Monday, June 11, 2007

Mark on Deportation ...

A reader provided me with these links where Mark actually talks about deportation as it relates to his reading of Gaudium et Spes:
Nonetheless, I agree with Zippy that Jimmy's argument is a bad one, both for Zippy's reasons and reasons of my own. If an act is intrinsically evil, then it does not become proportional and just when circumstances change. That appears to be the entire point of Veritatis Splendor's discussion of intrinsic immorality. Attempts to explain that away in the special case of torture seem to me to prove too much and vitiate Veritatis Splendor of all its meaning.

I recognize the Dulles/Harrison points about the (possible) ambiguity of certain terms. If I were a Latinist or knew somebody who was a Latin scholar I'd be competent to go into fine-tuned discussions of whether "deportationes" referred to "arbitrary banishment" or not. But I'm not so I won't argue that point. But I will note that it seems to me that it does violence to Veritatis Splendor to seek, on the basis of this ambiguity, to loosen as much as possible the application of the term "intrinsically immoral". Once again, it looks very strange to say during a time of state-enforced famine,

"The Holy Father is apparently ambiguous with *these* terms, so it can reasonably argued that he is ambiguous about state-enforced famines as well (though not, of course, about intrinsically immoral things such as abortion that I disapprove of in all cases.) So when the Holy Father says state-enforced famines are intrinsically immoral, we have to recognize that he never defines "famine" or 'state-enforced', nor did he state the unstated qualifier of pacifying regions of a country that are in open rebellion againsst legitmate authority. I'm sure he would agree that in such cases, so-called "famine" is a legitimate tool of warfare. In fact, it was one of the weapons employed by Sherman in the American Civil War. And I think we can all agree that this was proportionate given the necessity of the destruction of slavery and the preservation of the Union."

...but never get around to discussing the fact that, in the real world, the state is, in fact, committing the crime of the starvation of the Russian serfs. This seems to me to be a startling example of majoring in minors while draining the encyclical of all practical force where it might impinge on those crimes.

The basic argument being put forward is that JPII includes in his list of "intrinsically immoral" acts certain things which require unspoken qualifiers. So, for instance, he mentions "deportation" as intrinsically immoral without specifiying that, say, deportation of a refugee from justice or an illegal immigrant is not intrinsically immoral. Cardinal Dulles likewise notes slavery as a problematic item. Of course, JPII also mentions things like abortion and euthanasia, which are intrinsically immoral without unspoken qualifications. In other words, there may or may not be "unspoken qualifiers" when it comes to torture. Fr. Harrison basically concludes that, it may be argued, JPII *meant* us to understand there was an unspoken qualification when it comes to torture: namely, that torturing somebody to extract life-saving information is not intrinsically immoral.

Let's grant, for a moment, Fr. Harrison's argument. Prescinding from the fact that, again, the *whole point* of VS 80 is to say that there are some acts which no good end can justify, let's ask: Is our policy of torture simply confined to those who can yield life-saving information?

Answer: No. By the very nature of the case, torture is employed not because we know they have life-saving information, but because we *suspect* they have life-saving information. In many cases, we torture to find out if the victim is worth torturing. And even then, we are often a) wrong, b) radically counter-productive and c) always endangering our souls. Moreover , mind you, this is all on the basis of what Fr. Harrison *supposes* John Paul *might* have meant when all we actually have are his clear and explicit words that physical and mental torture are intrinsically immoral.

Both of these appear to me to be an issue where he simply dodges the question of deportation altogether. I don't necessarily have a problem with that since he cites ignorance (were that he to do so more often when speaking about other matters!), but I think that if he is going to rest his entire argument on torture on the basis of appealing to a particular text that he should be damned sure that he knows that text before he starts issuing anathema sits against those who might question his interpretation.

There is also, if you read on the linked posts, a complete failure to distinguish between the sacred and the secular. Whether or not torture (or more specifically acts that others might regard as torture) is licit under some circumstances does not automatically justify or excuse all actions carried out by the United States or its allies. In other words, there is morality and then there is practice. When Cardinal Dulles raised the issue of slavery in reference to statements by Pope John Paul II, it was absurd for anyone to argue that he did so because he was seeking to revive the practice. Similarly, to argue that the only reason that anyone could question Mark's view of Gaudium et Spes was out of a desire to defend the Bush administration is pure ad hominem. Either our criticisms have merit and he should address them or he should do more than make these vain appeals to ill or base motives on the part of everyone who disagrees with him.

The reason that I raised the issue of deportation was due to the fact that, as I think these quotations illustrate, Mark has never really engaged the issue of deportation as it relates to his reading of Gaudium et Spes as far as I can determine. He has cited ignorance and then assumed that there were unspoken qualifiers for those issues that he views as reasonable (deportation, slavery, etc) while ignoring them for those issues he believes to be unreasonable (in this case torture). This is classical Protestant "pick and choose" exegesis regarding textual literalism. The appeal to the examples of abortion and euthanasia are unconvincing because we didn't need Gaudium et Spes to inform us that either were immoral - there is a long and well-established track record of Catholic teaching in this regard. But if Mark is going to tell us that torture is now intrisically immoral where it manifestly was not regarded as such 100 years ago, I don't think that it is altogether unreasonable to demand a higher standard of proof than that which Mark has yet provided.

Mark argues that those wishing to discuss the qualifiers of torture are doing so in order to excuse the current actions of the Bush administration. I think that this is a massive ad hominem attack, but it also begs the question of what might be said concerning all of his paleocon friends and their full-throated arguments concerning the wholesale deportation of millions of illegal immigrants?

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