Douthat on the Paradox of the Unborn

Ross Douthat, like many who find their way as the “house conservatives” of highly liberal organs such as the NY Times where he currently makes his home, is not necessarily beloved by hard-driving conservatives. He is far less likely than those who write as independant columnists or for conservative organs to thunder our denunciations with fighting words like “liberal fascists” or “femi-nazis”. And as a fiscal and cultural conservative, I at root disagree with the approach of his how-can-we-find-a-way-to-offer-more-government-benefits-to-the-middle-class wonkery in Grand New Party. However, I do seriously admire the extent to which, on hostile soil, he is able to compellingly lay out Catholic/conservative principles on essential moral issues in a way which is, though soft-spokely polite, nonetheless seriously compelling. A good example of this is yesterday’s column in which he writes aboout the contradiction in American culture of how the unborn are treated sometimes as a disposable “choice” and at other times as a precious commodity desperately sought after through fertility treatments and surrogate parents:

The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion. Film or television characters might consider the procedure, but even on the most libertine programs (a “Mad Men,” a “Sex and the City”), they’re more likely to have a change of heart than actually go through with it. Reality TV thrives on shocking scenes and subjects — extreme pregnancies and surgeries, suburban polygamists and the gay housewives of New York — but abortion remains a little too controversial, and a little bit too real.

This omission is often cited as a victory for the pro-life movement, and in some cases that’s plainly true. (Recent unplanned-pregnancy movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” made abortion seem not only unnecessary but repellent.) But it can also be a form of cultural denial: a way of reassuring the public that abortion in America is — in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase — safe and legal, but also rare.

Rare it isn’t: not when one in five pregnancies ends at the abortion clinic. So it was a victory for realism, at least, when MTV decided to supplement its hit reality shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” with last week’s special, “No Easy Decision,” which followed Markai Durham, a teen mother who got pregnant a second time and chose abortion.

MTV being MTV, the special’s attitude was resolutely pro-choice. But it was a heartbreaking spectacle, whatever your perspective. Durham and her boyfriend are the kind of young people our culture sets adrift — working-class and undereducated, with weak support networks, few authority figures, and no script for sexual maturity beyond the easily neglected admonition to always use a condom. Their televised agony was a case study in how abortion can simultaneously seem like a moral wrong and the only possible solution — because it promised to keep them out of poverty, and to let them give their first daughter opportunities they never had.

The show was particularly wrenching, though, when juxtaposed with two recent dispatches from the world of midlife, upper-middle-class infertility. Last month there was Vanessa Grigoriadis’s provocative New York Magazine story “Waking Up From the Pill,” which suggested that a lifetime on chemical birth control has encouraged women “to forget about the biological realities of being female … inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” Then on Sunday, The Times Magazine provided a more intimate look at the same issue, in which a midlife parent, the journalist Melanie Thernstrom, chronicled what it took to bring her children into the world: six failed in vitro cycles, an egg donor and two surrogate mothers, and an untold fortune in expenses.

In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.
[Read the rest...]

Whatever disagreements one may have, at times, with Douthat’s overall persona, it seems to me that he is doing an incredibly important service by bringing this kind of message to the pages of the NY Times, where it is otherwise so little to be found.

44 Responses to Douthat on the Paradox of the Unborn

  • In our movement, there must be room for diplomats and commissars.

    I have no objection to tailoring language to suit an audience. It’s the argument that counts. While Douthat is usually about as appealing to me as a cup of weak coffee, I certainly understand the need for his approach. It would be nice if more people could recognize that sometimes we need hot rhetoric, sometimes we need cool, sometimes we need it just right. Like the three bears or something.

  • At the same time, it needs to be pointed out that no one would contemplate murdering a born child to give another child “more opportunities” or what have you.

    If you can give your child the basic physical necessities and love, then don’t worry about “opportunities.” It isn’t a parent’s job to provide them. If they can, great, if not, then they can at least raise competent adults who can go out into the world and recognize them.

