Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Feelin' the Bern at Liberty University: When You Point, Three Fingers Point Back at You.

When Bernie Sanders spoke recently at Liberty University, among the most conservative Christian schools in the nation, he received appropriate praise from those enamored with his unconventional campaign. Of course Liberty University deserves praise as well for entertaining a speaker so seemingly antithetical to its beliefs. Progressive states schools, on the other hand, have a record for being intolerant of certain beliefs.

The great thing about St. Ambrose University is that it is none of the above. It tends to be both progressive and Christian, thus avoiding the double-edged hypocrisy of both progressives and conservatives. Consider the following description of the event at Liberty. 

David Nasser, the university's senior vice president for spiritual development, asked Sanders directly to "reconcile" his view that he wants to safeguard the most vulnerable without protecting "the child in the womb." A deafening applause erupted for more than 20 seconds.
But Sanders, in his typically stern tone, didn't shy away and gave a vigorous defense for his views on abortion rights.

"I do understand and I do believe that it is improper for the United States government to tell every women in this country the very painful and difficult choice she has to make on that issue," Sanders said. "And I honestly, I don't want to be too provocative here, but very often conservatives say, 'Get the government out of my life, I don't want the government telling me what to do.'"

A small section of the crowd cheered in support of Sanders.

At UC-Berkeley or Michigan State, for example, the distribution of cheers would surely have been reversed. Yet there is a profound hypocrisy in both cheers--provided the group of cheerers were mutually exclusive sets. I think Bernie is great, but needs to be called out for his pro-choice advocacy. If anyone, a socialist like him is best able to be anti-abortion with a good conscience. In his world of economic justice (which I firmly support) the choice to abort becomes less justifiable. Instead, his answer to his hypocrisy is just to hypocritically point out the conservatives' hypocrisy. 

I've heard Bernie speak, and he stresses the family-value morality of having maternity leaves. When Democrats claim Republicans only support babies when they are in the womb Republicans can throw the poop back at them by saying that Democrats only care about babies when they are out of the womb. Christians, it seems to me, can stay out of that monkey match by being anti-abortion and socialist. There is support for both of those in both scripture and tradition.

Economic justice is a moral matter. Transnational welfare is a moral matter--and insofar a conservatives are Christian, they are hypocritical. I think single payer health care--or at least Obamacare, whose idea was originally promoted by Republicans--is also a moral matter worthy of Christian concern. So is not going to war, and not executing criminals. Bernie gets just about everything right, but he refuses to be thoroughly unconventional until he--and all other Democratic presidential candidates--forsake the stale pro-choice rhetoric. Choices are not ends-in-themselves. 

--Tadd Ruetenik


  1. Tadd, what would you say of consequentialist arguments, as opposed to the "right to chose" argument that you imply? I ask because I suspect that you have a different response than the standard ones we both know.

  2. Yeah, if you argue that abortion is some cases is the best choice for overall good, then at least we've avoided the idea that choice insulates us from having to give reasons.

  3. Yes, that is a moral plague in our culture, the idea that choice absolves one from justification. Choice is frequently treated as a penultimate moral virtue in its own right, yet if one questions that in many circles, minds grind to a halt as such a question is neigh unthinkable. Yet in other circles, the question is eminently thinkable, although too frequently the supposedly obvious reasons lead to authoritarianism. That too escapes rational justification. Honestly, whenever I bring it up, the conversation turns into a political one rather than a moral one, as "choice" is treated as a political rather than moral matter.

    This is why the post connecting politics to morality is so appropriate. It seems that political and moral ideas are so entangled in our culture that we frequently swap one for the other, and legal ideas besides, while omitting the fact that legal, political, and moral justification are of differing kinds and orders of precedence.

    So, I take it that these columns are, perhaps not intentionally ... perhaps intentionally, trying to tease-out these problems and present them in a way that avoids these entanglements ... to showcase discernment.