The Roaring Lion

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There are a few disclaimers to make at the outset; firstly this is an opinion piece, and secondly I am, a pro life Catholic. As to the latter, and for the record, I am not even the chocolate box type Catholic, I’m what Pope Francis has referred to as ‘the rigid type of Catholic’. Anyway, enough about the Pope. Lets talk about Ms Úna D’Arcy and Aontú. Stick with me, we’re going places.

Doubts

My first reaction when I heard that Úna D’Arcy had joined Aontú wasn’t delight. I was informed she had campaigned for Repeal and now Aontú had accepted a repealer into their midst like a wolf into the sheepfold. It seemed to cause more grief than it brought benefit, more loss than gain. I was suspicious as to why we sold out so quickly on the issue that had really been the founding platform of Aontú, growing as it had from Cherish all the Children. We were pro life, and now it seemed we might not be quite so pro life and where was it going to stop… if you take one repealer in you can take another, and another, until you are Sinn Féin take two.

My husband, a more liberal thinker than me (in the proper sense of liberal being open to the thinking of others, rather than liberal in terms of morality which is a misnomer anyway, but that’s for another day…) Where was I… yes my husband was of the opinion that the situation mirrored the referendum. That if the pro life side had argued for limited abortion for the hard cases rather than no abortion we may actually have achieved a much less liberal (in the moral sense this time) abortion legislation.

I have to be honest, and thankfully I’ve a good marriage, because I disagree on this. To have argued for limited abortion would have been indefensible, as indefensible as arguing for carte blanche abortion, given that an absolute wrong is never right in any quantity. If you see abortion as the denial of the fundamental human right to life to a human both innocent and vulnerable, then arguing for 300 is different only in number but not in moral error, to arguing for 300,000. I cannot see abortion in the hard cases being justifiable, and if it is deemed justifiable in those cases why not in ever less severe cases.

This is old ground, I don’t need to flog this horse, but my point is the pro life side were right not to argue for a little volume of a great evil even in order to avoid a big volume of the a great evil. You may say there are grey areas and I am a dictatorial, totalitarian, bigoted, suppressed woman who wants to force women to carry dying babies, birth babies who are less than perfect (what’s perfect anyway?) and coerce others into motherhood who are struggling with economic worries. That’s ok, you can say what you like, I am simply for never taking the life of an innocent human being and no amount of subjective context, no matter how harrowing, suffices to make me think that it would be acceptable. So I’d never argue for it, because while that position may indeed lose a referendum, it was the right thing to do. Moral relativism doesn’t cut much for me.

So after that conversation with my husband, I was still sceptical on this repealer in the midst situation. Or at least uncomfortable and turning it over.

I slept on it, always a good plan. And woke up with a jumble of other thoughts.

Lets Talk

We’ll start with conversations. The highest form of conversation is the exchange of ideas. There are others; humour, diatribe, competitive advocacy… in today’s Ireland I would hazard that diatribe is more common than it should be. The exchange of ideas is central to that now dated understanding of the word liberal. A liberal democracy is one where the people and their elected representatives can hold a two way co-operative discussion in order to trim back any illogicality to expose the truth at the heart. This implies of course, not limiting your conversation to people who agree with you on everything. Don’t confuse a liberal democracy with Twitter. Twitter is diatribe in a set number of characters that masquerades as a conversation but in actual fact is limited to those who agree with the trend setters (who are termed ‘liberal’ but are in fact intolerant). Have I confused you yet?

Liberal democracy and a good aul chat

We are supposed to live in a liberal democracy. Now I have grave doubts as to democracy being a good form of government given how easily controlled society is. If a government has an agenda, as ours does, and subsidises the state media, as ours does. And if your alternative media come from platforms that also have agendas, plus our “independent” media are owned by a fistful of individuals who likewise have an agenda – where does objectivity come in? If you control the information a society receives, you can control their opinions and from there their actions.

