A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Politics of Faith

With the rising importance of the HHS mandate, which all Catholics should be aware of at this point, I am amazed at two things: the preoccupation today's Catholics have with politics, and the difference between believers and nonbelievers in the modern West.

Unlike the opposition of the Church (and by Church I mean Catholics in general) to abortion, the dissidence to the HHS mandate seems to be more focused on the issue of religious liberty than on protesting the immorality of the specific items of this mandate - namely, contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs. Naturally, it is the implied immorality of these things that makes our participation in this mandate wrong, but the issue being raised most often by Catholics is the fact that this mandate would force Catholic business owners to pay part of the co-pay for their employees' insurance which, under this mandate, would now have to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs. Cleverly, the Obama administration has already passed legislation to force business over a small amount of employees to give their workers company insurance, and so now, businesses are also being told what kind of practices their insurance must cover. It was quite an ingenious tactic on Obama's part, I must say, but wickedness is always ingenious. (See Romans chapter 1 and 2)

Many Catholics have expressed the question that other religious groups, like the Amish, have been given exemption from this mandate, while Catholics and other Abrahamic religions have not. And, as I said before, our main issue with this mandate seems to be that Catholics are being forced to financially contribute to the coverage of immoral practices in insurance. While I completely agree that we should not be forced to do this, it makes me wonder: if Catholics were exempted, or if we did not have to pay for coverage of those specific practices but the government still made them available on company insurance, would this be as big of an issue?

Our opposition to this mandate is more focused on the government's violation of our religious freedom than on the specific immorality of the practices themselves, a different stance than we have towards abortion (except when they try to force Catholic medical personnel to assist in or perform abortions). Actually, I think it is more similar to the issue currently going on in England, where the government is threatening legislation that would force religious institutions to perform gay marriages, whether they want to or not.

Catholics are claiming that this is a violation of our right to religious liberty. But I think this event brings to light a very important point, one that many Catholics seem to ignore: our beliefs are directly connected to and dependent upon our faith, that is, the knowledge we have received directly from God through Revelation and Tradition. This knowledge cannot be inferred purely through reason. Thus, without this faith, many of our beliefs would be unfounded or at least questionable.

For example, our main opposition to abortion in all circumstances is the proposition that human life has inalienable value and dignity from the moment of conception. Simply by virtue of being of the human species, an attribute inherited at the moment of conception (something no one denies), we have this worth and meaning. But why is being human so important? What makes the human species, and thus anyone of that species, so special and deserving of special treatment? Because, Catholics would say, we have an immortal soul created in the image of God and given to every human being at the moment we become human, that is, at conception. This belief cannot be proven simply by reason or science - it is an article of faith, revealed to us by God and transmitted as an infallible truth by the Church.

So what happens when we no longer have this faith, this revelation that cannot be attained by human effort alone? When we lost faith, even just part of our faith, we lose some or all of the attached beliefs which depend on that faith. When we no longer believe in the soul, or even a soul made in the image of God, our belief in inalienable dignity of the human species subsequently (though sometimes gradually) dissolves, as it has for atheists. This is why some people (even, tragically, some Christians) are capable of dismissing the worth of an unborn child by the fact that it has not fully developed, or doesn't look entirely human, or can't yet feel pain (at certain stages of development), or can't live or breathe on its own, etc. To them, the worth of a human depends on something other than their soul, than the fact that they are an individual human person. This change derives from a lack of the faith all Catholics (should) have - that is, faith in the soul made in the image of God.

Despite this fact, many modern Catholics seem to expect nonbelievers (including some heretical Catholics, i.e. Pelosi and Biden) to follow all of our beliefs without the faith upon which those beliefs are based. We seem to be taking natural law too far, as though it contains in itself all the truths of Revelation. This is not so. Natural law is meant to lead us to Christ, not to be Christ Himself. Reason can only get us so far; without Christ, it is ultimately limited and prone to frequent error without a definitive standard of correction. How can we expect nonbelievers to see the terrible immorality of abortion in all circumstances when they lack our belief in the inalienable dignity of the human soul made in the image of God?

Accordingly, with this HHS mandate, the government seems to view it this way: abortion and contraception are legal; they are considered by most doctors, social and health professionals to be an integral part of a complete program of health and well-being; and most people in America use them regularly. Thus, why should any insurance program, even those funded by Catholics, not cover these practices? It is an agenda, yes, but I doubt it is quite as much a conspiracy as it appears. Most people are not as intelligent as Satan, nor do they have his awareness of truth. Most nonbelievers genuinely misunderstand or disbelief the Faith and even think their rebellion is the more conscientious stance. Thus, they think they are doing the right thing by securing abortion and contraception for anyone who wants it, and they view Catholics and others like us as harmful to society.

Have other atheistic regimes, like the Nazis and communists, also shared this stance towards Catholics? Yes. But the major difference is that the Nazis and communists were relatively small regimes trying to force themselves onto other peoples. In modern times, however, this worldview is popular by general preference of the people, not the tyrannical command of some external dictator. Today, the Church is not defending the general public but, rather, we're telling them that they are, for the most part, gravely wrong in their beliefs. It is much harder to convince the hearts of people than to defend them from an unwanted common enemy.

