Book Review: ‘Resisting Throwaway Culture’ by Charles C. Camosy

“Resisting Throwaway Culture” by Charles A. Camosy. Image courtesy of New City Press

Review by Daniel Darling. Daniel Darling works for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as vice president for communications. He is the author of The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity (The Good Book Company).

Not long ago I was speaking at a conference on the sanctity of human life. My specific topic was the way evangelicals are often tempted to neglect the most vulnerable among us, much like the priest and Levite on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:25–37). The event was in Washington, D.C., and I brought along my teenage daughter for a special trip as a birthday gift. Once the conference was over, I figured we would spend some time walking around the capitol.

In my hurry to keep us to our itinerary, I walked past a homeless veteran near the Washington Monument. But my daughter wouldn’t let me keep going. “Dad,” she said, “this man is made in the image of God. We have to help him.” After hearing my typical excuses (“I don’t have any cash on me,” “We’ll come back to find him later,” and so on), she pulled a 20-dollar bill out of her wallet and approached the homeless man. “Here you go,” she told him. “I want you to know that God loves you.” Her words broke my heart and exposed my own temptation to ignore the vulnerable.

It’s attitudes like this that Catholic theologian and ethicist Charles Camosy most wants to expose and critique with his book, Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People(He borrows the term “throwaway culture” from a speech by Pope Francis.)

Camosy champions the idea of a “consistent life ethic.” By this, he means that an authentically pro-life witness involves more than opposing abortion. The same values that commit us to protecting the unborn, he argues, should govern our thinking on a range of issues that weigh upon the lives of the most vulnerable—issues like capital punishment, assisted suicide, war and peace, and economic and social inequality. Proponents of this approach sometimes describe it as a “seamless garment,” a term coined by Catholic peace activist Eileen Egan and popularized in the 1980s by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago.

Camosy’s book begins with a useful recounting of the development of seamless-garment thinking and a careful reading of its antecedents in church history. In the first chapter, he describes the core philosophy behind a consistent life ethic as “resisting throwaway culture and promoting a culture of encounter.”

Though evangelicals will undoubtedly differ with this framework at certain points, Catholic social teaching has been a useful guide for understanding how the gospel compels us to love our neighbor. In many cases (early opposition to Roe v. Wade, for instance), Catholics have been way out ahead of evangelicals in speaking up for the most vulnerable.

The Courage to Be Consistent

Today, when people claim to be consistently pro-life, it’s often used as cudgel against those who advocate for the dignity of the unborn. But this is not what Camosy (who identifies as a Democrat) is doing. Instead, he is urging us to resist the pull of our political tribes and care for the vulnerable, wherever they may be found. He writes:

We risk applying our concern to one person or group when it suits our interests and ignoring another person or group when it does not. But when we follow our moral principles wherever they lead (even, perhaps, to places we don’t want to go) we resist the ways in which bias and self-interest can hurt our ability to protect and support those on the margins of our culture.

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Source: Christianity Today