Politics and Roman Catholicism

Michael Gerson has a thoughtful column in The Washington Post about Roman Catholicism’s impact on American politics. He writes:

“There is certainly a distinctive Catholic teaching on politics – a highly developed and coherent tradition that has influenced many non-Catholics, myself included. Human life and dignity, in this view, are primary. The common good takes precedence over selfish interests. Local institutions – families, churches, unions, religious schools – should be respected, not undermined, by government. The justice of a society is measured by its treatment of the poor and vulnerable.

“These distinctive commitments have created tensions with liberal Catholic politicians who elevate autonomy and choice as the highest political values – higher even than the rights of the weak. But the Catholic tradition also challenges elements of conservatism, particularly when it comes to Tea Party excess.”

Read the rest here.

12 Responses to Politics and Roman Catholicism

  1. Christiane February 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    About the day coming when:
    “Catholic and other religious leaders declare: Contempt for immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is not a moral option.”

    Some who are not Catholic may need for a religious leader to help them understand about this;
    and they may find His Words recorded for them, written in the Book of Leviticus some five thousand years ago:

    “But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you,
    and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:
    I am the LORD Your God.”

  2. Derek February 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    The Tea Party is primarily about ENDING the excesses in Washington, including the excesses of the overly cozy relationship between certain elements of Wall Street and DC. Gerson doesn’t like the Tea Party because he was one of Bush’s primary champions of “compassionate conservatism”, which has led to excesses in DC as well.

  3. Charlton Connett February 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    I find Gerson’s argument about a Catholic tradition that espouses a limited government a little romantic. Throughout history Catholicism rarely had a problem with totalitarian governments, so long as those governments were supportive of the Catholic Church. The concept of limited government only extended to the “spiritual sword” and meant only that the civil authorities shouldn’t interfere in church business. The modern concept of limited government is far more influenced by Protestant and enlightenment thinking. (Yes, I know, even many early Protestants were not proponents of what we think of as limited government today.)

    The positions that Gerson stakes out at the end of his article, when taken in conjunction with the title, do not seem well thought out to me. “Contempt for immigrants” is a Republican position? Even, “contempt” for illegal immigrants? How about this, “Or, health-care repeal without a serious alternative is not responsible”? This is just the same overused argumentation that has been played up for years among the “compassionate conservatism” crowd, as Derek mentioned. If Gerson is going to make a serious contribution to the discussion, perhaps he should take the time to learn what most conservatives (and now also, many Republicans) have been actually arguing for, and not simply throw out straw-men that have been refuted a thousand times over.

  4. Paul February 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    Charlton –

    First paragraph: agreed completely. Gerson’s entire article makes no sense without the word “MODERN” in front of the words “Catholic Church.” And, in modern times, I will say that no denomination has done more for the poor and weak than the Catholics. Not even close. And this coming from a Mennonite (and our whole schpiel is about helping the poor and the weak…)

    Last sentence: just because something’s been refuted doesn’t mean that it’s been refuted well. The Republican idea of a health care plan seems to be narrowed down to two options: be rich or die quick (yes, I’m being sarcastic, no need to go into a diatribe about tort reform). And find me some tea party members that DO have any sympathy for the plight of illegal immigrants. I’d love to hear what they have to say. Because the last one that I talked to thought that the cartoon of Dora the Explorer bruised and battered in mug shot form was priceless.

  5. Derek February 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Great points, Charlton. Totally agree. Gerson has been a formal and informal spokesman for “big government” GOP types for a while now. I really think it is is a schoolyard bully technique and demagoguery to infer that people you disagree with are racists (that is what he just stops short of calling people who don’t support open borders).

    I also agree with you, Charlton when you write “perhaps he should take the time to learn what most conservatives are actually arguing for” – but the sad thing is, he has been around the block for a long time and does know – which is why the smearing of motives is so offensive. He should be able to make his arguments without resorting to those tactics.

  6. Charlton Connett February 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Paul,

    Well put. I think your point about refuted vs. refuted well is something that Republicans need to work on, if they want to convince the majority of Americans that they have good ideas. But, when a Republican is rehashing the same old trite arguments, that’s just sad (if you agree with the Republican position).

    As to the point about how tea party members not having sympathy for illegal immigrants, I’ll even agree with you there. By and large most people don’t have sympathy. But again, the question is whether or not that is part and parcel of conservative thought, or whether that is simply poor education and the natural sinfulness of humanity of display. There is a place for distinguishing what the ideal of a movement is versus what the individuals tend to demonstrate. It is in this area that I think Gerson’s article fails.

    But, I think your points are well taken. Conservatives must demonstrate that they have sound arguments and ideas, and they must do this in a strong and effective manner. (Similar to the idea of evangelizing using winsome words.) And, Christian conservatives must make a point of pushing individuals to have greater compassion for all of the weak of society.

  7. Derek February 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    Paul said:

    The Republican idea of a health care plan seems to be narrowed down to two options: be rich or die quick.

    Sure, Paul – that is the Republican plan – those evil, nasty, awful Republicans! In the words of Alan Grayson, their health care plan is “just die already”. You are so right, Paul – thank you for informing us about this conspiracy!

  8. Christiane February 8, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    For anyone concerned about the contents of Catholic social teaching, here is the most comprehensive, authoritarian site, a compendium of information from the ‘source’:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_co

    If someone is confused by terms like ‘subsidiary’, ‘solidarity’, and other much-used Catholic terms, this is a good site to explore how the Catholics interpret and apply those terms.

    I hope this helps to foster some understanding about the actual ‘social justice’ teachings of the Catholic Church,
    as there are comments on blogs that show me that understanding is not something to take for granted, among those who may be unfamiliar with the salient terminology.

  9. Christiane February 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    Oops, wrong site, sorry.
    For Compendium, google in:

    Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  10. Charlton Connett February 8, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Derek,

    I don’t think Paul was being serious when he made his point as to what the Republican position on heath care really is. To quote him, “yes, I’m being sarcastic, no need to go into a diatribe about tort reform.” I think Paul was simply demonstrating that Republicans have not done a very thorough job of explaining their positions. And, as much as people continue to say that Republicans don’t have anything to offer in response to the health-care reform bill they want to repeal, he is correct. There are many reasons why Republicans have failed to let people know about their ideas, but I’m not sure this is really the correct forum to go into all of that.

  11. Paul February 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Derek –

    What Charlton said. I can’t imagine that I’d agree with whatever it is that the Republicans would have up their sleeves, but as of right now, this is what they have offered…

    1) tort reform
    2) interstate deregulation

    that’s it. At least that’s all they’ve made public to those of us who forgot to renew their subscriptions to the American Spectator.

  12. Derek February 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    If anyone is interested in serious proposals from Republicans on healthcare, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin put a plan together that addressed much more than tort reform, although tort reform must be a major part of any true healthcare fix. That was the elephant in the room with Obamacare, which was a sweetheart deal for trial attorneys (especially the ambulance chasing variety) and unions.

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