In Michael D. Shear's front-page story about President Barack Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame ("Obama Asks Civility in Abortion Debate," May 18), Mr. Shear of The Washington Post reiterates President Obama's challenge to those present at the commencement: "Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?"
The simple answer to this challenge necessitates an appeal to the notion of "objective truth." Civil dialogue is always possible if both sides agree that there is objective moral truth and that reason can know it, even if we don't agree on what those truths are. We must be truth-seekers to dialogue. But if either side begins with the premise that truth is whatever I will it to be, then dialogue is futile and only the will to power (politics as usual) can prevail.
Does human life begin at conception or doesn't it? It either does or it doesn't. Can anyone dialogue about life issues with one who believes, in principle, that an embryo is a human being only if the mother or a lab technician decides it is? There is no room for reasoned discourse with such persons. Martin Luther King was a truth seeker; this is why the civil rights movement prevailed. The pro-life movement will prevail for the same reason.
Mr. President, it certainly is possible to join hands in common effort, but only if all of us remain open to the truth with humble hearts.
The writer is a professor of moral theology at St. Vincent Seminary.