Archive for the ‘Religion in Public Life’ Category

The Need for Political Morality

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Recently, I read a journalist’s account of the Watergate scandal. It was actually a bundle of inter-related illegal acts and conspiracies that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. One of the things that struck me was the astonishing and complete lack of morality among “All the President’s Men”. These were the most powerful men in the country, most were lawyers, and all considered themselves to be religious in one way or another. Yet they acted in total disregard for the law and for basic morals. They committed a series of crimes with no compunction — burglary, theft, bribery, illegal wiretapping, violations of campaign finance laws, and obstruction of justice. The amount of lying was breathtaking — a systematic campaign of perjury and knowingly false public statements. They never asked themselves “is this right?” but only cared about “will this work”.

I was a teenager when all this happened, and I remember following the stories with great interest. But I didn’t appreciate the sheer scope of all of it until I read this book. And, naturally, it led me to reflect on the current political climate, and on the desperate need for “political morality”.

There are two components to political morality. One is the personal morals of those who hold public office — are they people of integrity who can be counted on to obey essential principles of honesty, financial responsibility, lack of self-interest, fairness, seriousness, humility, etc. I utterly reject the notion, which is usually attributed to Macchiavelli, that rulers are not bound by ordinary moral laws, but are free to do things that would be illegal or immoral if done by ordinary citizens. No matter what public office one holds, the Ten Commandments still apply, and personal virtue will lead to good government.

The other component is constitutional morality — do they respect the rule of law, the process of law-making and governance, the rights of citizens, the notion that nobody is above or outside of the law, etc. I’m not as cynical as most people think, and I actually believe that a sound legal process will lead on the whole to sound results. I believe that the principles embodied in our Constitution — separation of powers, limits on the authority of the government, checks and balances, protection of fundamental rights, and federalism — provide a rich and fertile soil for living a peaceful and just life.

These elements of political morality were utterly lacking in the Nixon Administration. The Watergate scandals and their threat to the constitutional order were the direct result. The similar lack of political morality in the current climate fills me with dread for the future of our Republic.

At all levels of politics, we are repeatedly presented with — and we routinely elect — candidates who have a propensity for falsehood, whose financial affairs are deeply suspect, who treat people as instruments to be used and then discarded, and who seem obsessed with personal power rather than selfless public service. It has become unremarkable for candidates to affirm that they will use their power to commit gross moral evils, like abortion on demand, torture, aggressive war on civilians, and racial and religious discrimination. Candidates openly show disdain for the proper Constitutional process and promise to rule unilaterally by decree. And candidates and political advocates make crystal clear that they will use the levers of power to punish their enemies, and all those who disagree with their ideology.

The men who built and established our Republic understood very well the need for political morality. George Washington, who was an exemplar of this, said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” John Adams, who was no stranger to the rough and tumble of partisan politics, said “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

The current state of affairs in our political system would horrify the Founding Fathers. They should equally horrify us.

Political Incoherence on Abortion

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Although I’m a political junkie, I never watch those television events that are billed as “political debates”. They are nothing of the sort, of course, but instead are merely opportunities for candidates to parrot their talking points, show how strong they think they are by rudely interrupting each other, and doing little if anything to inform and enlighten the electorate.

And so, I didn’t watch the Vice-Presidential “debate” the other night, opting instead to watch a very exciting baseball game. But I was keenly interested in reading the reports of what the candidates said about abortion.

Now, we have to take anything said by a Vice-Presidential candidate with a healthy grain of salt. The purpose of a VP candidate is to robotically repeat the Presidential candidate’s talking points, pretend that the person at the top of the ticket has no faults or flaws and has never erred, and, aside from that, do nothing to mess up the campaign. That makes sense, since the role of a Vice President is essentially to serve as a constitutional spare tire.

But there was a comment at the most recent VP “debate” that is certainly worthy of notice, because it was on the issue of abortion and it demonstrated the incoherence of the Democratic position on this crucial issue, and how much in thrall that party is to the ideology of the Culture of Death.

