Religion and Politics

It is somewhat dis-spiriting to find that my posts on healthcare (and therefore politics) elicit far more comments and stimulate far more discussion and controversy than any of my religious posts. This is probably because I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to politics and simply throw my own opinion and experience out there. As such, I don’t really mind at all if people disagree with me. However, to say that I’m evil, that I have a poorly formed conscience and to imply that I’m in bed with the devil and leading souls to hell just because I opine that a modest, civic-organized health insurance plan for everyone might be an option is rather much.

Here’s what gets my goat–and I’ll allow myself a little moan here–I can’t understand why so many right wing Catholic Americans think they have to wrap themselves in the flag and pretend that right wing politics and economics are also part of the Catholic religion. Catholicism transcends all that. Maybe it’s the Mennonite in me, but right wing politics and economics seems to me to be just as stupid in their extreme views as the left wing are in their extreme views. Why can’t people see that when there’s an argument both sides are right and both sides are wrong. If there wasn’t some truth in both sides of the argument then there would be nothing to argue about. If there wasn’t some error in both sides of the argument there would be nothing to argue about.

The left are in favor of helping the poor and overcoming the huge inequalities, unfairness and injustice of the present health care/insurance system in the USA. Good for them. Let’s do something about it. The right are concerned about personal freedom, fear the over reach of the federal government, dislike the waste, corruption, huge cost and inefficiency of government run programs. Good for them. Let’s avoid those problems if we can. The left are in favor of making the world a better place. The right fear that the world, which is a pretty bad place, will only get worse. They’re both right and they’re both wrong.

That’s why this preacher keeps going back to repeat again and again that all the systems, all the good ideas, all the political solutions, all the forms of government, all the economic solutions–all of them are only as good as the people in them. It’s all about personal virtue.

Think it through. I’d argue that any political system or economic system could work just fine if the people within it were loving, kind, generous, spiritual, caring and good people. Shucks, even democracy could work if people were like that. But given that people are venal, suspicious, greedy, violent, lazy and selfish, any system you have needs to have effective checks and balances. If you have checks and balances in place, and a society is built on strong faith, clear moral principles and personal responsibility you might just live in peace and prosperity for a time.

Here endeth the rant…

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Richard

    This blog is everything I have been trying to say to all my friends. I am happy you found words to express it WAY better than I have in the past.

  • Tim Riley

    Well said, Father Dwight. There was a great reflection by the Pasionists JPIC newsletter last month that spoke about the conflict between personal liberty, and …with liberty and justice for all. We have to work towards a balance, to borrow from St. Benedict, between personal freedoms, and making sure we all have equal access those freedoms. But the idea from both sides that it is an “all or nothing” proposition is what keeps us at odds with each other. Maybe this day we should, as a nation, try to focus more on our unity, than our independence. -Peace

  • Doc’s Wife

    Father, I don’t think it’s fair to generalize the two parties like that. In essence what you have said is that only democrats care about people and the government wants to care for them and only republicans care about making money and keeping government out of it. I mean, what if I were to say, the dems want you to have abortions any time you want for any reason and the republicans don’t want you to be able to abort. Both statements are as true as yours, right? You are right about one thing, people do get too caught up in the various ideologies, but some things you just can’t overlook in order for the common good to be obtained – like abortion, partial birth abortion in particular. If that’s the cost of government – what some would call assistance but I call interference – then it’s not worth it. And you know what? It’s not just about money. It’s about the government having their noses in everything, every aspect of our lives. Happy 4th, and God Bless this country of ours.

  • Luke

    Maybe the so-called right-wing commentators think that the Church has some sort of bias in favor of human freedom and individual conscience, and know that the left-wingers’ approach obviously requires coercion, force, and regimentation? I think you are mistaken in your premises, which are actually offensive, Father. You observe that the “The left are in favor of making the world a better place. The right fear that the world, which is a pretty bad place, will only get worse.” It’s interesting that you think that conservatives are not in favor of making the world a better place.

    “The left are in favor of helping the poor and overcoming the huge inequalities, unfairness and injustice of the present health care/insurance system in the USA.” Obviously, the right does not want these things? This view is not just offensive, it’s offensive in the extreme.

    Conservatives are in favor of empowering individuals to take care of themselves and to make their own choices. To the extent they can’t, conservatives of whom I know want to make provision for the poor.

