David French, Cassandra
I follow David French in podcasts and blogs because:
- He’s a seasoned litigator aligned with me on abortion, free speech, and religious freedom; and
- I have to put up with hearing him to hear the amazing Sarah Isgur.
But Sunday, I think his reflexive religious provincialism got the better of him in Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready.
He starts off well enough:
I’ve been a pro-life advocate and activist for more than 30 years …
Through it all, I was guided by two burning convictions—that Roe represented a grave moral and constitutional wrong and that I belonged to a national Christian community that loved its fellow citizens, believed in a holistic ethic of life, and was ready, willing, and able to rise to the challenge of creating a truly pro-life culture.
I believe only one of those things today.
My feelings about Roe are unchanged. …
But then he paints a very bleak picture of the right generally and more specifically his corner of the religious right, which he reflexively equates with "the Church" (it’s one of his most annoying verbal tics, another is hyperbolicic use of "tremendous, tremendous"):
The two sides of the great American divide are now staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” The answer from pro-life America should be clear and resounding—the commitment to life carries with it a commitment to love, to care for the most vulnerable members of society, both mother and child.
But life and love are countercultural on too many parts of the right. In a time of hate and death, too many members of pro-life America are contributing to both phenomena. Is that too much to say? Is that too strong? I don’t think so.
In deep-red America, a wave of performative and punitive legislation is sweeping the land. …
… The vicissitudes of politics haven’t just linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right, they’ve transformed parts of the anti-abortion movement, making many of its members as toxic as their “libertine and hyperindividualist” allies.
In the meantime, the Republican branch of the American church is adopting the political culture of the secular right. With a few notable exceptions, it not only didn’t resist the hatred and fury of the MAGA movement, it was the MAGA movement.
Now I suppose there are at least three possibilities here:
- He’s right about pro-life America, period, full stop.
- He’s right about Evangelicalism.
- He’s engaged in hyperbole to get Evangelicals to to better than settling for liberal tears.
I reject the first possibility. I’ve been pro-life a decade longer than French (mostly because I’m two decades older). I broke markedly, if not completely, with Evangelicism shortly before I became actively pro-life, and left Protestantism entirely a about a decade-and-a-half later.
I do not believe that lib-trolling and vindictiveness is any significant part of Orthodox Christianity, though Orthodoxy is anti-abortion (as the historic church always has been — i.e., before American Evangelicals got recruited to the cause by C. Everett Koop, Francis Schaeffer, and less principled actors).
I also don’t believe that it is a significant factor among observant Roman Catholics, "observant" being measured by adherence to Catholic Social Teaching as well as participation in their Church’s sacramental life. Indeed, Catholic Social Teaching (Christian Democracy) is the North Star of the American Solidarity Party, which party alone I support these days.
Bottom line: I believe French is wrong about the Church because his provincialism blinds him to the bigger picture. I certainly hope he’s wrong.
And French’s turn to anti-vaxx sentiment a red prolife America seems like totally gratuitous grievance-airing.
I suggest to David French that if he’s all that down on Calvinist-tinged Evangelicalism, he step out for a breath of incense-tinged air at one of the Anglophone Orthodox Churches in his area.
Come and see, David. Give it a month or two of Sundays.
Douthat on the risk of toxic response
Observant Catholic (see above) Ross Douthat puts French’s point less apocalyptically (I’m being very selective; read the whole column if you can):
While the pro-life movement has won the right to legislate against abortion, it has not yet proven that it can do so in a way that can command durable majority support … [T]he vicissitudes of politics and its own compromises have linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right — some libertine and hyperindividualist, others simply hostile to synthesis, conciliation and majoritarian politics.
… But among its own writers and activists, the movement has understood itself to also be carrying on the best of America’s tradition of social reform, including causes associated with liberalism and progressivism.
To win the long-term battle, to persuade the country’s vast disquieted middle, abortion opponents … need to show how abortion restrictions are compatible with … the health of the poorest women, the flourishing of their children, the dignity of motherhood even when it comes unexpectedly or amid great difficulty.
These issues … are essential to the holistic aspects of political and ideological debate. In any great controversy, people are swayed to one side or another not just by the rightness of a particular position, but by whether that position is embedded in a social vision that seems generally attractive, desirable, worth siding with and fighting for.
Here some of the pathologies of right-wing governance could pave a path to failure for the pro-life movement. You can imagine a future in which anti-abortion laws are permanently linked to a punitive and stingy politics, in which women in difficulties can face police scrutiny for a suspicious miscarriage but receive little in the way of prenatal guidance or postnatal support. In that world, serious abortion restrictions would be sustainable in the most conservative parts of the country, but probably nowhere else, and the long-term prospects for national abortion rights legislation would be bright.
In a part of French’s column, he quoted this Douthat column but said it didn’t go far enough. I think it does — because Douthat’s vision is more Catholic (and more catholic).
Making abortion unthinkable
Even in the Evangelical world, there are sane people wanting actually to make things better:
Roe was an unjust ruling. I have always believed it would be overturned, as other unjust decisions by the court were, although I thought it would take longer. I rejoice that it did not. But of course it will take longer for abortion to become unthinkable, which is the real goal of the pro-life movement.
Still, I was, like my fellow evangelicals, a Johnny-come-lately in a long line of people who have opposed abortion and infanticide and tried to defend vulnerable life.
Members of the early Christian church within the ancient Roman world rescued abandoned infants (often those who were female or otherwise deemed inferior) from certain death ….
I always appreciate it when Evangelicals admit, even if tacitly, that Evangelicalism is so unlike the earliest church that it cannot claim vicarious credit for what the earliest church did.
Orthodoxy (and even Catholicism) can.
The judicial fiat of Roe v. Wade jump-started the culture wars that have poisoned our political process and brought us to a place of polarization and unbridgeable division. Indeed, this division has been capitalized on by far too many pundits and politicians, for whom a position on abortion does not appear to be a sincerely held belief, but merely an issue they can (and do) leverage for votes or monetize for financial gain. Such betrayal casts a shadow on the overturning of Roe, which has been for me and many others a long-awaited event.
Even so, making abortion unthinkable might start with the law, but it won’t end there. For it is not only the supply of abortion that matters but also the demand. I lament the impoverishment of a social imagination that cannot conceive of a world in which women can flourish without abortion.
On this day, I remember with fondness the late Nat Hentoff, a Jewish atheist who nevertheless believed in the right to life of the unborn, and said so in a time and place where that cost him something. Here is a column Hentoff wrote after he hosted pro-life liberal Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Bob Casey at Cooper Union in downtown Manhattan.
Henthoff was a fierce member of the ACLU back when the ACLU was actually about civil liberties, and was one of the preeminent jazz critics of his age.
I wish he had lived to see last Friday.
He really didn’t need the Committee’s help …
This just seems to make Donald Trump look awful, just awful."
Neil Cavuto, Fox News, on the latest revelations from the January 6 Committee.
You’re surprised that Trump is awful, Neil?
I note, with raised eyebrow, the terrorist plans underway to set about attacking Catholic churches and pregnancy resource centers. As someone put it in a dark joke-tweet, this is the state of the discourse in 2022: “You don’t care about pregnant women!” “Well no, we have numerous buildings and institutions expressly set up for that purpose actually, how can we help you?” “Oh really, where? Let’s go firebomb them!”
If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.
Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes
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