The Passion of Politics

The yard signs are everywhere, commercials never ending, and the preachers talk morals rather than specific candidates trusting you will catch their drifts. It’s campaign time again!

The Lines Are Drawn

But rather than the exciting aura of politics and anticipation, it has become a season of anxiety. In times of old, the hoopla centered on speeches, rallies, buttons and posters, and campaign promises. Yes, there are still all those, but in modern times (read post Roe v. Wade) there is an air of desperation. We pro-lifers hope and pray that candidates who respect and protect life will be elected. Those ferociously defending a mother’s “right” to abort her unborn baby get downright angry at the thought of candidates minding someone else’s business — the business being the life of a baby.

One side is angry and the other depressed. The angry side lashes out at anyone trying to tell them what to do. The depressed side cries out for the unborn babies that are legally wiped out of existence every day. The fun and excitement have waned. It’s about life and death not just taxes and pet projects.

fistflag.jpgYes, there are other issues. I suppose that explains in part how so many who say they are personally against abortion can still vote for candidates that are radically in favor of abortion rights. But anyone who is fully pro-life knows that all other issues combined amount to nothing. For nothing else in this world can equal the value of a soul. Some people believe we should separate our religious values from our political ones. That is why some Catholics holding office will claim (with a straight face) that they have a responsibility to support abortion rights: “I’m personally against abortion, but…” Those who wear their religion on their sleeves and vote accordingly are called religious fanatics (and much worse if you should be caught praying in front of an abortion clinic.)

Bishop Fulton Sheen on Politics

Regarding religion and politics, I was recently taken aback while reading a book written by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in 1947 titled Characters of the Passion (Liguouri/Triumph). In it, he takes a look at the characters who played a role in the Passion of Jesus Christ and relates them to our modern world. The lessons of the Passion held true in 1947 and still ring true today. In chapter 3, “Pilate: A Lesson on Political Power,” Sheen makes this observation regarding popular opinion as it relates to politics:

Those who have their finger on the pulse of contemporary civilization have probably noted that there are two contradictory charges against religions today. The first is that religion is not political enough; the other is that religion is too political. On the one hand, the Church is blamed for being too divine, and on the other, for not being divine enough. It is hated because it is too heavenly and hated because it is too earthly.

Same old, same old.

Sheen portrays the political/religious process as Jesus stood before the political Pilate and the religious Annas and Caiaphas. Christ was accused of being too religious before Annas and Caiaphas. Under the veil of mock indignation at the supposed insult to God’s majesty, Christ was declared too religious, too concerned with souls, too infallible and too Godly. After all, they cornered him into declaring Himself to be God. Sheen writes:

Because He was too religious, He was not political enough. The religious judges said that He had no concern for the fact that the Romans were their masters, and that they might take away their country (John 11:47-48). By talking about a spiritual kingdom, a higher moral law, and His divinity, and by becoming the leader of a spiritual crusade, He was accused of being indifferent to the needs of the people and nation’s well being.

Likewise, pro-lifers are accused of being too religious. Who are they to know the mind of God…to know when life really begins? We are accused of trying to force our religion on others, of being fanatics, of being downright dangerous to a free society. Pro-abortion advocates warn that if we are allowed much influence, the rights of women will be taken away.

Ultimately, Jesus was sent into the political arena, to Pilate. There, religious charges would not have prevailed. So instead, he was accused of being too political. Jesus is charged with meddling in national affairs; He was not patriotic enough. “We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he is Christ the king” (Luke 23:2).

Sheen explains:

And so throughout history, these two contradictory charges have been leveled against the Person of Christ in His Body the Church. His Church was accused of not being political enough when it condemned Nazism and Fascism; it is accused of being too political when it condemns Communism. It is the second charge that needs specific consideration, namely, that the Church is interfering in politics. Is this true? It all depends upon what you mean by politics. If by interference in politics is meant using influence to favor a particular regime, party, or system that respects the basic God-given rights and freedom of persons, the answer is emphatically No! The Church does not interfere in politics. If by interference in politics is meant judging or condemning a philosophy of life that makes the party or state, or the class, or the race, the source of all rights, and that usurps the soul and enthrones party over conscience and denies those basic rights for which the war was fought, then answer is emphatically Yes!

The Church does judge such a philosophy. But when it does this, it is not interfering with politics, for such politics is no longer politics but theology. When a state sets itself up as absolute as God, when it claims sovereignty over the soul, when it destroys freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, then the state has ceased to be political and has begun to be a counter-Church.

Counter-Religion Politics

In reality, the Church adapts itself to government, supporting authority. The Church teaches that the state is supreme in temporal matters. But when politics makes religious proclamations such as that women have the right to end the life of their unborn babies, politics enters into the religious realm and claims supremacy over the human soul. Voting and campaigning against candidates and issues that compete with religion is not acting against politics but against a counter-religion.

Preaching Christianity is sometimes labeled dangerous and incendiary. For instance, on the issue of homosexuality, the Christian Churches are increasingly coming under fire for teaching against a homosexual lifestyle. Never mind that the teaching advocates loving the sinner but hating the sin, politics claims that it’s not okay to hate the sin. Any teaching against this sin is more and more being labeled “hate” and is said to encourage “discrimination.” Christians are often not being allowed to express their moral stances if it could be viewed as “discriminating” against a “lifestyle.” Such a social straightjacket makes it impossible to teach right and wrong because it will offend the people engaging in the wrong.

As Sheen reminded his reader: “It was Jesus Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate; it was not Pontius Pilate who suffered under Jesus Christ. The grave danger today is not religion in politics but politics in religion.”

So when candidates preach a counter-religion message, making false dogmatic claims, our religious leaders and our consciences have no choice but to protest. Although the politically correct clamor against invasion of the secular realm by the spiritual, if our eyes are open we will see that the problem is just the opposite — the invasion of the spiritual by the political.

Christ was always and is forever our example. He did not deliver Himself from the power of the state although He ultimately held all power: “You would have no power unless it were given to you from above” (John 19:11). But He never stopped preaching and living the truth. The state is often indifferent to God’s moral laws. Still, we must never give in or give up. We must be willing to bear the marks of Christ as we follow Him.

Sheen equates God’s truths with true freedom:

But whatever be the reason for these trying days, of this we may be certain: The Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate signed Pilate’s death warrant; it was not Pilate who signed Christ’s. Christ’s Church will be attacked, scorned, and ridiculed, but it will never be destroyed…. The bold fact the enemies of God must face is that modern civilization has conquered the world, but in doing so has lost its soul. And in losing its soul it will lose the very world it gained. Even our own so-called liberal culture in the United States, which has tried to avoid complete secularization by leaving little zones of individual freedom, is in danger of forgetting that these zones were preserved only because religion was in their soul. And as religion fades so will freedom, for only where the spirit of God is, is there liberty.

The words of a recent homily by Fr. Christopher Roberts, associate pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Indiana, sums this up nicely.

In a participatory democracy, how we exercise our political power has something very significant to do with how we recognize Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters. And according to the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, our recognition of Jesus in others will be very important on Judgment Day. For a believer, our deepest convictions about what is right and wrong, good and evil, must inform our political life. Otherwise, we are just playing make believe when we come to Mass.

…My brothers and sisters in Christ, how we exercise our political power is very much a part of our relationship with God. Since many things that we believe as Catholics can also be known through human reason, we have the moral obligation to vote in a way that is consistent with these beliefs. And we can do so with the sure knowledge that we are not imposing our private beliefs on others.

Voting our conscience is an action tied to the well being of our souls. Rather than letting people label our vote as trying to impose our values on others, it would be better to think of it as allowing God to impose his values on us.

Patti Maguire Armstrong

By

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • stutmann9

    There seems to be only ONE choice when a woman is pregnant, according to abortion rights, and that choice is abortion. There is no freedom of choice. It is the “No-choice” position. “Choose life” is not an option to these people.

    We must vote them out of office with OUR choice.

  • http://www.RaisingCatholicKids.com Mark

    Excellent article! The next time you walk into a voting booth (and the key is that we must all start actually voting), bypass the rich Republican and the rich Democrat that spent millions of dollars in special-interest money on their campaign. Pull the lever for the high school teacher or laid-off autoworker running as independents. This is what I do. If you are a Catholic that wants to follow the Church teaching on life issues, ask the candidates if they make exceptions, where there should be no exceptions.

    Until we get people in Washington who are truly like us, we will continue to have no one who represents us as true orthodox Catholics and we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Remember the lesser of two evils is still evil. This is what we have in Washington now, evil. We have illegal wars, wars that our Church has said is not in keeping with our faith. We have the greed that has brought our country to financial ruin. What will be impossible will be to explain to God why we voted for some evil when there were choices to support none.

  • wgsullivan

    If the unborn were to have a chance to vote and since their lives depend on who takes office, would they throw away their vote on a third party candidate? As an unborn soul, would I wager my life on the chances of a third party candidate winning if I was given understanding of the situation?
    Since we are of the age of reason we need to vote intelligently FOR these souls God has made and vote for the candidate most likely to save the most lives.
    To throw away a vote on a third party candidate is to allow evil a better chance to reign and kill these children.

  • Catholic Mom of 9

    Nice article, Patti!
    Theresa ;)

  • markcolle

    Unfortunately, people have a hard time voting their conscious because they haven’t been to church to help form one. They are not reading the bible. The young people these days weren’t raised to be spiritual. They were raised with TV and the media telling what to believe and how to think. That’s their god. That’s why we have such retarded thinking when it comes to making moral decisions.

  • kent4jmj

    Since we have two major party candidates that hold intrinsically evil position, Obama’s abortion anywhere anytime and McCain’s; rape, incest and embryo destruction, we are allowed by our Church to choose the lesser of two evils which would mean a vote for McCain.

    There is a third party candidate, Chuck Baldwin, who is solidly pro life. Pro Life the way we can only dream that McCain should be. He is also solid on all the other issues as well. But because he is third party many feel a vote for him would be a throw away vote.

    I sympathize yet disagree with this analysis. Conscientious catholics have the moral freedom to decide to vote either way. A third party vote is a legitimate option. As such it should not be labeled as a throw away vote. Just as legitimate is one who chooses to vote for McCain. As a contributor of an article that argued McCain is a candidate of moral expediency on the life issue, which is true, and therefor not a viable choice, I learned that in this particular election he actually is.

    So the question for me now is which is the better of the two options? The idealistic position has the danger of leading, along with the more pragmatic one, to moral superiority that can lead to some unchristian behavior.

    Both positions are valid but which is better? And Why?

  • Loretta

    kent4jmj,

    Unfortunately (for you), there is no clear-cut answer. There are 2 parts to your question (I think). The first part is – can I stand before My Lord proudly having voted for either one you name? If so, then I would say, the rest really is secondary. The second part of the question (which I do think is secondary) then is – which is better for the country. To fully answer that question, you need the crystal ball. None of us can know the full ramifications of our voting actions. Therefore, we continue to learn more about candidates and to pray, and we do the best with what we know.

    I do think that one has to take into acount one’s location. Location is just ONE factor in many that can be taken into account. I, here, in Massachusetts, can more “easily” vote for a 3rd party since I’m not voting for the Democratic Party this time around. My vote already is “useless” in that it won’t change a thing. I may be tempted very much to do this because I think that our country desperately needs to break away from the 2-party system. My vote can be used to send this message.
    BUT…if I lived in a swing state, I may not take this moment to send the message that I think we need 3+ parties.

    So the answer to your question becomes simply “it depends”. Doesn’t help you much, I know. Except, I hope, to encourage you and others to continue the discussion and continue learning more about all the candidates.

  • angelmama

    Great article Patti. Really appreciated your insight.

    Kent4mjm: I just had a thought or two about your comments. I believe it would be a HUGE grace from the Lord if we were allowed to have a Rick Santorum or Chuck Baldwin (or Fr. Frank Pavone!) elected for president of the United States in November. Think of how many lives and souls would be saved as a result!

    The truth of the matter is that, whether we like it or not, either Obama or McCain will be the next president of the United States. Most people in this country are not Catholic, and of the ones who are most are not truly and deeply committed to Holy Mother Church and her teachings on Life and Family. Therefore, it must be concluded that Chuck, Rick, Fr. Frank or anyone else holding true Pro-Life and Pro-Family values and stances on the issues will not win the Presidency a little over a month from now.

    It is inevitable. We have two choices — Obama or McCain. To vote for a third party, worthy though they may be, would be using your vote to protest and nothing more. Protests definitely have their place, but when lives are at stake and even SOME could be saved, we must act. It is our duty to see that until the laws are changed in our country once and for all, we must use our vote to save lives and souls. This is a very bitter pill to swallow for so many of us. Truthfully, our laziness and complacency has put us in a position where our only two options are a) not ideal or b)frightening and would throw our country to the dogs. We don’t have the luxury to hold out for the ideal candidate this election, so after much prayer I’m going to vote for the candidate who can win and who will do the least harm to my family and to my faith. I hope you all will join me.

  • kent4jmj

    Loretta

    I am pretty clear about what I need to do. My comment was to level the field so to speak to encourage discussion of a more charitable and objective nature.

    Although there is no clear cut answer I have a personal conclusion of which is “better” while still realizing that both positions are legitimate. In listening to any further discussion I am acknowledging that there may be an argument or insight that I am unaware of.

  • kent4jmj

    Loretta/Angelmama

    Since both positions are allowed, and in light of what I wrote above, I wonder if you think the following are objective?

    “We don’t have the luxury to hold out for the ideal candidate this election,…”

    “To vote for a third party, worthy though they may be, would be using your vote to protest and nothing more.”

    These statements seem to have taken the moral high ground.

  • mkochan

    Loretta, you are brilliant — who needs Karl Rove with a strategists such as yourself! That is a great idea. We should encourage eveyone in states that are forgone conclusions for the Dems to vote third party and rattle the 2 party system.

  • SolaGratia

    kent4jmj,

    I’m sorry, but I have been following your statements for some time now & your constant assertion that both majority party candidates hold “intrinsically evil” positions has long come across as though you yourself believe you have the moral high ground – the rest of us being too blind & ignorant to recognize that McCain is really no better than Obama (consider the choice of words you used in that “intrinsically evil” statement you made, for one rather obvious example).

    Maybe the rest of us remember all too clearly how Bill Clinton’s administration persecuted pro-lifers outrageously while the media overlooked the overt violations of freedom of speech (as well as freedom of conscience) simply because it was speech that they did not want to hear either. Yes, Obama as president would likely lead to far more evil than McCain could ever do even with his less than perfect stance. Obama as president would probably even make Bill Clinton look pro-life by comparison!

    I am curious to know just how pro-life is Chuck Baldwin? Is he for the death penalty? Is he against birth control? To what level does he support divorce? Where does he stand on living wills & end of life directives?

    After all, we Catholics know there is much more to the Culture of Death than just abortion and you can be against abortion & still be imperfect on the pro-life issues.

    So really the ultimate question is – HOW perfectly pro-life does a candidate have to be to be worthy of your vote? (And how many elections have you been forced to sit out of – or do you write in your own candidate believing that everyone else might just write in that very same name and your perfect candidate could still win?)

  • heinz

    You might mention that we should encourage everyone in Republican states, like Kansas, to vote third-party.

    Please call McCain and Obama what they are: pro-death. At the end of the day, the embryo destroyed by embryonic stem cell research is as dead as the one killed by abortion.

  • SolaGratia

    Yeah, but since Obama will cater to the cannibalistic abortion industry & use tax dollars to fund embryonic stem cell research whereas McCain has already said that the adult stem cell research is where the funding should be – your attempt to paint McCain as no different from Obama fails just as much as the previous ones. Doesn’t wash.

  • kent4jmj

    SG
    If I have come across as having high moral ground forgive me, I apologize. I am opinionated, idealistic and do not always express myself well. Still the fact remains that both candidates hold positions that support intrinsically evil positions. Just because partial birth is more high profile than embryonic research and seemingly more gruesome it is still just as evil. So in this one instance McCain really is no better than Obama.
    Your point that Obama is worse than McCain is true in regards to his probable greater degree of persecution of pro life movement.

    Death penalty is not in the same category as abortion and as far as I know the Church acknowledges the State’s right to exercise it. To add it to the current discussion adds unnecessary confusion.

    Just one example of Baldwin’s position-Under my administration, we could end legal abortion in a matter of days, not decades. And if Congress refuses to pass Dr. Paul’s bill, I will use the constitutional power of the Presidency to deny funds to protect abortion clinics. Either way, legalized abortion ends when I take office.
    He is solidly opposed to euthanasia.
    For NFP
    The quality of SC nominations would be top quality as well.
    Divorce? Again, does not seem pertinent.

    You-”So really the ultimate question is – HOW perfectly pro-life does a candidate have to be to be worthy of your vote? (And how many elections have you been forced to sit out of – or do you write in your own candidate believing that everyone else might just write in that very same name and your perfect candidate could still win?)”

    How perfect…. No the discussion is about which is better. “And how many….” comes across as a personal attack whose aim is to undermine my credibility by “poisoning the well.”

    Mary your picking up on Loretta’s idea for voting 3rd party in dem. states as being brilliant, good catch.