As for the connection between the HHS mandate and religious liberty, I think it shows two things: that Catholics are too involved and too dependent upon the secular; and that the modern conception of justice is led by a non-Christian ideology. For the first point, I have heard so many Catholics discussing this mandate refer to the Founding Fathers of America and their supposed insistence on religious freedom. I find this a difficult idea to base our claims upon. The Founding Fathers were primarily deists, slave owners, supporters of the massacre of Native Americans, criminals against the English Crown, and restricted freedom only to white male land owners. Furthermore, Catholics were persecuted in early America, marginalized if nothing else. We have never been a majority in this country, nor has this country ever been inspired by Catholic teachings except through the distant and blurred patrimony of the Protestant influence on colonial America. The government they founded is the same government that has legalized abortion, pornography and, now, is instituting the HHS mandate, the first two never being revoked since their legalization, even during the presidencies of supposed Christians presidents such as Reagan and Bush.

We seem to forget that the land we use, the money we use, and the government we participate in belongs to the federal government, not to us. "We the people" is an oxymoron, as it was written by wealthy, white, male politicians with little input from "the people". When the government has made something legal, like abortion and contraception, why are we surprised when they try to force us to use their money to pay for such things? Any money we have is loaned to us from the government. Attempts to desecrate or misrepresent money will prove this by their vengeance. We talk as though our money belongs to us - does it not belong to Caesar first?

We are foreigners, aliens in a strange land, no matter how Christians its citizens supposedly are. Even the "Christian" kingdoms of the Middle Ages did not entirely follow our teachings, and no secular government ever will. And, with the majority of modern Western populations not being Catholic, their democratic representation will naturally result in a non-Catholic government and law. As I said above, how we can expect anything else from nonbelievers? Truly, it is a wonder our religious liberty has been secured this long.

But, for the second point, I think this HHS mandate issue is also indicative of another trait of the modern West. This issue is not, on the most fundamental level, an issue of religious liberty. Rather, it is a difference in our perception of justice. The modern West does not have the same idea of justice as the Catholic Church. Their idea of justice derives from the fundamental atheism and pragmatism of the secular worldview that is the standard of governments and even cultures today, at least in how they deal with national issues. For them, justice lies in the protection of people's health and freedom. If these two are protected, they believe, people will be happy and justice will be fully served.

Their idea of health is affected by their extreme view of freedom, and vice versa. Health is seen as power over the body, both to defeat attacks and to make it operate as we wish. This naturally leads into the idea of "reproductive rights", where women are "empowered" to rule their bodies and command them however they wish. To the government, this power is apart of a full and complete health bill, and so abortion and contraception are necessary.  This applies both to men and women, but especially to the latter, as most people today see men as already empowered since we are not "burdened" by pregnancy and motherhood which so severely affects women's pursuit of their careers, reputations and love lives.

Responsibility has become a vice, something that restricts freedom. To Catholics, it is the exact opposite. Responsibilities are opportunities to give of ourselves, to love, and thus to grow spiritually in likeness to God and in fellowship with humanity. But we are willing to endure some pain and inconvenience for the sake of love and virtue. To modern people, any pain and/or inconvenience incurs on their freedom (aka power) and happiness (aka contentment/pleasure) and so becomes an injustice. Abortion and contraception are seen as weapons in the fight against injustice.

For Catholics, this logic seems incredibly senseless and immoral, which it is, but we must understand that they lack the Faith that enlightens our understanding of truth. Without it, we would be as erroneous as they are. We merely have to examine the moral state of Europe before the spread of Catholicism to see this.

We can no longer just expect Western nations to cater to Christians and our Faith-based lifestyles. For so many centuries, it has been a given that every Western country would accomodate us, at least respecting our beliefs. But in this secular age, the direct product of the extreme atheism of the 20th century, we must shed our comfortable presumptions and remember the fact that as Christians, especially as Catholics, we are foreigners in a strange land, living as exiles, trying to merely live a quiet and peaceful life practicing our Faith and working for the common good and evangelization of all. When (not if) we are persecuted, we must rejoice as Christ taught. He was persecuted first, even unto death, and when we are persecuted for His sake, we illuminate His love and His truth and show the real glory of God. We must unite our sufferings to His and life lives of exemplary virtue, religiosity and prayer.

Furthermore, the Church must start focusing more on purifying the Church itself, internally, rather than judging nonbelievers be a standard they do not recognize. We cannot tolerate such heresies as are prevalent today. We must immediately and blatantly reject all heresy and all sin by Catholics, whether perpetrated by political leaders (Pelosi and Biden, for example), priests (such as those involved in the sex abuse), or a member of your own family, and we must work ever harder towards full Christian unity within the one, holy and apostolic Catholic Church of Rome. God bless and amen.

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