So democracy has serious flaws. But if you must have democracy, a liberal democracy is probably as good as it gets because it is supposed to allow free exchange of information. Something we do not have. So new alert for anyone not yet aware; you do not live in a liberal democracy, you live in a totalitarian democracy. Something Rousseau failed to see coming; he assumed that the individual and the state were both aiming at the same outcome. In actual fact that’s a fairly idealised notion and western democracy exists on a spectrum that falls forever short of this. We are at the far end of the spectrum, the people’s interest and the state’s interest are in opposition. We facilitate the government’s ability to look after its interest at the cost of our own.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, you are in an Orwellian world. And the solution to an Orwellian governmental system is knowledge. Knowledge spread by discussion, not by locking it away in a pro life echo chamber. No party can function like that, no party can grow, no party can follow the truth at the possible loss of popularity because it relies entirely on the people within that chamber rather than relying on truth itself.

In other words, what point is there in conversation if we cannot discuss ideas on which we disagree? And what point is there in politics if it is not based on this type of conversation?

The threat of takeover

Ah, I hear you say, but if you let in enough repealers the party will become pro choice in all but policy, and policy can become worthless if you have enough politicians who are happy to ignore it. This is true, you only need to look at Sinn Féin; unity is their policy but the border keeps them in business and they don’t want it gone just yet.

I agree that representatives of Aontú should be of a certain type, but by this I don’t mean that they all grab their thoughts from the same tin. Instead I mean that they should all be of a certain quality and a mind and a moral fibre; rigorous in their pursuit of justice and truth. An open discussion, guided by sound policies, will ensure that this pursuit remains at the centre of the party. Whipping in line will not ensure this, it will ensure only that on certain issues there is an outward consensus without true cohesion of convictions. That is exactly what we already have in the main three parties… in line like ducks when expected to be and trailing round after public approval rather than using their brains.

Equally we see it in more marginal parties who would rather sacrifice the hope we have of curtailing the legislation by working together, in order to prove that while they are too implacable to be effective politically they are nonetheless pure. That’s fine. But they’ll be pure and useless. They’ll be pure and still living with radical abortion laws because they’ll be so busy being the Pharisee in the temple. God forbid too, that you might need to flee a war, because you won’t find shelter with them. Pro life indeed.

We want fair debate, but not really

There will be those who feel that 100% consensus on the issue of pro life is more important than any high minded talk of dialogue. But here’s the thing. When we were campaigning for a No vote in the referendum, we recognised that if a fair debate was facilitated by the media and encouraged or even ensured within the Dáil itself and the public space, the pro life side would have won. Now that we have lost that referendum, there are those who want to ensure this pro life party with a pro life policy whips it’s delegates in line.

We knew that if the truth reached the people before the referendum we would win, but now we want to do the opposite and close down the conversation. It makes no sense to have faith in the truth we know, and yet be paranoid that that truth will not hold should we have to discuss it. Can we not have enough faith in the absolute Truth of the life argument to accept those with whom we share many though not all convictions, in order to pull this country back from the brink?

I am actually of the opinion that all moral issues within the party should be open to conscience, not because everyone will agree, but because without that openness we cannot uncover, foster or spread the truth. If the party applies the whip on abortion, it needs to be consistent and apply it on the other moral issues too. But every whip on every moral issue will peel off yet more support until we are pointless. The answer lies in a pro life policy, but not in the whip.

The beam in your own eye

It could be pointed out also that there were many pro lifers who campaigned for a No vote but who balked at some of the hard cases. I recall specifically one lady who was a pro life activist who said her one problem was the rape and pregnancy in an under age girl, she just couldn’t find it in her to say the girl had to have the baby. Now yet again, I disagree, but that’s not my point here. My point is what is the difference between that lady who is welcome in the pro life world and Úna D’Arcy?

Úna campaigned for a Yes vote in order to legislate for the hard cases. I may disagree with the means she thought right to achieve her goal, but I cannot see much difference in the intent of these two ladies. It may have been naïve given the government we have, but it was not a radical pro abortion stance. The fact remains that she is closer to the pro life cause than the anti life cause; as illustrated by the very fact of her willingness to join a pro life party who’s core value is human life from conception to death. If the pro life side wish to be that ruthless, they may throw a significant number of their own out of the fold for wincing about the tough cases.

The Empire Strikes Back

I have another bone to pick. I’m sorry, I talk a lot, pity my husband. There are many pro life people in the north who advocate joining forces with the DUP because the DUP are anti abortion, indeed they are rather closely in bed with them. Now I wouldn’t vote DUP in a fit. That doesn’t make me pro choice, it means I don’t see it as right to vote for a party that says it is pro life but hates my faith, my culture, my language, my traditions, my country, my people and my faith. That’s not a typo, faith is my top priority, it was worth saying twice.

