Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In the phrase "Liberal Catholic," the term "liberal" determines the content of "Catholic."

Jonah Goldberg observes:

Let’s be clear: Anti-poverty programs, environmental regulations, and tax increases are impositions too. Refuse to abide by any of them and the government will either force you to comply or put you in jail. If your Catholic (or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan) faith drives you to pass regulations that shut down a coal mine, you’ll have imposed a lot of people right out of a job.

I strongly doubt that Gopnik and the rest of the faith-fearing liberals mind when progressive figures insist their policies are motivated by religion. President Obama routinely waxes biblical in his view of government: “I am my brother’s keeper,” he has said repeatedly. It is, to be sure, an odd recasting of the Bible, since Cain’s question to God — “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — was simply an attempt to dodge a murder rap. But he is invoking his faith nonetheless. And Nancy Pelosi says her Catholic faith “compels” her to support gay marriage. Really.

It might be that secular liberals aren’t offended by all this because they think Catholic Democrats are simply lying. That’s probably true in some cases, but it’s surely unfair in others. Biden seems sincere when he says he’s a faithful liberal Catholic. And that’s forgivable so long as he remembers that the “liberal” comes first in “liberal Catholic.”

Of course, there can be "conservative Catholics" who have an identical problem. However, we haven't heard recently, a conservative Catholic arguing in principle that they can simply ignore church teachings where those teachings are inconvenient to their political ambitions.

It works better if "Catholic" determines the content of "liberal" and "conservative.

Elizabeth Scalia makes a pertinent point:

Just as coastal conceit can devalue what comes out of “flyover country,” our First-world conceit can blind us to what is happening in the church “out there” among the “thems.” Upon learning that in 2004 Hungarian Archbishop Csaba Ternyakny reported such a worldwide increase in seminarians that the number bested the Catholic heyday of 1961, my friend was stopped in mid-snort. No provincial, he, the notion that third-world priests would be missioning the church in America nevertheless left him discomfited. We wouldn’t need to be missioned-to, he argued, if the church would just be reasonable, do its social duty and either allow priests to marry, ordain women, or both.

His harangue hasn’t changed in our twenty-year acquaintance, but this time it occurred to me that there was a tinge of conceit to it—that he resented the idea of being ministered to by people who, in all likelihood, were too inclined toward curial-obedience and therefore couldn’t possibly have much to say to his finely tuned sensibilities. When I said so, things erupted into a predictable donnybrook, with each of us accusing the other of being narrow-minded in how we defined the universality of the church.

There exists an undeniable tension between left-leaning “social justice” Catholics and the right-leaning “pro-life” side; they share a conceit of primacy—one side sees itself as more compassionate; the other as more obedient. I personally know “social justice” Catholics who will pretend pro-lifers care nothing for the poor. And I certainly know pro-lifers who think the “social justice” side pays only reluctant lip-service to church teachings on abortion and euthanasia.

That we do not wholly respect each other is inarguable; I credit “nun on the bus” Sister Simone Campbell for speaking with refreshing honesty when she said, “I have allowed a very narrow perspective on what is life . . . I don’t want to be thought of as in [the pro-life] camp. Because of my pride, as opposed to my faith.”

I wait in joyful hope for the day a pro-lifer can admit that, while she cares deeply for the plight of the poor, she just can’t stand the idea of being associated with that “kumbaya hippie remnant.”

Our unwillingness to charitably credit each other with being truly concerned about both “life” and “justice” issues—to see them as shared burdens differentiated only by their weight of emphasis and theoretical “solutions”—is tearing us apart.

Tribalism poisons everything.

And, as long as I'm on the subject, Dennis Prager offers this:

Why is Mr. Biden completely comfortable with policies that “impose on others” what he understands as Catholic “social doctrine”? He will use the government to forcefully take people’s money away and impose whatever policies he thinks Cathol ic social doctrine favors. Why, then, will he not impose on others his church’s definition of the worth of human life from conception?

There are three possible answers. One is that he doesn’t really believe in his church’s position on abortion. A second is that he does believe in it, but would have to leave the Democratic party if he tried to implement that policy. The third is that he believes that the Church’s views on abortion pertain only to Catholics — and even then, only on a “personal” basis.

If we are to take him at his word, that latter is what he believes: that his church’s view on abortion applies only to him personally: “Life begins at conception. That’s the Church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.” But if that is his opinion, his religiosity is not morally meaningful. If an act is moral or immoral only for him, then it is not moral or immoral. Either something is immoral for everyone (in the same circumstance) or it is not immoral.

Which is why the Church’s teaching is that abortion is morally wrong for everyone, just as neglecting the needy is morally wrong for everyone.

But Joe Biden would never say that the Catholic Church’s social doctrine is only valid “in my personal life.” So, what does Joe Biden, the Catholic, believe about abortion?

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