I have always hated election years in spite of a life long interest in political philosophy. During election year the rhetoric flies and the mud flies; much of the rhetoric and the mud is only tangentially related to important issues. There are important issues, and we need to discuss them in a civil way. Election years, however, seem to be the occasion for emotions to rise to fever pitch and for reason to go out the window.
I am not immune to the temptation to respond to political issues with emotional outbursts. I fear that my current anger at modern culture occasioned in part by the Obama administration’s ruling that religious employers will be required to pay for contraception, sterilization, etc. regardless of issues of conscience is threatening to make me want to give in to rhetorical mudslinging and venting. My anger is even greater at the so called compromise the administration put forward on Friday. But my fear of not speaking out at a critical moment in history is even greater, so I resolve to start mixing in comments in government along with gardens and goats. My thoughts go to the Prophet Amos who said, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son,; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15). I am feeling uncomfortable!
Before I start venturing into issues that are political hot buttons, I want to clarify some of my starting points. Particularly, I want to clarify my starting points for non Catholic readers because there are so many misconceptions about Catholics, Catholic doctrine, and the Catholic view of the political order.
I believe in God; I believe God is infinitely good and beautiful. I believe that human beings were created in His image and likeness. His image may be marred by sin but it is still there in every human being. We must never loose sight of this, ever. When we do loose sight of it, as we will in the heat of the moment, we must repent.
Nevertheless, there are objective standards of morality, and I believe that we only reach our full human potential if we try to live in conformity to those standards. For some reason, it is always the Church’s teaching on sexuality that gets the most vocal attention. Unfortunately, that attention is rarely in the form of intelligent discussion of the issues; and it rarely recognizes that the root of Catholic teaching on morality is that human dignity requires us to view sexuality in terms of the whole human person, and that human dignity requires that we never treat a person, including our own selves simply as an object of sensual gratification.
But sexuality is not the only subject that the Church teaches on, and it isn’t the only one that will make you politically unpopular, often with the very people that agree with the Church on sexual issues. Two such issues that are important to me are the environment and Middle Eastern peace. The Church’s position on these issues is also rooted in human dignity, as well as recognition that God is creator of all goods and meant these good for all persons. We must be good stewards to safe guard resources for future generations. We must look at issues surrounding Middle Eastern peace in view of the dignity of all persons regardless of race or religion.
Now these are all difficult issues, and many different political solutions can be debated and supported by people of good will in relationship to these issues. This is why you rarely hear the bishops coming out with such force on an issue as we have seen them do in regard to the HHS Mandate. Contrary to an old myth about Catholics that is still very much around, we don’t take political marching orders from the pope. I invite all who may disagree with me, whether on my first principles or my conclusions based on them to voice your position. I only ask that you keep in mind human dignity and forgive any human frailty.