October 17, 2008

ONLY DISKMIEC:

Little Murders (Charles J. Chaput, Oct 18, 2008, Public Discourse)

I think the message of Render Unto Caesar can be condensed into a few basic points.

Here's the first point. For many years, studies have shown that Americans have a very poor sense of history, and that's very dangerous, because as Thucydides and Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson have all said, history matters. It matters because the past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future. If American Catholics don't know history, and especially their own history as Catholics, then somebody else - and usually somebody not very friendly - will create their history for them.

Here's the second point. America is not a secular state. As historian Paul Johnson once said, America was ''born Protestant.'' It has uniquely and deeply religious roots. Obviously it has no established Church, and it has non-sectarian public institutions. It also has plenty of room for both believers and non-believers. But the United States was never intended to be a ''secular'' country in the radical modern sense. Nearly all the Founders were either Christian or at least religion-friendly. And all of our public institutions and all of our ideas about the human person are based in a religiously shaped vocabulary. So if we cut God out of our public life, we cut the foundation out from under our national ideals.

Here's the third point. We need to be very forceful in defending what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions. When we subvert the meaning of words like ''the common good'' or ''conscience'' or ''community'' or ''family,'' we undermine the language that sustains our thinking about the law. Dishonest language leads to dishonest debate and bad laws.

Here's an example. We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue, and it's never an end in itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square - peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.

Here's the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to ''render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's,'' he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God - and then to put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.

So having said all this, what does the book mean, in practice, for each of us as individual Catholics? It means that we each have a duty to study and grow in our faith, guided by the teaching of the Church. It also means that we have a duty to be politically engaged. Why? Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences.

As Christians, we can't claim to love God and then ignore the needs of our neighbors. Loving God is like loving a spouse. A husband may tell his wife that he loves her, and of course that's very beautiful. But she'll still want to see the evidence in his actions. Likewise if we claim to be ''Catholic,'' we need to prove it by our behavior. And serving other people by working for justice and charity in our nation's political life is one of the very important ways we do that.

The ''separation of Church and state'' does not mean - and it can never mean - separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be ''leaven in the world'' and to ''make disciples of all nations.'' That kind of separation steals the moral content of a society. It's the equivalent of telling a married man that he can't act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won't stay married for long.

Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama

I began work on Render Unto Caesar in July 2006. I made the final changes to the text in November 2007. That's a long time before anyone was nominated for president, and it was Doubleday, not I, that set the book's release date for August 2008. So - unlike Prof. Douglas Kmiec's recent book, Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama, which argues a Catholic case for Senator Obama - I wrote Render Unto Caesar with no interest in supporting or attacking any candidate or any political party.

The goal of Render Unto Caesar was simply to describe what an authentic Catholic approach to political life looks like, and then to encourage Americans Catholics to live it.

Prof. Kmiec has a strong record of service to the Church and the nation in his past. He served in the Reagan administration, and he supported Mitt Romney's campaign for president before switching in a very public way to Barack Obama earlier this year. In his own book he quotes from Render Unto Caesar at some length. In fact, he suggests that his reasoning and mine are ''not far distant on the moral inquiry necessary in the election of 2008.'' Unfortunately, he either misunderstands or misuses my words, and he couldn't be more mistaken.

I believe that Senator Obama, whatever his other talents, is the most committed ''abortion-rights'' presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973. Despite what Prof. Kmiec suggests, the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ''pro-choice;'' it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child - and let's remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ''murder'' - the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.

Prof. Kmiec argues that there are defensible motives to support Senator Obama. Speaking for myself, I do not know any proportionate reason that could outweigh more than 40 million unborn children killed by abortion and the many millions of women deeply wounded by the loss and regret abortion creates.

To suggest - as some Catholics do - that Senator Obama is this year's ''real'' prolife candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse



Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2008 7:47 PM
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