    This idea that we all have to live a middle class life to be happy is nonsense, and it is the real culprit here. Everyone has to go to college. Everyone has to have a salaried job. Everyone has to be able to go on vacations. God forbid you aim for something modest like trade school or the army. No, this is America and every has not only the right but almost an implied duty to “shoot for the stars.” And if you think you may not have the resources to send your child to college, you may as well abort him or her right now.

    I’d like to know the “poverty” this couple would have faced, and if it would have been significantly worse than what a Mexican immigrant family with several children has to endure. I’ve seen these families, I’ve seen how they manage their limited resources. My working class, first-generation grandparents had six children and they made it work. They weren’t on welfare either.

    I don’t buy the “poverty” argument unless we’re talking homelessness, and that’s less than 1% of the population.

  • “Durham and her boyfriend are the kind of young people our culture sets adrift — working-class and undereducated, with weak support networks, few authority figures, and no script for sexual maturity beyond the easily neglected admonition to always use a condom. Their televised agony was a case study in how abortion can simultaneously seem like a moral wrong and the only possible solution — because it promised to keep them out of poverty, and to let them give their first daughter opportunities they never had.”

    One of the engines that used to lift people out of poverty was a strong family. My paternal grandmother got pregnant when she was 15 out of wedlock. Her boyfriend, my grandfather, did the right thing and they got married. Together they had seven kids, including my dad who was a middle child, and a baby girl who died at birth. During the Great Depression they kept their kids fed, somehow, on what a shoemaker could bring home, and my grandmother cleaning houses. They instilled a strong work ethic in each of their kids, none of whom ever were on welfare, and all of whom found jobs and had families of their own. Three of their sons served in the military, two fighting in World War II. Whatever was thrown at my grandparents by life, including my father who was born with twisted feet and who had to have several expensive surgeries, at the height of the Great Depression, in order to walk, they faced it together and over came poverty, not only for themselves, but their kids. When society teaches people to do the right thing, come what may, it is amazing what miracles can occur. When we teach people that abortion is a solution we cripple the family from the onset with guilt, shame and a never ending sense of loss for a slain child.

  • I could say many similar things about my grandparents and great grandparents, and it is all true. This idea that large families are a curse and a burden just ends up leaving people empty and alone.

  • This idea that we all have to live a middle class life to be happy is nonsense, and it is the real culprit here.

    Much of your comment is spoken like a man without children. (I don’t recall your family status off hand.)

    And people really need to be careful with the just-so stories. What one’s parents did and what one thinks one’s parents did are two different things. During the Great Depression, numerous counties were bankrupted by social aid demands. Young men would sometimes get arrested so that they could have a warm bed and a meal. The dust bowl brought forth a vast diaspora. I’ve heard one too many renditions of my ancestors didn’t succumb to this or that to put faith in anyone’s story.

    As for what grandma and grandpa did, grandma and grandpa lived from the 1940s through the 1960s, a long period of prosperity in this country. Even so, the Social Security check and Medicare coverage keep quite a number of grandmas and grandpas out of dire poverty, whether we are talking about 1980 or 2010.

    Not wanting to watch one’s children suffer through poverty is the most natural desire in the world.

  • Douthat plays a very important role. He represents a sizable minority, the East Coast Mushy Cons, who are being ignored by “Real America.” People like Reihan Salam, David Brooks, David Frum, George Will, Peggy Noonan, Kathleen Parker, and Megan McArdle (I know she’s not really conservative but she acts almost as conservative as the rest of them). I went to high school with one of them and was the neighbor of another. We are just as unwavering as Sarah Palin in some of our conservative views but culturally, we’d be more comfortable in the company of Obama. Without people like them, who knows, maybe someone like Andrew Sullivan would’ve seduced me to his corner (I don’t mean that in a gay way).

  • “And people really need to be careful with the just-so stories.”

