Questions about Political Catholicity and Plurality

First, let me say that it’s been a few days since I last posted here — my apologies to the regular readers of DatingGod.org — I’ve been on the road leading some retreats and delivering lectures. I’ve had the great opportunity to meet so many wonderful people along the way, folks whose faith is inspiring and whose interest in questions of import are challenging, in the best possible way. This sort of interest in the questions about our faith and the way Christianity — particularly in its Roman Catholic form — is lived out in the public square and private lives of the faithful has been a ‘hot topic’ in recent weeks (if not months) to say the least. That the three leading GOP presidential hopefuls this election cycle include two catholics and a mormon is a situation the founding fathers and mothers of this country could never have imagined in their wildest imaginations (Catholics were largely an oppressed minority in the colonies and, well, the Mormon faith did not yet exist).

The political rhetoric of the Catholic politicians has indeed captured the attention of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Elsewhere on this blog I have discussed some of the problematic positions that Rick Santorum maintains that stand in opposition to Church teaching (see “The Counter-Catholic View of Santorum on Religious Liberty,” for example), despite the candidate’s touting his orthodoxy in matters of faith and morals. I’m not so interested in rehashing that subject here, instead I want to call attention to an interesting op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times titled: “Many Kinds of Catholic,” by Frank Bruni.

Despite what one makes of his conclusions, the questions with which he engages are important today. The impetus for his piece was yesterday’s Illinois GOP primary (which Romney ultimately won) and the role that religion — particularly one’s affect Catholicity — might play in that political race. One of the more interesting reflections present in this column is the insightful distinction made between what the Catholic faithful actually believes (in other words, the sensus fidelium) and what certain politicians and church leaders have advocated.

The case and point centers on the subject of birth control. After abortion and perhaps same-sex marriage, birth control has been a polarizing issue for the Catholic community since 1968, if not before, with the publication of the now (in)famous, if often misunderstood and caricatured, encyclical letter of Pope Paul VI, Humane Vitae. Bruni keenly notes that time and time again polls and studies show that an overwhelming percentage of Catholics (in the 90%+ range) who are sexually active are in favor of birth control.

It is for this reason that Church leaders as well as politicians for whom this is a campaign centerpiece, cannot appeal to the prohibition of birth control outright: the US population simply would not tolerate that. Instead, the birth control issue becomes subsumed under the guise of a “threat to religious liberty.” This is something about which more people are much more willing to be concerned.

For months now the adjective Catholic has been affixed to the country’s strange contraception debate, which began when many Catholic leaders took offense at a federal mandate that Catholic institutions provide insurance coverage for artificial birth control.

But most American Catholics don’t share their appointed leaders’ qualms with the pill, condoms and such. These leaders have found traction largely among people — Catholic and otherwise — concerned about government overreach. And the whole discussion has opened the door to plaints about morality from evangelicals, who warm to Santorum more than Catholics do.

It is curious to note that for all of Santorum’s ostensibly über-Catholicism it is the self-identified evangelical population that most resonates with his “Catholic” message. What does this mean for our understanding of contemporary Catholicity?

What makes a politician Catholic? Better still is the question: what makes the political agenda of a particular politician Catholic?

There is oftentimes the critique leveled against so-called liberal Catholics that their appropriation of issues related to faith and morals is a form of “cafeteria Catholicism,” an a la carte selection of this or that official teaching. Yet, the same is clearly true about the so-called conservative Catholics as made evidently clear in the campaign agenda of Santorum and others.

One of the things that might be worth further reflection is the title of Bruni’s column — “Many Kinds of Catholic.” My sense is that lots of folks might take offense at the suggestion that there could be a multiplicity of the affective expression and personal commitments of Roman Catholics. We like to believe the myth of the monolithic and hegemonic “Church” to which one either belongs or doesn’t. But conservatives and liberals alike are guilty of incarnating the religious plurality we so wish to ignore.

Curiously, as scholars and historians have shown, diversity and unity have always been held in creative tension throughout the two-thousand-year history of Christianity. One only has to look at the canonical Gospels to note the diversity and unity of the Jesus narrative presented by the four evangelists. Likewise, look to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to see the dispute over gentile admission to the Christian community. What does this mean for us today? How do we understand Catholicity?

