Mandates, the IDEA of America and the Worrisome Line

Someone wondered why I seem less plugged in to the “Fortnight for Freedom” than he had expected me to be. I’m not sure why he is surprised; I’ve never been much of a joiner.

But he’s right. I am lukewarm on the F4F, because I am a little uncomfortable with it.

I certainly am in complete agreement with the bishops that the HHS Mandate is an assault on our first amendment right to Freedom of Religion — and that it concerns all believers, not just Catholics.

And I agree with Russell Shaw, who points out that the Catholic church did not go looking for this fight; she would not be calling for religious activism had not her hand been forced by the government, and her motivations impugned by a hysterical press screaming “they want to take away our birth control!”

And certainly, fighting for the sake of the protection of fundamental rights for all — even those who don’t yet realize that they’re rights are being fought for, too — is something I support.

Yet, I am uncomfortable. As much as I dislike the government inserting itself into religious concerns and attempting to redefine the very practice of religion as traditionally understood by Americans, I don’t love seeing my church so politically engaged.

Over the course of the blog, I have previously expressed concerns about an evolving “Ameridolatry” — about the “idea of America” looming so large before our consciences that it crosses an important line and begins to distort the proper place and primacy of God.

I worry that some can confuse the “sacred honor”
with which the founders signed the Declaration of Independence with transcendent holiness; that some might imbue a secular rite with the meaning and power of a sacramental one, or that one can come to regard a public servant, or even a pundit, as a kind of saint.

Perhaps my reservations are tied into my perception that religious activism in politics has generally been the provenance of the Evangelical, Calvinist side of Christianity; Catholics may march for life, but they do not seek to edit the textbooks.

Perhaps it is simply that I am uncomfortable with nationalism beyond a certain point, largely because I belong to a church that has seen nations rise and fall with some regularity over 2000 years, and has learned the wisdom of the psalmist re trusting in princes.

Perhaps I am concerned that the bishops are opening the church up to a charge of partisanship that has never credibly been lain at her doors, before. If we’ve been stalwart defenders of life, and therefore pleasing to the right, we have also recommended humane immigration reform, which is pleasing to the left, and if that brought us a measure of distrust — or even hatred — by extremists on either side, well, at least it was a hate we came by honestly, one that demonstrated the sort of tenuous balance the church has achieved by being a body that embraces both faith and reason. To be suddenly excoriated by one side for the wrong reasons, and embraced by another side — also for the wrong reasons — invites future struggles, future misconceptions about what the church is all about and where she stands on any issue.

More importantly, it invites future dismissals of the church by people who, regardless of their partisan stance, will turn a deaf ear to the resounding message of redemption through Christ — which is our first and primary purpose of being — because they think they know everything about the church, and needn’t listen. This, obviously, affects our outreach toward souls in need of salvation, and whether we can impact and influence souls for better or worse. We already have enough to answer for, on that head.

On the other hand, this government’s insistence that the Church established by Christ bow down before the false god of the State, allowing it to regulate church ministers, or upend effective social work unless it is accompanied by regularly offered obeisances to Moloch is so unjust, so deplorably out of step with the Constitution the president is sworn to uphold and defend, we really have no choice. If the church does not make this fight — and make it for everyone — then America is redefined; the whole “idea” of America becomes warped.

So, no, I don’t love the “fortnight for freedom,” and my prayer is that tomorrow’s ruling on the Individual Mandate, by the Supreme Court, will render concerns about the HHS Mandate largely moot. They are, as Joanne points out, here, completely different issues, but I’m hoping a loss tomorrow, coupled with the recent, largely un-reported-on move by the CHA, may bring Obama and Sebelius to their senses. Still, I will support the F4F, as far as I may.

And no, that will not extend to putting on a foam finger. Sorry, Cardinal Dolan; as much as I loves ya, that’s a form too far for Lizzie.

I know this is not my best, or best-reasoned, work. Having a distracting day with some of the other hats I wear. But I did try to answer the question.

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About Elizabeth Scalia