Abortion “Intrinsically Evil,” Capital Punishment “Morally Neutral
Kansas City, Missouri, Catholic Bishop teaches why capital punishment is a valid Christian moral choice but abortion is not.
The key concept that erroneously morally props up all Catholic killing that is designated “just” is one that cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. It is the idea that Catholic popes and bishops designate with the words “intrinsically evil.” It goes like this. Some acts are so evil that there can never be an excuse for doing them. They are evil per se. Examples of such acts according to popes and bishops are artificial contraception, abortion, killing innocent people, and today, but not for most yesterdays, slavery. The alternative designation of an act is that it is morally neutral. Examples of these acts are capital punishment and the slaughter of war for which there can be an excuse for engaging in them. So who determines what is intrinsically evil and how is this determined? Is it by what Jesus teaches? Or is it by way of some philosophy or another? Beyond abortion, euthanasia, embryo destructive research, acts of racism, and same sex marriage mentioned by the Catholic Bishop from Kansas City that are cited what else is intrinsically evil, e.g. swearing oaths, not following Jesus’ new commandment to love as He love, not loving all enemies, even lethal enemies, not putting up the sword as Jesus ordered Peter to do? If not doing what God Incarnate, the Source and Fount and Standard of all Holiness commands, is not intrinsically evil, what other standard can the Christian have that is higher to determine what is intrinsically evil?
The intrinsically evil verses the not intrinsically evil distinction raised between, say, abortion and capital punishment is a distinction that cannot be found in the teaching of Jesus regarding intentional homicide. The “intrinsically evil” versus the “morally neutral” distinction of an act of homicidal violence is a distinction that is an effort to circumvent Jesus’ complete rejection of violence. It is merely situation ethics. Homicidal violence is a morally neutral act that is good or evil depending on the circumstances. If the circumstances are not present that permit it, it is evil. Otherwise it is a morally good act that a Christian may do and be faithful to Jesus.
Now, who determines what these circumstances are? Ah, there is the rub! If it is Jesus, no circumstances could ever arise that could morally justify using of homicidal violence. If it is a pope and a bishop controlling and running an institution of great wealth and who desire to stay in the good grace of the violence justifying local politicians, or if it is a kept house-theologian for, say, PNAC, then I am sure a cornucopia of situations and good reasons can be conjured-up and rationalized where the destruction of human beings can be justified or participated in or ignored as a morally acceptable way of following Jesus! It is simply a matter that whosever ox is being goad has a good reason for setting aside Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies.
For example, the Catholic Church says that using a condemn in marital sexual relations is intrinsically evil and can never be done morally, even if it is being used to prevent one of the spouses from contracting AIDS from the other. But it also says that killing people in war can be done morally if there is a good enough reason for doing it. Why a spouse with AIDS is not a good enough reason for using a condom defies rationality, once the “good enough reason” exception to intentional homicide is permitted to be employed as a moral justification to engage in the mass human slaughter of war in direct defiance of Jesus’ explicit teaching in the Gospels. Who determines and how do they determine what is a “good enough reason?” Who determines and how do they determine which acts can never have a “good enough reason” for doing them and which acts can?
If Jesus had availed Himself of the loophole of homicidal violence being only morally neutral, which means it can be engaged in if the right circumstances are present that justify it, then He along with Peter and the other Apostles would have violently fought their way out of the Garden of Gethsemane and saved Him from being murdered. If the circumstances and the “good enough reason” ever existed, that made homicidal violence morally justifiable and in conformity with the will of God, the attack on Jesus in Gethsemane would have been the prime example of such a situation and circumstance in the history of humanity. But, Jesus leaves no room for confusion or doubt that homicidal violence as a choice for defense or offence or anything else, e.g. protecting one’s divinely commissioned ministry, is to be completely rejected as the Way to do the will of the Father and as a Way to follow Him. He is clear in all four Gospels that there is never a “good enough reason” for it.
A popes or bishops telling people century after century how to do morally what is the morally impossible by the standards of Jesus is not the commission a pope or bishop is given by Jesus (Mt 28:20). Jesus explicit and unambiguous commission to popes and bishops reads, “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
To anticipate here the usual objection raised by popes and bishops to what has just been said —“We have to also teach our people how to apply the teaching of Jesus”—let us noted in large upper case letters that an irrational, illogical extension of Jesus teachings is not a valid or authentic expression of fidelity to the commission given to them: “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Why? Because, God as revealed by Jesus in the Gospels is Logos (Jn1: 1ff), because the God of the Gospels isLogos, because God Incarnate, “made flesh” is Logos. The moral will of the God of Christians is not and cannot be self-contradictory because God is Logos and therefore God cannot be self-contradictory, communicating on Monday by His Word that an act is evil and then communicating on Tuesday that the act is good.
Justified violence, as a moral option for Christians is in the end a distortion of the image of God as revealed by, in and through Jesus. The terrible questions that remain open for dialogue as of today are these: Does the proclamation of a God of justified homicidal violence by a Christian amount to idolatry? Or, is it what Jacques Maritain calls “the practical atheism of Christians” hiding behind sophisticated or less than sophisticated mere speculative philosophy rooted in concupiscence, nurtured disordered desires? Whatever morally justified homicidal violence for Christians is, it is never the teaching of Jesus and never can be a logical extension or application under any situation or circumstances of the teaching of Jesus—“good reasons” notwithstanding.
-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy