The Great Divide: Catholicism and Politics in America


July 9, 2012 by Nash Riggins

As once-taboo liberal ideals slowly continue to evolve in line with those of Christianity, evidence suggests that Catholicism is becoming increasingly more polarised throughout America.

Indeed, this emerging division offers relative insight with regards to the numerous truths and misconceptions surrounding presupposed religious distinctions and their political affiliations; however, while some Catholics choose to offer their Christian values as an argument against perpetuating the American poverty-divide, others are simultaneously using those same values as a means of arguing why they should be immune from having to take part in nation-wide social undertakings such as Obamacare.

Take last week for example: less-than-subtly coinciding with America’s annual celebration of independence, two somewhat different Catholic organisations each concluded two extremely different political protests.

The first of these protests, a light-hearted 15-day bus tour of Iowa nuns, posed a serious question with regards to just how representative Catholicism’s presence in Congress truly is of the feelings of the religious community as a whole.

Catholicism is too often associated with right-wing, conservative America due to the like-minded political ideology of many conservatives with regards to the religion’s general social inclinations. On the other hand, said political leaning also typically goes hand-in-hand with a radical take on laissez-faire economics and Social Darwinism – which is an ideal that Sister Simone Campbell and her ‘Nuns on the Bus’ simply do not share.

The bus tour, which ended with a protest at the US Capitol on 2 July, was meant to have made a statement with regards to the recently passed Federal budget and its rejection of “Church teachings on solidarity, inequality, choice for the poor and the common good.”

It only makes sense that such an ‘un-Christian’ budget could have been championed by Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan – a Republican with presupposed economy-repairing prowess and a firm practitioner of Catholicism. Although Ryan has admitted that his faith is a strong influence on his legislative policy, the Nuns on the Bus claim that Ryan and his budget will raise taxes on low-income families, while substantially cutting taxes for millionaires, denying 8 million people food stamps and pushing families into poverty.

Yet while these Catholic nuns – who are now subject to disciplinary action from the Vatican for their support of Obamacare – were riding across the country in protest of a perpetuation of the American poverty-divide, a considerably more selfish Catholic endeavour was taking place in churches throughout the country.

Dubbed the ‘Fortnight of Freedom’, this second Catholic protest arose as a call to action from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) regarding the presupposed “incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services into the realm of religious liberty.” The movement – a proverbial celebration of ringing bells, insightful prayer and text messages that coincided with a religious feast – greatly contests the assumed inclusion within Obamacare with regards to employers providing women with health insurance that could potentially be used to gain access to female contraception – or potentially, even abortion.

Apparently endorsed by the office of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertoni borrowed the words of one of Benedict’s 2008 sermons in order to address the USCCB’s battle for freedom, asserting that “freedom is not only a gift, but a summons to personal responsibility.” Indeed, the Pope is absolutely correct in his assumption that freedom – especially religious freedom – can only be attained via a certain degree of personal responsibility and sacrifice, and modern American politics is without doubt the shining epitome of this compromise and sacrifice.

The phrase religious freedom means substantially different things to different people; however, with regards to legislation, even the most outlandish definitions should bear some resemblance. Indeed, religious freedom in regulatory policy does not mean that the government must hinder others whose activities do not fall into line with your moral code – in fact, it should mean that the government must hinder all those wishing to forcefully impose their moral code upon others.

The USCCB may pose a fair question with regards to the legislative obligation to provide others with help in attaining medical solutions which they themselves find morally wrong; however, should conservative Catholic business owners not also consider that it may be morally wrong in order to deny women the opportunity to receive medical treatment for potentially life-threatening ailments?

In fact, the Christian Bible contains a particularly relevant quote within Philippians (2:4), which delivers the following plea to Christians everywhere: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

If a Catholic business-owner provides health insurance to a female employee who, in turn, chooses to invest in birth control – which is not only used by many women as a contraceptive, but as a medically proven way to reduce their risk of contracting various life-threatening cancers or infections – should said business-owner not rejoice to know that he has helped an individual to achieve what was in their best interest?

Even if one were to toss away government statistics which indicate that 98% of Catholic women have admitted to using a form of contraception or birth control – as well as the idea that Christians are meant to help even those in whose beliefs they place zero faith – why should employers care what their non-Catholic workers are using their insurance for? All-encompassing, government-sponsored plans for women’s healthcare will not allow hospitals to start forcefully aborting every Catholic fetus they can lay their hands on – which is more than can be said for some countries.

Indeed, if Catholics in America believe so firmly that nothing they do should help to fund contraception or abortion, then perhaps they should also stop using their iPhones, computers and foreign-made cars – because the purchase of all of those items indirectly funds abortion.

China’s 34-year-old ‘One Child Policy’ has been widely condemned via hushed whispers for quite some time; however, amidst the drama that was allowed to unfold last month in China’s Shaanxi province, perhaps it’s time that conservative Catholics worry a little less about indirectly providing their female employees with birth control, and a little more about their nation’s relationship with a government that is willing to forcefully abort a woman’s child seven months into her pregnancy.

Such forced abortions – which are imposed upon parents who are unable to pay a heavy fine for having more than one child – have been known to be performed against the will of parents within six days of the expected delivery date. Furthermore, if such ‘illegal’ children are born out-of-quota before they can successfully be aborted, said children are denied health care, education and numerous other government-sponsored benefits.

The Chinese government makes $3.3 billion from US consumers every year on car imports alone – nevermind on electronics, toys and virtually everything else that can be found within a typical American household. Therefore, by purchasing foreign-made goods, all Americans – regardless of religious creed or political affiliation – are indirectly funding the Chinese government and its forced abortions.

Bearing this in mind, American Catholics should take great pride in the fact that – regardless of how much they may dislike their president – Barack Obama does not allow American babies to be aborted against the will of parents. Likewise, the USCCB should take a step back in order to realise that their money does indeed indirectly fund abortion every single day in some part of the world – so they should at least find some solace in the fact that, in their own country, the procedure is closely watched and heavily regulated.

On the whole, this newly formed polarisation amongst America’s Catholic community exposes an all-too rare big picture with regards to the idea that politics is not so simple as drawing a line in the sand. In most cases, there can be no picture-perfect definition of ‘radical, religious republicans’ or ‘sex-crazy, atheist liberals,’ because at the end of the day most individuals simply cannot personify every single political idea of the party with which they loosely identify.

Indeed, Catholics in America employ their religious beliefs in a number of political arenas – whether it is with regards to economic equality or a firm stance against ‘government-funded abortions’ – yet in all practical applications of religious faith, the faith of others should and must be taken into heavy consideration. Religious freedom is more sacred than the teachings of just one God, and it is extremely presumptuous to assume that one’s beliefs should hinder another in any way, shape or form – especially where healthcare is concerned.


One thought on “The Great Divide: Catholicism and Politics in America

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