Archive for the ‘Conscience’ Category

Pathological Politics

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Politics is a dirty business and anyone who is involved in it, even just as a spectator, has to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for invective and hyperbole. Even by the standards of ordinary politics, though, the current Presidential campaign has certainly hit a number of new low points in the behavior of the major party candidates — including juvenile name calling, deranged conspiracy theories, unfounded accusations of bigotry and hatred, and the dismissal of a large percentage of the population as being “deplorable”.

The level of discourse among the general public has also been lamentably awful, as any reader of a Comments Box or Facebook feed can attest. On the whole, this year has not presented an edifying display of democracy at its best.

All of this might easily be dismissed as “politics as usual”. But things are certainly getting worse, and it is a very dangerous trend. This was brought home to me the other day when I received a troubling email from a very respectable Catholic gentleman. In the email, he said that the Democratic presidential nominee “is pure evil and very powerful because of her allegence [sic] to Satan”.

When uncharitable and unjust things like this are being said by Christian people, we should be seriously alarmed. If we as Christians cannot engage in strong political discourse without resorting to calling people “pure evil” or alleging that someone is a servant of the Evil One, then there is something sick about our political climate.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. A recent study by the Pew Center on “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016″ found that Americans are not just divided by politics, but that the divisions have reached the level of fear and loathing. For example, the study found that “A majority of Democrats (55%) say the GOP makes them feel afraid, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. And nearly half of Democrats (47%) and Republicans (46%) say the other party makes them feel angry”.

Things have clearly gone beyond robust disagreement about policy proposals. This personal animosity is the fruit of a political culture that cares little for policy discussions, but is instead infected by ideological media like “comedy” talk radio shows that show contempt for opposing viewpoints and politicians, and thrive on stirring up feelings of anger and indignation against the perceived enemy.

I understand that many people firmly believe that imminent disaster is at hand if one or the other of the major party candidates is elected. I certainly share the concern about the intensification of the Culture of Death and attacks on religious liberty. I also am disturbed by the prospect of immoral, unstable and untrustworthy people being elected to high office.

But as Catholic laypeople, we cannot be satisfied with this state of things. We are called by our faith to enter into temporal affairs, including politics, in order to bring to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must advance our positions while still remaining disciples of the Lord. As our Bishops say in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility. In public life, it is important to practice the virtues of charity and justice that are at the core of our Tradition” (FC 60).

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC, has said it very well:

We need to look at how we engage in discourse and how we live out our commitment to be a people of profound respect for the truth and our right to express our thoughts, opinions, positions — always in love. We who follow Christ must not only speak the truth but must do so in love (Eph 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the body of Christ.

As Christians, we cannot participate in pathological politics. Our society is indeed sick, and desperately in need of healing. But the solution is the message of mercy and love of the Gospel, emphasizing the dignity of every human person — including those with whom we disagree about politics.

Voting as a Catholic

Monday, October 24th, 2016

As Election Day approaches, there is a great deal of confusion and angst among Catholics. The Presidential race has garnered so much attention that it has overshadowed many other essential races at the federal and state levels. These other races will have an impact on key issues that affect our lives – the legalization of assisted suicide, regulation of abortion, religious liberty, war/peace, health care, etc. As in every election, there is much at stake, and we have a duty to be responsible citizens and vote.

When approaching our election decisions, it is vital that we act as Catholics – as disciples of Jesus Christ. We do not have to be locked into the arbitrary binary categories that the world seems caught up by – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, etc. Instead, we follow St. Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

So our task is to think with the mind of Christ, and look for ways to build the “civilization of love” (a phrase first coined by Pope Paul VI) that is at the heart of the social mission of the Church. In doing this, we as laypeople have the crucial role. It is our duty to engage in secular affairs and transform them in light of the Gospel. Politics is our responsibility, and the more Catholic we are, the better citizens and voters we will be, and the more we will advance the Kingdom of God.

