Eden Foods and the Impossibility of Compartmentalizing the Catholic Faith

It was G.K. Chesterton who noted that “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” I would argue that the main reason why this is true is because Catholicism isn’t a faith that can be compartmentalized.

Prattle on about separation of church and state all you want, but if you believe you personally can achieve separation of mind and heart, while being faithful to the Two Greatest Commandments,and all that stems from them, then you are sadly deceived.

Catholics believe that faith and reason are compatible, you see. And the Catholic Church, that world society of souls I am thankful to belong to, knows, and teaches, an integral and solidary humanism. You know, the kind that exists as if people really mattered.

Speaking for myself, I’m one of those wacky converts to Catholicism who had enough of tying myelf into knots trying to pretend I was a Christian, when I was really just a self-important, pharisaical, know-nothing with an untrained conscience and a proclivity to put Christ as far away from the center of my life as possible.

But enough about me.

What led me to thinking about this problem of compartmentalizing the faith is the interview responses of Micheal Potter, founder of Eden Foods, when he was questioned by Irin Carmon, who writes at Salon. A good look at the interviews with Mr. Potter can be found at the Standing With Eden Foods website. Take a look at this snippet,

It’s the reporter we know from before (ed. she recently wrote about the Gosnell trial), Irin Carmon, this time gleeful that her earlier interview with Michael Potter of Eden Foods sparked a “legal analysis” from ThinkProgress that expresses doubt over the Eden Foods lawsuit – not that such an analysis from such a source should surprise anyone.

Another blogger, this one from Slate, not to be troubled to do her own reporting, basically spouts the same narrative Carmon is trying to push. But I’d like to look more closely at that narrative expounded in Carmon’s piece.

Carmon claims, citing “allegations, made by two sources associated with the company” that Potter’s objection to birth control and artificial contraception isn’t based on his Catholic faith, but instead on his opposition to macrobiotics found in the drugs.

Carmon tries to corner Potter – who honestly seems flustered in the interview, but in light of all of the liberal fury coming down around him, who can blame him? – into admitting that this isn’t about his religious belief at all, but rather about other objections: constitutional, philosophical, scientific/medicinal objections.

Now what strikes me in this is that Carmon embraces the idea of the “religious exemption” to the HHS Mandate in order to try to find a stick to beat Potter and Eden Foods with. Anyone reading her piece must be struck by the irony: as if she’d be okay with Potter having a religious reason for seeking exemption from the mandate, but how dare he reason from secular sources like constitutional principles and political philosophy — as if, in any other situation, she wouldn’t be saying the exact opposite, telling Potter he shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind religious belief to get away from a secular law, not unless he could provide non-religious reasons for why that law is objectionable. The whole role reversal here is striking and a bit hysterical.

But here’s the real point: Potter’s expression of his objections do seem a bit flustered and even confused, I allow — again, who can blame him? But at the root of Carmon’s problem with Potter is a misunderstanding of the way Catholicism embraces faith and reason, revelation and science, as complementary, indeed intertwined forces, all part of the same “real.”

In other words, that Carmon smells a rat in the whiff of scientific reasoning in a discussion she thinks needs to be all about “faith” and “unseen things” (and she might add “fairies” and “leprechauns”) — this just shows Carmon’s preconceived prejudicial views toward religious reasoning. It shows that she has made the presumption that religiously reasoned things must be reasoned apart from facts and science and nature and, well, the real world as she knows it: not only just apart from, but (I’m willing to bet, in her conception) perhaps opposed to that world.

Now to anyone who knows Catholic theology, this is hogwash.

Read the whole piece to understand why that idea is “hogwash.” Because faithful Catholics, and wannabe faithful Catholics like myself, can’t be pigeon-holed as “right-wing puritans,” or “right-wing fundies” any more than Mother Teresa, or Pope Francis, could be. Nor can Catholics be labeled as left-wing radicals, liberals, communists, etc.

Granted, when looking at a world that is cleaved along these political lines, by tribes and factions thinking only of themselves and their own self-interest, it’s understandable that you might assume everyone else thinks and acts this same way. But that is the opposite of the integral and solidary humanism that the Catholic Church teaches.

I’ll be honest and say I have no idea if the founder of Eden Foods is making day to day decisions that are informed by a Catholic worldview like the one set forth in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. But as the author of the article I’ve linked to makes clear, the Catholic view is a holistic view, and not one that myopically adheres to simplistic left/right political worldviews. Therefore it would not surprise me that anyone serious about their faith would act in a manner wherein their beliefs informed their decision making process. How could it not?

For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Which helps explain why spending only .89% of my time practicing my faith, and 99.11% not practicing it, is an impossibility.

  • Dale

    AnnArbor.com, the local newspaper for Ann Arbor, MI (publishes twice per week) has posted an interview with Michael Potter. If anyone cares about this debate, it might be worth a look since the interviewer was not as hostile as the one for Salon.

    http://www.annarbor.com/business-review/eden-foods-ceo-michael-potter-explains-his-decision-to-sue-obama-administration-over-contraceptives

    Although Potter touches upon religion, his main objections continue to be libertarian in nature. Whether or that poses a problem for his company’s lawsuit, I have no idea. We should have a better idea in a couple weeks, since the hearing is set for May 10th.

    Potter seems a sincere individual, who consulted with his company’s directors, and even some of his employees, before deciding to move forward with the lawsuit. Ultimately, he cast the deciding vote. Potter is concerned about the public backlash, but also mentions the difficulty of assessing it simply from online comments.

    He felt his company needed to take a stand, and that it was the right thing to do.


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