Maybe you, too, find it difficult to keep the central elements of this controversy in focus. With all due respect for ecclesiastical authority–and for all authorities on medicine, public health, and health-care finance—I would like to undertake an analysis.
Allow me, if I may, to begin with my own “I Have a Dream” speech.
I dream of a world in which every act of sexual intercourse expresses committed love and reveres the dignity of both parties, man and woman. I dream of a world in which sex never serves as a means of exploitation or abuse, in which everyone seeks genuine friendship and a noble life, in which no one ever falls prey to addiction to venereal pleasure.
I dream of a chaste world in which married couples communicate respectfully, make earnest, thoughtful decisions about how they envision their family’s future, and love each other enough to abstain when they should–and come together when they should. I dream of a world in which young people love themselves enough to seek friendship in beautiful, deep, vigorous pursuits, leaving their ears open to the call of God by guarding their chastity firmly.
I think I can safely say that the Church dreams this dream. Pope Paul VI urged us to revere the mysterious power of sexual intercourse. We must humbly acknowledge: What we understand about sex remains dwarfed by everything about it which we don’t understand.
One thing we all have in common: We live and breathe now because an act of sexual intercourse occurred, nine months or so before our original birthday.
Does anyone doubt that spitting on one’s flag, disrespecting one’s country—that such an act would be craven and perverse?
To fail to revere sexual intercourse as a sacred thing would be immeasurably worse. It’s like spitting on myself.
From this holy hearth—of man and woman embracing—from this holy hearth have I come. Let me bow my head to think of it. Let me not demean my very self by imagining that sex is some simple business—like shoeing a horse—that I can manipulate, control, even fully understand.
Ok. Enough Self-Respect 101. Now to the problem at hand. What exactly is the problem at hand? Seems like it has something to do with health care and Catholic conscience.
Health care. Everyone has a right to it. What comprises health-care? What comprises health care in the USA in 2012? For the sake of justice, it would seem that some competent authority must define the “health-care standard.” Probably the local doctor would be the first place to go for a good answer.
As we all know, though, the health-care “business” has become a great deal more complicated than the local doctor and his professional expertise.
The health care to which everyone has a right costs money. The entire enterprise relies on the financial solidarity (at least to some extent) of large groups of people, most of whom are pretty healthy, to support the expense of caring for the sick. This statement, I believe we can say, constitutes a fundamental, universal principle of humanity. The healthy assume the burden of providing for the care of the sick. We fall beneath the level of beasts if we fail to do this.
So, okay: I am an employer. The success of the business allows for the company to participate in the health-care enterprise by an equitable financial arrangement. To whom exactly does the money involved belong? To me? To my employees? To society? Impossible to say.
Someone has the responsibility of choosing how the health-caring will work. Here we arrive at the place where, to my mind, the appeal to conscience in the face of the Obamacare mandate becomes rather ironic.
If the health-care operation falls under my jurisdiction, and I myself have choices to make about how it will work, then of course I have a moral duty to choose in favor of the chaste-world dream. If I choose in favor of a world of irreverence for the very wellspring of every human life, then I have sinned—sinned grievously, because this is the most serious business imaginable.
But what if any choice in the matter is taken away from me, as an employer? What if a law governs everything, and I have no choices? That puts me in a different moral situation.
My primary obligation is to refrain from immoral sexual activity myself. Other people may spit on themselves by turning something sacred into a demented recreational masturbatory charade. But my capacity to address such a situation is limited by the facts at hand.
A conscience, by definition, operates in an individual human soul. The wise person certainly illuminates his or her own conscience by reflection, study, and seeking advice.
Conscience is what binds the individual to act according to the truth. When I act otherwise—i.e., according to fleeting emotion, or vice, or selfishness of any kind—then my conscience bothers me. Either I find a way to clear it, or I will add insult to injury by blinkering myself more and more, until darkness envelops my mind altogether.
I guess my point is: I hardly see where “religious freedom” really has anything to do with this at all. If I authorize payment for an abortion, or for unnecessary surgery aimed at making someone sexually impotent, for the sake of someone’s unbridled venereal pleasure, or for drugs aimed at the same purpose—well then, please God, may my conscience bother me. If I myself actually do any of these dreadful things, then, please, God: May my conscience bother me.
But if others do these things, and no choice whatsoever of my own has brought them to pass…well, then my heart breaks, but my conscience remains untouched.
Inchastity always inevitably leads to the killing of unborn children (or even newborns) by some means or other. The dream of the Church for a chaste world also obviously is a dream for justice and love for the innocent and defenseless babies.
Everyone has an obligation to act in favor of these innocents by all the upright means we have at our disposal. But determining these means must be a matter of prudential judgment in particular cases.
Let me imagine all the innocent and defenseless unborn sitting in judgment on me, along with all the other innocents, when my life comes to an end. Keeping this in mind, let me do what I can.
Again, though, we must add: If others act against the babies, and no choice of mine implicates me, then it breaks my heart, but it does not touch my conscience.
It seems to me that the real problem has nothing to do with the First Amendment. I think the real problem is the darkened or deadened consciences of doctors. A catalogue of false ideas has produced this situation.
To name a few: 1. Health involves sex at will. 2. There are too many people on the planet. 3. Doctors bear no responsibility for their patients’ morals. 4. No genuinely scientific determinations can be made in the realms of morality and metaphysics.
All of these ideas can be demonstrated to be false, without any recourse to Church or Scriptural authority. I don’t think we have a religious freedom crisis on our hands. I think we have had too many selfish doctors who suck. The colossal mess that has ensued will take a couple generations to clean up.
Let’s do our best.
Perhaps Obamacare will provoke a genuine crisis for doctors who find themselves obliged by law to do dreadful things. I am afraid that many doctors are already so obliged, by other laws and regulations.
Of course, none of us will do the evil acts, because nothing is worse than committing a sin. May God preserve us all from such a crisis.
For everybody, the following rule of thumb applies: Let’s start cleaning this mess up by loving everyone in sight with true, chaste Christian love.