Photo: CNN

17 Responses to “Questions about Political Catholicity and Plurality”

  1. Sadly, the message in the parishes around me is that there’s only one way “good” Catholics can vote.

  2. Matthew M. Says:

    As for the article, it only goes to show not a failing on the dogma or doctrine, and dare I say in one’s e-presence, the solid theological and philosophical support in such writings from Blessed John Paul II, but it is the undue influence of the society resulting from the “free-love” sixties, the anti-establishment seventies, etc.; moreover, a failure to catechize the faithful. Mr. Bruni, uses the example of his mother and IUD. Did she actually make a truly well informed decision, seeking out the “why” the Church does not support contraceptives? Odds are, not. Additionally, has Mr. Bruni for that matter, taken the opportunity to educate or investigate the theological reasons, or has he like many others, become anti-Holy Mother Church just because She has withstood countless attacks, the Crusades, the Reformation, over 2,000 years? I am rather certain he has not, and based on his opening snide remark regarding the Holy Father and Cardinals, it is obvious he is also to a certain degree anti-Catholic.

    Related tangent

    Now, what I find most disturbing about the entire discussion, which of course is being perpetuated by the MSM, is the focus on religion of the GOP candidates. I don’t recall any real coverage on the “O”s religion or Ms. Clinton at the time, other that scandal caused by his connection with Rev. Wright (played down by MSM), and Fr. Pfleger, which of course was played-up because is a priest who was reprimanded for his very political “homily”. Yet, when the “O” tramples the Constitution First Amendment to force institutions to go against their religion (and just because a few lefties or the “progressive minority” who do not agree with the doctrine of the Faith, does not make it correct), everyone gets on the bandwagon that is a freedom of choice issue and the Catholics et al., need to tow the line. Respectfully, that is complete bunk!!! Moving to the HHS decision….

    Let’s for a moment take religion out of the picture. If one does not like their employment benefits (healthcare, 401K) usually one must weigh the options of staying and making do, or find alternative employment. And, if benefits are not sufficient, there is usually a supplemental form.

    Add religion back in. Now, because of anti-discrimination laws, are jobs open to many positions within religious institutions? Yes, depending on the position. Can students of ALL faith traditions and/religions attend parochial schools (although this may be more due to financial sustainment). So, why is it now o.k. for the government to force these private religious institutions (which pre-date our country and have a much higher calling/purpose than any form of national government), to go against their teachings? Anti-discrimination laws have made sufficient strides with respect to being tolerant of others religious beliefs and practices, yet I don’t see the ACLU-types clamoring to defend against the oppressive government over-stepping its bounds to force a religious institution to go against their beliefs. One commented last time that my analogy of forcing a Muslim or Orthodox Jew to eat pork was not logical or thought out. Well here is one even better. What if, a government forced a devout Catholic to swear against the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, moreover that young girl would be put to death if she did not discrete the Lamb of God? This has happened, not in the U.S. but elsewhere in the world. So, the question is, would the same “catholics” who support the current regime’s involvement imposing the HHS decision, be so complacent and naive if they fully understood the bigger picture and the ramifications of dismissing the other side of the “separation of church and state”?

    Just a little food for thought too, since one has chosen to support OWS campaign, would one support the following? Especially since is now is not so “hypocritical” on focus solely on “anti-abortion”. http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=28386

    • She has withstood countless attacks, the Crusades, the Reformation, over 2,000 years?

      Are you serious? The Crusades?

      The Crusades weren’t “withstood” by the church, they were inflicted upon other BY the church. Previously, I enioned my admiration for Savanarola. One area where I don’t admire him is in his urging for the Crusades. As I recall the words of Christ: If my kingdom were of this world, then my followers would fight.

      I know, I know. We have to fight, but that’s another story, sort of. In the case of the Crusades, it was clealy an unnecessary act of aggression.

      >All the ensuing bloodshed aside, Martin Luther was good for the church wouldn’t you say? I remember a certain Rabi from Nazareth who caused some trouble because of the relgious establishment going astray.

  3. Father Horan, I have no idea from your post what your position is on the issue of contraception. Mathew M leaves no doubt about what his is. Take his views and reverse them, and I’d say that would be a fair representation of mine.