Senator Tim Kaine is the Democratic VP candidate. As such, he is the right-hand-man to a presidential candidate whose position is utterly reprehensible on abortion — she has never heard of an abortion she disapproves of, and she is completely beholden to the abortion industry. Sen. Kaine, who is reportedly a practicing Catholic, has an appalling record in the Senate of support for abortion on demand at all times and for any reason. In this Senate session alone, he has voted to continue funding for Planned Parenthood, which kills over 300,000 unborn children a year, and opposed a measure that would prohibit late-term abortions at a time when the child can feel pain while they are being dismembered. He has also publicly stated that he will support a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would mean that he thinks it’s a good idea for abortions on demand to be paid for by taxpayers.

Hardly a stellar example of a Catholic public servant. But it’s even worse. Sen. Kaine had this to say when asked a question about the role of his religion in forming his position on abortion:

I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life. But I don’t believe in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please, that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone… I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel that we could just substitute our own views for everybody else in society, regardless of their views. … we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.

It would be difficult to find a better example of the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the “pro-choice Catholic” mindset. I could quote all day long from statements by the Church on the absolute moral duty of Catholic public officials to oppose the depraved injustice of abortion on demand. But leave that aside for a moment, because Sen. Kaine already seems to be utterly impervious to the actual beliefs of the faith he professes to be devoted to.

Instead, since faith always accords with reason, let’s just look at this from a strictly rational perspective, because it will be crystal clear that his comments make no sense, either for a Catholic or for anyone else.

All laws reflect moral judgments of right and wrong – that’s the nature of law itself. No system of law anywhere in the world or in history is based on the idea that a person can act however they want. Human conduct is always subject to moral rules that are written into civil law. So if a public official rules out the influence of their religious faith in making such judgments, on what moral principle will he act? Are his opinions completely swayed by public opinion polls, or party platforms? Then what kind of a person is he? Why would anyone vote for a politician who was so devoid of principle or courage that he ignores his religious faith and decides his position by sticking his finger in the air and checking the direction of the wind, or by just “following orders”?  How could you trust such a person to do anything according to any kind of coherent moral principle?

The prohibition against killing an innocent human being is not a Catholic doctrine, but a moral principle based on science and reason that can be seen by anyone, regardless of their religious faith. It’s not wrong because the Catholic Church says so, the Church teaches that because it’s a self-evident truth. It is Science 101 that every human life – including that of a VP candidate – begins at the moment of conception. The inhabitant of a mother’s womb is always a human being, the genetic offspring of a father and a mother, and he/she is never anything less. To take that helpless child’s life for any reason – much less to serve the convenience of the mother or father, or because the child has a physical handicap – is contrary to the inherent natural impulse of humans to protect and nurture their young. It is also patently evil to treat any living being with the cruelty of abortion – which involves poisoning a child with caustic chemicals or dismembering her while she is still alive.

A political candidate doesn’t need any religious faith to see that abortion is a moral evil and should be prohibited by law. All it takes is rational thought, and openness to the scientific evidence that is right before one’s eyes. Even a Vice President should be able to understand that.

Our Government is the Enemy of Religious Freedom

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Throughout American history, people have depended on our government to protect our basic liberties — our “unalienable rights”. Our Declaration of Independence was based on the premise that the purpose of government was to secure these rights, and that any government that sought to extinguish them was unjust and should be replaced. Our Constitution likewise contains numerous provisions that are specifically designed to protect individual liberties — especially the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In recent years, it has become more and more clear that the current Administration harbors a settled hostility to religious liberty and freedom of speech, and a deep commitment to coercing compliance with their ideology of sexual liberation and gender theory. The history of the HHS contraception mandate shows the relentless commitment of the Administration to coerce all employers, including religious organizations, to offer insurance coverage for procedures and medications that are offensive to their religious beliefs, like abortifacient drugs and devices.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sent a very clear message to the Administration that they wanted them to come to some kind of compromise over the HHS contraception mandate. But rather than heeding that suggestion, the Administration has instead intensified its assault on religious liberty.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new regulations that are astonishing in their breadth and daring. The regulations rely on an interpretation of the term “sex” in current anti-discrimination laws, and stretch that clear term to encompass “gender identity” — which the regulation defines as a person’s “internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female”, which would even include people with “non-binary gender identities”. A definition that includes so much is no definition at all — it is hopelessly broad and vague, and ultimately incoherent. But that is gender ideology at its heart.

