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Scripture & Pro-Life Legislative Incrementalism
Joe Kral, M.A. 29 November 2018
“As God the Almighty, I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but by my name, LORD, I did not make myself known to them.”[i] This little passage found in the Exodus story unpacks quite a bit for the Scriptural reader. It tells us that the name of God was not revealed immediately to those famous patriarchs of the Old Testament. It had to come gradually, for it to be revealed. Of course, this seems to beg a question, why was it necessary for God to reveal himself this way? How does this relate to pro-life legislative incrementalism?
In order to properly understand the moral imperative surrounding pro-life legislative incrementalism one must start with the Fall of Man. Something very drastic happened at that moment; something that cannot be properly put into human words. But nonetheless, man had so fallen from grace that even an ancient believer would have thought that it horrific. Possibly so horrific, that even Adam and Eve, who were in communion with God, had forgotten His name. Or had known they were so fallen that they could no longer utter His name and so it was forgotten over time. Death has now entered into the equation of human life as has disorder.
Consider the story of Cain who is the son of Adam and Eve. God places a mark upon him so that he is not killed while he wanders the earth. What is not so explicit within the story is why would others want to kill him? Is it because he is banished from the presence of God? Is it because he killed his brother? Or is it because he may be a threat to their livelihood? If anything, the story of Noah certainly gives some insight to what the answer to this question may be. The beginning of Genesis Chapter 6 shows that the men had not become morally better but, “every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil…”[ii]
As the number of people grew, so did their misdeeds. Evil had saturated the world. One can now see what Cain was afraid of. Cain was aware of just how evil people were and would kill for no other reason than to have a little fun at the expense of a human life. Mankind had so rejected God that they chose to habituate themselves to everything vicious. Pleasing only to themselves; thinking of no one but themselves. Truly, one can see how the serpent lies yet tells a truth in his statement that, “you will be like gods…”[iii] Men will not become God, but they will become their own rule makers choosing to ignore God’s laws. The Scripture writers paint a very vicious picture of humanity.
It is clear God understands the extent of just how far Man has fallen from communion with Him and just how fallen human nature works. There is a reason, in essence, why He does things gradually. Man is not immediately saved as is obvious within Scripture. Is this because mankind is subject to and lives in time? It seems likely given the fact, within what is termed the “Protoevangelium”, God promises mankind a Messiah at a future date, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers…”[iv] Why does God do this? It would seem God knows that since mankind lives in time, man must develop good habits in order to be good; as it says in Hebrews, “But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil.”[v] Again, this idea of habit is certainly not lost on the likes of pagan thinkers such as Aristotle as well. It seems that Truth both divinely revealed and philosophically reasoned (Faith and Reason) understands the basic premise that man must gradually come to virtue. It is not instantaneously obtained since they exist in time.
Furthermore, this also suggests something even further. Since man, as an individual, cannot obtain virtue immediately, this translates into a society, which as a whole, must be gradually be moved as well. Moses does not present the Ten Commandments to one man, he presents them to a people so that they may behave in a certain way and become the, “light for all nations.”[vi] Jesus does not come to save just one man, but to provide salvation for all of humanity. It is clear that God places events in a certain order to properly accomplish this task of the Messiah. God works in incremental steps and makes rules incrementally to establish a proper way for man to be saved.
Of course, this raises a particular point that is found in St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, that is the portion of the encyclical that speaks about the principle of incrementalism itself particularly when he states where it is, “not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law…”[vii] Here, it is clear that St. John Paul II is speaking of those societies where the evil of abortion has become so ingrained within the culture that in its current state it cannot be moved immediately to accept a Culture of Life. This habituation, acceptance, and enculturation of vice is so rooted that it will take steps to move it away from the evil. Society, which is made of people who have to take incremental steps to obtain virtue, has to be habituated to the good. Society has to develop a habit of being able to discern the good and the bad as the author of Hebrews suggests.
This is the genius of St. John Paul II. He too recognized this reality of mankind as well. Law is a great teacher. Not only do great Christian thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas impart this, so does Scripture itself. Again, Faith and Reason are showing Truth as when St. Paul the Apostle states, “We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.”[viii] Law is designed to help people to stay away from vicious activities.
Scripture must be looked at as a whole when it comes to this idea of incrementalism. Nowhere specifically does Scripture state that incrementalism is a moral imperative. It is drawn out from a proper understanding of Scripture. The same could be said of human cloning. Scripture does not even mention the subject, but rather the immorality of human cloning can be drawn out of Scripture based on its sexual ethics that are presented within its pages. Any decent Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox Scripture scholar could easily point to the important passages within the Bible that detail the reasons why human cloning is considered contrary to Divine Revelation. Here to, one is able to discern using the fullness of the Scriptures to see why incrementalism is Scriptural.
[i] Exodus 6: 3
[ii] Genesis 6: 5
[iii] Genesis 3: 5
[iv] Genesis 3: 15
[v] Hebrews 5: 14
[vi] Isaiah 42: 6
[vii] See Evangelium Vitae, no. 73.
[viii] 1 Timothy 1: 8-11
Joe Kral, M.A., is the President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture Quarterly.