A Cautious Man
April 05, 2005
 
Culture Club
The death of the Pope has not prevented President Bush from continuing to use religion as a political weapon. Most recently, he has continued to misappropriate the phrase "culture of life", as if that applies to his politics (and thereby relegating his opponents to being part of the "culture of death"). This blatant philosophical "trademark infringement" can be seen in the President's statements which, while presented as tributes to the late John Paul II, are really just political mischaracterizations. For example, his prepared remarks released after the announcement of the Pope's death included the following:
Throughout the West, John Paul's witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak. And during the Pope's final years, his witness was made even more powerful by his daily courage in the face of illness and great suffering.

All Popes belong to the world, but Americans had special reason to love the man from Krakow. In his visits to our country, the Pope spoke of our "providential" Constitution, the self-evident truths about human dignity in our Declaration, and the "blessings of liberty" that follow from them. It is these truths, he said, that have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and respect.
It's bad enough that the President tries to pigeon-hole the Pope into representing just the "West", and as supporting the political view that the U.S. is somehow entrusted with carrying out "God's plan". The abuse of the concept of "culture of life" has been growing lately. It is not, as the President would have it, a "conservative" concept. It's not really "liberal", either, as that term is used in U.S. politics. An essay by Father Raymond A. Schroth of St. Peter's College and the National Catholic Reporter, published yesterday, provides a concise summary of what the term really means:
John Paul II's most lasting legacy is his support for the dignity of human life at every phase of its development. That means we do not kill life in the womb; we nurture the lives of children with health care and education; we do not execute murderers; we provide medical insurance for the sick and security for the aging; we do not actively terminate prematurely the lives of the very sick; we do not fight -- above all, do not start -- wars without demonstrating just cause; we do not torture or humiliate prisoners of war, and we do not bomb a whole neighborhood to take out one sniper.

It is the most sublime concept that the church preaches today, but it has not sunk in -- both because the culture resists and because the church does not really push it with all its heart. If President Bush and Catholic members of Congress had listened to the pope, Saddam Hussein might still be president of Iraq, but 1,500 American soldiers and an estimated 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians would still be alive. I can think of no moral calculus that would value one man's removal over all those lives.
The President's abuse of the concept is being noticed, at least. The resident "White House Press Gaggle" watcher at First Draft has a summary of the reporters' torturing of the President's Press Secretary over this.

Not to worry, though, since the President's allies in the media will continue to support his distortion of the concept. The latest outrageous example is from (where else?) the online version of the Wall Street Journal, where James Taranto's "Best of the Web" contains this little nugget:
Along with being the first president to attend a papal funeral, Bush has embraced the "culture of life," much in the news of late, which owes a great deal to Catholic theology. Perhaps just as Bill Clinton has been called the "first black president," George W. Bush will one day earn the honorary title of "first Catholic president."
So, we're supposed to forget about that Kennedy guy? Of course, Taranto is engaged in the usual non-funny, ill-informed snarkiness that characterizes his work. And, granted, that insulting little statement echoes one by Senator Santorum a couple of years ago. That doesn't change the fact that there are people who actually take those assertions seriously. This is right after an election in which it became politically acceptable to attack, not just the Democratic nominee's military record, but even his right to be a Catholic. When politicians and political pundits claim the right to decide who is, or was, a genuine Catholic (and to masquerade as "Catholic-like"), that sort of arrogance needs to be pointed out and turned back.

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