Saturday, October 29, 2011

Proposition 26

Next week brings election day to Mississippi, and we at TMH are delighted that his Excellency Joseph Latino, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Jackson, is finally stamping the Catholic perspective on the politics of a state that has for too long ignored the powerful moral teaching of one of the world's great institutions. In particular, Bishop Latino has taken a very courageous stand on Proposition 26, the proposed human life amendment to Mississippi Constitution. The proposed amendment would define life as beginning at conception and would therefore outlaw abortion in Mississippi at any stage. While most of the Christian rubes and rednecks in Mississippi have taken the predictable, pedestrian position that Christians should support the initiative, Bishop Latino has taken a surprising and principled stand against proposal. In so doing, he has done a truly marvelous thing.

First, and most important, he has instructed the state and the watching world how effective truly clear thinking is when one confronts difficult moral questions. The Catholic Church possesses a legacy of careful and incisive moral thinking unparalleled in philosophical history, and his Excellency has drawn upon it extensively to show exactly why the Catholic Church in Mississippi opposes this proposed amendment. Although the proposal would end abortions in Mississippi, his Excellency reasons that we should not support such a bill in Mississippi until that bill is likely to become law throughout the nation. In so doing, he has not only stood firmly for the lives of the unborn in Mississippi, but he has provided a valuable lesson in political strategy. Since his reason for opposing the bill is that it is not national in scope, he has shown us that we really ought never to act unilaterally in Mississippi. If, for instance, Gov. Barbour wishes to move forward on using state funds to help businesses hire and train unemployed workers, we now strongly oppose that effort because it is not a nationwide initiative. For the same reason, we now understand fully that we should oppose the new legislation on school bus safety, since the law would affect only Mississippi and not the United States generally. Indeed, since we have a budget shortfall, we could follow the logical implications of Bishop Latino's reasoning to very good financial effect: we could abolish the entire committee structure of the State Legislature and simply have the legislators vote to enact any law for the State of Mississippi that is passed by the U.S. Congress. And of course state legislators would need only to vote yes on any of these questions, since to vote no would be in effect to vote a difference between the law in Mississippi and the laws of the nation--something expressly forbidden by the implications of the Bishop's carefully considered statement. All of the money thus saved by severely curtailing the activity of the Legislature could be used to help the poor in our fair state, provided of course we did so in ways authorized by national legislation.

The implications of the Bishop's far-sighted edict reach further still. If we as Mississippians should enact only national legislation, then we would save enormous psychic and physical energy. Think of all the annoying newspaper editorials, guilty of raping so many Mississippi forests to produce newsprint on which to express controversy, that would now disappear. All the local radio shows, so concerned with controversies of state politics, could be replaced with shows on gardening, kite flying, and other specialized hobbies. The benefits would be manifold, perhaps the greatest of which would be the removal of disagreement and argument from the airways and public spaces. Mississippi would become the Uncontroversial State, and retirees would flock to our shores to live their golden years in one unbroken stretch of peace after a lifetime spent in the tug and push of the real world where not everyone agrees.

By making the statement that he did, Bishop Latino also assures a greater stature for the Catholic Church in Mississippi, a state in which the Church has for too long had a minority voice unheeded by the majority of citizens. By making common cause with such groups as the ACLU and the Obama Justice Department, the Church will become much more highly respected by the majority of Christians in the state. Although some Southern Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Independent Methodists, Southern Methodists, Presbyterians, members of the Church of Christ or Church of God, Holiness and Pentecostals will find it odd that the Bishop opposes an initiative protecting the life of the unborn, they will do so only because of their general lack of education. If evangelical Christians are too stupid to recognize the boldness of standing strong for nuance then they are beyond any hope of political enlightenment. In drawing upon the rich Western heritage of casuistry, the Bishop has given new life to all the old connotations of Jesuitical thinking and shown how much more important technical abstractions are than practical politics aimed at preserving human life.

No, in supporting with such clear and principled political reasoning his position on the sanctity of human life, Bishop Latino has shown us the way forward. We are never prouder to be Catholic than when we hear on the radio the heretofore rather unappealing liberal voices laced with all the postmodern sarcasm that the enlightened can muster as they condescend to explain to the awkward hayseeds throughout the state that even the Diocese of Jackson joins them in opposing this method of protecting human life. And the smugness is pleasantly contagious. When our neighbors shake their head in puzzlement at why a Church so strongly pro-life in word as the Catholic Church can oppose Proposition 26, we can now look down upon them ourselves and savor for a brief moment our consciousness of intellectual superiority. And in the next moment we can savor the further delight of explaining to them exactly why his Excellency has taken the courageous stand that he has. Although no one has yet actually understood when we offer that explanation, we are certain that their incomprehension is due entirely to their obdurate ignorance. Any truly educated equivocator will see immediately the self-evident justice of the Catholic position.

In telling us that we must not act unilaterally, his Excellency finally relieves of us a great psychic burden. For some, it is embarrassing that Mississippi should always be last: last in health, last in education, last in per capita income. By arguing so eloquently and so well that Mississippi should enact only national initiatives, the good Bishop persuades us that Mississippi should never strive to improve herself when she might be working to improve the nation. In so doing he makes us all, in one keystroke, feel better about ourselves. No need to work to make Mississippi safer than the nation generally when it comes to human life. Better to stay home on election day (which promises to be cold after all and who knows maybe rainy as well) and watch The X Factor on demand. The unborn will take care of themselves, and by following the first-rate moral guidance of the Diocese of Jackson, the Catholic Church in Mississippi will take very good care of itself now and in the future.


  1. reserving his support for a federal effort in this direction could well mean missing out on many less-than-perfect efforts while waiting for something that might not materialize any time soon if at all. this reminds me of those who are relegated to inactivity and moral impotence waiting on the right opportunity that never arises. "strike while the iron is hot" goes the old adage. relevant words for today.

  2. I couldn't agree more. The perfect is the enemy of the good, as they say. Thanks for the comment.