    It must be rough MZ being lied to by your parents or grandparents. You must tell us all about it some day. In the case of my grandparents, they did not even have an indoor toilet to save money, but rather used an outdoor privy, which I can attest to as I used it. They also did not have a phone or a car, something else I can attest to. I can also attest to my father telling me that he did not have a new suit of clothes until he joined the Air Force, something my grandfather and grandmother also told me. My grandmother also told me how my father would attend school in patched clothes, but that he would get up early to iron them because he always liked to look his best. Some people, some how, did get by without being wards of the state.

    And in case you think I got an Ozzie and Harriet fable, I was also told by my grandmother how my grandfather used to have a drinking problem. That ended one night after my father, age 18, tossed my drunk grandfather threw a screendoor after he had been chasing my grandmother with a knife. My father then joined the Air Force. My grandfather then stopped drinking, and I can attest that he never touched a drop during my life time, based on my observations and what I was told by my grandmother.

  • “Not wanting to watch one’s children suffer through poverty is the most natural desire in the world.”

    It depends on how you define poverty, which is sort of the point. When people talk about “opportunities” that may be lost, they’re not really talking about poverty. They’re talking about moving from what may a financially insecure, but by no means destitute existence to a somewhat secure middle class existence.

    If you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, access to education and a job market (even if it is a highly competitive one), running water, electricity, transportation and modern amenities, you aren’t poor. And most Americans have these things – the vast majority do.

    I don’t know if my great grandparents had what passed for welfare during the Great Depression. I’m fairly certain my grandparents did not. The point is that they had six kids and not one of them was denied any opportunity that was available to the rest of middle America. Three of their kids are quite well off in fact, and the other three are comfortable enough. It’s because they were instilled with the right values, and the ones that took them to heart – faith and family in particular – are the ones who prospered the most.

    We have a higher standard of living today than they did back then. We have more opportunities than they did back then. I’ve seen Mexican families with four, five, six children who never thought of abortion as a way out. So I don’t deny that people struggle with financial circumstances. But I reject out of hand the notion that abortion is something we can “understand” let alone endorse for such reasons. It’s moral poison.

  • One irony I can’t quite get over is that statistically speaking, marriage is one of the best protections against poverty that women and children have, yet it is the poor who are increasingly less likely to marry or even consider marriage.

    Even couples who already have one or more children and are living together will hesistate to marry because they “can’t afford to.” This can mean either 1) they can’t afford to have a formal wedding with flowers, white gown, attendants, reception, etc., or 2) they don’t believe they are yet capable of supporting a family in the lifestyle to which they aspire. Objection #1 could be easily overcome by having a simple, informal, family-only wedding as most of our non-rich ancestors did; and as for objection #2, if they are already living in the same house and have kids together, doesn’t that prove they CAN support a family? And if you hesistate to marry your live-in honey because you are worried they might cheat on you, drink or do drugs, gamble, rip you off, etc. then why are you living with them?

  • What is truly pathetic Elaine is women who call themselves the “fiancee” of some man they’ve had 3 or 4 kids by and who have been shacked up with them for 4 or 5 years. I run into this situation all the time in my practice. Usually the male “fiancee” has no intention of ever marrying the woman. Responsibility and committment seem to be considered old fashioned in our society and women and kids do tend to be the main victims.

  • Oh, when I and my bride of 28 years married in 1982 we paid $500.00 for the whole thing, with my Mom and one of her friends “catering” the event gratis. People will always find some excuse for not marrying.

  • The horror! The horror!

    “Not wanting to watch one’s children suffer through poverty is the most natural desire in the world.” I think not “the most natural desire.”

    Is the motto then, “Better dead than destitute?”

    It’s liberal out there and getting liberaller.

  • Wow. You were married the year I was born.

  • “We are just as unwavering as Sarah Palin in some of our conservative views but culturally, we’d be more comfortable in the company of Obama.”

    It seems to me that back in the days of William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, et. al., conservatives took pride in being more cultured and erudite — dare I say intellectually elite? — than the average bear, although the best of them didn’t fall into the trap of elitism. It was Buckley, after all, who said he’d rather be governed by people chosen at random out of the Boston phone book than by a bunch of Harvard professors.

