This post at Mere Comments from Anthony Esolen got me thinking about the Consistent Life Ethic. The idea is largely attributed to Cardinal Bernadin, who argued that life issues are to be considered and treated as a "seamless garment." That is, if you tear one piece of the garment out, you've irreparably damaged the entire garment. If you're pro-life when it comes to abortion but not when it comes to other life issues (euthanasia, war, poverty, death penalty, contraception, etc.) your pro-life garment is ruined.

The criticism of Bernadin is that his approach has been misused by pro-abortion politicians to justify their support of abortion. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for instance, can justify spending federal dollars on "family planning services" because reducing the number of poor people (by keeping them from being born, presumably) has an economic payoff.

But that approach is indefensible using Bernadin's logic (and, no matter what Pelosi says, not Catholic). If you tear opposition to abortion out of the "seamless garment," your position on poverty, global warning, or whatever is ruined. If you don't care about the life of an unborn child, your defense of the lives of the poor is diminished at best, destroyed at worst.

The local ministerial association has a book club. We were exiled from the monthly meeting because not everyone wanted to allot part of our 2 hour meeting to discussing a book. Nevertheless, a few of us continue to meet to discuss an agreed upon book between regular meetings. Most recently, we read Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

The encyclical deals with the global economic crisis, but it does so with what seems to be a "seamless" approach to life. Central to any discussion about human development, economic recovery, environmental protection, business ethics, etc. has to be an openness to life. "Openness to life is at the center of human development," argues the pope.

While Esolen's warning about missed opportunities is well heard, the misuse of a consistent life ethic doesn't make it invalid. It only makes those who misuse it look foolish.


tapsearcher said...

Thank you - Pastor Jeff Hemmer - for your perceptive response to Pope Benedict's encyclical. I automatically was going to review it like I reviewed books by Alan Greenspan who wrote about the New Harmony work community experiment as an example of why idealism does not work in our economics . I reviewed other books too, including a must read by all - The Confessions of and Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. And so I thought I could review the Pope's encyclical easily from the perspective of the streets but found myself reacting to it more than reviewing it. See http://tapsearch.com/pope-benedict-economic-encyclical We should all dig into his referenced term subsidiarity which I understand to mean - all things should be decided at the lowest level possible. We should also dig into what he means by the urgent need for a true world authority especially after the elder Pres Bush announced the new world order and go from there. ( See list of our sites at http://linkbun.ch/aztb ) Ray Tapajna

Robert said...

A weakness of the consistent life ethic is that eventually it falls on its own sword--life, at any cost.

Any workable theory for orthodox Lutherans would have to allow for the possibility of just war, self defense, and capital punishment.

Robert at bioethike.com

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

While, I'm not sold on CLE itself as the definitive Lutheran approach to life issues, I think there's some flexibility for things like just war and self-defense. Only taken radically does CLE become pacifist.

That said, consistency itself (and not CLE ideology specifically) is what opponents of abortion and eradicators of poverty could both use a little more of.