Monday, July 8, 2013

Enda Kenny: Caught between the city of God and the city of Man?

Eamon de Valera and Archbishop Johyn McQuaid

"Religious freedom is the exercise of fidelity to God and His Holy Church without compromise.  Human action that reflects this fidelity is what has hastened martyrdom and persecution for many believers of the past, and of today.  At the core of this fidelity is the desire to be a good citizen of the two cities where we all live: the City of Man and the City of God.  This kind of dual citizenship necessitates libertas Ecclesiae, i.e., the freedom of the Church." -Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

When Enda Kenny declared to the Dail that he was "a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach" he hinted at the existence of two separate and incompatible ethical systems.  His speech was greeted by emotions ranging from a swelling of pride over Ireland's emergence from semi-theocratic rule, to shock and despair that a Catholic Taoiseach could betray his faith and his Church.

Mr Kenny believes he has a duty as a public representative to legislate for limited access to abortion; a position condemned by Catholic ecclesiastical authorities.  Here is a clear conflict between church and state with a Catholic Taoiseach who gave ethical precedent to the state. But if Catholic teaching does not inform Mr Kenny's ethical decisions, what ethical system does? And more importantly, are church and state relationships truly a struggle between incompatible ethical systems?

Ethics is the systematic examination of our relationships to each other and the system of values on which our lives are based. There is therefore two separate ethical systems behind this debate, each placing competing responsibilities upon our public representatives:  the monist faith of Christianity and the pluralism of the secular state.

Christianity is a monist faith; a single system claiming objective moral laws asserted true for everyone under all circumstances.  Cardinal Burke restated this point during a recent interview as a rebuke to Enda Kenny:  "Abortion is a matter of natural moral law which is written on every human heart.  One cannot, as a Catholic politician, excuse oneself from the question of abortion by claiming that one should not bring one’s Catholicism into the political realm."

Secular pluralism however is not a monist system.  It does not claim to provide the single correct answer to all meaningful ethical and political questions. But pluralism is not a value free system flawed by a pretense of neutrality which collapses into self-contradiction.  Rather pluralism is the conception that there are many different ultimate values that humans may seek and still be considered fully rational healthy human beings.  Ultimate values are those ends that men pursue for it's own sake and for which other things become the means.  These values are many and diverse but they are not infinite.  Pluralism however recognizes an uncomfortable and under appreciated truth: good values will conflict with each other.

Should we grant complete freedom of religion?  We cannot because complete freedom of religion will extinguish several other freedoms we wish to conserve, most notably reproductive rights.  Liberty and equality are both good values but they exist in tension because equality demands the restraint of the liberty of those who would dominate the weaker.  Free speech and free markets are considered essential to the health of modern democratic societies. However they also promote profit driven lowest common denominator mass entertainment of low quality.  Benjamin Franklin was wrong: sometimes we must surrender liberty for increased safety.

So in a plural society we recognize that good ends can clash.  Sometimes a family must choose between aborting a pregnancy and mothers life.  Conversely a monist system is characteristic by a single non-contradictory answer to every meaningful question:  Abortion is never justified under any circumstances. Public representatives must in fact choose between these occasionally incompatible systems. They cannot consistently be dual citizens of the city of man and the city of God.

The concept of dual citizenship was introduced into Christianity by Saint Augustine of Hippo in an early 5th century treatise.  Citizens of City of God, according to Augustine,  forgo earthly pleasure to dedicate their lives to following the eternal moral law as revealed by Christian faith;  citizens of the City of Man follow the transient pleasures of the passing material world.  The two cities, although they may sometimes overlap, remain distinct and will likely be so until the return of Christ.  Christians must live in earthly cities but strive to create the spiritual city of God.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, quoted at the start of this piece, believes freedom of religion "demands fidelity to God and His Holy Church without compromise." The Archbishop has clearly made his choice.  So has Enda Kenny.  Other public representatives must do likewise by choosing between the City of God and the City of Man.

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