  • I don’t think mocking people’s desire for a middle class existence really helps the pro-life cause.

  • RR,

    I wouldn’t necessarily see Douthat as having much in common with the conservatism of Brooks, Frum or Will, all of whom, while they possess a certain tempermental conservatism, are pretty much completely unwilling to stand up for conservative social issues. Douthat is actually moderately courageous on that front. I would agree that there’s a certain elitism about Douthat, but recall that far from being an Obama supporter, he wrote an early and positive cover article for National Review boosting Palin — though like many conservatives (myself included) he found her later performance to be disappointing and doesn’t seem to hold out any hopes for her as a ticket front-runner at this point unless she matures a great deal as a politician.

    MZ,

    I didn’t see the reality show that Douthat is writing about, so I’m not clear what degree of poverty is being avoided here. I’ll concede that it’s natural to want the best for one’s children but at the same time I think it’s important to draw the distinctions that:

    1) Killing off some offspring is not an acceptable method of bettering others.

    2) Many people consider the middle class “necessities” in raising children to be things which can honestly be classed pretty clearly as luxuries. Along these lines, I recall eight years back when my wife and I made very little and were (unexpectedly) expecting our second child (due less than a year and a half after the birth of our first) having a conversation with an avowedly evangelical coworker at the company I worked at. She had had her first child around the same time we had our first, and she was explaining that she wasn’t sure she and her husband would have any more because, “We both grew up very poor, with lots of siblings, so we had to wear second hand clothes and couldn’t get basic things like skiing lessons.” Needless to say, my sympathy was not overwhelming. I’d never mock anyone for wanting the best for their children, but the number one element of wanting the best for any person is wanting that person to have a chance at life in the first place. As I’m sure you’d agree.

    Also, a random thought on the 40s through the 60s as an exceptionally prosperous era: It’s worth remember that what many latter day Leave-it-to-Beaver-Progressives are looking back on through rose colored glasses in regards to the 40s and 50s is that it was a period during which the fortunes of the middle and working classes were improving rapidly, while the rich were not getting richer much faster. However, in absolute terms, the middle class and the working class are still better off now than they were then, even though growth has slowed (in some cases to a near standstill) since then. This may result in some people having less hope now than then, but it doesn’t mean that people now are not in fact better off than their grandparents were. That may be the case in individual cases, but on the whole we are a good deal more prosperous than our grandparents.

    Joe,

    Oh wow. You’re my younger brother’s age… :-)

  • While we’re on it, here was MZ’s comment:

    “Not wanting to watch one’s children suffer through poverty is the most natural desire in the world.”

    If my child was virtuous, I would not mourn his poverty. A life of suffering can be just as conducive to spiritual goods as a life of affluence, and perhaps moreso.

    Again, on the understanding that “poverty” doesn’t mean destitution/starvation.

  • Here’s something for your quotable Hargrave:

    There is nothing of greater value to a man than virtue, and nothing of greater value to society than a virtuous man.

    You can put that on my tombstone.

  • I have a lot more to say about this too. I think this whole mentality of “my kids will have it good, and they won’t have to struggle or suffer the way I did” was THE greatest mistake of the “greatest generation.” They failed to realize that their suffering and their struggling is what made them strong. They failed to realize that by trying to create a mini-utopia in the home for their children, they ended up corrupting their virtues. Half of the blame for the sexual revolution lies with this fatal mistake.

  • Joe,

    I agree that’s the more important thing. I think the trick is:

    a) Parents often fear they have limited control over how virtuous their children will be in the long run, though they do their damnedest to teach them how to live rightly.

    b) Parents often have (or imagine or hope they have) a fair amount of control over how much material comfort their children are raised in, and thus feel they can assure the one if not the other.

