A faith removed from lived experience is no faith at all (James 2:14ff). Our faith concerns the totality of the human person, the shape of culture, with a commitment to building a “civilization of love.” The political arena is a very specific place we are called to “go into the world” (Matt. 28:19).
So it was with great interest that I read Michael Gerson’s piece in the Washington Post “Obama turns his back on Catholics” which substantiates strong anti-Catholic policy in the Obama administration. In it he quotes Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, who calls the policies an “assault which now appears to grow at an ever-accelerating pace in ways that most of us could never have imagined.”
After posting Gerson’s link on my Facebook page, the comments began to roll in. In general, I think the critics were offering thoughtful representations of mainstream thinking, i.e., sensibilities we need to understand and contend with. In short order, in support of the President’s policies, they invoked a separation of church and state, suggesting the Catholic’s rejection of anti-life and anti-family provisions constitute a breach of contract warranting these policies, and further called Catholics to task for their myopia on abortion and homosexuality, and invoking the question of competency in leadership: “Would you have an incompetent pro-life leader over a competent pro-choice leader?”
Before sharing my response (a slightly edited version of which is) below, an equally important point is the absolute necessity for you and me, right now, to not shrink from controversial, difficult conversations, but to be informed and enter into the marketplace of ideas with respectful vigilance.
Here was my response to this question about “competence”:
“Competency” is not simply concerned with administrative ability, but prior to that, it is concerned with what one is committed to administering. As a reductio, I’m quite sure it would be morally incumbent for one to vote against a mostly competent Adolf Hitler in favor of a somewhat incompetent candidate against the Holocaust (let’s be honest, in the real world we’re not dealing with absolute competency or utter incompetency).
To sum up in the words of Jefferson — a good source I think for matters of law and policy: “The care of human life, and not it’s destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
Put in a hierarchical-logical framework, an individual’s life rights supersede another individual’s “liberty and pursuit of happiness” rights… necessarily. All law holds this hierarchy in every other regard, e.g.: one is restrained a bit at a stopping light out of concern for another’s life (this example can be applied to virtually every law).
With regard to the subject of what we’re dealing with, it’s a matter of science, not elusive or sectarian “belief.” Even Faye Wattleton, pro-abortion Planned Parenthood’s former president, said “[W]omen are not stupid… they have always known there is a life there.” Disregard this hierarchy of rights and we are necessarily on the slippery slope. Certain distinguished professors such as Peter Singer have extended this to it’s logical conclusion, suggesting a parent’s right to eliminate his/her child beyond birth!
If we disregard the hierarchy as in the case of abortion, we really have nothing to say; logically, the principal provides a basis for someone with greater power to assert their lesser, liberty interests over our own right to live.
Bottom line, yes — separation of church and state, but as law is predicated of core values — suppositions of “belief” that are not strictly provable (i.e., “self-evident… endowed by Creator… inalienable rights”), we need to recognize the difference between Constitutionally-grounded, common-sense laws that are for the evident good of individual and society that a particular religion may happen to support, and laws anchored strictly in sectarian/ religious preference. With regard to abortion (and the variety of other policy subjects), we’re dealing with the former.
Finally, it’s a bit more than ironic that the massive organization and resources committed to “liberal” causes in our country (real human needs: homelessness, immigration, hunger, poverty ), proven demonstrably much more efficient and effective than any government program, is under some auspice of the Catholic Church. Add to this the bedrock-foundational imprint our Church has left on Western Civilization in law, science, education, medicine, etc., and we must recognize the critical role Catholicism has played and continues to play in the formation and advancement of a just, good, ordered society for the benefit of all.
All this said, I am certainly not a mindless cheerleader of all matters “institutional Catholic.” Clearly, there have been, are, and will continue to be abysmal failures of leadership so long as there are imperfect humans entrusted to officiate Catholicism (=until the end of time). These deserve to be challenged. With due acknowledgement of these (substantiation appreciated if you are going to accuse), please acknowledge the well-grounded, good points made in Gerson’s article that demonstrate the Obama administration’s own discrimination and intolerance.