The HHS Mandate and the Lord of the Rings

I know. This is a weird title for a post. What does the Lord of the Rings trilogy have to do with the HHS Mandate? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Bear with me for a moment and I’ll try to explain.

A few months back, I wrote a little post that I titled Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered. Therein, I stated simply that “what is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers.”

Actually, it would take an eternity of lifetimes for us to try and perfect the implementation of Christian values, and we simply don’t have that luxury. Because though our souls are immortal, for this sojourn through life on earth our bodies are finite.

But guess what? God knows all this. And He still demands that we act in accordance with His teachings. And not just when they suit our own selfish predilections, but (gulp!) always. And that is a frightful, and fragile thing to do with our lives.

Because the Holy Spirit speaks to us often of our condition as “earthen vessels,” for we are often compared to “clay pots.”  So in our finite bodily existence here on earth, in this test called life, we must act with partial and incomplete knowledge. Not having 100% of all the data before we make a decision, is not going to exonerate us from acting in accordance with our heavenly mandate of a Christ-centered existence. I wrote of this condition of ours a long, long, time ago.

Our Majesty also knows that we are in “the play” and this ain’t no dress rehearsal. And as Christians, we are not called to just theorize and contemplate. We are also called to act upon this stage called life here, and now. And our actions, though imperfect, must seek to glorify God. And they must be in accordance with His will. We believe we will be judged accordingly, do we not? How then do we know that we are acting in compliance with these two demands?

In my mind, we can’t do either on our own, which is why we need the Church as the grounding, or foundation of our actions. And the Church also must be the referee, if you will,  of the sporting contest of our lives. But even acting on our own, we do have a sense of what is “right conduct” and what is “wrong conduct.” Case in point: the whole HHS Mandate, and shredding of the Constitution controversy, that has everyone with an opinion on fire to share it.

Now, I’m no expert on moral theology, or moral philosophy. I will leave that to others with more knowledge and experience, both within the Church, and without. But in this matter, the Church has handed down a definitive opinion, and she hasn’t been shy about announcing it. Where you come down on her decision is really now a question of faith.

So where do I stand? I stand with the little people in the photograph above, who unwittingly understand the following statement from my ancient Chinese friend,

When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise. —Sun Tzu

And so I’m going to have some fun with the controversy by linking it to J.R.R. Tolkiens classic tale, The Lord of the Rings. I’ll be using Peter Jackson’s film version to help you identify the cast of characters. By the way, the entire cast is made up of the laity and that is for two reasons: 1) we know where the Church stands on this issue, and she backs us up 100%; and 2) fighting this battle is the province of the laity. Just ask our Pope.

On to the drama, then. First up are the folks who started this war and who now threaten the Shire.

Saruman

Guess who plays the part of Saruman? Surely, you don’t need many references to realize who fills the spot on the playbill here, but I assume nothing so I’ll be clear: the current President of the United States. He’s working as close to hand-in-hand with Sauron on the HHS Mandate as he possible can. And aiding and abetting him?

Wormtongue

Every Saruman needs creepy henchmen, and this time is no different. Assume then that the role played by the cabinet officers of the POTUS is that of the character named Grima, also known as Wormtongue, OK? In the movie adaptation, this character was played by actor Brad Dourif, who also played Hazel Motes in John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.

I’ll be nice and not name orcs. Pretend, instead, that Saruman has clones of Wormtongues working for him earnestly. Insert Kathleen Sebelius, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and a whole host of other Administration talking heads in this role. And what about Nancy Pelosi? California elected an orc; not me.

This appears to be a war the Administration seems to relish and to have the stomach to fight it mercilessly. Did you hear Wormtongue player John Lew speak out recently?

“We have set out our policy. We are going to finalize it in the final rules, but I think what the president announced on Friday is a balanced approach that meets the concerns raised both in terms of access to health care and in terms of protecting religious liberties, and we think that’s the right approach.

set in concrete, er, that is, until the poll numbers come back definitively pointing to “Epic FAIL.”

