Sunday, April 17, 2005

Michael

My name is Michael, and I live in DeKalb, Illinois. I am an adult convert to Roman Catholicism and a practitioner of zazen meditation. I hold a lay minister's certificate in liturgy in the Diocese of Rockford, and have been very active in my local church community in the past. I have twice made pilgrimage to the Holy Land (in 1998 and 2000), and once to Rome, for the Great Jubilee of 2000. My religious beliefs were but one of the reasons I cast my vote in 2004 for Sen. John Kerry.

I say all of that not to brag, but to demonstrate exactly how ridiculous is the idea, put forward by people calling themselves Republicans and Christians, that anyone who opposes Mr. Bush's atrocious policies must ipso facto be hostile to the faith or to other people of faith. I call that allegation exactly what it is: hogwash.

My faith is not threatened by liberals: it's far more likely to be put into practice by them. Indeed, one of the reasons I am myself a liberal is that I can't see any other way of behaving if I want to remain faithful to the principles of my faith tradition. More than a century ago, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum novarum, the first so-called "social" encyclical. While it denounced the socialists and found that there was absolutely a right to private property, that encyclical also enjoined upon "the wealthy owner and the employer" the duties of treating their employees as persons "ennobled by Christian character," noting that it was "truly shameful and inhuman" to treat workers "as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers." Employers were enjoined to give their workers time off for their religious duties, and to see to it that they did not neglect "home and family" or squander their earnings. Their "great and principal duty is to give every one what is just."

Pope Leo wasn't just pulling those phrases out of thin air, either. Jesus told his disciples (Luke 10:7, my translation from the original Greek) "The worker is worthy of his pay" and also this (Matthew 25:31-40, my translation):

Whenever the Son of Man may come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then will he sit upon the throne of his glory. He shall gather together before him all the nations, and he shall separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He shall place the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at his left.

Then the Ruler will say to those on his right, "Come here, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the realm that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you watched over me, I was in prison and you came to me."

Then the just will respond to him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you to drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to you?"

And the Ruler will answer them, saying, "I solemnly assure you, as often as you did so for one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me."

That passage does sound an awful lot like a political platform. It just doesn't sound anything like the Republican one. It certainly doesn't sound like the policies this administration has enacted.

And that is why I am so upset at these people's attempt to hijack my faith for their political ends. Mr. Bush claims to be a Christian, but his actions belie his words. As Jesus himself said (Matthew 7:16), it's the actions that count: "By their fruits shall you know them" and again (7:21), "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, lord' will enter into the Realm of Heaven, but rather that one doing the will of my Father in heaven."

Rather than admit that he's not doing a good job of living up to the faith he claims to profess, Mr. Bush prefers to attack the faith of anyone who happens to disagree with him, the better to ramrod his hateful policies through a recalcitrant Congress and force them upon a population that seems increasingly not to trust him.

The First Amendment to our Constitution gives Mr. Bush the right to believe as he chooses. It gives me exactly the same right, and it also prohibits our government from either forcing one brand of religion on all of its citizens or from interfering in how we choose to live out our beliefs, as long as we don't break any laws in doing so.

I think our founders got that position exactly right. Nobody should be allowed to tell anyone else how they should believe, what manner of life they should live, or how they should put their own faith into action. Are there things I would like to see in the laws of our land? Absolutely. But unless I can find solid reasons to enact those provisions into law that are not bound up solely with the tenets of my faith, I'm going to be unsuccessful in that endeavor--and that's the way it should be.

I came to Catholicism as an adult of my own free will. I would not want anybody to be able to tell me that I either had to join that church, or that I could not. Consequently, if I want that freedom for myself, by what right do I deny it to anyone else? I recognize that reasonable people can come to different conclusions about ultimate things, and that in no way threatens my faith or my church--or my government. I believe, with the Catholic Church, that there is a spark of truth in all religions that are not oriented specifically toward evil, and for my part I believe in dialogue with those other traditions, so I can try to learn from them that facet of the Truth that they, and they alone, see most clearly.

So no, Senator Frist, I am not hostile to faith or to people of faith. But I'll tell you what I am hostile toward: wolves in sheep's clothing who parade around wearing their faith upon their sleeves and proclaiming it loudly on the street corners and in the marketplaces, but whose actions demonstrate that their allegiance is not to the Most High but to Mammon. I am unshakeably hostile to people who prate on about freedom and democracy, yet seek to destroy both of those things not only abroad but also here at home. I will rail against anyone who suggests that I should give up even the least and littlest of my civil rights in the name of some trumped-up war on a nebulous terrorist enemy that we can neither define nor catch. I will protest, vociferously but peacefully, anyone who attempts to prosecute aggressive war in my name. I will work to defeat anyone who attempts to dismantle the social safety net that keeps our youngest and our oldest citizens safely housed and fed and cared for, and offers a helping hand to anyone who needs it. I will not hesitate to cry out that the emperor has no clothes when he claims to act out of a concern for the ordinary citizen but in reality only enriches the already-wealthy corporate fatcats who would fleece him of his last dime and do it gleefully. I will oppose, with every fiber of my being, any politician, any so-called priest or minister, and any judge or judicial nominee who attempts to violate the constitutionally mandated separation of powers (or the separation of church and state), or to impose any kind of a religious test for public office. I will not brook any unwarranted governmental interference in my private affairs--of whatever kind.

You are calling your attempt to do all of those things "Justice Sunday." I will suggest to you, sir, that you do not understand either the meaning of the word "justice," or the respect that the Sabbath day is due. If you did, you would not now be pushing the false dilemma of a young man having to choose between public service and faith, nor would you be working for political gain (which surely counts as "work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God" within the meaning of No. 2185 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which you should know well, given your claim to be a practicing Catholic) on the Sabbath.

I reject out-of-hand the corporatist, elitist, and warmongering agenda of the Republican leadership. It is not worthy of consideration by serious people of any faith, based as it is on entirely selfish and self-centered principles, and given that it has manifestly resulted in tremendous suffering for people both here in the United States and abroad. But I do not do that out of any hostility to faith: far from it. I do it precisely because I am a person of faith, and I hold fast to the principles that Jesus taught in the Gospels: caring for the widow and the orphan and the poor among us, sharing my bread with the needy, sustaining the sick and those in prison, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's but at the same time never forgetting to render to God what is God's, and God's alone.

I recommend the same course to you, Mr. Frist, and to you, Mr. Bush, and to all of your fellow Republican leaders. Let me paraphrase for you a few other words from the Scriptures (Matthew 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27; my translation from the Greek):

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you slam shut the Realm of Heaven in people's faces. You will not go in yourselves, but neither will you allow anyone else to go in.

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you go all over lands and seas to make a single convert, and when you get him, you make him a child of hell twice as bad as yourselves.

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you tithe on mint and dill and cumin but neglect the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith: you ought to have been doing those things, not leaving them behind!

Woe to you, neoconservatives and Republicans, hypocrites, for you are become like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but which are filled up inside with the bones of the dead and all kinds of filth.

2 Comments:
At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow and thanks!

 
At 11:45 AM, Blogger Michael said...

De nada, and you're welcome! :-)

 

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