Neither Conservative nor Liberal: Solving the Conundrum

Pope Francis presents a peculiar problem for the modern world. On the one hand, he is well-known for his concern for the poor and his strong commitment to Social Justice. On the other, he unequivocally opposes abortion. By virtue of the former commitment he qualifies as a “liberal.” But his opposition to abortion would make him eligible for the label “conservative.” How is it possible for one man to embody two seemingly mutually exclusive categories? Is this a conundrum or simply a matter of being consistently Catholic?

At the root of the problem is the unfortunate and unfortunately common practice of politicizing religion. Traditionally, a Catholic was faithful or not faithful, orthodox or heretical, devout or lukewarm. These categories are intrinsic to Catholicism itself. Concerning the dignity of the person, Catholicism abides no such divisions since each person is created in the image of God and is of incalculable worth.

Charles Darwin, in accordance with his own theory of biological evolution, divided all human beings into the “fit” and the “unfit.” In On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, he proclaims that “all ought to refrain from marriage who cannot avoid abject poverty for their children . . . the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring” (p. 919).

In the 1927 Buck v. Bell decision that legalized forced sterilization, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that “It is better for all the world, if, instead of waiting for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”

In the Beal v. Doe case (1976), Harry Blackmun argued that “the cost of a non-therapeutic abortion is far less than the cost of maternity care and delivery, and holds not comparison whatsoever with the welfare costs that will burden the State for the new indigents and their support in the long, long years ahead.” In the same case, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated that if the federal government did not subsidize abortion for poor women, it would “brutally coerce poor women to bear children whom society will scorn for every day of their lives.”

Blessed Pope John Paul II was keenly aware of the philosophy that approved the dominance of the strong against the weak. In Evangelium Vitae, he states that with regard to abortion, we find an example of “‘the strong’ against the weak, who have no choice but to submit” (no. 19). John Paul saw this attitude as an important factor in contributing to the “Culture of Death.”

Karl Marx, who had no regard for the individual person, divided people into classes: the ruling class (“capitalists”) and the working class (“proletariat”). He viewed the ruling class as “oppressing” the working class and called for a revolution that would liberate the oppressed class.

This practice of placing people in classes, however, represents a grave injustice to the dignity of the individual person. An individual human being is a person and not merely a member of an arbitrary class that is in conflict with members of another arbitrary class.

The shadows of Darwin and Marx continue to hover over the modern world as we continue to absorb people into classes and pit one class against another: whites oppress blacks, heterosexuals oppress homosexuals, the rich oppress the poor, and men oppress women. Yet it is a curious thing to maintain that the unborn child, who confers upon a woman the honor of being a mother, is, in reality, “an attachment” (Judith Jarvis Thomson), “a parasite” (Simone de Beauvoir), a “vampire” (Camille Paglia) or some other hostile kind of creature that “oppresses” women. How we understand motherhood goes a long way toward deciding whether opposition to abortion is or is not part of “social justice.”

Secular feminism, which owes much to Marxism, sees the need for women to be liberated not only from male tyranny, but from the tyranny of their own biology. In this perspective, it is possible to view denying abortion to a woman who has an unwanted pregnancy as a form of oppression. Therefore, such women join the poor and others who are oppressed as classes of people who need to be liberated from oppression. Permitting abortion and liberating the poor, by this logic, both belong to the work of social justice.

Catholicism, because it does not place people in classes, extends its concern to everyone, the poor, the “unfit,” the weak, and the unborn alike. Therefore, it is perfectly normal for a Catholic to work for social justice and defend the right-to-life of the unborn. As Cardinal Ratzinger has said, “Love of neighbor knows no limits . . . There is no gap between love of neighbor and desire for justice.” Pope Francis, therefore, is not a conundrum, but a Catholic.

Prominent political figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Joseph Biden fail to extend their professed Catholicism to everyone. They direct their concern to the class of the poor while ignoring the needs of the child in the womb, who often is the poorest of the poor.

Jacques Maritain has said that we need to transcend the narrow categories of “liberal” and “conservative” and search for Truth. Political categories are deficient inasmuch as they represent partial visions of humanity. Catholicism, like St. Peter’s Square, embraces everyone, saint as well as sinner.