To do this, we first have to form a correct and Catholic conscience about public affairs. Fortunately, the Bishops of the United States have given us an excellent tool for this, the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document provides practical advice on how to form one’s conscience in keeping with the teachings of our Church, and how to apply it to the political choices that have been presented to us. The goal is to foster political engagement that is “shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable” ( FC 14).

The first question that we must ask ourselves when considering how to vote is the character, philosophy and integrity of the candidates ( FC 41). It is essential for the health of the nation and for the common good to elect persons of good moral character who are responsible stewards of the power that we delegate to them. There have been too many examples in our history of the terrible consequences of electing people of bad character (see the Watergate scandal), and we should have learned this lesson by now. Public morality and private morality are connected, and we desperately need both.

We then must evaluate the positions of the candidates and their parties in light of Church teaching. We cannot responsibly vote based only on party labels or self-interest ( FC 41). Instead, we have to inform ourselves based on reliable and serious sources (i.e., not comedy shows). An excellent source for this kind of information is a party’s platform, which shows in broad strokes what the party stands for and what they hope to accomplish in office. This takes a little research, but with so much information on the Internet it is not too difficult for the average voter.

In doing this, we must keep the Church’s teaching in the forefront of our attention. Faithful Citizenship highlights several essential concepts that must be at the heart of a Catholic’s voting analysis: the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, the pursuit of the common good for all persons in society, subsidiarity (addressing social problems as close as possible to their source and respecting families and local institutions), solidarity (the unity of the human family), and the special obligation to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

Within that general framework, some issues are clearly more important than others. Our Church has consistently emphasized the preeminent place of the protection of human life at all its stages. We must oppose all kinds of intrinsically evil acts that endanger human life and dignity, such as abortion, euthanasia, destructive embryo research, the redefinition of marriage, racism, terrorism, torture, wars of aggression, human trafficking, pornography, and inhumane working conditions. All of these are utterly incompatible with human dignity and the common good.

This creates an obvious dilemma when we are confronted with candidates who are in favor of legalized abortion. We obviously cannot vote for a “pro-choice” candidate in order to support or perpetuate legalized abortion — “in such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (FC 34). The Bishops advise, however, that we may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate — but only “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FC 35) What constitutes a “truly grave moral reason” will obviously depend on the circumstances, but it would appear to mean something that involves opposing another seriously immoral act, such as preventing racism, defending against serious threats to religious freedom, or stopping an aggressive war.

One thing is clear. Although we are not “one issue voters” and we should evaluate all of a candidate’s positions, “if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” ( FC 42). So it is a perfectly responsible position for a Catholic to rule out voting for any “pro-choice” or racist candidate for that reason alone.

The hardest case for a Catholic is when we are presented with a choice between candidates who all support grave and intrinsic evils. In this case, the Bishops offer this advice: “The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” ( FC 36). This is not “choosing the lesser of two evils”, but instead is an effort to mitigate or minimize the damage that will be done by imperfect candidates. This is a difficult balance to draw, and one that should be approached very carefully. Balancing evils and predicting the future are fraught with the possibility of error, so a Catholic should proceed with great caution.

When faced with that situation, we can leave a particular ballot line blank and move on to other races, or we can look beyond the partisan binary – there’s no requirement in our faith that we must vote for a major party candidate. In many races, particularly the Presidential race, there are other people running whose positions are compatible with Church teaching, and a Catholic can therefore use their vote to make a principled statement. So we should look at minor parties (e.g., the American Solidarity Party) and other independent candidates.

Voting as a Catholic is not easy in this fallen world, but it is something that all Catholics are capable of. To do this, we can’t give up on politics as if it is hopeless to have good moral candidates and to improve our society. The quality of our politics depends on the quality of our participation. We must be aware of what is happening, and stay informed by seriously researching the positions of parties and candidates and the teachings of the Church. We should also pay close attention to all the races on the ballot, not just those on the top. We should certainly put in as much effort in voting as a Catholic as we do in selecting a cell phone. We should also stay engaged all year long, particularly by joining advocacy efforts like the New York State Catholic Action Network or the Human Life Action network.