The regs go on to require every doctor, hospital and other health care entity that receives federal funds (e.g., Medicare) — in effect, virtually every single health provider in the US —  to cover all procedures and interventions related to a person’s “gender transition”. Just to be clear, that means medical procedures like massive doses of hormones and the removal or mutilation of health body parts (i.e., hysterectomies, castration, penectomies, mastectomies, plastic surgery to create fake sex organs, etc.) — all so that a man can pretend he is a woman, and vice versa. This coercive mandate will override the medical judgment of a doctor that such acts are not medically necessary or appropriate, and they permit no exceptions based on religious or moral values.

It gets even worse. The regs also interpret the notion of “sex discrimination” to mean that a health provider cannot refuse to perform abortions, and must cover abortions and all those “gender transitioning” procedures in their health insurance plans.

All of this was done through the administrative law process, which is an arcane and undemocratic way to make law. Instead of having a bill passed by both Houses of Congress, all this requires is a regulatory agency plublishing proposed rules, allowing people to comment for a short time, and then promulgating whatever rules they wish. No public hearings are needed, so the entire process is hidden deep in the pages of a massive publication called the “Federal Register”, which no normal person can read and understand (even lawyers, who are far from normal, have a hard time). It is extremely difficult to overturn regulations, because our courts have abandoned their duty of constitutional oversight and give extreme deference to the agencies putting forth the regs.

Our government has been increasingly using this undemocratic process to impose their ideology on the nation. In fact, they go even further by issuing “guidances”, which are purportedly not binding but which in fact are just as coercive as regulations and statutes.

A lawsuit has been filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing a number of states, religious health institutions, and health professionals. If the government follows its previous practice, they will fight tooth and nail against any compromises, and will never concede any ground. No religious objection is ever enough for them, and no demand by gender ideologues is too much. That is the regime under which we live.

In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders stated clearly that when a government no longer secures basic rights, and instead seeks to usurp or repress them, it can only be described as a tyranny. Our government may not be comparable to the wicked despotisms around the world, but it has clearly crossed a line with its relentless attacks religious freedom.

The Danger is Clear and Present

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

There are many people who continue to scoff at our warnings about the gravity of the threats to religious liberty, and our fears of outright persecution by our government. They accuse us of scaremongering, and insist that “that will never happen”.

The skeptics need to come to New York. The threat is real, and it is here, right now — a government mandate that private health insurance plans cover elective abortions. And it is happening with all the classic characteristics of New York government — secretive, devious, duplicitous, unaccountable, and arrogant.

To understand this, you have to have a small bit of background. The New York State Department of Financial Services regulates the insurance business. They have to approve every health insurance policy by the beginning of the new year, to make sure that it complies with all the various legal requirements in New York law. To make this easier, DFS issues what it calls “model language” for health plans. Although one would think that “model language” is merely a suggestion, in reality it is required, because no health plan would be approved without it. So every health insurance company just falls in line, and the person obtaining the insurance really has no choice. So the “model language” is actually a legal mandate, dressed up in other clothing to hide the truth.

Here’s where the classic New York underhandedness comes in. Last year, DFS put out draft “model language” for small employer policies that included coverage for so-called “therapeutic abortions” — which really means abortion on demand, for any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there is no legal authority for this — it isn’t authorized by legislation and it’s never been put through the normal process for issuing regulations. But that has never stopped a New York executive agency before — they typically act as if they were a law unto themselves, and they just make up new “laws” as they wish.

