Joe Biden: A Lesson in Liberal Inconsistency

On October 11th, during the Vice Presidential debate between Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, there was a moment that went largely unnoticed. Martha Raddatz was trying simultaneously to wrap up the debate and make sure a question about abortion was included. While Paul Ryan’s answer was consistent and rational, Joe Biden demonstrated a liberal inconsistency and irrationality that no one seemed to notice.

Opponents of the Romney/Ryan ticket belittled Paul Ryan’s answer to the abortion question by focusing on the awkwardly anecdotal bit about his daughter Liza “Bean” Ryan. His reasoned approach to being pro-life, however, received little attention:

“I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life. Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course, but it’s also because of reason and science. You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat.”

Notice that Rep. Ryan does not state that his policies are determined sola fide, or, by faith alone, but neither does he pretend to shuffle off his faith in the presence of public policy.

[Without getting too epistemological, the idea that faith and reason are compatible is sound. (In this sense, “faith” being the internal assurance of universal governance, and “reason” being the axiomatic[1] expression of that faith.) Just as the scientist supposes for his hypotheses that the laws of physics and of logic are eternally universal and bases his conclusions on the universal governance of those laws, so does the theologian for his exegesis suppose the existence of an uncreated creator, an unmoved mover, or the “First Cause.” In other words, while some rest all their premises on an eternal and fundamental universal legislation, others rest all their premises on an eternal and fundamental universal legislator.[2]]

But take a look at the inconsistencies contained in Joe Biden’s statement on the same question:

“My religion defines who I am. And I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.”

What the Vice President has said here is that the Catholic Church’s doctrine on abortion may not be used in public policy. HOWEVER, the Catholic Church’s doctrine on social justice must be used in public policy.

I will not get too deep into the “preferential option for the poor” doctrine of the Church (I am unqualified, but, as Shaun Kenney has pointed out, the preferential option for the poor does not equal the preferential option for the state.) But needless to say, there is within the Catholic Church, especially since the 20th century, a great emphasis on social justice. It is Canon Law: “The Christian faithful are obliged…to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.”[3]

A practicing Catholic may be in violation of this canon law if he does not actively engage in assisting the poor from his own resources. Since resources distributed by the government are never originally their own, but rather are received upon a punitive condition, granting the State authority to perform this task for the Church is not only an abdication of individual and ecclesiastical responsibility, it is also an abrogation of individual and ecclesiastical authority.[4] It is a transformation of the Lex Ecclesium into Ius Positivum, which is to say (as Kipling might) church is state, and state is church, and ever the twain shall meet.

The Church’s position on abortion is also Canon Law: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”[5] Joe Biden described the Church’s position as a “de fide doctrine,” which is to say that the denial of that doctrine is tantamount to heresy, and that to keep the doctrine is a moral obligation.

But Biden’s pro-choice argument rests on separating religion from politics. He would not impose his or his church’s belief on others throughout the country. He would, in this instance, abandon a moral obligation to a political obligation.

But why should he choose to be religiously tacit on the doctrine of life while being religiously vociferous on the issue of property? His faith “defines” him, and “informs” him. How can it at once define and inform his public policy on the redistributive aspects of governance, yet not inspire in him a public policy that protects existence?

Why should church and state be so intertwined on service to the poor, but mutually exclusive on the disservice to the unborn?

Is there rational justification for the state’s sustaining the existence of the impoverished, or is it simply argumentum ad misericordiam?[6] Is there more of an advantage to the state in charity for the pauper than there is in shielding the helpless? Is the deliverance of the destitute more valuable than the delivering of the babe?

I say the same justification used by the state for redistributive welfare may be used for the illegality of abortion. The justification ultimately reduces to this maxim: Without the prospect of people, there can be no state.[7]

It is an absurdity to tell me in one breath, “your rightful property is not your own,” and in another, “your body is yours to do with as you please.”

But Mr. Biden is saying exactly that — only worse. The Church exhorts its congregants to demonstrate compassion for the poor. The State compels it by force. The Church may not deprive its members of life, liberty, or property for not tithing. The State may imprison your body and confiscate your property for not paying taxes.

It is the wont of modern liberalism to advocate for the redistribution of property (a system rooted in Judeo-Christian ethics) while advocating for the total autonomy of physiology (a system rooted in Darwinian principles). But the former cannot be consistent with the latter. If the employment of our property — which is our means of sustaining existence — may be redistributed through popular expression, so may our bodies and minds — which are the methods of obtaining property — be likewise regulated. To say that property is pluralistic while liberty is individualistic is a contradiction in terms.

Shall we then believe that modern liberals like Joe Biden do not see the inconsistency between the forceful transfer of wealth and the forceful protection of abortion, simultaneously imposing his religion in the former and rejecting it on the latter? Or shall we believe it more likely that irrationalities are simply a vehicle for election?


[1] An axiom, in this sense, being a statement that has a truth value so strong, that it requires the opponent to accept it in order to deny it. “Logic exists,” is an axiom; any opponent to the axiom “Logic exists,” must use the laws of logic in order to disprove the statement.

[2] Paul Davies, the noted theoretical physicist, has followed modern scientific premises to their logical conclusion. “Even the most atheistic scientist,” he said upon receiving the Templeton Prize, “accepts as an act of faith the existence of a lawlike order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological world view.” Antony Flew, philosopher and notorious convert from atheism, gives as his reason for recognizing a theological world view, “If you accept the fact that there are laws, then something must impose that regularity on the universe….Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable.”