    On the other hand, I think it’s equally important to keep in mind that in these sorts of discussions “I wouldn’t want my born children to be pushed into poverty by my trying to raise more” is the more socially acceptable rationalization for the worry “Will having more children mess up my lifestyle.” After all, parents are often more sensitive to poverty than children are. However much people may convince themselves they’re acting selflessly, such concerns can be cover for selfishness.

    And needless to say, all of that is something to worry about before conceiving, not afterwards.

  • Growing up, my family had the loosest grip on being middle class, and in the eyes of many people I guess we would have been considered poor. We didn’t have a car until I was in the Seventh Grade, we only went on two vacations that I can recall, and home was tinier than my office today. Yet, at the time it never struck me that I lacked anything. Mom and Dad always both worked, the bills got paid and there was food on the table. They also made it clear to my brother and to me that if we wanted to go to college, that would be accomplished somehow, as indeed it was. Of course the key to all of this was that my mother and father loved each other deeply and loved us and we knew that we could rely upon each other in the family my parents created. The greatest lesson in love I have ever received in this life is the way my father tenderly cared for my mother as she died of cancer at 48. Material poverty is a terrible thing, but much worse is the poverty of love as typified by abortion.

  • DarwinCatholic, that makes Douthat all the more important. While East Coast Mushy Cons are usually right there with their Real American Crunchy brethren on economic issues, they’re generally indistinguishable from moderate independents on social issues. Not only does Douthat write for Democrats, he also writes for socially liberal Republicans. In fact, that may be his more important role.

  • “I think this whole mentality of “my kids will have it good, and they won’t have to struggle or suffer the way I did” was THE greatest mistake of the “greatest generation.” They failed to realize that their suffering and their struggling is what made them strong.”

    Which brings me to something I meant to post on the “Does It Get Any Worse?” thread, but somehow couldn’t find at that time….

    Here is a beautiful Coca-Cola ad, made a couple of years ago, in which Spain’s oldest citizen (102) is introduced to its newest (a newborn baby, of course):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi5qqvuexGU

    I love what the old man says in it, addressing the newborn:

    “You will ask yourself what is the reason I have come to visit you today. It’s because most people will say to you what a bad moment you have chosen to come into the world. We’re in crisis, that’s not a good thing. Well, it’ll make you stronger. I’ve lived worse moments than this one (given his age, that would include the Great Depression, both world wars and the Spanish Civil War as well), but in the end, you’ll remember only good things.”

    Yet another reason to prefer Coke over Pepsi too :-)

  • Also, it’s one thing for people who fled, say, Ireland during the Great Famine, or Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Haiti or North Korea to insist upon making sure their children enjoy a better life than they did. It’s another thing entirely for reasonably comfortable, free, well-fed, middle class Americans to insist that their children will have it “better” even if that means they would rather not have those children at all than fail to reach that goal.

  • There is something at a base level that I find offensive about people discussing the need for austerity from others and even how it is benefiting those people. There is a reason the white fertility rate is in the toilet, and the one reason I’m confident for why it isn’t the case is because they became idiots. The coming elite or whatever you want to call them is putting off marriage until past thirty and struggling to produce children naturally. The MTV special dealt with an unmarried black teenage couple who didn’t own a home. We aren’t talking about the difference between a mere middle class existence and the bourgeoisie life.

  • Oh, you find it offensive. Ok. ::rolls eyes:: Well, I hope it isn’t as offensive to you as the idea that you should kill one child for the sake of the other.

    “We aren’t talking about the difference between a mere middle class existence and the bourgeoisie life.”

    And I didn’t say that we were. It’s the difference between a working class life and a middle class life, the life of renters and wage workers on the one hand and homeowners and salary workers on the other. I get it.

    And its no surprise that poor black youths who have had the state manage increasing areas of their lives for the last 50 years, who have been the number one target of Planned Parenthood propaganda, who are aborted at disgustingly disproportionate rates compared to their share of the population, and whose “community leaders” are Democratic con men such as the “Reverend” Jackson and Al Sharpton, are more likely to go through with an abortion. What white liberals and their middle class black accomplices have done to poor blacks is a crime against humanity. And if we consider the unborn child to be a real human being, it rivals the injustice of slavery.

