Politics and the Pope: The Dying Gasp of the Religious Right

IMG_1894I (Joel) am not Roman Catholic. Josh (the other writer) is…actually a Ukranian Greek Catholic, so it might be odd to see me come to the defense of the Pope (of course, he is in the UK so perhaps he’s able to avoid all the garbage here in the US). Then again, I’m not necessarily defending the Pope as I’m pointing out the contradictions within the (mostly) Republican circles as of late.

As expected, the Pope’s address to Congress has generated controversy even before it’s occurred. What might shock people is the controversy stems from conservatives, especially conservative Catholics. We’ve been told that abortion and homosexual marriage are perfectly legitimate topics of discussion for the Pope, but economics, climate change, and the like are off limits because “he has no experience.” Of course, he can talk all he wants (according to these conservatives) about abortion or “gay marriage,” regardless of the fact that the Pope has no experience in abortions or being married (or one would hope).

Regardless, these conservatives are engaging in a dichotomy foreign to Christianity, separating “faith” from “secular”; they are compartmentalizing the faith, acting as though Christianity’s voice is limited to two or three “secular” topics, but must remain silent after that. Of course, Christianity touches on every aspect of life, but such an acknowledgement admittedly puts one at odds with the current system. After all, how can I love my neighbor if I won’t let him cross my border? How can I pray for my enemies while also celebrating and mocking their demise? How can I care for the poor while also attempting to profit off their poverty? Being a Christian who actually follows the teachings of Christ is never an easy thing, regardless of one’s political leanings.

When a libertarian Catholic priest, Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute (you know, the same group that argued for child slave labor in the modern age) argues that the Pope shouldn’t speak on economics because he doesn’t understand it, or when Rep. Paul Gosar boycotts the Pope’s speech in Congress (and Gosar is a Catholic), I think it’s say to say that conservatives have jumped the shark. Whereas they used to argue that they upheld family values and wanted a “Christian nation,” when faced with the prospects of a Christian economy – one that would promote equality and justice and shame avarice – they quickly argue, “Well, a Christian nation in everything except economics.” Whereas liberal Christians might be at fault for allowing too much Marx into their Christianity, conservative Christians are at fault for mixing too much Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises into their Christian beliefs.

For such people there is a belief that morality has nothing to do with a business or even the environment. The mantra, “A business exists to make a profit,” while simplistic is still taken as Gospel truth for many on the right. To a certain extent it’s not exactly false. After all, a business must make a profit if it hopes to survive, but making a profit is a goal in a business, not the goal in a business. For Christian ethics, absolutely everything boils down to two things: (1) Does this help me love God and, in the same manner, (2) does this help me love my neighbor? Everything in the Christian ethos rests upon those two principles. Even businesses fall under this question, meaning that a business should actually exist to help me love God (via being creative) and help me love my neighbor (by serving him, not exploiting him, not taking advantage of him, etc).

Really, all the Pope has argued is that any economic system must be built to help people and not hurt people. The current Capitalistic system does hurt people, so of course he’ll be at odds with it. And at what point in the history of Catholicism has the Church been friendly with Capitalism? Pope Leo III, in the late 1800s, wrote an Rerum Novarum against both Socialism and Capitalism. G.K. Chesterton lamented the practices of Capitalism in the 1920s. Even J.R.R. Tolkien contained implicit condemnations of industrialization and capitalism in Lord of the Rings (and explicit condemnations of both in his private letters). At no point has a major figure from the Catholic Church ever come out in favor of the excesses of Capitalism, mostly because the excesses of Capitalism are in direct contradiction to Christianity.

Christianity, at its base, is and always has been about helping the poor, the oppressed, and those without hope. It has always sought justice against the injustice of a fallen world. That the current Pope is doing the same thing ought not surprise anyone. And for those that believe Christianity ought to remain silent on matters of economics or the environment, then ask why we ought to have a voice at all. After all, if the Christian voice is supposed to remain silent when it comes to how the rich treat the poor, why can it suddenly speak up on how a mother treats the unborn? Christianity touches every part of our lives, which will always challenge us and our ideologies, but that’s kind of the point.

