Tobacco and Money! Where is Vatican Dogma And Morality In Tobacco Alliance? Author JOHN M. SWOMLEY reveals the real political priorities of the Catholic Cardinals who denounced President Clinton for his veto of the abortion bill, hut have made no similar denunciations of the connection between the tobacco industry, Jesse Helms, Robert Dole, and other key Republican supporters of tobacco. From: The Human Quest, JULY-AUGUST, 1996
Tobacco and Money!
Where is Vatican Dogma And Morality In Tobacco Alliance?
By JOHN M. SWOMLEY
WHAT DOES the slogan ‘pro-life” mean? Is it simply a device to sell Vatican dogma about fetal life, or does it also stand for the saving or protecting of human life after birth? The May-June issue of Mother Jones, an excellent illustration of investigative reporting, answers that question by pointing to the silence of Christian antiabortionists on other issues.
First, it reports that tobacco is the cause of “over 420,000 deaths a year, 1 in 5 of all deaths in the U.S., including about 90% of the lung cancer deaths - 130,000. Every day, more than 1,000 Americans die from smoking-related diseases... 50 times more than die from illegal drugs.”
Also, environmental tobacco smoke, or second-hand smoke, “plays a role in up to 40,000 nonsmokers’ deaths from heart disease annually, about 3,000 nonsmokers’ deaths from lung cancer, and an estimated 12,000 nonsmokers’ deaths from other cancers.”
An article by William Saletan notes "the contradiction between their beliefs about the sanctity of life and the Christian right’s conspicuous silence about the tobacco industry.” That silence is across the board, including both Catholic and Protestant far right groups. It includes groups that want the federal government to protect people from drugs, pornography and abortion, such as Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council that emphasize outlawing pornography, and the American Life League that wants the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit RU486 “because ‘this chemical effectively kills children who live in the womb.”
The Mother Jones article then adds, “It’s hard to see how groups that say such things can remain silent about tobacco. Protecting kids? Tobacco purveyors hook 3,000 American children every thy. Exporting death? More Colombians die annually from American cigarettes than Americans die from Colombian cocaine.”
Moreover, as the author pointed out, the Journal of Family Practice, April 1995, “published a study of the effects of smoking during pregnancy,” wherein the authors estimated that it causes up to 141,000 “spontaneous abortions” with a “best estimate of about 115,000 each year.”
Only one antiabortion leader, Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the small Christian Defense Coalition, whose mother, a smoker, died of cancer, lobbied other groups to oppose tobacco. “Nearly a year later, alter lobbying six major pro-life groups to take on tobacco, Mahoney says he’s gotten nowhere.” There is a conspicuous silence from the Christian Coalition, the National Right to Life Committee, and it isn’t in the “Contract with the American Family.”
The reason for avoiding the tobacco issue, according to the author, is that many of the allies are “pro-tobacco” Republicans and it would “create problems with key party donors. In the 1993-4 election cycle for example, tobacco companies gave $259,027 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. which in turn reportedly gave $175,000 to the National Right to Life political action committee. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals was quoted as saying, ‘There is enough tobacco money floating around that it’s probably inhibited some groups from speaking out.”
Other articles in Mother Jones link the religious right’s presidential candidate, Bob Dole, to the tobacco industry. He has consistently championed that industry, received major contributions from tobacco companies and is using their lobbyists and other representatives in his campaign.
It seems clear that the political and economic alliances of far right religious groups have deprived them of any claim to the idea that they have a moral position of defending life. Their anti abortion action, like that of the Catholic Cardinals, is based on religious dogma rather than any biblical position or health reason. There is no reference whatever for or against abortion in the New Testament, though it was widely practiced in those days. ‘The only reference to abortion in the Old Testament is in Numbers 5 when it was one possible result of the Lord’s command in the interest of the “family values” at that time.
Neither the Cardinals who have made such an issue of late-term abortions, nor their right-wing Catholic and Protestant allies have demonstrated a similar ‘‘pro-life’’ concern for the children of Iraq, Ruanda, Liberia, where hundreds of thousands of children have been killed. These, however, are issues which peace activists, Catholic and Protestant, have taken seriously.
The tobacco issue clearly tears to shreds the white sheet of morality and other claims by the Christian Coalition, of defending “life.” It also reveals the real political priorities of the Catholic Cardinals who denounced President Clinton for his veto of the abortion bill, hut have made no similar denunciations of the connection between the tobacco industry, Jesse Helms, Robert Dole, and other key Republican supporters of tobacco.
It is very unfortunate that these Catholic and Protestant right wing figures have so engaged in partisan poli tics under the thin veneer of morality as to make it appear that the entire Christian religion is tarred with venal political concerns. Since most Christians, Catholic and Protestant, prefer to keep the government from interfering with doctor-patient relationships or from telling women that they must bear children despite any harm to the mother or the fetus, the attempt to make these Christian political issues is harmful to organized religion, especially among women and husbands who put their wives’ health ahead of the petty legalisms of church dogma.
Dr. Swomley is Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City Missouri. He has a Ph.D. in political science and is Associate Editor of The Human Quest.
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