In the midst of the Terri Schiavo docudrama, Scott McClellan reminded reporters that his boss the President believed in a "Culture of Life", so much so that he was committed to changing the culture (that would be of anyone who disagrees with him). The Republican rightists and their social conservative-in-chief have bandied about that culture of life rhetoric for a while now no more so than during their disgraceful exploitation of Mrs. Schiavo. It seems only fitting than that the death of John Paul II (which sucked the air out of that Mediathon) reminds us of who invented the culture of life concept in the first place.
To be sure, Bush and company have been quite selective in their application of it. For the Pope it translated into his long term opposition to the death penalty and more recently to the Iraq war which he knew would involve wanton "collateral damage". Beyond opposing the pulling of feeding tubes from people whose lives have been reduced to breathing nothingness, the in-power conservatives oppose abortion and any legitimate semblance of stem cell research. But they aren't alone in this "yes but" approach. The fact is that the late Pope did much the same. Unquestionably he was a remarkable man who inspired love and respect among people of many faiths and who decisively broke away from historic antagonisms toward Jews and Moslems. But when it came to the culture of life, he shut his eyes to one of its most lethal consequences, and with it the real world in which we find ourselves. Interestingly, it is a breach that is shared by our present administration.
The Catholic Church and many fundamentalists (Ultra-Orthodox Jews among them), oppose "artificial" birth control. I don't agree with them, but respect their right to hold those views for themselves. They do so with the utmost conviction. Imposing their view on others is quite another thing, especially so in the face of the AIDS pandemic. Here both the Pope's opposition to the use of condoms and the Bush Administration's refusal to fund them (one of his first acts as President) is perhaps the most scandalous example of "yes but" -- one that cannot be overlooked. If someone with AIDS knowingly infects others by having unprotected sex with them we consider it murder and subject to prosecution. The hard question we have to ask is whether pursuing a doctrine that denies condoms in Africa and other underdeveloped lands in these times – something that inevitably leads to infecting heretofore healthy human beings – isn't also murder? Is that consistent with a culture of life?
People on the Right love to talk about values and morality. To some, the fact that these same people along with the Catholic Church are denying the reality of our times may be considered a simple, if cruel, head-in-the-sand mentality, with honestly unintended consequences. But that would be letting them off the hook. What this dogmatic culture of life amounts to is no less than moral blindness in the guise of religiosity. That is hard to respect. In these moments of chest pounding in Washington and mostly well deserved public adoration of the late Pope, we should pause to demand that the pious stop saying "yes but" to their culture of life.