The most important thing in this, as in any moral decision, is to call on the assistance of God. Pope Francis, when asked recently about our elections, gave this advice: ” Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.” Prayer is essential for any Catholic who seeks to do their duty as a voter. Because, as the U.S. Bishops have noted, “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation ” (FC 38).

Looking for Voting Choices

Monday, September 19th, 2016

How many of us have heard or uttered this statement: “I don’t know how I’m going to vote this year”. Many Catholics are struggling to decide how to vote. That should mean that they’re trying to form their consciences in a correct and Catholic way. And they should be looking for choices that allow them to “see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city” ( Gaudium et Spes 43).

Unfortunately, we have the prospect this year of having some of the most deeply problematic major party candidates for president in American history (which is quite a statement, considering that Aaron Burr, Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are on that list). Several of them have significant character problems and all support some kind of intrinsic moral evil (i.e., laws and policies that are always wrong, like permitting abortion on demand, legalizing assisted suicide, or the deliberate killing of civilians in wartime).

I’m not a member of any of the major parties, so loyalty is not an issue for me — candidates don’t have a right to my vote, they have to earn it. To me, casting a vote is a moral act, a statement that I wish this candidate to serve in a particular office. It means that I believe the person is qualified for the office, and that I want them to fulfill their campaign promises and positions. If I know that this candidate will support intrinsically evil policies, I am giving my permission for those evil acts and I am therefore complicit (however remotely) in them.

This is a very troubling moral dilemma. Our Bishops have advised us that we can vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsically evil act, but that can only be for truly grave moral reasons — which does not include party loyalty. The Bishops have also advised that we can “take the extraordinary step” of not voting for any candidate, or we can vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm. This is also a hard decision to make — how could there possibly be a sufficiently grave reason to vote for a candidate who favors abortion on demand, the killing of civilians in war, torture of captives, the redefinition of marriage, or proposals that are openly racist. Given the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the impossibility of predicting the future, it is also extremely hard to make a determination as to who would cause the least damage to our vulnerable republic and world.

Many people are considering to cast their vote for one candidate as a statement against one of the other candidates. But we don’t have an electoral system where we can “Like” or “Unlike” candidates. To vote against one, we have to vote to put the other one in office — which is a problem if we know that they will support evil policies.

But there are alternatives to voting for any of the major party candidates. One could leave the line blank — a vote of “none of the above” — but still vote for candidates in other key races. But that’s not satisfactory to those who want their vote not just to express dissatisfaction with the candidates that have been offered, but to support a positive agenda.

Another option is to look at some of the “minor parties” that have proposed candidates. I find one of these minor parties, the American Solidarity Party, to be very intriguing. It seems to be building its platform on Catholic Social Teaching. The party is not strictly Catholic, but falls in the tradition of “Christian Democratic” parties, which have been so influential in Europe and Latin America but which have never gained a foothold in the binary party system here in the United States.  On the issues I consider most important, the ASP is right on point: they are consistently pro-life, defend religious liberty and the authentic definition of marriage, oppose the use of torture and the killing of civilians in war, and support the right of parents to control the education of their children and the duty of the state to support them. I don’t agree with all of their platform, and I am not endorsing them or any other candidate for office. But I am interested in any political party or movement, however small they may be, that tries to advance the Church’s positions on policy issues.

Obviously, these kind of parties have no chance of winning this election. Most probably won’t even be on the ballot in New York, given our notoriously byzantine ballot access laws, so a write-in vote would be necessary.

But for voters who are looking for options, a minor party vote may allow them to vote according to their conscience. And that is not a “wasted vote”. As John Quincy Adams once said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

The Hierarchy of Values in Voting

Monday, February 29th, 2016

In several of my recent blog posts, I discussed some of the standards that our Bishops have recommended for helping Catholics make their voting decisions.  I noted that it is all too common for us to be faced with difficult choices involving candidates whose positions are not all in line with the teachings of the Church, particularly about the core issues of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty.

I’ve been discussing this problem a lot with my colleague, Alexis Carra.  She has a very valuable point of view, so I asked her to summarize it, and offer me a chance to respond:

“Like you mention in your post, it’s becoming more common to be presented with candidates who are in line with the Church when it comes to economic and social justice issues, but supportive of abortion. This poses a particular challenge for Catholic voters — Does a candidate’s favorable stance on economic and social issues outweigh his unfavorable stance on abortion? Or does a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? The guidance from the Catholic bishops seems to suggest that abortion outweighs all other issues. In other words, one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion for a proportionately serious reason. Considering that abortion is a very grave evil, this means that one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion if one has a very grave reason.

“For some Catholics, this is a little off-putting. Why should a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? Why should abortion matter the most? Aren’t there other issues that are just as important? Or wouldn’t a combination of other favorable stances balance an unfavorable stance on abortion? Unfortunately, however, I find that these legitimate concerns have not been well-addressed, especially since they are difficult to address. Often times, I’m asked to discuss this issue, so I have included a portion of my response below. But really, I want to know your response.

“In short, I think these concerns can be best addressed by looking at the nature of the human person and reflecting on what enables a person to flourish. First and foremost, the person needs to be offered a chance at life — not killed in womb. If the person is not alive, then none of this really matters. Next, the person needs to be taken care of within a stable structure — everyone knows what happens to abandoned babies who are not taken in. Then, in order for the person to truly develop, the person needs to live within a society free from oppression, in which education, health-care, employment opportunities, etc. are also available.

“When asked to be as simple and pragmatic as possible, I think a reflection on the nature of the human person and on human development allows us to derive rough categories of importance. First, issues related to life. Second, issues related to stability, family structure, and sexuality. Third, issues related to greater flourishing. The reason why abortion typically outweighs all other issues is that is abortion cuts at the heart of life — it goes against the most basic category. If people are not even offered a chance to live, the most fundamental aspect of existence, then there can be no further debate on any other topic.

“What do you think?”

I think she’s on to something very important.  With all the fuss and furor that take place around elections, it’s hard to keep track of which issues are more important, and why — we tend to hear only about issues that the candidates have chosen to emphasize, in order to advance their electoral strategies.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith helps us to maintain a clearer view of the hierarchy of values.  There can be no real question that the right to life is the fundamental, original predicate for all other rights, needs, and desires — without life, none of those things can even be coherently discussed.  Likewise, the absolute equality of value of all human lives is also a foundation for any healthy society.  An attack on these foundational rights must be considered the most serious of social evils, and it is the highest social duty to defend them against such attacks.  So we as voters have the duty to make the protection of life our highest priority.

From that basis, I think that we can then discern the rest of the hierarchy of values. For any human being, life alone is insufficient for genuine flourishing and development.  Basic physical needs must also be attended to —  health, safety, shelter, nourishment, etc.  Human beings also cannot exist in isolation, so the health of relationships must also be taken care of.  The primary relationship is the family, which means that the promotion and protection of marriage must be a high priority, since that is the best environment for the health and development of both adults and children. As a person extends their relationships beyond the family, and particularly as they begin to develop as an independent person, other needs must also be addressed — education, employment, opportunities for cultural and leisure activities, etc.

As we move further down the hierarchy, the overall health of society is also a concern, since each person is part of the organic whole of the political community in which they live.  So this involves issues like the election of people of good moral character, the proper and prudent functioning of government, accountability of public officials, economic development, immigration, etc..  Since no nation exists in a vacuum, and we must consider the welfare of our fellow human beings around the world, we then look to issues of international relations, peace, etc.

As a voter, then, each of these matters has weight, but I have to consider them within this hierarchy of importance when making my decisions.

