Author: Charles C. Camosy
Publisher: New City Press
Publishing Date: May 15, 2019
Pages: 150 (Paperback)
Our common life together feels fractured. For those of us with a finger on the pulse of national US politics, the total-ness of depravity is unmistakable. Divisive rhetoric and covert intentions from our policymakers color our nightly news. Fear for the safety and wellbeing of our loved ones, as well as suspicions of each other, appear to be taking root deep. The destructiveness of sin plays out on repeat— in the white supremacy that inspires hate and murder, in the policy choices that ignore the hurting families in our communities, and in the culture that trends towards treating even people as a commodity.
It is in light of this cultural experience that Charles Camosy writes Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People. Camosy’s focus is neither political nor partisan. His aim is to articulate a moral vision for America that is grounded in the value of life as an inherent good from God. Americans, according to Camosy, need a different moral and political imagination before addressing and debating policy. To this end, Camosy proposes a framework explicitly grounded in the Catholic tradition: The Consistent Life Ethic (CLE).
Camosy’s thesis is clearly articulated—the purpose of this book is to “show that a revitalized Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) . . . [can] demonstrate how to unify a fractured culture and a vision of the good” (20). According to Camosy, CLE is a framework not yet articulated, but deeply embedded in the Catholic tradition. Thus, Camosy takes the challenge upon himself to articulate it with an organized moral vision grounded in Catholic thought. In the first chapter, Camosy outlines seven principles for understanding and applying the framework. These principles include (abbreviated, from p.47-48 and p.322-323):
- Resist: Reduction of someone’s inherent dignity for another end.
- Resist: Use of violence and the discarding of vulnerable people.
- Promote: Protecting and supporting the lives of the most vulnerable.
- Resist: Appeals to individual autonomy and privacy that detach us from each other.
- Resist: Language, practices, and social structures that “other” or detach us from the dignity of others.
- Promote: Hospitality and care for the stranger, even if there’s risk.
- Promote: Mutuality between living persons, between generations of persons, and between human persons and non-human creation.
Resisting Throwaway Culture proceeds with each chapter dedicated to a broad, modern issue. The issues tackled include: Sex, assisted reproductive technology, abortion, immigration and poverty, factory farming practices, euthanasia, and state-sponsored violence (mass incarceration, death penalty, and war). Each chapter is organized similarly. First, Camosy provides an overview of the issue and its current context. Then, Camosy applies his CLE critique. Finally, Camosy proposes and responds to objections of the critique. Understandably, this book is not designed to provide a comprehensive CLE critique of every issue in our culture; the aim of the book is to instead provide a blueprint so that readers learn to apply a CLE critique to additional issues.
There is much I appreciate about Camosy’s work with this book. Those who know me well know that I deeply admire two things in my line of work: 1) A set of clear, coherent principles prior to debating policy, and 2) The consistent application of those principles while debating and crafting policy. Neither of these are easy feats in practice. So, Camosy’s approach alone is worth validating.
Also, I find Camosy’s articulation of our culture as a “throwaway culture” convicting. Referencing the work of Pope Francis in Amoris laetitia, Camosy writes, “if we detach ourselves from the value of everything, then everything becomes disposable” (58). Sit with that statement for a while and critically reflect on your words and actions. You’ll be convicted too. Our current culture idolizes autonomy and independence; however, we were not created for ourselves. So, how can we, as Christians intimately aware of for whom we were created, justify living for ourselves? If we detach ourselves from any part of the creation God calls good, then how can we claim we’re actively seeking—even when we fall short—to live a life faithful and glorifying to God?
For all that I appreciate in Resisting Throwaway Culture, I would be remiss to overlook the book’s deeply flawed second chapter. In “Sex Practices and Culture,” more ground is covered than can be properly engaged. The chapter’s conversation was scattered, and its arc and argument failed to hold together. As a result, chapter two conflates hookup culture, porn, sexual violence, and #MeToo. While there is overlap and interaction between these experiences, they are distinct. In one section Camosy writes, “[T]he sobering statistics of spousal rape make it clear that marriages have not been able to avoid the violence of hookup culture” (61). To be clear: Spousal rape is not the result of hookup culture. This conflation—perhaps unintended—implies a misunderstanding of these concepts and undercuts the credibility of any argument to be made.
To be fair, it is hard to critique sex practices and culture—there is much to be addressed and the conversation is an inherently intimate one. However, this chapter is not merely a chapter with which I have disagreements, it is a chapter that I find to be severely harmful. Random references to #MeToo demonstrate a resounding misunderstanding of the dynamics and experiences that have led to our current cultural moment regarding sex. Additionally, the chapter goes out of its way to name and shame specific women (but not men) as examples of the worst of our contemporary sex culture. There is much to be critiqued in our sex culture; however, naming women as the problem (even if unintentionally) is an affront to the purpose of the book. Indeed, the women cited in chapter two are treated as a commodity with the book breaking its very first principle: Reducing the dignity of these women to the end of making a point that ultimately falls apart anyway.
In conclusion, Resisting Throwaway Culture is neither totally perfect nor totally broken. It proposes important questions and principles for consideration. As we do with all human works, we should glean what is good and holy and let go of what is not. For those like myself who seek a robust consistent life ethic, this book may serve as a blueprint in many respects. We should allow the CLE principles Camosy proposes to challenge, inspire and transform us. By building on this work in crafting a new moral vision for America, perhaps people of faith can help mend our fractured common life yet.