contributing to political movements? When should we think of the church as a political movement? Ever?

Jim, the "Munus Triplex" is extremely interesting. I gave a paper on that at Emory a while ago, and reflections on it will be part of the book that I hope to get back to soon.Here's the bottom line. The term "prophet" has many meanings, even going back to the Hebrew terms for the word (there are four,I'm told) In lumen gentium the prophetic function of the magisterium is associated largely with its teaching function--and its ability to address hard questions of natural law, too. That understanding of prophetic as associated with the unravelling of hard questions is rather different, in my view, from the use largely made in the American Protestant tradition--the prophetic indictment-- more of a forensic use.

"Does a man whos a janitor in a munitions factory have to quit his job if it makes counterpopulation weapons? "Cathy --Once again the ubiquitous, over-simple principle "the end does not justify the means" rears its ugly-beautiful head. Please, ethicists, qualify it!!!

". . . in the face not only of conspiracy (a coordinated action) but in the face of informal currents of actionnetworked action"Thanks for these fine distinctions, Professor -- individual action, conspiratorial action, networked action, plus systemic action. What I admire about the manualists are their very finely-honed distinctions that make it easier to comprehend and deal with the complexity of things. But people hate complexity, especially in moral matters, so we resist using fine distinctions that make it easier to spot-light just where our culpabilities lie. True, the automatic application of the distinctions in the old days was bad. But that was mainly a problem, I think, of a lack of a decision procedure for determining which moral principles should apply in a given situation -- the problem of how we ought to analyze what we ought to do. But that's a whole other topic.

With all due respect to the "manualists", what I don't admire about some manualists, is their attempt to remove themselves from any responsibility, in this case the gruesome act of abortion, in an attempt to justify that which can never be justified nor should have been sanctified by our system of Justice to begin with, by claiming that a Human Individual is not a Person, that Science has not answered the question as to when the life of a Human Being exists, that Personhood depends on location, that there exists a separation between Church and State and thus Religion has no voice in protecting our fundamental Right to Life that has been endowed to us from God, and that one can be protecting this fundamental Right to Life, while destroying a Human Life, simultaneously.

that should read sanctioned by our system of Justice.

"With all due respect to the manualists, what I dont admire about some manualists, is their attempt to remove themselves from any responsibility,"Nancy,Just who are you talking about here????