But there’s another important part of the hierarchy of values.  Alexis is absolutley right that we have to consider the nature of the human person, which means that we also have to consider the person’s spiritual needs as well.  Society has an obligation to create conditions where humans can develop spiritually, and to remove any unreasonable obstacles to that development. This is why the freedoms of religion, expression, and association are so important.  Society also has a duty to remove and remedy conditions that harm people’s spiritual health — the structures of sin that do so much damage, but encouraging and facilitating sinful behavior, like corruption in politics, the drug trade, the sex industry, etc.  As for the very great importance of spiritual health, we have it on good authority — “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).  The spiritual health of each individual, and society as a whole, should thus be placed alongside the right to life itself as a foundational value, and must be treated accordingly as voters.

This is, of course, not an easy way to make voting decisions.  It is much easier to vote for the loudest candidate who speaks colorfully with great theatrical skill.  But as Catholics, we have to do better.  We need to educate ourselves about the teachings of the Church, we have to pay close attention to the hierarchy of values, and we have to pray for guidance.

The stakes are high when we make voting decisions.  God clearly takes an interest in the health of societies, and has never been shy about passing judgment on them.

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.

How Will We Be Ruled?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

America is once again at the threshold of another presidential election year.  The early campaigning has been done, and the voting will soon begin in primaries across the nation.

The electoral process is more than an question of who will best fill the position of president, but it is a moral testing ground.  What kind of person will we choose to head our government?  What kind of standards will he govern by?  What are the moral implications of his decisions?

For Catholics, this is a time for us to challenge our consciences.  Are we making political decisions based on our faith, or on other criteria?  Are we voting like Christians, or like members of a political party or ideology?

The bishops of the United States have published a document every four years, in preparation for the presidential elections, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  It lays out the Church’s perspective on the policy issues that are facing our nation, and calls Catholics to use it as a guide to their moral decision-making.

But the real challenge to us involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office.  It is a much deeper question — will we live according to God’s standards, or man’s?  This is a test of faith, and it is one that our nation seems to be failing.  The evidence is all around us — idolatrous consumerism and materialism, widespread sexual immorality, ethical relativism, the collapse of social support for authentic marriage, denial of the true nature of the human person as male and female, and the increasing reach of the Culture of Death.

Every year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.  This feast encourages us to contemplate the Kingdom of God.  All too often we only view God’s Kingdom as an abstract idea, perhaps something for the distant future, or a goal to be aspired to.  But it actually has tremendous significance for the way we live right now, and for our political decisions.  A few years ago, in a homily for the feast, Pope Benedict pointed out that “The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms”, because it is founded on justice, love, peace, and service, and not on power or force.  He also reminded us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God “is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives.”

Are those the standards we apply in making political decisions?

We are not unique in having to decide how God’s standards can be instituted in our earthly realm.  This has been a struggle faced by God’s people throughout history.  And, all too often, we have chosen badly.  I am reminded of a passage from the First Book of Samuel, in which the prophet issues a stern warning to the Israelites, who have clamored to be ruled by an earthly king, instead of the prophets and judges appointed by God.

Samuel said to the people, “Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.  For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.  Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.  (1 Samuel 12:20-25)

How are we responding to the Lord’s invitation — and Samuel’s admonition — as we consider our upcoming political decisions?  Are we choosing to be ruled by God’s standards, or by man’s?

Dissent and Heroic Witness

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I had the honor the other day of attending a luncheon hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom.  They are one of the leading public interest law firms in the nation, dedicated to promoting and protecting life, marriage, and religious liberty.  The purpose of the event was to highlight several people who have been suffering legal attacks, as a result of their public witness to their faith principles regarding human life and marriage.

These kinds of events are very important.  It’s all too easy to deal with issues of religious liberty as abstractions, or as arcane constitutional law questions.  That drains the life out of the issue, and prevents us from seeing what is really at stake.  This panel provided a powerful reminder that religious liberty is a real-world issue, with real people suffering from real effects on their lives, careers, and businesses.