So much for the characters supporting the agenda of the Dark Lord of Mordor, what of the good guys in the HHS Mandate/ Obamacare fracus played out among the characters? Below are a few links to the thoughts of our players about what to make of this event. I will share them with you in the order in which they match up with Tolkien’s cast. I think each makes valid points.  As a mere hobbit though, I am inclined to let wiser heads prevail in these discussions. But I also seek information from all sides in order to view the full picture. I may be a hobbit, but that doesn’t excuse me from not knowing why I am fighting.

First up is the opinion of a modern day version of Gandalf the Grey,

Peter Kreeft: To win any war, the three most necessary things to know are: (1) that you are at war, (2) who your enemy is, and (3) what weapons or strategies can defeat him.

You cannot win a war (1) if you simply sew peace banners on a battlefield, (2) if you fight civil wars against your allies, or (3) if you use the wrong weapons.

Here is a three point checklist for the culture wars.
1. We Are at War:
If you don’t know that our entire civilization is in crisis, I hope you had a nice vacation on the moon.

Next up, Elrond of Rivendell.

Hadley Arkes: The mandate of the government is certainly not needed for people to have access to contraception and abortion. These “services” are not barred by law, and if contraception and abortion make as much economic sense for the lives of people as their partisans contend, the buyers would find it as sensible to buy it themselves as to pay the bills for their iPhones.

This move of the Administration cannot be explained then by a need simply to make these services available. It can be explained only by the determination to insist on the deep “rightness” of abortion and contraception – and to brand as wrong anyone who would deny their rightness.

Guess who plays the character of Arwen?

Katrina Fernandez, the Crescat:There aren’t enough hours in the day to write about how pathetic it is that so many Catholics are ignorant of Humanae Vitae and where our Church went so drastically wrong. Equally, I can’t change the minds of sixty million Catholics in a matter of weeks even I talked till I was blue in the face and passed out on the floor. I’m just not that influential or eloquent.

This past weekend my parish priest gave a fantastic homily on the mandate and told his flock “quit cooperating with the culture of death“. He was so impassioned and forceful it made us all squirm – the good kind of squirm that indicates a pricking of the conscience. I had never heard the Profession of Faith recited so weakly after a homily. Awkward.

Again, why should we care?

And of course, there is the brave and able Aragorn of Gondor.

Francis Beckwith: Do religious-based organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, and businesses owned by devout religious believers including Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims, have the right under Obamacare to negotiate an agreement with an insurance company so that the insurance policy the employer offers to its employees does not include contraception, abortion, sterilization, etc.?

Does an entrepreneur under Obamacare have a right to create an insurance company that in fact meets the needs of such employers?

If the answer to each is “no,” then Obamacare violates a fundamental right. If “yes,” then the problem is solved and the debate is over. But since the HHS regulations allow a narrow exemption for some religious organizations–e.g., churches, synagogues, mosques–that means that the answer to the questions is probably “no.”


And then there is Eowyn.

Elizabeth Scalia, aka “The Anchoress:” This unwillingness of staunch Obama supporters to quickly embrace his latest idea and perform a full-pivot from the bishops has become for me the most interesting part of the story. As a rule, I think any of these men would be all-too-happy to leave the Bishop’s corners for Obama’s on this particular issue, but–in good conscience–they simply cannot. His stated mandate was so shocking to ideas of justice and constitutionality that whether the president is dealing in good faith has now become an unknowable—why did Obama feel a need to ensnare the churches in an issue that could have been attended to in other ways?

If, upon gauging the dismay of his allies within the church, Obama had truly meant to assuage the consciences of his Catholic allies, he could have done so easily and clearly; instead his words suggested to some that even the narrow conscience clause offered in his first decision was at risk, and his solution looks like a shell game, analogous, as blogger Marc Barnes put it, to trying to force Orthodox Jewish restaurants to sell bacon, but then “accommodating” them by forcing them to “pay a Gentile with a bacon cart to serve pork” for them.

