Monday, April 16, 2007

Calling Catholics to a new politics

The political debate on human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) has turned ugly in Delaware. As our state legislature gets ready to vote on SB5, a bill that will bring destructive hESCR to Delaware as well as allow "cloning to kill", ie. human cloning for research purposes, I am trying to keep my head above waters dealing with an opposition which seems irrational and angry. That stirs up my own anger. I don't like being called a liar because I have a different interpretation of bioethics than you.

In my estimation, what has happened is a full-blown demonstration of what I have seen elsewhere -- that the folks who espouse peace, respect for diversity, and separation of church and state cannot tolerate Christian thought.

They refuse to see us as human beings, and marginalize us as fanatics and anti-science fundamentalists. They seem to honestly believe this, too. Hatred and self-righteousness has made them irrational. I understand this, because I am tempted to indulge those vices myself.

John Carr spoke at a recent Theology on Tap in Wilmington. He is director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Social Development and World Peace department. He spoke of the church's social mission to participate in the political arena beyond simply voting.

Some things that I liked from the news report of his talk:

Perhaps the most countercultural aspect of Catholic teaching today "is not that all life is precious, or that war ought to be a last resort, or that the poor ought to come first... The most countercultural thing our church teaches may be that politics is a good thing. We're in an age of cynicism, and we are disenchanted with political life.

Nevertheless, our faith says that responsible citizenship is a virtue and that participation in public life is an obligation: it is an integral part of being a Catholic believer."
The nation's bishops are proposing a new kind of politics, that is "focused more on moral principle than the latest polls, more on the needs of the weak than the contributions of the strong, and more on the search for the common good rather than the advance of special interests." [note from Rae: this doesn't sound new, but classic]

How to accomplish such a debate faces a number of challenges. Among them:

A better understanding about the separation between church and state. "The First Amendment protects our right to participate in public life and to bring what we believe into the public square. When people talk about the wall of separation, I think what they are really trying to do is to dilute our voices."

Individual Catholics must learn how to "integrate our faith and politics into the rest of our lives. We have to practice what the bishops call ' everyday Christianity,' where our faith is not a weekend obligation but touches everything we do every day of the week."

Catholics active in one issue must learn "to allow other people who have the same principles that we do, the same truth, to apply those principles in a conscientious way and come to a different tactical decision."

"We are in this together. We can divide up the work (for life from conception to natural death, for peace, for better health care and housing) but we cannot divide up the church. What unites us is our faith."
"The best place to understand the strength and direction of the church's social mission is not on Capitol Hill, it's not in the food pantry although we belong there, and it's not even in Theology on Tap although it's good to be here. The best place to discover the strength and direction of the church's social mission is gathered around the altar in Eucharist, the most social sacrament. It's where we get the strength to go forth and be the leaven, the salt and the light of the world.

Without prayer, this all just becomes activism for its own sake, and it burns out."

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