‘In our stupid pragmatism…’

Joe Sobran wrote these words in November 1994:

Does prayer work? (The Court tacitly assumes that it doesn’t.) The evasion of this question is typical of our public discussions. All sorts of political issues hinge on presuppositions about religious questions. And Christians have pretty much dropped the whole subject of the soul.

Yet what else is finally at stake in abortion? Would you lightly kill a being with an immortal soul in need of God’s grace? Many Christians, who feel strongly that the answer is a horrified “No!” have accepted the secularist premise that we can’t talk about that in public.

Nothing illustrates more powerfully than the abortion controversy that unless you believe that man has an immortal soul, there are limits — rational, logical limits — to how deeply you can believe in human dignity. This has nothing to do with how well-meaning you are. If you don’t believe that the soul exists, you are bound to regard pro-lifers who want to save even the tiniest embryo from destruction the way you’d regard the Hindu who believes that an insect may contain the transmigrated soul of one of his ancestors. You may be touched by his piety and conviction, but it will seem wildly exaggerated.

In our stupid pragmatism, we keep trying to fashion laws for human beings without defining human nature. It can’t be done.

I met Joe Sobran in Falls Church, Virginia in 2010, a few months before he died. As a public figure, his life was tumultuous. I wanted to meet him because his 1983 book “Single Issues: Essays on the Crucial Social Questions was one of the most lucid set of arguments for a Culture of Life that I had come across.

On the “crucial social questions,” Sobran spoke to the sort of national first principles that grounded the Declaration and the Constitution in the first place.

Nothing about our Constitutional system that has value without acknowledgement and affirmation of universal human dignity. As a nation, we’ve been litigating what that means more or less since we got started. It continues today.