[3] Code of Cannon Law, c. 222§1-2 in The Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1983). In legal parlance, the commission for Catholic social justice is an affirmative covenant; i.e., it requires an individual to actively engage in effort to keep it (such as, “Honor thy father and thy mother”). It is not a negative covenant; i.e., that which requires an individual to actively engage in effort not to violate it (such as, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”). To violate the former, one may do nothing; to violate the latter, one must do something. To keep the former, one must do something; to keep the latter, one may do nothing.

[4] The same cannot be said of tithing, which is a recognition that our property is not originally our own, but that we return a portion of it to God, or through His medium of the Church.

[5] Code of Cannon law, c. 1398. The Latin text is more informative, “Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem latae sententiae incurrit,” literally, “that person which does procure an abortion, having been followed to its completion, does incur an excommunication latae senteniae [i.e., an automatic removal from communion by force of the law itself, needing no ecclesiastical court to impose judgment or sentencing].” The present-active in both the condition and consequence (procurat and incurrit respectively) indicates rightly that as soon as a person participates in abortion, he is immediately and simultaneously excommunicated; this is opposed to a pluperfect/imperfect condition/consequence, which indicates one must happen before the other.

[6] The logical fallacy, appeal to pity.

[7] For a full discussion of this maxim, an understanding of the word “state” is absolutely necessary. A government can temporarily exist for an unprocreant generation, but it cannot rightly be called a “state,” for without offspring it is unstable. “State” derives from the Latin sto, stare, which is, “to stand or to remain standing,” whence stable, establish, and even constitution.

  • Susan

    I say, who gives a hoot what the Catholic church or any church says about any government policy? I also don’t give a hoot what the government says about the Trinity or any other religious doctrine. Do you, Andrew?

    • So you don’t care what the government says about the religious doctrine of the preferential option for the poor?

      I didn’t think so.

      And yes, I do care what the state says about religious doctrine. It directly impacts if and how I may freely practice. If they insist I pay for the contraception or abortion of others, upon penalty of imprisonment, they are insisting I use my property in direct violation of religious belief.

      • Susan

        The government doesn’t base its policy regarding the poor due to the dictates of the church. You know that. You do not get to decide as an individual how your taxes are going to be spent. You know that.

        • Wanna make a bet? Do you not realize how deeply our system of social welfare is rooted in the dictates of the church?

          If you say I have no authority over my property, I say you have no authority over your propriety.

          • Susan

            Your right to your property is protected by law. You know that. The taxes you pay are spent by elected representatives. That’s what makes our country great. We elect people who we believe will spend our money for the betterment of our nation. Sometimes we get the ones we want, and sometimes we do not. But we continue on with our beliefs, both religious and not,informing our decisions in the voting booth

          • Then your right to liberty is protected by the law in like manner. We elect people who we believe will restrict our license for the betterment of our liberty. This is evident in the prohibition against drugs, and the same logic can be applied for abortion.

            You can’t have it both ways.

            Either we have total authority over our liberty and property, or we have no authority over our liberty and property, or — as goes your previous post — we have delegated authority over both to our representatives for the preservation of society.

            ONLY in the first scenario does the pro-choice mantra make any consistent sense. And in that scenario, you’d better not expect me or anyone else to divest any of my property to a state that uses it against my interests.

          • Susan

            I’m not following you. What logic is applied to abortion? Do we elect representatives who will restrict our right to abortion? Yes, if that is how our beliefs inform our voting decisions. and if the majority of the voters believe that, then our right to abortion is restricted. If they do not, then abortion remains legal. Do we elect people who make drugs illegal? Yes, we have in the past,but as this recent election demonstrates that is changing. What am I not getting here in your argument.? We do not have total authority over our liberty. Your freedom stops where mine begins. What am I missing here?

          • It’s nice to see you have converted to realize that we can elect representatives to restrict abortion and free contraceptives. Now please go tell the Supreme Court they got Roe wrong.

            “I care about many issues…but this one [abortion] is at the heart of who I
            am. If I do not have control of my own body, how can I expect to be
            taken seriously on any other issue of importance.” – Susan G., 16 Mar 2012

            “Insurance provided contraceptives is not debatable. I don’t care what
            century you want to live in, you have no right to demand that I abide
            there with you.” -Susan G, 17 Mar 2012

            Let you never ask again, “why don’t the Republicans leave women’s health issues alone?” (Susan G, 17 Mar 2012), when — by your own standard — these were the representatives elected by the majority.

            Deal with it. Good night.

          • Susan

            Easy archive access on Bearing Drift. Nice to be cited, but you will find that none of my previous words dispute anything that I am saying now. We of the pro-choice movement had lost the elections. Representatives determined to restrict abortion were going about what they deemed to be their duty to those who had elected them. But they misread the electorate. They reached too far, the voters were frightened, and last week we sent them away. Democracy in action. I love it , now you live with it. Good night.

          • But the Supreme Court has taken abortion out of the hands of elected representatives.

          • Susan

            The Supreme Court affirmed the individual’s right to privacy. It did not affirm your paternalistic, self-righteous need to tell me what I can and cannot do.Your freedom ends where mine begins, and you know what, Brian, you’ll never have to get an abortion, so don’t bother your silly little male brain thinking about it. Go worry about your guns being taken away or some other hysterical rightwing made-up fear.

          • But Susan, if I did have an abortion, I’d want it to be you.

          • Susan

            Are you in the eighth grade? No, seriously, are you 14- years- old, Brian? Are you actually the son of one of the Bearing Boys who gets on Daddy’s blog when you’ve bored of your XBox? Ok, let me respond in kind. ..Why didn’t your mother do the world a favor and abort you. Huh, huh, huh….Now go back to your room, shut the door, and take care of business.

          • Susan, keep your fantasies about 14-year old boys to yourself.

          • Wow.

          • Susan

            I’m don’t understand how you used “propriety” ?

  • Monty Ehrich


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