Pro life has to include showing fairness and charity to other human beings, from conception to death, not till they’re born or if they like Elizabeth Windsor. The DUP doesn’t tick that box. We are basically indulging colonialism in order to save us from abortion… well here’s a thought, they are both wrong, I’d rather have neither. So this idea that we cannot win the pro life battle by compromising on Ms D’Arcy, and yet we are to win the pro life battle by compromising with the DUP, is a schizophrenic attitude. You can’t be uncompromising and happy to compromise. I’d work with Ms D’Arcy a long time before I’d give the time of day to the DUP.

Thomistic theology might surprise you

Lastly, I said at the outset I am a Catholic, and not the type to sit on fences, not the type to bend morals to the winds of the time, I just don’t do lukewarm. So for all my fellow Catholic pro lifers out there, and there are many… St Thomas Aquinas defined conscience not as a feeling (‘I feel such and such is right’ – that’s today’s wishy washy nonsense, as taught in the Stay Safe program and Relationships and Sex Education by the way), but as a movement of the intellect based on knowledge.

So we use our knowledge to make a judgement as to the right or wrong of an act, thought, or omission. That is why we say in Thomistic theology that our duty is to inform our conscience and then follow it. The informing of our conscience is done with knowledge and by the intellect. Ultimately it means that we need always to seek the objective truth. How do we encourage good consciences? We share knowledge in order to inch closer always to what is true. We share it. We discuss, with people who may not agree. We don’t whip people into line, it’s as useless to whip people into line in politics or indeed religion as it is to beat them into it with a blackthorn stick. That’s not a conversion of heart or growing conviction, that’s a ringfencing of knowledge because we’re afraid it can’t speak for itself, is fragile, might give way, may not convince others.

To build a nation with a national conscience, an informed national conscience, requires discussion to polish away the layers of dusty thinking so that knowledge required for sound judgement is there for us all to own. That is, incidentally, the huge problem with social media; it exists in bubbles, little echo chambers where people reinforce the errors of others who think the same as them without allowing for dissent or discussion.

A party can be an echo chamber too, look at the parties we already have – aren’t they all echo chambers? Personally, I don’t want an echo chamber party. I believe completely in the strength of the pro life argument, and backed by a pro life policy as Aontú, I personally can see room in the party for those who while not a 100% fit for my convictions, they are nevertheless rigorous enough in their thinking to have found their way to be a 95% fit on a core policy like abortion and are clearly for their part willing to converse. This isn’t compromise, its confidence. Confidence in the ability of truth to hold its own.

Finally, the Lion

St Augustine of Hippo famously said “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself”. That is the knowledge of an informed intellect. A conscience that can judge well.

I’d like to see a nation that can spread truths rather than shore them up behind defences – that will never see our country become a place of learning or logic or clear-sightedness, it will only ensure that the truth does not expand as it must in order to actually win out over the nauseating, illogical, radical, neo fascist loons salivating over the recent referendum until they clap eyes on whatever is the next value we fail to defend by hiding behind our whip.

Let’s have it out. Let’s tell the truth to others within and without the party and not just those like us, lets make the party a place where reasonable debate sharpens our hold on realities. I’m not advocating going into the lion’s den, lets be realistic – the person you converse with needs to be open to the conversation; like, for example, someone who agrees with abortion in the hard cases, like Ms D’Arcy. But not a narrow sighted certifiable crazy who has no intention of hearing anything you say.

So again, I’d advise staying off Twitter. But if you share some common ground with a reasonable person and don’t share all ground, that is a very, very good starting point for letting the lion loose. Someday when we achieve the rollback of abortion laws, which we will, then we can discuss and indeed disagree on what separates us – the hard cases. Until then the 95% pro life and the 100% pro life would do well to join forces to undo the desperate horror of abortion sooner, and indeed save lives by doing so. The truth will do the rest. In fact, I would say the only whip on moral issues in this party should be that all members are expected to be open to truth, and ready to convert their minds to it, not for votes, not to appease sides, but because it is for the greater good.

And lastly, here’s my clincher; you may not agree with all I’ve said above. And that, is ok.

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Léan Nic Chomhaill

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Léan is a wife and mother. "There is some good in this world and it's worth fighting for" -- J.R.R. Tolkien
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