  • So Douthat writes a superb and strongly pro-life column in the NYTimes (!!) and people over here are jumping on him for recognizing that poverty is sadly a consideration that leads many to seek abortion?! What site is this anyway?

  • Jumping on him?

    I expressed a point of disagreement, that’s all. I’m sorry you find it illegitimate to discuss. I happen to think that the notion that poverty justifies abortion is one of the most morally and socially destructive notions of our time, and I thought it warranted a few words in a public discussion.

  • Joe H.

    You cannot reason with liberals. St. Augustine felt the need to answer contemporary half-wits. I do not. He is a saint.

    There is no such a thing as being “a little pregnant.” You can’t be a little pro-abortion, either.

    Here is what nauseates me: the mental gyrations these heartless people employ to justify voting for 50,000,000 more abortions.

    PS: My eldest son is older than you. However, you are rapidly sneaking up on THIRTY. Carpe diem.

  • For in the end time proclaims the judgment of nature on the worth of all beings that appear in it, since it destroys them:

    And justly so: for all things, from the void
    called forth, deserve to be destroyed:
    ’twere better, then, were naught created.
    [Goethe, Faust]

  • Joe, if you think poverty is more conducive to living a spiritually rich life shouldn’t you be advocating for economic policies that will impoverish millions? Or do you not really mean what you said about poverty being more conducive to human flourishing than attaining a modicum of economic security?

    And no one–certainly not Douthat–is claiming that poverty “justifies” abortion. Explaining a phenomenon is a different activity than justifying it–as Ron Paul tried, and failed, to communicate to Rudy Giuliani.

    And, trust me, I’m no liberal.

  • WJ,

    I agree that Douthat isn’t claiming that poverty justifies abortion — though given abortion as an option, he rightly recognizes that many people feel compelled (in this case, it sounds like rather unwillingly) to choose that option because of monetary concerns. I had been under the impression that whole line of argument had come up simply as a side-discussion.

    MZ,

    I guess I’m a little unclear what you’re getting at with:

    There is something at a base level that I find offensive about people discussing the need for austerity from others and even how it is benefiting those people. There is a reason the white fertility rate is in the toilet, and the one reason I’m confident for why it isn’t the case is because they became idiots.

    I don’t think that anyone was suggesting that if someone was suddenly confronted with a magic-wand-weilding person and asked, “Quick, quick! Would you rather that your family be well off or poor?” he should respond, “Oh, I’d definitely want them to be poor. It’ll be good for them!”

    Rather, people are responding to the idea that it is better for the sum one one’s children to abort one or more in order that the others live in comparatively better economic conditions than to carry all of one’s conceived children to term and raise that family to the best of one’s ability. One of the arguments that people are martially to this cause is that while being poor is indisputably less fun than being middle class or upper middle class — it is not necessarily something so bad that people are better off dead (or to accept the pro-choice world view: non-existant) than poor. And, indeed, that many people are raised well by struggling working-class parents and go on to live happy and productive lives themselves.

    In this context, I’m not clear what brings up your comment above, or what exactly you think is indicated by the fact that many white (and come to that, non-white) elites these days are choosing to have few children and do so late in life. Certainly, that’s a way to do things given certain objectives and cultural assumptions. But I don’t necessarily see why it means that anyone who advocates going ahead and raising children (especially after the child is already conceived, rather than being the fruit of some theoretical, future action) is necessarily being callus or hard hearted. Come to that, given that none of us talking here are the scions of wealthy Harvard-going elite clans, people talking about their own and family experiences in this regard doesn’t seem like a particularly offensive approach. My impression isn’t that we have a bunch of rich people who put off having their two trophy children until their late thirties talking here.

  • Hi Darwin,

    I was not responding to your unsurprisingly reasonable comments on this thread–with which I largely agree–but to some of the other statements which, you rightly note, are orthogonal to the main point of the post.

    I would, though, be interested in hearing from Joe Hargrave whether he really does think that economic policies should be sought out which have a good chance of landing people in poverty, so as to better their chances of living truly spiritual lives.

  • As probably the most outspoken Douthat critic around these parts (although I’m not suggesting that Darwin had me in mind when he wrote this post), allow me to say that this is an excellent column by Douthat, as have been many of his more recent op/eds. Also, please allow me to clarify exactly what my criticism of Douthat has been and what it has not been.

    I do not criticize him over policy or at all consider him to be a “fake conservative”. In fact, I have stated on numerous occasions that, policy-wise, Douthat seems to be the conservative columnist who is closer to my own philosophy. For example, I am not nearly as hostile to the policy prescriptions of Grand New Party as others might be, although I’m fiscally conservative enough to have some trepidations about the vision Douthat lays out. Furthermore, as Darwin has mentioned, Douthat has been stalwart in taking the social conservative/pro-life/pro-family message to a hostile audience.

    Nor do I criticize Douthat over his tone. The fire-breathing conservative columnists out there really do nothing for me and leave me rather cold. I think the tone that Douthat takes in delivering the social conservative message is not only a vital counterbalance to the fire-breathers, but is actually going to be the tone that advances the ball further down the field, especially since he is NOT preaching to the choir but delivering the message to hearts and minds that need to be changed if the agenda is ever going to succeed. I wish more Catholic bloggers (including myself) were better at adopting the sort of tone Douthat uses in discussing these issues that so divide our country.

    No, my criticism of Douthat has been more over the “persona” (to use Darwin’s word) that he has (or, rather, had) adopted, especially during the 2008 election. What has been offputting to me about Douthat and other conservative columnists like Brooks, Frum, Parker, etc. is the “I’m not like those OTHER conservatives” mantle they have assumed, where they make a living and receive Pulitzer Prizes off of doing nothing more than bashing other conservatives. Now, often conservatives NEED to be bashed by their own (see, e.g., WFB vs. the Birchers), but I find those who make a living and building a reputation off of doing it more than a little offputting.

    Now, in Douthat’s defense, he seems to have backed off of that quite a bit recently, and seems to have more fully embraced his social conservatism in his columns of late. I just don’t feel the “not like them” hostility toward his fellow conservatives that once seemed so prevalent (and which he so openly embraced in that column I’m so fond of quoting) in his recent writing.

    Along those lines, I won’t address RR’s having a higher “comfort level” with those socially liberal people in elite circles over those who are in “Real America” (since the last time I did so it led to one of the uglier confrontations on this blog between Blackadder and myself, which I do not wish to repeat) other than to say that I wonder how much of that discomfort with so-called “Real Americans” is based on media stereotypes rather than having spent more than a superficial amount of time with the common folks that make up the vast areas of this country between the coasts. I have spent a fair amount of time in both worlds, and feel at home in either, and find that the views of each group about the other to be fairly stereotypical and not based on their having actually met and spent time with those in the alternate cultural milieu.

  • WJ,

    One does not have to desire poverty be imposed on anyone to recognize the fact that prosperity often leads to a more disordered view of material goods, often times to the detriment of the soul. To reject the reasoning of some that a life is not worth living if not in prosperity and to counter it by noting that poverty usually entails less risks to soul than wealth seems like a reasonable rebuttal.

    None of this addresses how people view “poverty” in this incredibly wealthy country. Some will characterize it along the lines of no food and shelter and others will argue having no satellite dish or a six year old car. I think this goes to Joe’s point as well. That some people consider not having two new cars, a 2000 sq ft home, and one or two vacations get-aways a year to be poverty is an indication of the risk to souls that material wealth can bring.

