Monday, October 15, 2012

Of Faith and Politics

* as a cleric of the Catholic Church, it is not my duty nor obligation to adhere to nor promote any political party.  In fact, I am forbidden to do so.  I am not a member of any party and have no allegiance to any party.

Politics.  Who governs?  By what philosophy?  By what set of standards?  We live in a republic, which means  we vote for those who make the laws and decisions that govern us as a people.  The people of this country come from various socio-economic states, various religions or types of faith (or lack thereof), from both genders, various races, sexual identities, regions, cultural backgrounds, and a myriad of other factors.  Laws and governance must apply equally to all groups who make up the tapestry that is our country.  Every single person who enters a voting booth enters with a set of convictions, self  interests, and desires and votes accordingly.  Over the entirety of this American experience, political parties have been a reality and have relied in cobbling together various subsets of these aforementioned groups to get elected.  As time progressed, these subsets were encouraged to see the other groups as threats to their own wants and consequently as the enemy.  This has not been good for this country at any part of our history and is now particularly divisive in our own time largely thanks to the overwhelming amount of information, disinformation, propaganda, and deceit available 24/7 from the media, internet, and political campaigns.  It is difficult to sort the truth from the lies and thus easy to hide within the fold of a political party.

We all approach the world and its realities from a certain viewpoint.  I am a Catholic.  This does not mean that I am a Catholic as opposed to anything else, but my starting point in making decisions, moral and otherwise, starts from the premise of the Catholic faith.  This is not saying I always act in conjunction with that faith (my confessor could inform that I do not always do so), but even when I choose against it, I know I am choosing against it and that if I value it, then I needs to make amends.  My Catholic faith informs all of my relationships, be it with family, friends, strangers, fellow Catholics, those who are not Catholic, those who do or do not belong to the same demographic subsets I belong to, with the poor, the wealthy, the believer, the non-believer.  It affects how I act, how I choose, and how I vote.

How does this affect me when it comes to be a citizen of this country?  First, the Gospel demands that I love all people.  It reminds me that I am my brother's keeper in the widest possible sense of that belief.  For me, that means that I loathe antagonistic relationships.  I do not need enemies.  I do not want to have enemies.  I realize that holding what I believe seriously might accrue enemies, but I am not purposely seeking them.  The gospel does not say that my duty to love stops when the other person is of a different race, creed, political party, economic status, orientation, culture, birth status, and such.  That duty transcends all of these other factors.  I have a moral obligation to defend and provide for those in danger and need.  When I vote, I bring these principles into the booth with me.  I must.  For if I abandon or compromise those principles at any point, they cease to have validity.  That means when I enter that booth, I am not voting for what is best for me, best for whatever demographic subsets I belong to; I vote for what is in the best interest of this country and humanity  as a whole.  This means I have a hierarchy of criteria that informs my vote.  No party is entitled to that vote. 

Given my criteria comes from that Gospel viewpoint, what should be the first criteria?  The command to love one another.  The Bible always puts a premium on the love those most in need; those who cannot provide for themselves.  At the top of this group should be those who are least able to do so.  That group would be the unborn.  A child in the womb cannot do anything for itself.  It can not speak up in its own defense. It cannot defend itself physically.  It cannot escape harm directed at it.  It is the very paradigm of helplessness.  As whatever you wish to call that which resides within the womb is both human and life, it is owed our love and protection.  Any group or party that condones the destruction of this most helpless form of human life as a mere choice says much to me about their general beliefs about the dignity of human life.  These people will never garner my vote...ever.  If I am true to my catholic principles, they must not.  How the most helpless of our society are treated will always be my first criteria.

That child's life does not end upon birth.  For the rest of its life, that child, as its grows into adulthood, will need help, education, food, clothing, a stable family, and the opportunity to freely follow its convictions and faith.  Those children will need security, love, compassion, patience, help when they fail, and the tools to succeed.  We can have fair debates on how this is accomplished.  No single political philosophy has the totality of the answers, usually the answer lies in an amalgamation of the best of these political philosophies.  As a Catholic, the command to love and the wish of Christ that we be one, leads me to want to seek out where those answer lie.  I know that catholic teaching can only be proposed and not imposed; but propose I must.  These words must be followed up by example.  My obligation to those in need is not something to is farmed out to another entity, but one in which I must personally engage.  This is why, for example, that Catholics have a myriad of institutions to do these things: hospitals and clinics, schools, charitable organizations, religious orders, and parishes.  This is why I as a pastor have been insistent that we look out for those in need within our parish and larger community. This is why I am so grateful to those in the Friends of St Martha who have attended to the needs of our own parishioners in crisis through various ways.  This is why I am grateful for the tons of food we have given to the Hope Center to help feed our local poor.  This is why I am grateful for the thousands of dollars we have given to those in need, those who need financial assistance both here and abroad.  But we know that such help can only be temporary.  The best answer to a person in need is to provide the situation for them to no longer need.  For those whose mental and  physical condition makes long term help necessary, we should be there.  As a Catholic, this is the next criteria I bring to the table.

The point is that as a Catholic, my faith requires me to look out first for those around me in imitation of Christ.  It effects everything.  No exceptions.  My life is an integrated whole...not a compartmentalized dyspeptic myriad of subsections.  My faith cannot be a hobby engaged upon when convenient.  My faith cannot be divorced from public avenues of my life.  I cannot nor will not be told that I must treat faith as something inferior to secular thought.  I respect the right of those of varied positions to bring what they think and believe to the table.  If I am really Catholic, that is what I bring to the table.  My Catholicism influences all my other ways of thinking, acting, relating, and being moral.  My politics do not influence my Catholicism.  My Catholicism influences my politics. While I do understand about the rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's and what is God's unto a Catholic, I will never allow Caesar or anything else of this world to trump God.