Indivisible: Jay Richards on Right to Life and Social Justice

We shouldn’t treat unequal issues as if they are equal.

Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before it's too LateCongratulations to last week’s giveaway winner Rick Garland!

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This is the fourth installment from our interview with Dr. Jay Richards; click the links below to read the previous ones:

  1. Law, Liberty, and Freedom (July 4)
  2. Morality and Economics (July 11)
  3. Natural Law and Reason (July 18)

As we ramp up toward the presidential election this November, we need to know how to sort through positions on various issues. Today, we publish an excerpt from our conversation with Dr. Richards in which he discussed how to understand right to life and social justice issues as faithful Catholic voters.

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The Practicing Catholic: You’d argue that life issues and social justice issue should never be separated; they’re two branches of the same tree?

Dr. Richards: That’s right; they are two branches of the same tree. I do think it’s important that we make distinctions in these issues. Sometimes people say, “Well, I disagree with this politician because he’s pro-choice and he supports same-sex marriage, but I agree with his views on tax reform.”

Dr. Jay RichardsJust as we shouldn’t be single-issue voters, we shouldn’t treat unequal issues as if they are equal. For instance, some people will say if we’re really going to be truly pro-life, then we also need to be pacifists and we need to support some government program involved in poverty.

The problem is that when you’re dealing with issues like abortion, you’re dealing with an intrinsically evil act. When you’re talking about tax policy or even something as important as domestic poverty, that’s mostly prudential judgment. Nobody thinks that people ought to be poor, but reasonable people disagree on how to help the poor. We’re not dealing with an intrinsically evil act there; we are when we’re dealing with abortion.

I generally resist this idea that pro-life ought to cover every particular issue. Abortion is an unusual and distinctly important issue, not just because it is an intrinsic evil, but because human life is the first right without which we don’t have any other rights. So, it makes sense that we should distinguish it.

Sometimes people think we’re losing this battle because it’s taking a long time. I think it’s important for us as a pro-life people to remember that, in general, the population is slowly getting more pro-life. Maybe that’s more because of imagery and technology that allows us to see what happens in the womb than the philosophical arguments that I like to make.

It’s also important to remember that there are things like the institution of slavery, which was a time-tested, more-or-less universal institution throughout history. Yet, the British Empire at the height of its power abolished slavery, not because it was an economic issue but because enough people became persuaded that it was simply immoral, contrary to the Christian view of things. We should use that as a point of optimism when it comes to the life issues. It may be a long, hard slog, but I think we are making some progress.

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  1. Stuart says

    I just discovered your website. I completely agree that we can’t treat all issues equal, and wish more Catholics would realize that.

  2. MK says

    We as Catholics need to defend the rights of the life of the unborn. Yes tax policy is a mess, but it is not an issue that comes close to being equal to the right to life!

  3. says

    Hoping our citizens and our representatives can agree on this: “Just as we shouldn’t be single-issue voters, we shouldn’t treat unequal issues as if they are equal.” The important and first issue then is life. Life is the single most important human right from which all other rights follow.


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