    Finally, this is flatly wrong: “I’d argue that any political system or economic system could work just fine if the people within it were loving, kind, generous, spiritual, caring and good people.” Such systems need information. The most efficient system for the transmission of information relevant to production, supply, and supply is the price system. So, you could have a socialist system run by ” loving, kind, generous, spiritual, caring and good people” who suffer from the conceit that they’re smart enough to set prices, the level of production, and forecast the level of demand, and that system would come to ruin in short order.

    • flyingvic

      . . . and you could have a capitalist system run by “loving, kind, generous, spiritual, caring and good people”, at least, you could in theory. More to the point, perhaps, why do we so rarely hear ANY of these adjectives applied to any politician of any party?

      Thatcher’s Conservative government in the UK, for example, devastated whole communities in the mining areas in blatantly political revenge for Heath’s Conservative government being defeated by the Miners’ Union a few years previously. Not many of those adjectives were flying about then, I can tell you.

  • Luke

    And another thing (hah!), I’ve talked to Protestants and non-Christians about Catholicism, and they often take the view that the truth is unknowable, and that, therefore, so long as everyone is a “loving, kind, generous, spiritual, caring and good” person, all that stuff about sacraments, moral teachings, and the nature of God doesn’t really matter. As with religion, I think it is possible in the economic realm to know what is true and what is not true, what is good and what is not good. And socialism ain’t it.

  • Bernard Burlew

    Well Father, from the looks of the above comments, it looks like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You go Father, I’m on your side.

  • Doc’s Wife

    Luke – thanks for saying all of that soooo much better than I ever could have. You hit every point perfectly.

  • Luke

    Father, I forgot to observe also that your website is one of my daily favorites, and that I recommend it to others. Regarding your lament that you get more feedback from political posts than for your religious posts, my guess is that, unlike when you address politics, once you have addressed a religious topic, there is nothing else that needs to be said.
    Just like Rush Limbaugh.

    • Doc’s Wife

      Dittos. ;-D

  • Paul Rodden

    I’ve just finished reading Ross Douthat’s recently published book,Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics, and I think he would agree with you Fr L. However, as a non-American, although my eyes glazed over a bit in places, it has a very important message, over all.
    Co-incidentally, Fr Bob Barron has posted a video on it over on Word on Fire.

  • Oregon Catholic

    I’m with you Father. The actual political or economic system matters less than the morality of individuals. It is our fallen nature that leads to greed and abuse of power that will doom just about every system, no matter how good, if left unchecked. Our biggest problem right now is that we can’t agree on what those checks should be and the populace is way too politically polarized. I find it very sad that even Catholicism has become political for far too many Catholics.

  • Merryn Cromartie

    Ties in very nicely to Abp. Chaput’s homily yesterday. Have you been giving him your notes?? ;)
    Thanks again for striving to address the thorny issues instead of trying to ignore them. Since Jesus was no milquetoast, I bet he’s right there in the midst of all this discussion -as long as we mindfully include Him in it, as you do.

  • Dave

    “The left are in favor of helping the poor and overcoming the huge inequalities, unfairness and injustice of the present health care/insurance system in the USA.”

    My goodness; a man with your level of education, and such touching naivete.

    Dave

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It was a generalization to give the left the benefit of the doubt.

  • Merkn

    You observe: ” The left are in favor of helping the poor and overcoming the huge inequalities, unfairness and injustice of the present health care/insurance system in the USA.” We on the right also favor these things. We believe our methods are more effective and efficient. I do not dispute that their are honest leftists that genuinely, if erroneously, believe they have a better way of achieving these ends; I do not challenge their motives. Why is it always appropriate to challenge ours. I also do not accept the logic that an argument itself establishes that both sides have some right in them. I also agree their is no perfect system, but one system may be better than the others if it is more closely attuned to the realities of human nature, and is better attuned to the Will of God. We can of course debate which is best. It is a matter of prudential judgment subject in the case of Catholics to the ex cathedra teaching of the church.

  • http://progressplanet.com/ Nancy Hunter

    I agree wholeheartedly. Catholics are fighting a losing battle against Obamacare. All religions and religious beliefs should be tolerated in this country, but they should be completely separate from politics.


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