“Statecraft,” Aristotle instructed his pupils, “is soulcraft.” What he meant is that the state or government, by its policies, procedures and actions, places moral ideas in thesocial and legal fabric and these ideas shape the quality of its citizens’ character. This central truth animates the understanding of politics supported by Catholic teaching.
Some thinkers, however, believe that the government should, and can, remain neutral on several controversial moral and social questions about which Catholics and other Christians have taken a strong stand, including the sanctity of life and the protection of marriage. These thinkers maintain, contrary to Aristotle, that statecraft is not soulcraft, that the government should not take a position on which views are right or wrong, since taking such a stance would violate the right of citizens to make up their own minds on these questions.
This view is mistaken for one simple reason: No matter what the government permits or forbids, it is taking a stance on what it believes about the nature of the human person and what is right or wrong, even if it denies that this is so. To demonstrate that this is the case, I will focus primarily on the issue of abortion and then two other issues: the right to suicide and same-sex marriage.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Government Forms (or Deforms) Your Soul
That is the title of an article I published last year (vol. 21, no. 5, September 2010) in This Rock (now Catholic Answers Magazine), the magazine of Catholic Answers. It is now available online. Portions of this article are adapted from portions of my most recent book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010). Here's how the article begins: