Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is your political hangover keeping you from or driving you to Christ?

After being introduced, President Obama steps  towards VP emcee  Joe Biden who, not realizing that the microphone was still hot, whispers to President Obama, "This is a big F***g deal!.      
Mark Steyn, writing before the health care vote, lets us know just how big and what's at stake in the age of Obamacare..
"Sometimes you do live to see it. In my book America Alone, I point out that, to a five-year-old boy waving his flag as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession marched down the Mall in 1897, it would have been inconceivable that by the time of his 80th birthday the greatest empire the world had ever known would have shriveled to an economically moribund strike-bound socialist slough of despond, one in which (stop me if this sounds familiar) the government ran the hospitals, the automobile industry, and much of the housing stock, and, partly as a consequence thereof, had permanent high unemployment and confiscatory tax rates that drove its best talents to seek refuge abroad." There's plenty more food for thought at NRO.

I generally resist narratives of decline and fall since in my reading of history most every generation seems to believe that Christ is returning and that the younger generation is less disciplined, more rebellious, less committed to maintaining society's tradition than they, the elders, are. BUT, in fact, empires do fall, cultures devolve, civilizations ebb and flow so somewhere along the way some generation gets what's wrong, right!

As a Catholic, a believer in the Resurrection, what I do know is that my work, in season and out of season, in good times and in bad, is to stay focused on Christ and his Church turning neither to the right or the left. How well any of us do this is for God to decide but that we should do it and encourage and exhort each other to so do is undeniable. 

There will be a lot of discussion for some time to come over what this political moment means in the long run for Americans and their relationship to their government. Catholics are especially endowed by historical altar/throne or church/world or Christ/Caesar debates to make vital contributions to these discussions as long as we don't fold or opt out of the game.

Those Catholics who understand that to be a good American citizen is to first be a faithful citizen of the Kingdom of God will remember in the words of the prophet Isaiah that, ultimately, "the government shall be upon Christ's shoulders."  We shouldn't let Sunday's shameful disregard for the unborn as an excuse to abandon faithful citizenship. We should see it as one more open door to bear witness to the priorities of the Kingdom of God. Despair, hysteria, blameshifting, demonizing are rarely helpful in such a witness.

With this confidence, we can avoid the political chest-beating or agonized hand wringing that so many seem to be wallowing in right now. "Know the truth and the truth will set you free", Jesus said and one of those truths is not to trust in human princes. Politics is never the ultimate issue. The existence and providence of God and the promise of Christ's second coming always insures that politics will remain a secondary issue. The reason really is simple: His kingdom is not of this world and we are told to seek that kingdom above all else. This relativizes all human political commitments and participation.

In A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More makes my point: After Richard Rich betrays him for a promise of political advancement. More turns to him with a touch of ironic disbelief: "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?" When you betray your principles in pursuit of political victory, you squander your birthright and get shortchanged in the end anyway. For Catholics this is summed up by St. Paul's maxim: "Never do evil in the interest of good." Sometimes it simply translates: "The end doesn't justify the means."  The state can never be ultimate because it doesn't live forever; the person is immortal and therefore any trade of personhood for collective security may well be a devil's bargain, a form of idolatry rather than a striving for justice, an acceptance of the temporal as ultimate and the eternal as privately engaging but socially irrelevant.

So much mischief is done under the label of "Building the Kingdom." Good people have used it but it is misleading and confuses job descriptions. God builds his Kingdom, we bear witness, by our actions, to the fulfillment of his coming kingdom. We should have neither an over-inflated sense of ourselves as crusaders or over-persecuted sense of ourselves as resistors.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#676) condemns any attempt to conflate current political structures, governments, movements with the Kingdom of God. Paul Kengor writes well of this tendency among the modern political left who spoke as though this was "God's Health Care Bill."

So much of the language popular with early twentieth century Protestant liberals and many post-Vatican II Catholic activists about "building the kingdom" misleads us into thinking that somehow the Kingdom of God comes on the back of elections, votes, laws and social structures rather than in the works of the Holy Spirit commonly called the corporal works of mercy.

The Kingdom is always about people being treasured as God created them to be: His image. To treat people well is to honor God's image. To treat persons shabbily in the womb or in political infighting is to engage in Satan's strategy of belittling the human person. When people are trashed we are witnessing a cheapening of God, their Creator and Sustainer. By demeaning the value of the human person Satan's intention is extinguish our confidence in the Divine person. This doesn't mean politics is nothing; it does mean that the way we conduct ourselves in doing politics means everything. What are we willing to do to gain the whole world or Wales or Christ's Kingdom?


  1. Eliot, if you think the pronouncement of Thomas Moore by the Church to be a Saint is reprehensible and a mistake, then your in the wrong Church.
    Are you here trying to tell us all were in the wrong Church also?

  2. My political hangover is driving me towards Christ, though I am truly frustrated and disillusioned with those who - wittingly or unwittingly - are destroying our church from within. It makes me truly afraid for our beautiful faith. I speak of the sex abuse scandals in Europe and the blindness of those who truly believe themselves to be Catholic, and yet support a health care bill which allows taxpayer funding for abortion, makes no provision for conscience rights and which will take away the dignity of our privacy by making our medical records the property of the Uncle Sam.

    If this bill respects life, why are so many veteran pro-life agencies against it? Why is the Catholic Church against it? A handful of renegade nuns do not a church make. They mocked their sacred vows of obedience as they publicly contradicted their bishops. Worse still, they chose a time when all Catholics urgently need to stand together to mount their betrayal. What a dark time to be a Catholic. Yet, what an honor to be part of the Church Militant as we face attacks from without and within.

  3. Amy,
    It's all rather disorienting isn't it. An institution of such chaos persisting over 2 millennia must be some sort of evidence for its Divine origin and maintenance. But it's awfully hard to endure the turncoats and apathetic.

  4. Hey Amy, I feel your pain. I feel it becuase I feel the same way. I struggle with making sure that my emotions don't get in the way of prayers, fasting, and almsgiving, which they frequently do a good job of interrupting. Just remember, not everyone who was with Moses in the desert was punished in the same way for the Golden Calf incident.

    The thing that I don't understand, and hopefully I won't focus too much of my time on trying to understand it, is how people without the beauty of the fullness of the faith are able to endure day in and day out. I truly would be just so much refuse if it wasn't for the Church and our Lord.

    Praise be to Christ the King!

  5. RB seems to be responding to a ghost comment. Did Eliot post a negative comment subsequently deleted by Kresta In The Afternoon?

    Some Roman Catholics may be unaware of St. Thomas More's diligent pursuit of heretics. Several were burned while he was Lord Chancellor. A Man For All Seasons did not address that part of his life.

    By the way, my local Catholic church, a mile down the road, is called Saint Thomas More.

  6. Al,

    Thank you for sympathizing. I know what you mean about the church - it MUST be divine to have survived 2,000 years of human bungling!
    Perhaps we can find a silver lining in the spectulation that we're going through a great purification, as in the time of St. Francis.

    Today, I am trying not to bother about these strange times, because as Longfellow wrote, "Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all."

    Also, Al, I really loved the segment on Chopin. Thanks for all you do.

  7. Matthew - keep the faith, keep offering your prayers, almsgiving and fasting and thanks for feeling my pain.

    I guess people who aren't faithful endure because they are never without God while they are on Earth, even though they may think they are. It's chilling to imagine a non-believer realizing in horror what it's really like to live with out God, after it's too late.

  8. I don't know if you'll see this but Eliot's comment was deleted. When he was asked to provide evidence and argument, he just kept repeating the same old slurs. He clearly didn't want to engage. So he was warned a few times and he just went ahead ignoring the basic conditions of courtesy. He posted two comments after the deadline and they were deleted.

  9. I don't blame you deleting Eliots comments. He made his point many times, and his comments no longer added to the discussion.

    Eliot, you would be better off going after someone like Hugh Hewitt -- a chickenhawk who truly has an obsessively sick fascination with war.