US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A lesson from Rand Paul on what it means to stand in defense of human life

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I wouldn't normally say I'm a big supporter of Kentucky senator and Tea Party icon Rand Paul, but I have to give him credit for something he said at last weekend's Values Voter Summit in Washington.

In his speech, Paul gave a fairly strong criticism of war from a Christian perspective. Though he said he's not a pacifist, Paul said that he does hate war and violence and that he believes world leaders should avoid war at all costs.

"Though I hate war, I could commit a nation to war. But only reluctantly and constitutionally, and after great deliberation," he said. "I believe that while some would find this a contradiction in terms, that there is such a thing as a Christian or just theory of war. That a just war is a war of self-defense. At the same time, I'm conflicted. I don't believe Jesus would've killed anyone, or condoned killing, perhaps not even in self-defense."

Strong words to be sure, but then Paul took it a step further by tying his message on war to abortion, saying that it is the same violent culture that promotes war that is responsible for the deaths of millions of unborn children. "We have a great many problems in this country to solve," Paul said, "but I believe there will come a time when we are all judged on whether or not we took a stand in defense of all life from the moment of conception until our last natural breath."

That's a stronger pro-life message than we often hear from Catholic bishops. Especially in this election season, we hear much about how abortion is always evil and is a "non-negotiable" teaching, but other issues that would impact a person's life and possibly even hasten their death--such as access to health care, hunger, and policies that keep people from breaking the cycle of poverty--are considered more open to interpretation.

At the same time, we're heard much condemnation of the Obama administration for not being "pro-life," but little criticism from the bishops for the president's escalation of drone warfare. Many Catholics are critical of the fact that Obama carried the majority of Catholic voters in 2008, but I know that many of these Catholics voted for Obama primarily due to their opposition of the Bush administration's defense and counter-terrorism policies. As our February reader survey showed, those voters are now disappointed in how Obama has handled those issues, yet the killing of human beings with drone strikes hasn't received nearly as much discussion in Catholic circles as the termination of pregnancies.

Limiting "pro-life" views to abortion puts things in simple, black and white terms. The unborn are innocent and blameless, unlike people who find themselves in poverty, unemployed, or in a warzone. War and economics are messy issues with shades of gray, but for Catholics that should be no excuse for saying the life of one human being has more value than the life of another. Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and every human life is sacred, whether they are a baby born into extreme poverty, a convicted criminal, or a civilian who happens to be a little too close to a terrorist in the sights of a drone operator.

Hopefully Rand Paul will have some company from Catholics who, as Paul puts it, take a stand "in defense of all life from the moment of conception until our last natural breath"--not just from the moment of conception until natural birth. Especially when it comes to war, we should all feel conflicted.

Related reading:
Conflicted generation: Millennials and the war on terror