It can also be a story of real heroism, as exemplified by the people on this panel, all of whom have been defended by ADF:

  • Baronelle Stutzman, who faces the loss of her florist business, her home, and her life savings, all because she declined to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex “marriage”.  The State of Washington and the ACLU have been hounding her, and she faces crippling fines and legal fees.  She also was the target of a deluge of hate calls, threats, and disruptions of her business. She described the ideology of her persecutors in stark terms: “If you don’t bow down to an agenda, you will be destroyed”.  Yet she stands firm.
  • Kelvin Cochran, who is pretty much everything you would want as an example of the American dream.  An African-American from Louisiana, he grew up in dire poverty in a single-parent household, yet he was taught to rely on faith, patriotism, and hard work.  He became a fire-fighter, and rose rapidly through the ranks to become Fire Chief of Shreveport, and then of Atlanta.  He was even hired by President Obama to head the U.S. Fire Administration, before returning to Atlanta again.  In 2014, he was summarily suspended from his job and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training”.  His offense?  Publishing a book expressing his belief in the Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Despite never having engaged in any discrimination — and having been a leader in fighting for equal opportunities — his career was ruined because he dared to speak out for his faith.
  • Cathy DeCarlo, an immigrant from the Philippines who is a dedicated nurse from New York.  She was coerced by her hospital employer into participating in a 22-week abortion, despite her objections due to her faith.  She was threatened with being fired and having her nurse’s license revoked.  As a result, she literally lived through a nightmare — having to witness the brutal dismemberment of a baby, being forced to inspect and dispose of the child’s remains, and then reliving the horror in her memory and dreams.  She sought legal recourse against the hospital, only to learn that neither state nor federal law gave her the right to sue for this egregious violation of her rights.  Her words:  “How could this happen in America?”
  • Blaine Adamson, a small businessman from Kentucky.  His T-Shirt company specialized in servicing Christian organizations, and was very careful not to get involved in printing any messages that were contrary to his faith.  So when the local gay and lesbian organization tried to place an order, he referred them to another printer.  So began his descent in to the Kafkaesque world of “human rights” commissions.  He was found guilty of discrimination, ordered to print the T-shirts, and required to consult with the government any time he thought about turning down a job because of the message.  Even worse, he had to undergo “diversity training”, an Orwellian concept that is designed to use the muscle of the government to force him to admit that his ideas — his faith — is wrong and must be rejected.  He too remains firm:  “If no one stands up and says something, they win.”
  • Jeanne Mancini, the President of the March for Life, which is the largest annual human rights event in the entire world, dedicated to defending life from the moment of conception.  Her organization ran afoul of the evil HHS Mandate, which would have required them to provide health insurance and pay for drugs and devices that cause abortions — directly contrary to their mission.  Because the March for Life is not a religious organization, she had no alternative but to sue in order to defend her rights.  At the heart of their case is a simple principle — the right to life isn’t just a religious issue, it’s a human right.  So, as she said, “We couldn’t not fight it”.

These admirable people are on the receiving end of the new intolerance, the message of which is stark — “conform to the orthodoxy of sexual liberationism, or be crushed”.  This attitude is a danger to everyone, not just those who have the audacity to dissent.  As Alan Sears, the admirable head of ADF, said (quoting Martin Luther King): “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pope Francis, on his return flight after visiting the United States, said very clearly:

I can say conscientious objection is a right, and enters into every human right. It is a right, and if a person does now allow for conscientious objection, he or she is denying a right. Every legal system should provide for conscientious objection because it is a right, a human right.

Very few people are standing up to defend this basic human right.  ADF is doing so, the Holy Father is doing so.  And we all need to do so.

 

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”.

Pessimism about Marriage and the Supreme Court

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

The Supreme Court has now agreed to decide one of the marriage redefinition cases. The oral argument will be held at the end of April, and a decision will come down at the end of June.

In my opinion, this is not good news. The conventional wisdom is that the Court takes cases in order to reverse lower courts, and the statistics bear that out (in revious terms, they’ve reversed about 75% of the cases they take). So it’s very significant that the Court took the case from the Sixth Circuit — the only Circuit Court to have upheld real marriage.