Objections were made to the crypto-mandate, and so DFS went into “rope-a-dope” mode. They promised to study it, to discuss it with superiors, etc., etc. Nothing happened, despite repeated requests for clarification. The effect of this obfuscation and delay was that they ran out the clock until the end of the year, when every insurance plan has to be submitted for approval, including the model language.

As the deadline approached, DFS dropped the real bomb, the one that shows such patent bad faith that even completely cynical watchers of New York government were appalled. In an off-handed comment, a DFS official told a representative of the Catholic Church words to the effect that “Oh, what’s the problem, you’re already paying for therapeutic abortions”. When our representative picked himself off the floor and asked “how?” and “since when?” and “why didn’t you tell us?”, the bureaucrat said that it had been the case for a long time,  and that it was all under the rubric of “medically necessary surgery”, which is automatically covered in all health insurance policies. And, of course, there’s no exemption for religious employers or anyone else who objects to paying for the killing of unborn children.

So a sneaky, duplicitous state agency has been making Catholic institutions — and everyone else — pay for elective abortions for years and lying about it being “necessary surgery”. And this is all done without any public awareness or scrutiny — it’s just a secret fiat from some nameless bureaucrat who is accountable to nobody. So much for the rule of law.

Fortunately, people are pushing back against this gross abuse of power. A lawsuit has been filed by the Dioceses of Albany and Ogdensburg, Catholic Charities agencies, religious communities, and a number of non-Catholic institutions, including the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. This lawsuit raises major issues about religious liberty, and how to put limits on an arbitrary, unaccountable government that is insistent on imposing morally offensive mandates on religious groups and people.

Don’t listen to the skeptics. The threat to freedom of religion is real and present. And it will not go away, because the pro-abortion ideology is so deeply ingrained in our state government that they will brook no opposition, and will use any available tactic, until they enshrine abortion in every area of the law and drag everyone into complicity with the destruction of the innocents.

Notre Dame’s Tragedy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Notre Dame University has long held itself out as an exemplar of Catholic higher education. And in fact, they have had a great many admirable Catholic scholars, and wonderful Catholic alumni.  But they have clearly lost sight of what Catholic education is meant to be.

The University has decided to grant their Laeatare Medal (the name means “rejoice”) to Joseph Biden, the Vice President of the United States.  According to their website, this award “is presented annually to an American Catholic in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society”.

There is nothing to “rejoice” about in Joe Biden’s public record.  I dare anyone to identify anything that Joe Biden has done in service of the Church that can in any way be described as “outstanding”.  Indeed, in their press release, the university didn’t even bother to try to describe any such service.  I also dare anyone to make sense of Notre Dame’s incoherent argument that by honoring the man, they are not endorsing his policy positions.  After all, what “service to society” has he given, except by his public acts?

The fact of the matter is that Mr. Biden has a long track record of public policy positions that are in direct contradiction to the Catholic faith, and that flout the specific and grave duties of a Catholic public servant.  Specifically, he has long been a supporter of abortion.  When in the Senate, his voting record can only be described as “mixed”, with some pro-life votes (including votes in favor of the partial birth abortion ban), but an increasing number of pro-abortion votes in recent years. He was a very prominent front man for the Administration’s endorsement of the redefinition of marriage.  And he has done nothing publicly to defend the Church’s religious liberty by mitigating his Administration’s iniquitous contraception/abortion health insurance mandate, and, in fact, publicly defended it with an outright falsehood during the 2012 campaign.

But don’t just take my word about his attitude about abortion rights, listen to what he wrote:

I remember vividly the first time, in 1973, I had to go to the floor to vote on abortion. A fellow Senator asked how I would vote. “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my few on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone. I think the government should stay out completely. I will not vote to overturn the Court’s decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.“  I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice.

Now, contrast that with the authentic teaching of the Church about the duties of a public servant:

Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (US Bishops, Catholics in Political Life)

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection…. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it.”  (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 73)

Presumably, these official Church documents are available somewhere in the Notre Dame library.