Great, Now We All Have to be Fabulous: On Gay Marriage and the End of the World

us_gay1Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that states can’t outlaw homosexual marriage. It’s a move that really doesn’t surprise anyone and of course will leave liberal activists saying, “It’s about time” and conservative activists decrying the decision as “tyranny from the bench.” Of course, the world has yet to end, it still turns, day turns into night, we all have jobs to go to, and life goes on.

Of course, reading mostly Christian websites, one would be left with the impression that the government has changed the entire definition of marriage and that the end of the world as we know it is upon us. We’re met with overreaction after overreaction, hyperbolic statements, and hypotheticals that will probably occur at some point in the future (decades, if not centuries, down the road), but not tomorrow. If – as Christians believe – marriage is established by God then marriage was never within the State’s domain. Technically, especially from a sacramental view of marriage, all marriage licenses have been an attempt by the government to reinterpret marriage and all have been equally invalid; under a sacramental view of marriage, only marriages within the Church (or later consecrated by the Church) are truly legitimate. What the State defines as marriage is by nature separate from what the Church defines as marriage (unless we’ve been in a theocracy all these years and I didn’t know it).

Think about it: how does this modern ruling impact the “sanctity of marriage?” The sanctity of marriage was gone long before the movement came about for homosexual marriage. When the American divorce rate is still high (especially for late Baby Boomers/Generation X’ers, and showing no signs of abating for late Generation X’ers/early Millenials), how can we say we hold marriage sacred? When the average American family will spend more time apart due to careers and daycare than they will together and such an economic system is rabidly defended by the same people who decry homosexual marriage, exactly what’s so sacred about marriage? Even on a more base level, for those who have done away with the sacraments, how can marriage be sacred? If there is no sacrament to marriage then it’s impossible for marriage to be sacred. In other words, we did away with the sanctity of marriage long ago, long before there was a movement for gay rights.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some reasons to worry. After all, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which a church is sued because they won’t officiate a homosexual wedding or refuse to rent out their property for a homosexual wedding. If a baker is sued for refusal then what arbitrary line do we place between the baker and the church; regardless of one’s personal beliefs, both engage in a commercial endeavor. Why, then, should the baker be forced to participate but not the church? This is one argument that I foresee coming to the forefront of the next part of the debate. More than likely, people will idiotically attempt to remove the tax-exempt status from churches, forgetting that they exist based on donations anyway and would qualify as tax-exempt regardless of their religious nature (and to ban their tax-exempt status simply because they have a religious affiliation would be a gross violation of the First Amendment).

Yet, even if such a world came to be – and such a world will probably come to be within a few decades to a few centuries – Christians have only themselves to blame. Unlike persecution in the Middle East, where Christians suffer merely for existing, anything that would bear the semblance of persecution within the US was brought about by the hands of Christians. Rather than through prayer, love, and spreading the Gospel, we attempted to ban homosexual unions using the tools of the State. We tried to protect that which is sacred by utilizing that which is secular, which isn’t necessarily wrong (such as using the State to protect the sacred nature of life), but when it becomes the primary tool it becomes wrong. After all, “We war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.” But for the past three decades the Religious Right has warred against everything, declaring war on people, using the government as a weapon, and such a tactic has consistently backfired.

Had Christians, early on in this debate, recognized that marriage doesn’t belong to the State to begin with and rather utilized civil unions, one must ask if today would have ever occurred. If the State dealt exclusively with civil unions and removed itself from the marriage game, then what would have changed? Rather, Christians attempted to enforce their view of marriage – a view that isn’t even solidified within the Christian community (as Orthodox, Catholics, and other sacramental elements differ on the nature of marriage than say, Baptists, Pentecostals, and so on) – upon a secular institution. They then used the natural to defend the supernatural. But as is the case, always, the natural ate up the sacred.