  • Douthat spoke at an event sponsored by the magazine “n + 1″ in 2009 in which he said he wouldn’t talk about the issue of same-sex marriage publicly, for whatever reason.
    http://nplusonemag.com/tilt-to-the-right-panel

    Michael Dougherty speculates as to why: “The reason Ross Douthat won’t share his views on gay marriage in detail is simple. He knows gay marriage opponents will be portrayed as the Bull Connors of the near-future. And he wants to keep writing film criticism and noodling theology for educated readers.”
    http://www.mbdougherty.com/dearconservative.html

  • WJ,

    “Joe, if you think poverty is more conducive to living a spiritually rich life shouldn’t you be advocating for economic policies that will impoverish millions?”

    No. I believe in economic and spiritual freedom. Poverty doesn’t necessarily make one more spiritual, and riches don’t necessarily make one morally corrupt.

    But if one can willingly embrace their suffering, whether it results from poverty or from some other condition, then one is certainly spiritually better-off than someone who feels as if life is not worth living because they lack some material comforts or they can’t go to college.

    Finally, If you DON’T think poverty is more conducive to living a spiritual life, do you advocate for the Church to abolish the vow of poverty for people entering religious life? For 2000 years they’ve been leading people down a path you and others appear to find harmful and undesirable. The Gospels are full of lessons that teach us that the lives and contributions of the poor are often more valuable from a spiritual perspective than those of the rich. Maybe you’ll reject those too.

    Poverty in the USA is not worth fighting over. Poverty in the USA is middle to upper-class wealth in Nigeria or Ethiopia. A working class American has access to more goods and services than the rich man admonished by Jesus in the Bible, who didn’t have the Internet or fast food or supermarkets.

    “Or do you not really mean what you said about poverty being more conducive to human flourishing than attaining a modicum of economic security?”

    You said “human flourishing”, not me. I don’t oppose anyone rising from poverty to the middle class through hard work and virtue, and if they practice charity and remember their humble origins. Virtue is possible at all levels of society.

    But just as St. Paul compared the married life to the religious life and said that while the former was acceptable, the latter is preferable, we can compare the middle class life with the life of poverty and make a similar assessment.

    It’s not a sin to have wealth, or even to enjoy luxuries. But it is better, in the order of things, to cultivate a healthy detachment from all material goods, to be ready to depart with them at a moment’s notice, and certainly to see immaterial goods such as virtue as more valuable than material comforts. Truly such a person has “flourished” to a far greater extent than someone who can’t imagine life without various luxuries that are now taken for granted.

    So no, poverty does not ipso facto lead to more spirituality, but viewed and accepted with the right perspective, it CAN.

    “And no one–certainly not Douthat–is claiming that poverty “justifies” abortion. Explaining a phenomenon is a different activity than justifying it–as Ron Paul tried, and failed, to communicate to Rudy Giuliani.”

    I never said he was claiming that. But there are many who do claim it – they jump from explanation to justification very easily. It’s like an automatic reflex for most people in our society, who are materialistic and who don’t think life is worth living without a very broad selection of material comforts that were unknown to most people throughout history. So, when this topic comes up, I feel compelled to state the opposite, Christian, and true perspective.

  • grandma and grandpa lived from the 1940s through the 1960s, a long period of prosperity in this country.

    There were six economic recessions between 1938 and 1970 (as many as there have been since), and these contractions tended to be more severe than those of the succeeding 40 years. The per capita income of the United States in 1955 was less than half of what it is today. Mean annual rates of improvement in per capita income were higher than has been the case for a generation or so, but at about 2.3% per annum, not spectacular.

  • Francis,

    I think Dougherty must have been wrong, because just in the last year Ross Douthat did indeed write about gay marriage (against it) in the NY Times and on his NY Times Blog.

  • Oh, Joe. I know you’re in good faith. I apologize for the tenor of my comments. Please have a good night!

  • Thanks, Darwin, for alerting me to that. Perhaps after being caught off guard in 2009 he prepared to mount some kind of defense of marriage. Good for him for being willing to take such a beating from the Times’ remarkably prejudiced audience.

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .