Friend, Faith, Facts

[PREVIEW PREVIEW: Your unworthy servant gives his final apologia for not being on the Religious-Freedom bandwagon.]

Like any God-fearing person, I consider the red solo cup a friend. But: Can we really count on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

In my book, an idea is reliable as a friend precisely to the degree that the idea is clear. The clearer the idea, the better a friend.

“Stay out of trouble” makes for a good friend. But “keep the needle on the speedometer within 10 mph of the posted speed limit” makes for a better friend, owing to its greater clarity.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that

Congrefs shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

does not make for a respectable friend, as ideas go.

This sentence makes nicer with the Church than a sentence like “La ley, en consecuencia, no permite el establecimiento de ordenes monasticas”—by which the original Mexican Constitution of 1917 forbad religious orders.

But, as a friend, the First Amendment of our Constitution can get prickly. Quickly. Because what it actually means is, well, not clear.

Does the state have the right to bind believers with laws that impede the exercise of religion? Well, yes—when the protection of the common good is at stake. The Supreme Court has so ruled, I believe–as well it should.

But, of course, there is no telling how a court will rule in any given “separation of church and state” case. Because the idea itself is really quite opaque.

Does it mean that the President can’t appoint bishops? Or does it mean that he can’t appropriate money to support the work of Catholic social workers? Does it mean that the government can’t prevent me from praying in public? Or does it mean that no law can prohibit the ritual use of narcotic mushrooms? Or polygamy?

Having read somewhat widely on the subject, I am left with the following impression: The First Amendment is much more an object of faith than Pope Paul VI’s encyclical about artificial contraception is.

I applaud any couple who refrain from using artificial contraception simply because “the Church teaches it’s wrong, and I believe in the Church.” Beautiful exercise of faith.

But I would venture to claim that, for the most part, the great army of people who eschew artificial means of contraception do so because the practice is evidently unnatural, unwholesome, and unbecoming a mature person.

As I have tried to point out before, Pope Paul VI himself never proposed his doctrine on artificial contraception as an object of faith. Spilling semen intentionally is a bad business. We can read about this in Genesis 38. But we do not need to read the Bible to get the drift.

And killing an unborn child? Better to consult a sonogram than Scripture, if you want to know why no one should ever do it.

If it gets boring, please forgive me. But I cannot help but return to one of the great themes of my silly little life:

When it comes to sexual morality, what the Church teaches is a matter of sound science. It is based on a combination of the following: cold, hard biological facts and one simple proposition, “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” (This proposition has been demonstrated repeatedly by psychological and sociological studies.)

The Church teaches many things about supernatural truths that must be accepted on faith—e.g., Christ in heaven, the sacraments, etc. But Her sexual morality is not one of these things.

On the other hand, it seems to me that “the separation of church and state” has become more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously, than a clear idea.

So, here is my little apologia: I have no intention of clamoring for my American right to disobey a duly enacted law which would force me to co-operate (formally) in an immoral act.

(And I continue to believe, as I imagine everyone of good will does, that universal health-care is a noble goal.)

It seems to me that, before I clamored for my American rights, I should at least ascertain precisely how such an objectionable law binds me, or anyone dear to me.

Having established such facts, I could, I think, reasonably ask the question: Do I have the right under the U.S. Constitution to disobey such a law? Maybe. The Church has no special expertise in how to answer that question.

But do I have a right, under God, to disobey such a law? Chief, I do not have the right to do so; I have the obligation to do so. I must disobey it, because otherwise I would commit a sin. And death is preferable to sin.

I humbly submit to you, dear reader: I think it is better for us to stake our claim on the rewards promised by God for those who persevere faithfully in doing right, rather than try to stand on the shifting sands of First Amendment jurisprudence.

The First Amendment has been a decent friend to our Church. But I think we have more reliable friends, and if things really do get rough for us, we would more wisely rely on them.

Like: Always give others the benefit of the doubt. Better to beat my breast and beg for mercy in the back of the temple than prattle on about being good in the front of it. Better to try to charm my adversary into a friendship, rather than make an enemy out of someone who wronged me out of ignorance. And if The Man really does try to force me to do something I know I cannot, in good conscience, do, then let me take my lumps for it and praise God for allowing me to suffer for His Name.

3 thoughts on “Friend, Faith, Facts

  1. Father Mark,

    As long as we all recognize that the thought process which led to the 1st Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is vastly different than “the separation of church and state”, and that the latter has become “more of a shibboleth, mouthed religiously [by those to whom religion is anathema], than a clear idea”, we’re okay. [please note my addition to your quotation]

    Further, it is well-put to say that, “universal health-care is a noble goal” as long as we realize that to sit at the bargaining table with the Devil and work out the details of the costs of the “noble goal” is not necessarily a wise undertaking.

    The one idea that elicits no quibbles [even though I’m itching to “clarify” each and every syllable] is that “People who live as if God does not exist do not thrive.” [and, I assume that you are coining this phrase; but, if not, I’d appreciate the source] The fact that those “people” are in charge of our government at present makes it all the more likely that your conclusion, “And if The Man really does try to force me to do something I know I cannot, in good conscience, do, then let me take my lumps for it and praise God for allowing me to suffer for His Name”, will come to pass (“Tis a consummation. Devoutly to be wished.”).

    The Church has reached the point where the difference between the men and the boys will become apparent (no pun intended). So, we’ll go through that eternal balancing act between being the pacifistic, long-suffering martyr and taking timely, appropriate action to keep the Church alive.

    In God we trust.



  2. Better to not give anyone the benefit of not thinking of him as a sinner. To deny the sinful and deluded nature of your enemy and assume good intentions is a sin against charity as well as the eighth commandment. Everyone is guilty of pride, and everyone has a right to be reminded they are guilty of pride. It remains only a question of what form does pride take. When your enemy is so filled with dying-civilization arrogance as to regard dissenters of progressive prerogatives as needing “an extra year” to learn fall in line with crimes against humanity, it is a crime against humanity to assume good intentions.

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