  • SolaGratia

    Yes – which is better – as in McCain is light years better than Obama & actually has a realistic hope of winning. (Yes, I believe that God can grant us a miracle, but I also believe that He has given us the virtue of prudence & discernment and that we do not put Him to the test by jumping off a political cliff & expecting Him to rescue us)

    The reason for asking how many elections you have had to sit out of because there is no ideal pro-life candidate was to make the point that if we hold out for the perfect candidate, we will probably never exercise our civic duty to vote – yet that, too, is a Catholic responsibility. Damned if we do & damned if we don’t then?

    You certainly should vote as your conscience dictates – but to claim that voting for McCain is no better than voting for Obama (especially to the point of equating them both in intrinsic evil) is to make an ugly accusation against the rest of us. And why else are you constantly posting at CE to exhort others to follow your enlightened example in this manner?

    No, a vote for McCain is clearly a vote to prevent evil from grasping power on a scale that this country has never before endured – and, if God will be merciful with us, won’t have to…

  • kent4jmj

    SG
    McCain’s position on embryonic stem cell research is support of an intrinsically evil act. I have qualified my position to recognize that there is a difference between him and Obama. As for my posts of the past I can apologize for over stepping any boundaries. Maybe my zeal for candidates that are so much better than the ones that were popular at any one time got the best of me. Though I do not apologize for believing that Paul or Baldwin are better.

    A vote for McCain is not a vote to prevent evil in the same sense as voting for a 100% pro life candidate. It is a vote for a lesser evil who hopefully won’t cause quite as much damage.

    Here is something to stir the pot. Intended to bring a real concern for many of us about McCain. I would think that this kind of info can help us to keep pressure on him so he doesn’t go any further and maybe to even reverse his positions.

    http://www.onenewsnow.com/Election2008/Default.aspx?id=270840

    “In his statement, Specter praised McCain for “bucking the majority” of the Republican Party and President Bush by voting to lift restrictions on human embryonic stem-cell research. Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics Incorporated, further explains the story.

    “These are troubling situations where it suggests to me that he [John McCain] doesn’t have either a fundamental knowledge of or commitment to the concept that human life begins at the moment of fertilization,” Crutcher contends.

    According to Crutcher, pro-lifers would not be confronted with a choice between the “lesser of two evils” this election year had they held the Republican Party’s feet to the fire on the “life” issue. He contends pro-lifers continue to ask politicians the wrong question on abortion.”

  • SolaGratia

    That’s not exactly new news. How much more pro-life is someone who is against embryonic stem cell research than someone who supports contraception thereby including the pill? Are we precluded from voting for those candidates as well then? Why didn’t JPII or B16 & the Magesterium tell us that? (Hint: proportionality)

    I disagree with Mr. Crutcher on multiple fronts. Not only about his claim against McCain who publicly stated at Saddleback that he believes that life begins at the moment of conception, but also his summary of what went wrong for us this election year. Pro-lifers were left with this less than perfect choice because satan succeeded so well in dividing us during the primaries.

    We had a candidate who was appealing to the widest range of pro-lifers as well as conservatives (& whose voice has now been proven prophetic) who spoke for the unborn in a way that even got pro-abortion feminists to listen & be touched, but was deep-sixed by the beltway money-changers – those same fiscal conservatives who blamed us for Bush’s faults, offered us Giuliani, then Romney when they realized we were not going to fall in line, and ironically now blame us for McCain (who they are doing their best to undermine) because we wouldn’t go for their chameleon either. These are many of the same wizards of WallStreet who are now in D.C. trying to get the taxpayers to foot the bill for their financial “genius”.

    And I’m sorry, but Ron Paul is just the Ralph Nader of the right. He has proven to be all about himself this election by his actions not just during the primaries but especially after. He is well set up & will certainly benefit if McCain loses, but all the little ones who would otherwise have been born prior to 2012 will not.

    Now we are stuck with the lowest common denominator of the group – or one of the non-viable candidates like Baldwin. (And just to reiterate: Yes, I believe that God can grant us a miracle, but I also believe that He has given us the virtue of prudence & discernment and that we do not put Him to the test by jumping off a political cliff & expecting Him to rescue us)

    So again: At this point, a vote for McCain is clearly a vote to prevent evil from grasping power on a scale that this country has never before endured – and, if God will be merciful with us, won’t have to…

    P.S. I don’t expect you to apologize for your support of those candidates or for disagreeing with me or anyone else. I’m all for everyone being able to voice their opinions about who they are supporting & why. However, I do think it’s very wrong for you to go around slandering McCain (and thereby also those pro-lifers who support him) in order to build up your current guy.

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