To defend the disposable

Dr. Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is best known these days for an imprudent lecture in which he suggested that the Obamacare bill (of which he was an intellectual architect) was deliberately crafted to be so complex that the stupid American people couldn’t possibly understand it. Gruber’s lecture opened a window into the arrogance of the secular clerisy: those enlightened members of the professoriate who know best and who, as a matter of duty, are going to give the dimwitted people what’s best for them—and give it to us good and hard. Yet many who found Dr. Gruber’s condescension akin to fingernails scraping down a blackboard were even more appalled by a paper Gruber wrote in 1997, which came under scrutiny during a recent congressional hearing at which the MIT professor was a witness.

The language of that paper was not lilting—economists rarely are—but its meaning was clear and its implications were chilling. Here’s what Dr. Gruber wrote, describing his research into the economic effects of the abortion license imposed on the United States in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade:

“By 1993, all cohorts under the age 18 were born under legalized abortion and we estimate steady state savings of $1.6 billion per year from positive selection.”

In plain English: The abortion license saved the taxpayers $1.6 billion a year because those terminated before birth were from social classes most likely to be welfare clients.

In even plainer English: Disposing of all those poor kids before they’re born is a winner.

Gruber’s paper, and his grilling by Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie, was a reminder that eugenics is the dirty little secret of the secular progressive. For what Dr. Gruber called “positive selection” is simply a euphemism for eugenics: the deliberate elimination of those parts of the population most likely to have difficulty coping with our post-industrial, information-driven society. That a lot of secular progressives are fierce supporters of the abortion license because they’re eugenicists at heart shouldn’t come as a surprise; one current member of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had a Gruberian moment some years ago when she admitted in an interview that legal activists promoting the abortion license prior to 1973 did so in part because they thought it would cut down the “growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

Still, whether you’re surprised at these unguarded confessions or not, the eugenic gene in the DNA of 21st-century secular progressivism is unmistakable. And that eugenic impulse is a pluperfect expression of what Pope Francis is talking about when he condemns a “throwaway culture”—one that treats weak and vulnerable human beings, including the unborn and the elderly, as “disposable.”

Which brings us, at the end of the year, to the question of the Church and the culture wars.

At the root of today’s culture-war issues—abortion and euthanasia, the marriage debate, the LGBT insurgency—are competing and, frankly, irreconcilable ideas of the human person. Are we people of intelligence and free will, capable of knowing the good, freely choosing it, and finding happiness in that goodness? Or are we congealed stardust, twitching bundles of desires for whom instant gratification is the summum bonum, the greatest good?

Those determined to impose the latter idea on the rest of us are the aggressors in the culture wars of the 21st century, not the Church. A culture war has been declared on us. And while there may be a choice of weapons with which to fight that war, not fighting is not an option. For to surrender, supinely, before the aggressors in the culture wars—including the eugenicists—is a betrayal of the Gospel and a betrayal of the Church’s evangelical mission.

It’s a betrayal because the Lord has taught us that care for the least of his brethren is care for him. The least among us are now being described, and treated, as the disposable among us. To defend their human dignity is a Gospel imperative.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.