The world did not end today, nor will it end because of homosexual marriages. Perhaps, and one can only hope, Christians will realize they have to begin acting like Christians. Rather than ostracizing and creating political outcasts, or attempting to legislate the Gospel into existence, they will see the importance of living it. Maybe they’ll finally abandon the Religious Right, dying an undignified and very deserving death in the Republican primary (where all typical Religious Right candidates trail behind Jeb Bush and Donald Trump…welcome to America!). Then again, they probably won’t, but hey, I can dream, right?

The New Atheists Are the Old Evangelicals

They’re increasing in number, writing books at an increasing pace, gaining political influence both in the United States and abroad. They’re appearing more and more on television, gearing up their followers, and telling us that if we would only follow what they say, the world would be a better place. Yet, to doubt them or critique them only brings about harm. While they preach that their beliefs are completely rational – in fact, to be rational is to agree with them – they don’t use any reason to back up their claims, only rhetoric. Ultimately, the movement is anti-intellectual in that it doesn’t encourage critical thinking, but instead blind adherence to what is being taught.

Am I talking about the New Atheists or the Old Evangelicals (80s and 90s)? The answer is disturbingly “yes.”

Those who grew up in evangelical circles, especially in the 1980s and 90s, are very familiar with the tactics and culture surrounding the New Atheists. The reason is because while the content between the two is drastically different, the overall “zeitgeist” is the same. Both insult opponents rather than engage them in civil dialogue. Both point out the evils of those who disagree with them and show how one particular group is out to destroy the world. The reason evangelical Christians and new atheists don’t get along extends beyond fundamental differences of belief; they don’t like each other because they’re using the same tactics.

The reality is that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others are just a few art classes away from producing an atheist-style Jack Chick tract. Whereas the 1980s and 90s had Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and others promoting the Gospel, ridiculing those who disagreed, and trying to make us a “Christian nation” once again, we now have Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others promoting “secularism,” ridiculing those who disagree, and trying to make us a “Secular nation” once again.

The Old Evangelicals relied heavily on rhetoric, fear, demonization, and manipulation to increase the masses and move towards what they believed to be the solution. The New Atheists, however, are doing the exact same thing. Their rhetoric challenges Christianity without allowing for a response; try to prove to them that belief in God is rational (even if not true) and you don’t get an educated response. All you get is an ad hominem reply or a series of arguments chock full of question begging. They point out how Christians want to take over America, they do this to induce fear. They move on to demonize anyone who believes in God, with Dawkins going so far in his “documentary” “The Root of All Evil?” to say that parents who raise their children to believe in God are guilty of abuse. All of this is based on manipulation of the facts or by focusing on one element of Christianity to brand all other Christians. These tactics aren’t new, however; they’re stolen from the Old Evangelicals (Religious Right) and are now being used against them.

Both the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are, of course, wrong. The reality is that one can approach the realm of faith or unfaith in a rational way. While I would argue that only one way is ultimately rational, it is possible to be a rational atheist, just as it is possible to be a rational Christian. Sadly, there hasn’t been any civil dialogue because neither side is interested in civility; they’re only interested in being right, they’re only interested in winning. In this, and in many ways, the Old Evangelicals and the New Atheists are the same tune, just different lyrics. Adherents to Christianity and those who engage in atheism should shake off these old ways and instead embrace civil dialogue. Or, to put it more bluntly and in a less civil way, they should grow up.

The Liberal Left is the new Religious Right

In the 1980’s, America started to see the rise of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others in an attempt to establish what was then called, “the Religious Right.” The group decided to take a conservative stance and ally themselves with the Republican Party. As time wore on, many people began to question some of the things the Religious Right was supporting, for instance, unbridled Capitalism, war at any cost, forbidding government money from helping the poor, etc. People questioned it because it seemed the Religious Right had abandoned the Bible in their pursuit of being conservative.

Enter what we can call the “Liberal Left” of evangelical Christianity, who began supporting peaceful solutions to global conflicts and supporting tax-payer money being used to help the poor. Both of those, I believe, have strong Biblical precedence. Unfortunately, the Liberal Left began to move further and further left, allying themselves with the Democratic Party and liberalism in general. They began to become silent on the issue of abortion (or in some cases, supportive of the pro-choice position). They began to embrace homosexuality as a lifestyle and go further than argue for the right to marry among homosexuals (which even someone who believes homosexuality is a sin can still believe homosexuals have the right to get married), but also teach that homosexuality wasn’t a sin.