Pope Francis may convince many by his words and his example that Catholicism and politics are not the same, and that God’s abiding love extends to all of his human creatures. Social justice and defense of the unborn, therefore, are unitary.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, CT, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going Mad and Poetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart are available through Articles by Don:

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  • svengg

    Your premise is wrong. Conservatives care for the poor and are commited to social justice, they just don’t believe the interests of the poor and social justice are best served through government fiat. Liberals who also care for the poor and are commited to social justice believe poverty is something to be solved in part or in whole by government mechanism. Both groups tend to fail in their commitment to social justice and the poor by the same error; excluding human beings from their respective models. For the liberals it’s primarily the unborn that suffer exclusion, and for conservatives it’s primarily the immigrant that is excluded. You are correct that the Pope (like the other two Popes in my lifetime) does not fit into either category, but not because Conservatives hate the poor and Liberals kill babies.

    • Cromulent

      There is a difference between “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant”.

      • Jcarr

        Are illegals actually refugees? Was not the Holy family refugees escaping from Herod?

        • Cromulent

          So you can’t find a difference between our gov’t and Herod? You probably think all black people look alike too. Sad.

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  • Jack Carson

    Easy to figure out. 1. There’s nothing liberal about abortion. This alliance between liberals & abortionists is unnatural, and unholy, and therefore against God. Its like an alliance between good and evil, or heaven and hell. It’s not real and empty. Francis position is natural and Godly and therefore holy.

  • Crusader

    Once again, a writer is taking political thought too lightly. Liberalism and Traditionalism are hermeneutics, that imply opposed holistic world views. If neither was right, there would have to be a third integral view that was right (centrism? prudence?) Saying ‘mere Catholicism’ does not count, as it is usually a cover used by neo-Catholics to justify heresy or irresponsibility.

    From what I have seen, I think the Holy Father may not be liberal or conservative, but that because he is apolitical.

    • Thomas Gallagher

      What are “neo-Catholics”? I thought all of us Catholics, both liberal and conservative, were simply “eo-Catholics,” accepting everything in Revelation as passed on to us by the Magisterium. If political Liberalism and political Conservatism are truly hermeneutics, then they, and not the various theological hermeneutics that have developed through the centuries, provide the interpretive framework of truth. I’m a political centrist myself, because my Catholic conscience, formed by the faith that’s been passed on to me by the Magisterium, tells me that some positions occupied by Liberals are right, and so are some Conservative positions. Are you telling me that unless I accept political Liberalism, or political Conservatism, I am irresponsible? And where did you get the idea that Jorge Bergoglio was apolitical? He was up to his neck in the big muddy of Argentine politics. You’ve hit a home run: a comment of five sentences, each and every one of which is false. What a record!

  • 112233

    You are a knucklehead

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    There is no such thing as a “conservative Catholic” or a “liberal Catholic.” You either believe and practice ALL that the Catholic Church teaches and believes or you do not.

  • John Fisher

    The jury is still out and I think we still do not know what he is. Yet when men like Mahoney, Boff, Kung praise this pope. Also when we look at his behaviour in Argentina. failure to deal with cohabitation of homosexual, heterosexual priests in his archdiocese. His naive understanding of religious differences amongst religions and ecclesial communities because he grew up in a “Catholic” country. He let a sex change man and his mail partner take communion when their IVF baby was baptised in the cathedral. Syncretism, social work, flouting liturgical norms, saying one thing to one person and the opposite to another. In his persoanl beliefs hold views that are against Catholic doctrine.

  • Jack Carson

    The Church has been around longer than the Democrat o Republican tags. The Church should be tagging them and not vice versa.

  • alejandroomi

    This is an excellent reflection on this topic of fidelity to the Gospel values.

    I am a very active Religious/Catholic Priest, and pastor in the Archdiocese of Miami. My vision and model of Church, echoes Pope Francis’ way of ministering very much so. His actions as head of the Catholic World during these last two weeks, give credence to my
    ministry style as well.