We also have to bear in mind that in the Windsor case, the majority of the Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, on the theory that it violated Equal Protection because the law was enacted specifically with “animus” towards homosexuals. In the case the Court just accepted, each of the state laws involved (Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee) would be vulnerable to that same argument, since they adopted constitutional amendments specifically to rule out the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

So I think there’s every reason to anticipate that the Court will rule the wrong way. It’s clear that there is a solid 4-vote bloc that will vote to recognize same-sex “marriage” (Sotomayor, Kagen, Breyer, and Ginsberg), and a 4-vote bloc that will likely vote against it (Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and probably Roberts). Given Justice Kennedy’s past record on homosexual rights cases — he has always voted in favor of them and has written some terrible majority opinions centered on the issue of alleged “animus” (see the Lawrence, Romer, and Windsor cases) — it seems virtually certain that he will follow his own reasoning in his Windsor majority opinion, and rule that the secret messages, written in invisible ink but that he manages to discern in the Constitution, somehow require the recognition of same-sex “marriage”.

In other words, the Court will likely decide that the Equal Protection Clause requires that we must abandon logic, and say that inherently different things are actually the same.  Welcome to the Humpty-Dumpty world of justice, where words mean whatever the people in power wish them to mean.

I am innately pessimistic about Court rulings, but I just can’t see any path to a good outcome here. Not only will a marriage re-definition ruling flout the will of the people as expressed in the democratic process, it will contradict the fundamental truths about marriage contained in the natural law and in the nature of the human person. It will also increase pressure on religious people to conform, and will test our ability to live in keeping with our faith in an increasingly hostile nation.

 

Yet Another Alleged “Accommodation”

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

The Administration has announced yet another set of new rules for the HHS abortion/contraception mandate, affecting religious non-profits (the so-called “accommodation” class) and closely-held for-profit corporations (e.g, Hobby Lobby).

Remember that under the most recent version of the oft-amended rules, religious non-profits that wanted to take advantage of the accommodation had to file a document (“Form 700″) with their insurer. This document stated their objections to the coverage, and was the trigger for the insurance company to offer the benefits to the employees. The objection was that Form 700 was tantamount to signing a permission slip for immorality, and being required to fill it out was therefore a violation of religious and free speech rights.

In these new rules, the Administration adopted the approach previously granted by the Supreme Court to the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College. Now, to qualify for the accommodation, the religious non-profits can file a statement of objection with the government. The government will then contact the insurance company and make arrangements for the coverage to be offered to the employees.

It’s not clear whether this will be sufficient to protect the rights of the religious non-profits like the Little Sisters, Catholic Charities, and Christian colleges.  Their insurance plans will still be required to cover abortion-causing drugs and other offensive services (e.g., sterilization). There is also still the issue of self-insured entities, which will be directly paying for immoral things.  There’s also a concern about whether the insurance companies will be passing on the costs to the employers so that they will still be paying for the offensive services. We also have no way of knowing how the courts will view this new development — will the non-profits start losing cases now that the Administration has come this far?  We’ll have to wait for USCCB and other attorneys to analyze the new rules in detail.

It appears also that closely-held for-profit businesses with religious objections (e.g., Hobby Lobby), will also be able to take advantage of the same procedure as the religious non-profits, and thus qualify for the accommodation. This was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga case.  The rules aren’t specific on which corporations will be given this protection, so it remains to be seen how broadly their religious liberty rights will be respected.

This is yet another step in the Administration’s on-going campaign to normalize contraception and abortion as being essential to women’s health, and a standard part of health insurance policies.  It is also yet another example of their deafness to the objections of religious entities and people, who do not wish to be forced to violate their beliefs.

The real solution to this problem is for the Administration to permit anyone with conscientious objections to be exempted entirely from the abortion/contraception mandate.  That doesn’t seem possible, given their deep commitment to a Culture of Death ideology, under which fertility is a curse, new life is the enemy, and religious believers are in the way.