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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at [go to Liebau index]

A Tower of Babel?
People of Faith Must Do More to Explain Their Views to the Elite

[Carol Platt Liebau] 3/28/05

It’s not difficult to understand why so much of the rhetoric surrounding the sad case of Terri Schiavo has been so impassioned.

Those who oppose Mrs. Schiavo’s slow death from starvation and dehydration believe that the American government and Florida’s are setting a profoundly dangerous precedent – disregarding the value of the life given to each of us by God and promoting a system under which the disabled are deemed worthless and expendable. Certainly, the statements of some in a militant minority on the pro-life side have been over the top – threatening Michael Schiavo, for example, is absolutely wrong. But their passion is at least understandable, given that they believe a life is at stake.

Many who support the removal of Mrs. Schiavo’s tube with equal fervor do so either because they believe that she made her wishes known – and that respect for human autonomy requires that those wishes be honored – or because they themselves couldn’t conceive of wanting to live in such a sadly incapacitated state. The rhetoric of their militant minority has likewise been callous – not only toward their ideological opponents, but to Terri herself. Satiric web site White posted a piece on "Saving Terri Schiavo: Presenting Incontrovertible Proof That Every Life Has Worth, President Bush Announces '66 Uses for Persistent Vegetards," including a “Chicken Egg Incubator,” “Fertilizer Factory” and “Puppy Teething Toy.”

But what’s most disturbing is that, judging from the opinions voiced by the elite on the pro-death side, it’s apparently inconceivable to them that anyone could want to keep Terri Schiavo alive – temporarily or permanently – for any disinterested reason. Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote: “What remains is a legal case that no longer is about Schiavo. Instead it's about the politics of abortion – right to life – and political opportunism.” And Maureen Dowd of The New York Times chimed in, with typical understatement: “Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?”

Resounding clearly in the elite hostility is a sobering combination of cynicism about and ignorance of religion. In their view, faith is nothing more than a cloak for, as Cohen puts it, “political opportunism.” That’s because religious people want to “turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church,” as Dowd opines. In Cohen’s world, there is apparently no way that politicians might be acting on religious principles alone (even though the fact that the poll numbers, supposedly running strongly against Republicans, would indeed suggest that political considerations were put aside). And Dowd doesn’t seem aware of the most basic tenets of Christianity, including a respect for human free will, which would militate against the imposition of a Taliban-like religious state.

Having all but lost the battle to save Terri’s life, it’s a time for serious reflection by people of faith. In making the changes that are necessary to prevent such a tragic outcome the next time, it might be best to begin by trying to re-introduce some information about the fundamentals of Christian thought into mainstream public discourse. For example, everyone knows that Christians believe that every life has value, but why?

Often, people of faith have internalized the answers to these questions so well that it’s easy to forget that many Americans live in a world that is touched only superficially by religion of any sort. Of course, the goal isn’t to force anyone to believe anything – only to explain clearly and non-judgmentally how Christians come to the conclusions they reach about so many social issues, from abortion to euthanasia, in terms that ordinary secularists (or lapsed Christians) can understand.

For their part, even the most committed secularists and atheists owe it to their fellow Americans to listen with the same condescension-free courtesy they would extend to, say, a Muslim or a Hindu. They needn’t agree with Christianity – or any religion at all – but they should display the grace, intelligence and open-mindedness to acknowledge that Christianity has been a powerful, even primary, force in Western Civilization. As such, none but the determinedly ignorant and willfully obtuse would deliberately remain uninformed about it and its influence in American politics today.

Sadly, difficult cases like Terri Schiavo’s will emerge again in the future. No one can prevent that – but we can try to ensure that an informed debate is conducted with respect, understanding and sensitivity on both sides.

And that, perhaps, would mean that some good could finally emerge from the disability and tragic death of Terri Schiavo. tOR

Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and theOneRepublic / editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at

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