    As you know from my other postings, I’m not a believer–or at least I keep telling myself that I’m not. In any event, even though I am not married and I’m not dating anyone, I certainly do have an opinion on contraception. My opinion is that the church’s position as it now stands is completely, fundamentally, and obviously wrong.

    The biblical declaration to procreate was made at a time when there were less than a million people on the entire planet. Now, we are up to 7 billion. In some areas of the planet, enough is enough. A decent quality of human life is impossible without controlling the inception of (ideally) a married couple sharing their love and affection for each other in the natural act of physical embrace. The idea that one cannot use reason and be religious is something that is not favorable to the image of the church.

    Take for instance, the role of women. A woman might be a moral person and have a husband who isn’t. She is entirely at the mercy of his whims. If he engages in activities that bring death, and not life, back home with him, how is anyone benefitted? Entire villages of been depopulated.

    There isn’t even any exemption for war or famine. Women are completely at the mercy of their animal reproductive cycle—whether they like it or not—and whether the “choice” of intercourse is theirs or not. This indifference to the suffering of the oppressed seems completely at odds with the teachings of Christ.

    Yet, one can even remove the idea of oppression and simply stick with the notion that people in the modern world can plan their family. Myself, I’ve often thought—when I see people abusing children—why did they even have them if they didn’t want them? But that comes from a Protestant background. The idea that one is compelled to live life without dominion over the natural world rather than being a slave of it is foreign to me. Intellectually, not having control over inception is akin to not allowing medical intervention in matters of illness—and there are people who do eschew the use of medicine, as well as handle snakes. It all seems so very irrational to me—and evidently to the 99% of US Catholics who do want to have children they are prepared to love and care for. That’s my opinion.

    • Matthew M. Says:

      Mr. Miller, I do respect you for your beliefs, and especially appreciate that you do not consider yourself a “believer”. Trust me when I say, that several of the young people I have had or have in confirmation class, also struggle with the question of their faith. You will be in my prayers. I also, appreciate your counter opinion to mine. However, as a believer who also struggles on this faith journey in many ways, it is not about us. I realize it sounds corny, but it is about “letting go and letting God.”

      If one understands that Man is created in the Imago Dei of God, and that each man and woman can appreciate their natural gift and role as participating in the co-creation of another life, in the holy sacrament of marriage, then… And, counter to those even within the Church who support articifial contraceptives, there are effective means of approved Natural Family Planning, which also have been proven as effective as the condom and the pill. Additionally, there is a certain amount of “discipline” which anyone should be able to appreciate needed within a marriage and even outside of marriage (no explanation needed). Family planning not just about when one can or cannot have sex, but also about real intimacy and rational discussion. It is not just about the pleasure of the conjugal union.

      As for the Bible, respectfully, if we consider it as the Word of God, whether from the protestant or Catholic viewpoint, then there is absolutely nothing that rescinds the passage to “be fruitful and multiply.” Additionally, we were to have dominion over the animals, not “nature”. I would submit that the concept of man’s control of nature and science has more to do “educated” man and less to do with Divine Enlightenment.

      I can empathize with the plight of “oppressed” and do attocrities happen in the world? YES. But, from an intellectual standpoint, do two wrongs ever equal a right? NO. This concept is applicable to perhaps everything. Be it abortion, capital punishment, war, breaking any of the Commandments. The teachings of the Church (and I humbly and inadequately submit) has more to do with the ideal. I would submit that the priest of Mr. Bruni’s mother also recognized something more than just her IUD usage, and focused on the “right conscience” argument. (e.g. Is the girl forced into an abortion by her mother, actually fully guilty of committing a grievous sin?) These are the guidelines to which we must strive. Are we going to be perfect? NO. Can we as men do it alone, without Grace? NO. Is there forgiveness and redemption when we fall? YES.

      I wish you the very best on your faith/life journey. Know that I do believe that none of us as the answer, we are all just struggling to the best we can. Peace!

      • Well, you certainly have clarified your position, that’s for sure.
        😦

      • Sorry about confusing Matthew M.’s comment with that of Brother Horan’s. I must say I was shocked by what seemed to be an angry and resentful statement coming from a Franciscan, someone who presumably chose celibacy. Myself, I’ve more or less had it thrust upon me, but I certainly don’t resent the happiness that can exist for married people. God knows, there are enough unpleasant things that can happen.