Entering from stage right, we have Legolas

Marc Barnes: You said, “Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services — no matter where they work. So that core principle remains.”

Please tell me, for the sake of our friendship, that you were misquoted. Because this “no matter where they work,” business is not a remaining core principle, it’s an entirely new principle, rotten to the core. Previously, the Mandate’s religious exemption covered churches, parish offices, and institution that only serve members of their own faith, out of some odd philanthropic desire that Catholics start religiously discriminating the poor and sick they serve. Now you’ve even flounced that. No matter where they work? So every single institution in America is now forced to pay for contraception – oh I’m sorry, I meant forced to buy insurance plans that will pay for contraception — and that makes it okay? It’s not tyrannical if you’re being a tyrant to everyone? Maybe no one has told you, so I will be clear: We are opposed to paying money to provide for artificial contraception, no. matter. what.

Remember what Faramir said? “I do not believe this darkness will endure. ”

Mark Shea: But Obama’s war on the Church is, as I said, a new wrinkle and makes me consider tossing my two copper coins in, not to support the GOP’s pursuit of war without end, or its contemptible disregard for serious prolife change, or its vile enthusiasm for torture, or it corrupt crony capitalist whoremongering, but because its cynical exploitation of religiosity means that it prefers to use Christian piety rather than crush the Church mercilessly, as Obama is attempting to do. Caelum et Terra thinks this is more or less selling out, a position I can certainly empathize with.

Meanwhile, over at National Review, Gina Dalfonso notes my noodling as well and is gobsmacked, as are some readers. I really don’t know why. I’ve made it perfectly clear many times that I regard politics as the art of the possible and that my moral calculations always center around how to promote the progress of the Faith. When both parties are advocating grave moral evils, I see no point in choosing which circle of hell I want. But when the equation changes and one party sets out, not only to advocate for sin, but to mount an open and naked assault on the Church which Jesus founded to act as the sacramental remedy for sin, I adjust my moral calculations accordingly.

As for me, I’ll just try to keep my friend Frodo on the straight and narrow, I reckon. All I know is this—we are at war, and war is hell. Not everyone sees the big picture.  But somehow, by each one of us, and all our allies, doing their duty good can overcome evil. It truly is like the great stories…

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  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Aha! I am so slow! How clever of you to use so many Patheos folk! Heh. At least I get to be thin!

    • AnnF

      And you get to kill the Nazgul!

      • Frank Weathers

        Comes with the territory. Besides, they’re creepy.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    Don’t forget the Bishops and Ents. I guess that makes Abp. Dolan Treebeard?

    • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

      Bishops *as* Ents. (Too. Much. Candy.)

      • Frank Weathers

        Nice!

  • Linda Lee

    Didn’t think I could be cheered today in the midst of all this awfulness, but I am! Thank you for your post! It made me smile and gives me hope:)

    • Frank Weathers

      “God loves a cheerful giver.” :)

  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    Who is the Witch King, and Gollum?

    This could be fun.

    I like the Treebeard / abp Dolan link. I think both would be flattered. Hoom! Ho!

    Nice column Frank.

  • Quid est veritas

    “As for me, I’ll just try to keep my friend Frodo on the straight and narrow, I reckon.”
    Nice post, “Sam”. And thanks for all the good work you’re doing in this area.

  • dancingcrane

    Kudos from this simple Gondorian citizen, who is happy to spread to word and succor the troops!

  • Joyce Fountaine

    This was well worth the time it took to read. That video at the end is an excellent reminder that some of us in this country still have a sense of idealism. Freedom is worth fighting for.

  • kris

    Can I be boromir? Seems like most of my attempts at persuasion are of the “tried and died” nature.
    This made me smile though… thanks!

  • drea916

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of TLOTR. There’s that line where the character I associated with Mary (kate blanchett) says “it is later than you think” and “the fate of this battle rests on the edge of a sword”

  • Katherine

    How delightful, thank you!


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