The other day I was talking with a journalist friend who was born and reared in Paris. He had just finished a six-month stay in the United States, listening to Americans and writing articles on his experience. "Though we admire you Americans more than you think," he said, "what strikes us most is the odd--may I say crazy?--inconsistency in the way you take sides on issues of life and death."

He went on to give a few examples, beginning with current politics. On one hand, he pointed out, the Republicans oppose abortion yet heartily support the death penalty. George W. Bush is friendly with the National Rifle Association, despite the fact that American children are committing mayhem in the classroom with readily available handguns. The Democrats, on the other hand, are in favor of gun control. But their candidates usually favor abortion rights, to the point where some oppose outlawing partial-birth abortions.

"What gets me," my friend concluded, "is the inconsistency inherent in the respective positions of both parties. It seems to me that it would make more sense if at least one major political party in the country held to a really consistent 'pro-life' philosophy, as we try to do in Europe."

I couldn't argue with him, since I've been troubled by the same inconsistency myself. What has bothered me all the more, though, is the realization that the problem isn't limited to political parties. It infects the thinking of a great many Christians as well, including many Orthodox.

We Orthodox are by nature "conservative," hopefully in the true sense of that word. We feel called by God to preserve--to conserve--our faith, which saints and martyrs have transmitted as the Tradition of the Church. And this is all to the good.

But in this country especially, that conservative bent has often embraced the platforms of conservative political parties as a matter of principle. Most Orthodox seem to vote Republican. This is because they see the party of Lincoln as the one that defends individual rights, family values, and the life of the unborn. They point with dismay, and sometimes with eager condemnation, at Democrats who violate those values. When they are questioned about the inconsistency in being pro-life regarding abortion while defending both capital punishment and the "right" to bear deadly weapons, they usually reply by invoking the innocence of the unborn and the (presumed) guilt of those destined for the chair or a lethal injection.

In the case of the Democrats, the matter is a little more coherent, but not much. Their concern for the rights of the already born takes precedence over other values, including the rights of a child in utero. Because gun violence violates a person's rights as decisively as anything else, they favor gun control. And the matter of rights extends to criminals as well, especially given the growing evidence that a sentence of capital punishment is often influenced by racism or lust for vengeance. But they are no more consistent in their political philosophy than the Republicans, a fact those Orthodox who vote Democratic need to acknowledge.

The question is, what image of the human person lies behind these positions?

Orthodoxy holds that every human being, without exception, is created in the image of God and bears the divine image from conception to the grave. The human person, therefore, is of infinite value, because he or she--at any stage of growth and development--is precious in the sight of God. This includes the guilty as well as the innocent, abortionists as well as the aborted, gun dealers as well as social workers, sinners as well as saints.

The late Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernadin was honored in part because of his insistence on what he called "the seamless garment," a "consistent ethic of life." It acknowledges that criminals commit grave wrongs and prescribes appropriate punishment. But it refuses to acknowledge the right of the state, any more than that of the individual, to take another person's life. This ethic likewise refuses to sanction abortion on demand. And it also opposes the gun culture that has wreaked such destruction in American cities, homes, and schools. The "seamless garment" of life is respected in all its variations.

After I put my French friend on the plane, I stopped off at the local Piggly Wiggly to pick up some groceries. In one isle, there was a woman, obviously pregnant, holding the hand of a 3-year old. Next to her was, I suppose, her husband. He was dressed in jeans and wore a Home Depot cap. Bulging from his hip, only partially hidden by his jacket, was a pistol. They were shopping. And like so many in the state where I live, he was exercising his legal right to carry a concealed weapon. Even in the Piggly Wiggly.

On my way home, I couldn't stop praying for the twin blessings of sanity and consistency. And I couldn't stop wondering either how many more children have to be aborted, how many more have to be shot down, before either sanity or consistency finally takes hold.

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