Saturday, October 16, 2010

A personal reflection about faith and politics, or the politics of faith

Currently there is so much going on that when I think about it I am almost overwhelmed. I have to admit that with the off-year elections happening  in a little more than two weeks I am very glad that I have not written anything about politics. This is largely due to the fact that from 2006 to 2008 I finally got over my life-long fascination with politics. All of this has been on my mind this week in light of the televised religious roundtable I participated in for our local PBS station, KUED, Channel 7, last Wednesday.

There was a time when I thought politics, a career in politics, was the path I would pursue, but then many things happened in my life, not least among which was becoming Catholic. This had a two-fold effect on this ambition. First, it changed my politics fairly dramatically. Second, where I live moving from the dominant religion to embrace and become a member of a different religion was, if not outright disqualifying, then something probably too big to overcome. I also have to say that being involved with Communion and Liberation, especially having formal ties to the Movement for the past 4 or 5 years, has changed the way I approach politics even more dramatically than when I became Catholic more than 20 years ago.

As a member of the clergy actively engaged in pastoral ministry, I tend to look at issues without concerning myself too much about how I might fit them into some over-arching and preconceived political schema, otherwise known as an ideology. As a result, after many years as a registered Democrat (my affiliation with the Democratic Party preceding my becoming Catholic), I am now a political independent. All of this is very liberating, indeed, because my sole point of reference for political issues is my faith, which not only doesn't preclude the use of reason, but positively requires it.

I approach politics in a reasonable and faithful way, which does not mean slavishly applying church teaching to political issues of the day, which would be tantamount to relinquishing my freedom, which is anti-thetical to my Catholic faith, but looking at what fosters a greater humanity- which is the whole point of the Gospel that is Jesus Christ. Besides, according to Catholic teaching, how we apply the tenets of our faith to political matters boils down to individuals making well-informed prudential judgments about various issues. We're not monolithic, nor can we be in dealing the very complex matters we are faced with today. For example, here in Utah, the Democrat running for governor is a Catholic. He cannot count on my vote just because I am Catholic, too. To vote that way is highly irresponsible, whether the identification with any candidate is religion, gender, or race. I loathe identity politics, which is inherently divisive and arguably undemocratic.

Besides, as a member of the clergy, which inherently includes being something of a public figure, it is not appropriate or ethical for me engage in partisan politicking, which is different from not engaging political issues at all. As both of my readers know, I am not shy about weighing in on issues that matter to me- immigration, labor matters, international affairs (a concern that naturally arises from my secular occupation), and on economic matters, too. I generally don't tell people who I vote for, though I do lay out my criteria for judging candidates- don't be uncomfortable about the verb to judge in all its variants because we have to make judgments everyday, we certainly render a judgment when we go into the voting booth. I am not the least bit relativistic when it comes to my faith, especially when it comes to matters of politics.

I firmly believe that it is highly important, a matter of conscience rightly formed, to bring my faith to bear in the public square. I do not do this from the standpoint that all religiously held points-of-view are equally valid. Just as truth by its very nature is not relativistic, all view points, even when derived from religious principles, are not equally valid. So, part of my task is to have a well-informed conscience and another part, as a religious educator, is to collaborate with others in the task of conscience formation. What makes Catholic morality so controversial is that it is objective, as opposed to subjective or relativistic, which is not to say that to reason according to the principles of Catholic morality renders one incapable of accounting for the complexity of many moral issues, though it does a good job of reducing and even eliminating so many false complexities.

So, this week when I vote early once again, I will vote a split ticket that will include casting a vote for a few third party candidates. Politics are not merely a necessary evil, politics is nothing but a single word, and a generic one at that, we use to describe how we manage our common life. To denigrate politics in a democracy is to denigrate democracy, especially a representative one like we have in the United States. This one of the most tiresome complaints of the Obama Administration, who seem to think that in a democracy you can separate governing from politics. You cannot. It is not only impossible, but wholly undesirable. None of this is to say that there aren't ways of engaging in politics that are beneath our dignity, that coarsen public discourse, and that are to be eschewed by decent people, not just Christians.

In the current cycle, looking at the nation as a whole, two examples stand out. The first is the unconscionable way Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has been treated in her race by the media and even by her own party. Regardless as to how you might feel about her as a candidate, she is surely a victim of the politics of personal destruction. To her good credit, she has handled it all gracefully, even with a little humor. The second is how the Republican candidate for New York governor, Carl Paladino, has conducted himself, which I can only describe as shocking.

I will bookend this week by ending with the same quote by Luigi Giussani with which I ended last Friday's post; a quote that also gave rise to last Saturday's post:

Bernini's Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

"Christians may not win. This is exactly the point: that we always win, even if we were to be always defeated, where ‘winning’ is realizing a greater humanity, and ‘being defeated’ means not having power. As one of you said once in a discussion: ‘We aim for a victory without power!’ This was what he meant. It’s the victory of the human. By facing life according to faith, we achieve a victory of the human, our gesture is more human. This does not mean that our position prevails politically, economically, and so on, that we attain power."

This general idea was also put forth by the Holy Father in his extemporaneous remarks to the bishops gathered in Rome to participate in the Synod on the Church in the Middle East. Pope Benedict was correct to begin his wide-ranging remarks by citing God-made-man-for-us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, who we rightly revere as Theotókos, as the pole around which everything else revolves, before going on to say,

"We think of the great powers of today's history, we think of the anonymous capitals that enslave man, that are no longer something belonging to man, but are an anonymous power that men serve, and by which men are tormented and even slaughtered. They are a destructive power that threatens the world. And then the power of the terrorist ideologies. Violence is done apparently in the name of God, but this is not God: these are false divinities that must be unmasked, that are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a ravenous beast, stretches its hands over all parts of the earth and destroys: it is a divinity, but a false divinity, which must fall. Or even the way of life promoted by public opinion: today it's done this way, marriage doesn't matter anymore, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

"These ideologies that are so dominant that they impose themselves by force are divinities. And in the suffering of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church of which we are part, these divinities must fall..."

I wholly concur that it is witness, martyria, even to the shedding of blood, that constitutes the ultimate victory of power without power- "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13- ESV).

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

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