Continue reading

Bedfellows with the law

In the United States the election season is in full swing. It is a time when people become extremely concerned with what candidate will be elected, the direction of the country, and what they can do to change the course of America. Every four years, the American people revolt against the system and vote in a new leader, or they show support of the system by electing in the same leader (or one like the previous leader). In the midst of all this are the Christians.

Christianity in the last two centuries has been quite interesting. It was paid lip service for most of the 19th century, became quite irrelevant in politics in the early and mid 20th century, and came back into full-force in the early 1980’s. The ‘Religious Right’ was born and attempted to legislate Christian morality.

It was originally a reaction to the issue of abortion, but then began to tackle other issues as well (such as homosexual marriages and the disintegration of the family). As time progressed it began to take more and more stances on issues that weren’t necessarily supported Biblically, such as a Capitalist structure. More and more it found itself in bed with the Republican Party as an ally and not just a co-belligerent.

With this newfound alliance, many Christian leaders began endorsing politicians, taking up political causes, getting petitions signed, and partaking in protests. Yet, the louder Christians became the less irrelevant they seemed. There is a reason for this.

In our pursuit of political purity we forgot one simple rule; individuality. We forgot that legislation cannot change a culture, but can merely hold back the underpinnings of change within that culture. Legislation doesn’t force a person to think a certain way. Legislation doesn’t force a life change. Legislation only forces people to comply with a moral standard. We forgot about the individual.

We forget that if we truly want to see abortion – both legal and illegal – come to an end, we need to reach out to single mothers and at risk ladies. We forget that if we want to see Welfare slowly dwindle then we need to stop moving out into the suburbs, building million dollar idols to our own achievements in membership, and instead focus our monetary gains on helping the needy and under privileged. We forget that if instead of protesting a homosexual rally or banning homosexual marriage that we should instead demonstrate the love of Christ to homosexuals and bring them to Christ, where sanctification can save them from such a lifestyle.

This is not to say the law isn’t important – it is important to challenge immoral laws. One would be hard pressed to argue that William Wilberforce wasn’t an amazing Christian for engaging the law and eventually getting slavery outlawed in the British Empire. This legislative act, however, didn’t change the view white people had toward black people – the segregation, the racism, and the like still existed. The law prevented the action, but didn’t stop the sentiment. In our own day, though we should use the law to ban immoral practices (such as abortion), we should likewise reach out to the individuals.

The only way to cause actual change within a society is to convince individual people that their worldviews aren’t correct and are inconsistent. It is bringing people to Christ – or even in a minimalist view, a Judeo-Christian ethic – that changes a culture and changes a society. When this occurs, the laws naturally follow.

Instead of wondering which candidate will bring about the most change, Christians instead should concern themselves with reaching out to individuals and bringing the change themselves. 

Why the topic of abortion matters

One voice in the abortion debate that is beginning to emerge within Christianity is the one saying that we’ve wasted our time on the abortion issue and that its time to move on. Certainly there has been an emphasis on the effects of abortion and not on the root cause of abortion – this has led to avoiding a real solution. Does this overemphasis, however, mean that abortion is a worthless topic of discussion?

Murder vs. Dignity

If the pro-life side of abortion is correct – that abortion is the murdering of a human life – then abortion is the single greatest moral tragedy in the modern world. It would be the greatest evil (the systematic killing of unwanted humans) of the modern age and, by default, require legislative action.

If the pro-choice side of abortion is correct – that the ‘baby’ is really just a fetus, or an underdeveloped human (non-human) and a collection of tissues – then by speaking out against abortion Christians would be speaking out against a woman’s right to her own body. This would be speaking out against the dignity of choice.

No matter where a person falls on this debate, the issue should be an important one. Though it might appear to be a dead horse, it truly isn’t one – when human dignity and state approved murder are up for discussion, it’s hard to say that the issue is an unimportant one. Continue reading