Bad faith can be found in both the extreme left- and right-wing camps. It is most commonly found not among simple people, whose prejudices are close to the surface, but among intellectuals (and pseudo-intellectuals), people who claim to be one thing, but then, in an instant, they expose their less attractive motivations. Two instances in recent days evidence bad faith, one the result of a failure of imagination and the other simple disingenuousness.
Last Friday, I was listening to NPR’s "Science Friday" and host Ira Flatow had an interview with New Yorker writer Michael Specter to promote his new book "Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives." Most of the interview consisted of Specter citing examples of those who are unwilling to face facts, and how such a refusal leads them to conclusions that are wrong and even dangerous. A worthwhile project assuredly. For example, he poked fun at those who are afraid of genetically modified food and those who turn to homeopathic remedies for their ills, a fear and a hope both of which have no scientific basis.
But, then they took a call from a woman who asked if embryology showed that a fetus is sentient when an abortion happens, if that would change how we addressed the issue as a culture. The woman did not explicitly indicate that she was pro-life. She merely stated, following the premise of Specter’s work, that here was a factual point that could clarify the morally fraught issue. Instead of engaging her question, they jumped all over her. Specter took refuge in the claim that abortion was a moral issue and so he was not going to consider it, although the whole tenor of his argument is that the intellectual superiority he upheld is akin to moral superiority. Flatow turned her question on its head. I kid you not: He asked her if science showed the fetus did not feel any pain if she would change her views. In short, they both refused to acknowledge the implications of their oh-so pristine scientific stance when it forced them into an uncomfortable spot. It was shameful.
Just as shameful was an admission on the website of Professor Robert George’s organization, The American Principles Project. George, if a recent New York Times profile is any guide, spends most of his time convincing the world that he is the brains behind the American bishops. The article on his website is entitled, "Not to be forgot: Pro-Life movement helped halt Obamacare." So, the "American Principle" involved was not a defense of human life but a defeat of universal health insurance.
Catholics are free to oppose all manner of political proposals. But, the American bishops, unlike some of the fringe pro-life elements, supported the goal of universal health insurance not least because it is pro-life. They objected to any government funding of abortion but one of the two incarnations of "Obamacare," the House bill included the Stupak Amendment. When that amendment passed, even Richard Doerflinger, the USCCB’s point man on pro-life issues, said that the inclusion of Stupak meant that the bishops wanted the bill to move forward. No one has been able to explain to me how or why the Senate language was not at least as good as the House language on the issue of abortion, but I understand their commitment to Stupak. But, such distinctions are lost on George. The goal all along was not to pass pro-life health care but to stop Obamacare. That may be a Republican principle, but it is not an American one and it is certainly not a Catholic principle. George is merely being disingenuous. Trying to defeat a bill that would have helped millions of Americans get access to health care, without offering a reasonable alternative, is not pro-life.
The two examples above show the difficulty of proclaiming the Gospel in a complex intellectual and political universe. For some like Specter and Flatow, the problem is that they like their principles when they yield the results they want. For others like George, principles are putty in their political hands, to be twisted as needed. The Church, in advancing its concern for life, must never give up in its efforts to engage science in reaching its moral conclusions, and must call out those who follow science only where they wish to be led. And, the Church must be careful too about aligning itself with those, like George, whose agendas are more partisan than principled.