America's Babylonian Captivity?
Editor's Note: This piece is published as a part of a symposium hosted by Patheos' Catholic Portal and Evangelical Portal, entitled, "For Life and Family: Faith and the Future of Social Conservatism."
For some reason, I still seem to mystify people in my views on the American political scene. Indeed, the most mysterious criticisms I get are the ones wondering (in mixed tones of bafflement, rage, and disappointment), "How can you simultaneously be a Catholic writer who respects the Church's teaching . . . and yet also be so critical of torture and its apologists?"
How do I live in that sort of contradiction?
I am large. I contain multitudes. I also believe in democracy and yet I vote. I oppose abortion and yet love babies at the same time. I think the family and marriage are sacred and yet I hate divorce and oppose gay "marriage" as a sham and a fraud. I believe in Catholic Just War teaching and yet I oppose war crimes. I say I support Catholic moral teaching and yet I reject the notion that the ends justify the means. Clearly, I am a fragmented and incomprehensible personality. There's no telling what I might say next! That apparently is why people repeatedly talk as though things I have to say about the Bush policies that resulted in the torture and even murder of detainees (not infrequently innocent detainees) have nothing to do with things I have to say about Catholic theology.
This phenomenon of bafflement about how to fathom the connection between my religious views and my politics happens with my Lefty readers too. How can I believe in the gospel of love and the Prince of Peace and yet be so mean as to reject the sham of gay 'marriage'? How is it possible for me to regard the Bush Administration as a catastrophe and yet not be filled with elation at the election of Obama? My email box is full of puzzled frustration at the mystery of my political views and lots of advice from people who tell me "Stick to theology" as though the two have absolutely no connection in my mind. In turn, I find the mystification of my readers even more mysterious. Here's the key to the riddle: I'm a Catholic. So, in my mind, politics (like everything else in the universe) is intimately connected to theology or, more precisely, to God.
I think that politics is the art of the possible. I regard political parties as large, clumsy mechanisms that Catholics should attempt to use in order to try to enact as much Catholic social teaching as possible. Sort of like trying to knit with tire irons. The moment such parties stand in the way of some fundamental aspect of Catholic social teaching is the moment I drop them like a hot rock and look around for some other means of advancing the Church's teaching.
I have absolutely no party loyalty whatsoever and never have. Such loyalty seems to me as sensible as cleaving loyally to a hammer through thick and thin when what might be needed to do the job is a wrench or a screwdriver. I also endeavor to have as little ideological loyalty as I can possibly manifest, because I regard ideology as almost intrinsically heretical: an aspect of the Church's teachings that is ripped off of the whole and then blown up to absurd proportions. As such, ideology almost invariably tends to start crowding out other aspects of the Church's teaching sooner or later—generally sooner. There can be grace periods where there doesn't necessarily have to be war between the part that is the ideology and the whole that is the Faith. But when war comes (as it almost always does), I want to be on the side of the whole Catholic teaching rather than on the side of the heretical shred.
Mark P. Shea is a senior editor at The Catholic Exchange, and a columnist for Crisis Magazine. Visit his blog at Catholic and Enjoying It. This piece originally appeared at www.mark-shea.com and is reprinted with permission.