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: Continue reading “Friend, Faith, Facts”

Status Quaestionis: The Contraception Mandate

PG 13

Maybe you, too, find it difficult to keep the central elements of this controversy in focus. With all due respect for ecclesiastical authority–and for all authorities on medicine, public health, and health-care finance—I would like to undertake an analysis.

Continue reading Status Quaestionis: The Contraception Mandate”

Contraceptives, Medicine, and Conscience

Man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man. According to it, he will be judged. (Vatican Council II)

[Rated PG-13]

Lately I have read somewhat widely regarding the federal-government mandate requiring free contraceptives. Forgive me, but B.S. alarms are ringing in every corner of my poor, little mind.

According to what law does the federal government have the authority to require this? I ask this in earnest, as I am no scholar of the “health-care debate.” Does it pertain to the vigilance of the federal government to control American medicine? Of course we must have laws prohibiting abuses.

But, in fact, contraceptives do not qualify as medicine. Being able to have a baby = healthy, not sick. To go to a doctor and say, “Doctor, I want to have sex and not get pregnant”—this does not qualify as a medical request.

An honest doctor would have to reply to such a request with a laugh and then a fatherly/motherly admonition: “My child, allow me to recommend better ways for you to spend your time…” (e.g. reading, hikes, frequenting church, frisbee golf, etc.)

Using artificial contraception is immoral because of the following fact: It is beneath the dignity of any human being to waste time masturbating.

Continue reading “Contraceptives, Medicine, and Conscience”

Can’t Shout Hosanna about Hosanna-Tabor

I respectfully disagree with Bishop Lori when he hails this Supreme Court decision as a victory.

A church school asked an employee to resign because of her ill health. She refused and threatened to sue. The church school fired her. She sued.

We march on Washington every January to assert this principle: The government/the state/the civil power bears the burden of protecting the innocent from grave injustice.

People are free to do many things. No one, however, has the freedom to kill an unborn baby. This must be prohibited by law.

Likewise, no one has the freedom to fire an employee arbitrarily and unfairly. Laws prohibit this, because justice prohibits this.

(I beg you, dear reader: If you know more about this than I do, which is enormously likely, please correct my mistakes here.)

Now, did Hosanna-Tabor School unfairly fire Cheryl Perich? We do not know. Perhaps they did; perhaps not. Her firing may, in fact, have been fair. In justice, both parties enjoy the right to argue their side of the case before an impartial judge.

But in this particular case, such an argument will never occur. The Supreme Court has found that the government cannot intervene in this dispute. Why? The First-Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion prohibits the government from doing so.

I disagree profoundly with this reasoning.

Are churches as liable to human failings–including injustice in employee relations–as any other institution of sinners? Yes. No reasonable Christian could or would disagree.

Governments, too, are so liable. Governments may begin to get the idea that they should run the church(es). Hence, the invention of the “ministerial exemption” by which churches are protected from lawsuits. The official ministers of any church serve at the pleasure of the church and the church alone, according to this provision of law. The government may not intervene in any way.

The problem here is: Protecting the Church from the burden of making reasonable arguments to defend Herself does not help Her. It impedes Her proper mission, isolating Her from public life.

E.G.: Is it unjust for the Church to limit Holy Orders to men alone?

According to the Supreme Court, the Church need not answer this question. It is a “theological” matter. No claims of justice can be made by aggrieved parties when the disputed point is “theological.”

My dear friends, if we cannot make reasonable, convincing theological arguments, then may God help us. Theology ≠ Esoterica. Theology = reasoned discourse based on Divine Revelation. (Including reasonable arguments as to why what we say is divinely revealed IS, in fact, divinely revealed. Not that we can prove it. But no one can demonstrate our assertions about Divine Revelation to be arbitrary, because they are not; they are reasonable.)

If we cannot explain why there is, in fact, no injustice in limiting Holy Orders to men, then we suck.

If we cannot explain–based on science and reason–why we cannot perform abortions, we suck.

If we cannot explain–based on logic and anatomy–why two men cannot marry each other, or two women, we suck.

Please, Supreme Court: Do not protect us from the burden of making these arguments! You do us no favors by doing so; in fact, you treat us like an intellectual cripple.

The fact of the matter is that making these arguments gives us joy and vigor! Our duty, our lifeblood is to speak the truth humbly, patiently, with love and respect for all.

If, someday, they put bishops in jail for refusing to ordain women, praise God! If they send police officers into Catholic hospitals to try to collect unpaid fines for refusing to dole out contraceptives, praise God!

The truth will always win in the end. We Catholics are not unreasonable kooks who hide behind esoteric mysteries to avoid explaining ourselves. Everything we believe and teach is perfectly reasonable. If an unreasonable state oppresses us for it, then to God be the glory, because it will only serve to win souls to Him.