This tragic decision represents yet another example of the complete failure — and in some cases, contumacious refusal — of many institutions of Catholic education to understand their role and nature.  In his Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul made clear that the necessity of acting in accordance with Catholic identity is one of the core obligations of a self-described Catholic university:

Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected.  Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.  (General Norms, Article 2, §4, emphasis added)

Ex Corde Ecclesiae also emphasizes that “the institutional fidelity of the University to the Christian message includes a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals.” (27)

Notre Dame’s decision to honor the Vice President is just another confirmation of a sad state of American universities that once were Catholic, but are now something lesser.  Notre Dame, of course, is named after Our Blessed Mother.  I cannot imagine her rejoicing at this decision made in her name.

The Burden of Proof

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

I’ve written before about the challenges faced by Catholics in the election season, which is now upon us with the onset of presidential primaries.  I am often asked about how to make decisions between candidates, especially when none are in full agreement with the Church about essential issues.  The hypothetical case is typically presented of the candidate who is “pro-choice” on abortion, but has stands on economic issues that are closer to those promoted by the Church.  I know I’m old-fashioned in many ways, but in my mind the clearest thinking on this issue comes from our Bishops.

In 2004, the Bishops approved a brief statement called “Catholics In Political Life”. They said the following about abortion:

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified… To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (emphasis added)

During their deliberations, the Bishops had received a private letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger that was later made public.  In it, he said:

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

That is standard Church teaching about the question of cooperation with evil.  And so, many people point to this notion of “proportionate reasons” when approaching the voting decision.  But in fact, our Bishops have gone further, and have significantly raised the bar for making a decision whether to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate because of their other positions.  In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops have said:

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil. (35, emphasis added).

Specifically with respect to abortion, the Bishops responded to errors that are  made in applying Church teaching that can disort our defense of human life.  They said:

The first [temptation] is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed. (28, emphasis added)

The Bishops don’t point this out, but in making our voting decision it is vitally important that we don’t consider it in isolation.  Instead, we have to look at the reasonably foreseeable consequences — in other words, what will happen if this flawed candidate is elected?  In the case of the Presidential election, there are substantial foreseeable consequences:  as many as two possible Supreme Court nominations, dozens of Circuit Court and District Court nominations, and appointment power to many key policy-making positions in the Administration where regulations are developed (just think of the HHS Mandate and you’ll know why this matters so much).  Will the candidate’s future actions work to ameliorate the situation, leave it intact, or make it even worse?  One also has to take into account the likelihood of a candidates’ positions becoming reality — they may be nice campaign promises that are in keeping with the positions of the Church, but if they may have no chance of being passed, then what good are they?

So that sets the bar very high indeed.  What could possibly be a sufficiently grave moral reason that would justify voting for a candidate that supports the injustice of abortion, where upwards of a million vulnerable lives are lost every year?  Where the courts are hostile to common-sense measures that would regulate abortion?  Where minors are allowed to get abortions without even notifying their parents?  Where public authorities refuse to enforce health standards in abortion clinics?  Where abortion is held out as being indispensible for women to participate in society?  Where millions of taxpayer dollars go directly to pay abortionists for their dirty work?

Can any position, on any issue, be sufficient to justify voting for a person who will support that?  Personally, I cannot imagine anything satisfying that burden of proof.

The Politics of Principle

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last seven years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle — this year, perhaps more than ever, as we see a man running for President who is the most unprincipled candidate since Aaron Burr.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being “partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, then you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

The Mission is Always Outwards

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, there has been much introspection among the faithful about the way forward on marriage, religious liberty, and the role of faith in the public square.  Perhaps because we’ve been fighting this battle in New York for so long, these are familiar discussions to us, and I’ve written about them before.

From what I’ve seen so far, there are many calls to civil disobedience, although very few people have actually engaged the question of how that will be done and how extensive it will have to be (which will be the subject of a future post here).  Others have called for what some are terming a “Benedict Option”, modeled after the founder of the great monastic order, in which a groups of the faithful draw away from the general society in hopes of laying the seeds of reforming it.   Others emphasize the inward path of conversion of our own hearts, so that in our private lives, we are good witnesses to our faith.  Some have even advocated for shaking the dust of the world from our feet and leaving it on the path to its own destruction.