      • Oh ye of little faith — if you’ll forgive the pun.🙂

        I’m pretty certain nobody from here stopped by my site. I’ll betcha think I didn’t do a very good job of it, and that it’s biased. I’ll bet you’d be wrong on both counts.

        When I hear people say. “. . . it is about “letting go and letting God,” I think why even have a personality? If all we are supposed to be is robots, God could have saved himself some effort and just created us that way.

        I have all sides represented on my site, in terms of what might be useful to everyone in selecting what they want to pursue.

        That does tie in with my previous statement about not having any personality and freewill. Nothing against any religious group–unless you want to lump all religious fundamentalists together–but when I saw those fundamentalist Hebrews on one of the videos I have on my site, I kid you not, my reaction was (and is) that I’d rather be dead. Forgive the blunt honesty but I’m not kidding. I wouldn’t want eternal life if that was the price.

        On the other hand, I’m usually pretty good at seeing both sides of an issue. In fact the first post is about the “historical accuracy debate” about the Bible. In my opinion I side with the beilevers on the issue.

        (I hope it doesn’t seem to Brother Dan like I’m advertising my site on his, because I don’t think I am in the sense that I’ve comments here for a while and thought I had developed some personal ties with Jared and Mathew, which I suppose I haven’t. But anyway, it’s important to me to get all view points, so if you’re interested come by and if not I’ll still stop by here if someone responds to a comment I’ve made, but it doesn’t seem like . . .)

  4. Matthew M. Says:

    BTW, this got deleted from my original post for Deacon Dan:

    Excellent. I of course do not agree with either the blog or article, but at least on is recognizing the flaws of the “left” as cafeteria catholics along side the issues of the “right”.
    Just a couple quick points of contention:
    1.) Did one actually intend to say “Roman Catholic form” and “Mormon faith?” — Too politically correct even for post-V2 “spirit”, but I should not actually be surprised.
    2.) And, why pray-tell was “Humane Vitae” called out in such a manner to imply a negative connotation “(in)famous”?

  5. As I understand it, birth control within marriage is recommended and taught. My wife and I were instructed in the Creighton method. Without getting into any details, we are using birth control with the same intent as our neighbors, who are faithfully married with children and using artificial birth control. My neighbors would not abort a child if their contraception failed, nor would we. I simply do not understand the Church teaching on birth control and I do not fault anyone who uses artificial contraception. I do, however, object to the state telling any church to provide birth control if it is against their teaching. That sets a simply awful precedent that–in my opinion–should be spark outrage even among liberals.

    • Hi Jared, long time no see. Hope all is well and good with you.

      You mentioned, “I do, however, object to the state telling any church to provide birth control if it is against their teaching.”

      Myself, I think that is (possibly) framing the questions incorrectly. Think about it for a moment: If the Church is going to employ or have as studens people of other beliefs and ideas about life, isn’t it necessary forthe Church to take the “bitter with the better” in a free nation. There is religious freedom here. So, the question might be framed more along the lines of this: Does the church–or anyone–have the right to force their beliefs and practices on others?

      I hope the answer is no. It’s good for the church and it’s good for a country where free-will is the norm. We have all ofus agreed to abide by certain freedoms and limitations.

      I simply think that we Americans have agreed that we will not impose our beliefs on others. Anyone who remembers what happened during the times when the Catholics and Protestants were massacering each other ought to consider letting peace on earth and goodwill toward men to rule the day.

      I’m interested in wheter you see any validity in the argument that agreeing to abide by and to tolerate dissenting beliefs is good for all? I don’t see how anyone in the church could belief they are commiting a sin simply by engaging in democracy when things don’t go there way. Most of us a products of the Enlightenment, whethe religious or not. We simply cannot view the world as those in the Middle Ages did. (A good thing, in my opinion.)

      • Donald–good to hear from you again and I totally agree with your statement, “I simply think that we Americans have agreed that we will not impose our beliefs on others.” Perhaps we disagree in the execution of that statement, because I feel that forcing a religious organization to pay for something that is opposed to their teaching is a good example of imposing beliefs on others. In fact, it places the Church in your bedroom, which I have always been told is wrong by secularists. Furthermore, the Church is actually punished for being diverse in hiring people who do not profess Catholic faith.

