The only thing worse than a politician posing as an intellectual may be an intellectual posing as a politician. The country has paid a steep price for George W. Bush’s aping Neo-Con ideology: now, Catholic America must endure George Weigel dictating in Newsweek our single political option for the 2008 election. Alarmed at the collapse of the anti-abortion position of Catholicism in this year’s political contest, Weigel summons his not inconsiderable intellectual skills to defend some terribly tired dicta.
In Newsweek, he builds upon the idea that abortion is “non-negotiable issue,” while everything else is subject to cafeteria Catholicism. He links Senator Obama with a failed 1980s proposition, the Freedom of Choice Act [FOCA], claiming this legislation is endorsed on the Senator’s own website (it’s not)), and that while an Illinois State Senator, Obama opposed saving the lives of survivors of abortions (he didn’t).
Sadly, Weigel’s recent politicking has cheapened his body of work over a commendable career. As a respected Catholic intellectual, Weigel had held high the torch of insightful commentary on contemporary issues that explained Catholicism in the public forum. True, Weigel almost always wound up on the side of the Republican Party, but then so did Douglas Kmiec, former Catholic University law professor, and Nicolas Cafardi, once the dean of Duquesne University School of Law and adviser to the bishops on the pedophile issue. Yet, these pro-lifers are now supporting Obama on the grounds that he will do more to reduce abortions than McCain and Palin. Weigel’s attack on his former intellectual comrades relies on tired old arguments to counter the new formulations of political strategies. Weigel’s choice of ideological weapons reflects neither the acumen of his intellect or the changed circumstances of today’s Catholic electorate. As observed before in this online column, unless the Pro-Life Movement can soon reinvent itself, it will likely collapse, further damaging the capacity of the U.S. Bishops to guide the faithful on social issues.
Consider also George Weigel’s attempt to support the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. In Against The Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace, he stoops to identifying himself with a politically toxic label as a “Theo-Con.” Strange to a former advocate of papal teachings, he criticizes popes John XXIII and Benedict XVI for having opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Perhaps the most confused of his politicized comments is the following: “The fact of the matter today is that the just war tradition, as a historically confirmed method of rigorous moral reasoning, is far more alive in America’s service academies and armed forces graduate schools than in our divinity schools and on our faculties of theology; the just war tradition ‘lives’ more vigorously in the American officer corps, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and at the higher levels of the Pentagon than it does at the National Council of Churches, in certain offices at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or on the faculties of Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union and the Duke Divinity School “(p. 204). One wonders if an intellectual has to turn in his membership card after such an anti-intellectual statement.
The most disturbing tendency in the meanderings of this self-described Theo-Con is his reliance on papal and episcopal documents to the prejudice of the words of Jesus Christ found in scripture. While we Catholics are distinguished by our reliance on both tradition and scripture, we don’t become super-Catholics by ditching the bible in favor of ecclesiastical pronouncements. As argued here once before, Jesus gave us the measure of Judgment Day in Matthew 25. Our test of discipleship is whether we sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked, fed the hungry and the like. Abortion was not on Jesus’ list, so it departs from His teaching to pretend that the “least of my brothers and sisters” really means the unborn. Clearly, Jesus was talking about the living victims of poverty and injustice among us. While sincere Catholics are trying to reconcile a stark political choice either to vote pro-life for the living or pro-life for the unborn, George Weigel has chosen to stay at home. Not helpful.