So, the veep picks are: Paul Ryan for the Republicans, and Joe Biden for the Democrats.
If anyone doubted that Catholics would be a focus for this election, that doubt should now be put to rest, for it has clearly come down to Catholic versus Catholic, with the latent question being: “Who’s the most Catholic of them all?” Each side appears to vie for Catholic voters, appealing to particular aspects of Catholic teaching that most appeals, depending on the “side” you’re on. Abortion, just war, just wage, universal health care and immigration all figure heavily in both Catholic social teaching and in the current election.
Though I’m sure the Catholic focus of the election is maddening for those who are wondering, “Ah, separation of church and state – is there such thing these days?” , it makes sense to target Catholics, given that in the polls, Catholics are a large identifiable group that has opinions along the lines of your average American. It’s difficult to find an Average American, though, especially among the ranks of the wealthy and powerful who fill the political seats. It’s rather easy to find someone in those ranks who identifies as Catholic, however, and who therefore has a (tenuous) link to the Average American.
That said, Catholics ought to be very, very, very concerned about being played here. We can follow one or the other “side” to the express detriment of Catholic belief and thought, which does not run easily with any one particular American current. Catholic social thought is neither liberal or conservative, and the polls showing the nearly even splits among Catholics on the “issues” demonstrate this great complex facet of Catholic culture.
Liberal secularists on both sides have wondered, “How can you Catholics stay in this church?!?” (Remember the ad that the Freedom From Religion Foundation printed in a couple of newspapers….) And liberal-leaning Catholics find themselves maybe a bit tongue-tied, but often arguing that it comes down to the sense of human dignity that the church champions again and again (in the unborn, the young, the elderly, the illegal immigrant), and it comes down to the Body of Christ.
Conservative (in the economic sense) secularists find themselves befuddled by Catholics, as well. Ayn Rand famously spat out (against Pope Paul VI’s economic encyclical Populorum Progressio, which speaks out against certain sinful tendencies of capitalism)
Catholicism had once been the most philosophical of all religions. Its long, illustrious philosophical history was illuminated by a giant: Thomas Aquinas. He brought an Aristotelian view of reason (an Aristotelian epistemology ) back into European culture, and lighted the way to the Renaissance. For the brief span of the nineteenth century, when his was the dominant influence among Catholic philosophers, the grandeur of his thought almost lifted the Church close to the realm of reason (though at the price of a basic contradiction). Now, we are witnessing the end of the Aquinas line-with the Church turning again to his primordial antagonist, who fits it better, to the mind-hating, life-hating St. Augustine. One could only wish they had given St. Thomas a more dignified requiem. (Quote from Washington Monthly)
Rand thought that Thomas lent support to certain capitalist ideals, but that Augustine does not. I think Rand misunderstood both Thomas and Augustine, but that’s for a different post. Suffice it to say, though, that the quote demonstrates exactly the kind of complexity that Catholic social teaching espouses. Catholic tradition includes both Aquinas and Augustine, both Francis and Hildegard of Bingen, both George Weigel and Dorothy Day, and yes, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, and on and on and on. And they’re not as separate as secularists (and maybe Catholics too) might hope.
Indeed, they’re all bound together by that oddest of odd things, the living Body of Christ.
This is what I most hope and pray for, this election – that we remember this fact.
For this is the worst aspect and outcome of the election so far, that we are divided against each other. I’ve seen Facebook and the comboxes lit up with all kinds of vitriol, and especially Catholics against Catholics. It feels like we’re each pitting ourselves against each other, each making arguments for one side or the other, each trying to one up each other in terms of arguments. The arguments seem really, really frantic – we seem to be presuming that each of us, alone, is responsible for fanning an apparently small, flickering candle that represents the light of Christ. And if others don’t agree, then the light has somehow gone out, for us.
We’ve forgotten that the light of Christ is as big and broad and unstoppable as the day. There isn’t a darned thing we can do to stop Christ’s love from being the thing that overtakes the world. Not even a vote for the “wrong person” – for indeed, the “wrong person” is still one that, according to Catholic teaching, possesses the image of God.
Of course we are supposed to be disciples, witnesses to Christ and that involves trying to live the whole of our lives well. But if I’m remembering Paul’s letters correctly, we disciples were to act in kindness, love and generosity toward each other, not in trying to humiliate and one up each other. That love and generosity comes precisely because we believe, together, that Jesus is our Dayspring.
Let us not allow these elections – especially these elections for a secular government that does some good, but which is not Ultimately Good – to dictate what it means to be “Catholic enough.” Let us instead demonstrate what that is in the way we treat each other.
Kelly Johnson guest-posted here a couple months ago, advocating for a voting fast among Catholics. Given what I’ve seen in this election season so far, I’d say that’s a pretty good idea. It’s time for us to remember who and whose we are, and recall to ourselves what we are for each other, those of us who are members of the Body of Christ. As she points out, this may mean
that unjust policies that perhaps we could have prevented may be put into place or that opportunities may be missed. This fast, like responsible participation, requires us to give up our claims to moral purity. I fear that at this point and for us, conscientious and informed voting will not end the injustices committed on left and right in the US. It will only leave the current state of affairs unchallenged.
But in the long run, and for our souls, not voting may mean something altogether more important – our very identity as Catholics, members of the Body.