Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Credal Imposition!!"

There are those times where you know what you want to say and what your point is but you just can't put it into words. It's maddening! The whole farce about "imposing your beliefs" is just one of them. Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk does it far better than I ever could, even supposing I could ever get the words to come out.

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"Imposing Our Beliefs" on Others

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK

After I gave my testimony, one of the senators asked a pointed question. "Father Tad, by arguing against embryonic stem cell research, don't you see how you are trying to impose your beliefs on others, and shouldn't we as elected lawmakers avoid imposing a narrow religious view on the rest of society?"

A lot of hot-button topics are being debated in our state legislatures these days, topics of great ethical and bioethical importance, ranging from emergency contraception to gay marriage. These debates address important issues for the future of our society. Lawmakers face the daunting task of making decisions about what should or should not be permitted by law within a reasonable society. Recently I was asked to speak in Virginia at legislative hearings about embryonic stem cell research. After I gave my testimony, one of the senators asked a pointed question. "Father Tad, by arguing against embryonic stem cell research, don't you see how you are trying to impose your beliefs on others, and shouldn't we as elected lawmakers avoid imposing a narrow religious view on the rest of society?" The senator's question was an example of the fuzzy thinking that has become commonplace in recent years within many state legislatures and among many lawmakers.

Two major errors were incorporated into the senator's question. First, the senator failed to recognize the fact that law is fundamentally about imposing somebody's views on somebody else. Imposition is the name of the game. It is the very nature of law to impose particular views on people who don't want to have those views imposed on them. Car thieves don't want laws imposed on them which prohibit stealing. Drug dealers don't want laws imposed on them which make it illegal to sell drugs. Yet our lawmakers are elected precisely to craft and impose such laws all the time. So the question is not whether we will impose something on somebody. The question is instead whether whatever is going to be imposed by the force of law is reasonable, just, and good for society and its members.

The second logical mistake the senator made was to suppose that because religion happens to hold a particular viewpoint, that implies that such a viewpoint should never be considered by lawmakers or enacted into law. Religion teaches very clearly that stealing is immoral. Would it follow that if I support laws against stealing, I am imposing my narrow religious viewpoint on society? Clearly not. Rather, the subject of stealing is so important to the order of society that religion also feels compelled to speak about it. Religion teaches many things that can be understood as true by people who aren't religious at all. Atheists can understand just as well as Catholics how stealing is wrong, and most atheists are just as angry as their Catholic neighbors when their house is broken into and robbed. What is important is not whether a proposed law happens to be taught by religion, but whether that proposal is just, right, and good for society and its members.