:: Running from the Thought Police ::

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:: Wednesday, February 02, 2005 ::

Bringing Things To The Front

In the comments for a post below, Matt (of It's Matt's World, a Koufax-award semifinalist blog) posted the following comments:

Hey Squire, I have a question (and forgive me if we've discussed it before - can't seem to remember if we have or haven't). But, at any rate...

Some of the coolest, most liberal-seeming people I've met in my life have been Catholics. Now, I'm obviously just basing this on self-experience only, but it just seems to be the case that Catholics are pretty progressive people. I've yet to meet a staunchly conservative, hate-spewing Catholic (knock on wood).

This begs the question, as Catholicism is somewhat conservative, and the current Pope is very conservative on a lot of topics, how come so many of the followers seem to be more on the progressive/liberal side?


I was thinking of another way to look at this: Is it that Catholics really are so progressive/liberal-minded, or is it that they (or at least the ones I've known) are really good at keeping their opinions to themselves, and adopt a sort of live-and-let-live mentality?

To which I replied (in many parts):

Part of the reason is that it's not unusual for a liberal/progressive Catholic to have opinions that break differently from the normal liberal/conservative divide is because of our view on religion and the Bible. We hold that the Jesus and the New Testament represents a new covenant that replaces the previous ones made with the people of Israel. If one focuses on the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, one sees that there are more encouragments of "positive" practices ("do this") than prohibitions against "negative" things ("don't do this"). This is a change from the Old Testament and "Thou Shalt Not." While following a list of "Thou Shalt Nots" will generally keep you out of trouble, it gets cumbersome after a while and often has to be extrapolated to new situations.

As is recounted to us in a number of the gospels, the greatest commandment is the Jewish Shema, "You shall love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength." (Deut 6:5)When reciting this (a local Pharisee had come to bother him) he added that the second greatest commandment is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." These, combined with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) from the Sermon on the Mount, lead to a focus of many Catholics on social justice and works of mercy. Such acts help our neighbors, and are deemed good in the sight of God as they are attempts to bring about the Kingdom of God (which, as far as I can tell, is a setup in which people are cool to each other and benevolent socialism actually works).

Shorter answer: If you're busy loving your neighbor, you don't have much time for hating them.

The whole "loving your neighbor" bit (plus "Honor your mother and father" and a bunch of other sources) eventually gave rise to what Joseph Cardinal Bernadin articulated as the Consistant Life Ethic, that all life is sacred from conception to natural death. This is a central justification for Catholicism's general anti-war stance (the Pope condemned the invasion of Iraq as unjust), anti-abortion stance, stand against the death penalty and euthenasia, and its support of human rights [and let's not forget the civil rights movement, in which many Catholic clergy participated]. (I myself opppose abortion, but believe it can't be made illegal until we do something about the "culture of death" in this country, else women who'd get abortions now would just get them illegally and place themselves at further health risk. I prefer having one life on my conscience to having two.) Some of these positions are considered liberal in this country, others conservative, but the combinations that so result are often absurd.

Oh! I nearly forgot about stem cell research. The church opposes embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of a human embryo. The arguement against is that such embryos will be thrown out anyway. My personal take on the matter is to only harvest such embryos for stem cells when and only when they're going to be thrown out, since death will result in either case. On the same note, the Church also opposes (and I heavily agree with this) the use of reproductive techniques that create such a large number of "excess" embryos to begin with, since 99% of such embryos will just be thawed and killed after a given time.

One of the things prohibiting further change in issues in the church (the stance against homosexuality and birth control) is the fact that many progressive catholic males who'd be interested in the clergy also want to get married. Marriage and the priesthood being, currently, mutually exclusive, many/most opt for marriage, with a few eventually becoming deacons. The resulting priest shortage is horrendous, with many parishes now without their own priest. Re-opening the priesthood to married men (and re-instituting the female deaconate) would go a long way to ushering fresh minds into the church. There's a time-delay built into this, though, in that the decision making body of the church, the Magisterium, is comprised of all the Bishops in the world, who aren't exactly young men. The Magisterium also only meets as a whole in Councils, of which the last was Vatican II in 1960. The Pope is needed to call such a council, and since John Paul II is vehemently opposed to a married priesthood, such changes to church law will have to wait for a new Pope.

Most of the Catholics I know are pretty much live-and-let-live. However, I've noticed that a sizable number of Catholics of a more rural bent are being subverted by the VRWC to think like our Fundamentalist brethren on many issues. For example, I'm very tired on the incessant harping on abortion (an individual sin) and stem cells when there are many other parts of the consistant life ethic, namely war (a societal sin), that aren't being addressed nearly well enough. That, and the poor are still being screwed in this country, yet the Limbaugh-listening types don't really care much about that. That a number of prominent bishops seem to have also been swayed to the view that Abortion should be our sole issues worries me further. The fact that most times the media reports only on what the Bishops say when it deals with sex or the ongoing abuse scandal also doesn't help public and congregational opinions.

Since this post is meant to be informative and, hopefully, thought-provoking, I heavily suggest that anyone who has questions, thoughts, or comments (that are respectful) add what they think. I'm fine with people making points and arguements I disagree with, but outright abuse of myself or anyone else who comments here will result in disemvowelling.

:: The Squire 4:29 PM :: email this post :: ::


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