None of these is an adequate answer to the situation we find ourselves in.  Surely, we need to come together with like-minded people, to strengthen our faith communities and provide mutual support.  Our lives are always in need of conversion, and the best teachers of the truth are always those who witness to it in their everyday lives.  We undoubtedly will have to resist unjust laws, and bear the consequences.  All of that has merit, and each of us will have to find the path that the Holy Spirit is calling them to.

But in searching for our plan of action, we have to make sure that we don’t keep our focus only on ourselves.  If we do that, we will lose sight of a crucial point. In the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), Our Lord gave the Church a very clear mission to the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The mission of the Church is never to pull away from humanity and turn inward, nor is it meant to be in a state of defensive warfare with the forces of power in the world.  We are not meant to practice our faith only in our private lives, indifferent to the state of society.  Pope Francis said it very well in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium):

… no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.  (183)

These are difficult times, similar to those experienced by the Church in many prior ages, and in many places in our own time.  But we should always remember that the mission of the Church — and each one of us — is always to change the world, to transform it in light of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is outside.

The Politics of Principle

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last six years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

Engagement and Resistance

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Reflecting on my pessimistic take on the Supreme Court’s decision to make a final ruling on the marriage redefinition cases, I had an interesting email exchange with my friend and colleague Alexis Carra. She wrote to me:

Inevitably, the government/legislature/court will no longer recognize true religious liberty, amongst other things. This is an unfortunate consequence of a metaphysical and anthropological revolution/decline that has swept society; a phenomenon in which people no longer have a proper understand of human nature, reality, and our relationship to God.

1) So in this “post-human” age, how do we go about testifying and defending the Truth in the public sphere, especially when our court system will inevitably be against us? Is it time to change methods? If so, what should our new method(s) be?

(2) Similarly, in this “post-human” age, how do we go about testifying and defending the Truth in the private sphere? How should we engage our children, our friends, and our communities, especially when they are often hostile towards our message?

I replied, in part:

I wish I had answers to your questions. I have believed for many years that the time is rapidly approaching when Catholics may no longer be able to give their consent to the Constitutional morass that our judicial oligarchy has now imposed on us. This is a regime where truth and morality are denied and are instead branded as invidious bigotry, while laws that violate fundamental human rights are foisted upon us and we are compelled to cooperate with them. The Supreme Court’s decision on the marriage case may put us in a position where we can no longer recognize the legitimacy of the current regime.

Alexis’ response gets right to the heart of the matter, and adds some important distinctions:

It’s going to be even harder to live as authentic Catholics within the American system or as you say, “the current regime.” We will be forced to cooperate with evil under duress or become martyrs.

However, I actually do have some hope. I think the distinction must be made between “engaging with the public system” and “utilizing the public system.” I think — for most cases – we will be unable to utilize the system in order to uphold our religious liberties, etc. Yet this does not mean that we completely retreat from the system. Instead, we must continue to engage with the system; we must become the gadfly to the system (thinking of Socrates here). And this is a very important role that cannot be underestimated.

I still think there is something to be said for public engagement. I think the gay marriage debate has been largely a disastrous failure, but the same cannot be said for abortion. I think progress has made been made particularly because many young people rightly perceive abortion as the murdering of innocent life.

Overall, I think we are called to live as counter-cultural witnesses in an active sense; most of us are not called to completely separate ourselves from society.

I think that she is precisely correct. I too am pessimistic but not hopeless. There are many who advocate for disengagement from society, similar to the Amish. I refuse to do so. Engagement is clearly the proper course, but as a form of resistance to the dictatorship of relativism — where we continually proclaim the truth with love, and steadfastly refuse to conform to the lies. My model for this is Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless.

Nothing can erase the human desire for, and recognition of, the truth. Even under all the lies, the vast majority of people will try to live in truth. We are always called by our faith to be witnesses to the truth, even when that truth may be a “sign of contradiction”.