    Yet, except for a handful of other clergy in our diocese, the larger group sit to the side and watch (this includes my own vicars, that have the idea that what I try to preach by my actions and involvement, are a waste of time). Some even think that I am a raging liberal because of my Social Justice Stance and commitment (I am a very conservative Republican). Yet, they fail to see that we are faithful to the Church’s teachings and our Bishops guidelines (orthodoxy). Still, my parish is the most active one regarding pro-life stand, with marches, weekly prayers before abortion mills, etc. and I even have time to be part of a network of Churches committed to Justice Issues in our county… bringing to the actions 3 times as many people than any other Church (protestant or Catholic). Where you notice the difference in my Parish is that people flock from all over South Florida to our Church (people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, languages and even religions!). They all feel welcomed and, once they become familiar to our Catholic Community (and realize that we are for real), they get quite involved. What’s the secret? We not only preach a risen Christ, but live it out by our availability and presence, serving, loving and getting close to the people, especially the poor and disadvantaged… they also evangelize me!

    I hope and pray that Pope Francis message and example will begin to touch the other ordained and lay ministers in the diocese and begin to get closer to the people by serving them as Jesus and his disciples did 2,000 years ago.

    A Blessed Easter to all!

  • Patrick

    Stop with the political categories – they don’t apply. One is either orthodox or not.

  • Michael Brooks

    As a Gay Man, I choose to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, and Politically, I am neither left or right. I promised God that after voting for the best economics in last election, that I would email the White House concerning my Moral Stand on Abortion, and fulfilled that promise. Straddling the issues is very tricky. Bad economics (Republicans) vs. Life issues, ie; legal Abortion (Democrats)…I see both hurting the Poor equally.

  • J Carr

    You are correct the term liberal and comservative are worldly terms, Lets look further into how is it that abortionists are considered liberals, the truth is that liberals are in an unholy alliance with Abortionists. Kind of like making a pact with the devil to gain power. Is it not obvious that abortionists have their roots in the most extreme right wing of the politically spectrum? How has it come to pass that liberals have allied themselves with those that are trying to solve the problem with death? Does the mindset of the abortionist remind you of.the final solution offered by the Nazis? Are we not exterminating an entire targeted population to achieve a kind of social perfection? There is a fine line between communism and fascism. It’s hard to distinguish where communism ends and facism begins. It’s not easy even for the experts to tell . We see the problem unfolding at rapid speed in China wher poor people cannot have more than a given number of children by law under penalty of forced abortion. Yet China has now some of the wealthiest people around. Is China a facist or a communist country? We can ask the same question when it comes to Russia.

  • Toni Roman

    Seeking other Christians who want an alternative to the choices we now have. On the positive side, the Catholic Church is against divorce and officially disapproves of
    sodomy but the hierarchy is full of people who look the other way at abuse. Conservative Protestant denominations seem dominated by racists, climate change deniers, and creationists and I cannot abide racists and people who flunked science in school — if indeed they ever went to school. Latter Day Saints are sober, drug-free, clean living, honest and polite but they are also racist and the Mormon
    Church is a cult. The Episcopalians have lesbian priestesses and lesbian bishops. I am happy for them but I cannot be a part of sodomy or Gomorrah. Or any of cities of the Plain. Christianity has three other branches: Eastern Orthodox, Churches of the East, and the non-Chalcedonians and Monophysites but they are hard to find and usually ethnically based. So my choices are either to start a new denomination or a new religion or to convert to Judaism. Jesus and the Apostles were Jewish so it is not like I was leaving.

    Whenever I start a website on a platform for churches and ministries, the minute I start talking about immortalism, they close my site. I cannot afford (yet) a domain, hosting, a server, the right software, a full or part-time webmasters, designer, and all the other hidden costs of starting and maintaining a website and so I have to find what I can among the non-Christians because, let’s face it, most fellow Christians are somewhat backward and have not come to terms with the 21st Century,
    immortalism, space colonization, a government obsessed with invading our privacy, a government that spends our tax dollars on the NSA and mind control projects, and Big Business that aids and abets Big Government. When one expresses alarm at companies owning DNA (cloning, the new slavery), people getting machine parts and losing their souls (cyborgs) and the proliferation of robots (predator drones and the Laws of Robotics), most fellow Christians don’t know what you are talking about because the Bible is the only book they have ever read. Often you doubt if they have even read the Bible. So there is a clear need for an alternative.

    My overwhelming desire is to find like-minded Christians and Jews, form a community (either online or a real world small town), and just live in peace.