      • I’ve been working on a website based on Yale University’s Old Testament course. You can drop by if you want. I think it’s an interesting subject. I’ll be getting around to the New Testament later.

        I’m still interested in your ideas about the Franciscan Lifestyle.

        Well, anyone who goes snooping around my bedroom is going to have a mighty boring time on their hands.😦

        But back to the topic at hand. I think I have a knack for dispassionately analyzing something. This isn’t of huge importance to me personally, so I don’t want to just argue for the sake of arguing–and I know you don’t, either.

        I’m pretty certain that the church is required by law to hire nonCatholics if it’s participating in certain activites. (I simply think that’s a fact.) So the idea that the Church is being punished I think is incorrect. But I’m no lawyer, so I might be wrong.

        I just simply can’t agree with you, because I think it sets a bad precedence that is bad for everyone. For instance, there are Muslim cab drivers who have refused to take passengers who have dogs–because the Koran says dogs are unclean. Nope. Not good. We’ll have anarchy if everyone only abides by the parts of the conventions of our society that they agree with and refuses to abide by those they don’t.

        I mean pfft, this whole issue isn’t affecting my life any. But I think it’s important for the overall good of the rule of law. Myself, I do think it is just as much a relevant issue as the cab driver who decides who he is going to take on as a client.

        Abortion I can see as a genuine issue. That’s different in my view that preventing conception–until a couple decide they want to have children. But once, a life has begun, even if a woman has the right (secularly) to decide wht’s going on in her body, it is wrong to pay for a procedure that many people find immoral. Tax money used for that is a justifiable objection, in my opinion. Contraception is not, because it is an entirely different level of philosophical opinion.

        And to be blunt, I don’t think what a man and his wife do is anyone else’s business, for they have had their marriage bed sanctified. Someone mentioned marriage elsewhere on this page as if it should be an unpleasant ordeal of willpower. Bummer. Anyway, I’m digressing.

        Seperation of church and state is good for everyone, including the church(es). No one’s killing each other off like we did in the past. Iran is a good example of how not to run a country. I’m glad I live in America. This does seem to be a troubled time, though with the way politicians and others use issues to divide and rile folks up, when we ought to be using our powers of reason. That’s my take on it, for whatever it’s worth.

  6. Donald–I enjoy your comments and agree with most of them. I will check out that website, too. My worry is simply this: The state has found an issue where most Catholics disagree in practice with Church teaching, so they are using this specific issue to assert the power of the state to make the Church go against their teaching. This is simply a power play and a step towards requiring Catholic universities and hospitals to do other things, like provide abortion on demand. I think it stinks, but not because I really care about birth control or think another person’s bedroom is my business.

  7. Triangle Says:

    I just thought i would let you know that there are some women out here who do respect the hierarchy of the Catholic church. The NY Times article may incorrectly assumes that Mr Santorum catholic faith is the reason why one supports or does not support him.It is rather a stretch to associate the publics reaction a political candidate with a religious groups satisfaction or disatisfaction with its brothers in chruch leadership. I think it demonstrates its usual lack of understanding of our Catholic faith from NYTimes. I am equally amazed that the articles written about the mandate never mention abortifacients? I wonder why, could it be that then their willing catholic subjects might not so willingly go along with their intent to demonstrate against the heirarchy? Another point I would like to mention has to do with seeing the forest through the trees.the hierarchy of the Catholic church has always insisted that providing healthcare was a social justice. It saw healthcare as its duty before any mandated existed. I hope you would agree that pregnancy is one of the HEALTHY outcomes human body engaging in intercourse. What we are looking at now is a requirement by the government to people who want to provide healthcare that they must pay for procedures and medications that stop the body from acting in a healthy way. Whether you agree with birth control or not it is disingenuous to say this is healthcare. It follows more closely inthe lines of lifestyle choice (excluding illness related needs). To mandate it to people of a church, who historically wants to provide for the healthcare needs of all people in a not for profit manner, who finds it against Gods natural design, sounds more like something Iran’s government would do. As a natruralized US citizen, this catholic woman thinks the hierarchy has got it right, and I am proud of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: