Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Response: A Catholic Political Ethos

I was sent a convincing collection of U.S. state constitution preambles in the context of questioning President Barack Obama's 2009 words in Turkey: "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

The preambles of the constitutions use an explicit declaration of an "Almighty God" and even the Virginia Declaration of Rights states in its Article XVI: "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."

I am neither going to agree or disagree with the President's words or those of the author of the e-mail I received regarding them. However, the Virginia Declaration of Right's words speak to the duty we have in our view of society and of government in general. I wish to claim it necessary, as such, to view—and thus to to judge—the whole of American society through this particular lens.

Whether or not we were, are, are going to be a Christian nation...the first thing that must be done and instilled in our civics classes is that we have the right as citizens to the exercise of our religious beliefs, which does not mean a shirking of religion from the public square. Rather, it is a healthy expression (not coercion) of religious belief. And, in that, we are to live out the free will we were given since the time of Creation and thus reiterated, time and time again, in the preambles of our state constitutions and echoed countless times through our country's existence—that a country's citizens have a right to not be coerced but to live with one's countrymen in peace and prosperity. That we are truly endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Freedom of religion (or more rightly stated as freedom from an established state religion) does not equate to freedom from the existence any religion in the public square of the State. If this were to be the case, then the citizen's liberty has been trampled upon and the citizen's pursuit of happiness been halted dead in its tracks.

All men practice religion, but only few actually know what or whom they worship. It's often money, fame, or simply the vain pursuits of life. However, the true virtue of man is to look beyond one's own happiness and see the common good, the common thread in his fellow man. The true practice of religion is to see God's graces in His humanity and His creation and see the Sacrifice He instituted, once and for all time, for the salvation of Man—for the life, the liberty, and the happiness all men deeply long for. It is because of this Sacrifice and the awe of one's gifted existence which flows from this Sacrifice that they are called to true worship, not because of coercion of belief or because of mere labels.

Only once our countrymen actually live up to this calling, to this rugged individualism balanced with a responsible love can we even dare to even call ourselves a "Christian" nation in both word and deed. Only then can we be fully proud to be Americans.

Listen to what Ronald Reagan has to say:

Patriotism is not meant to be blind. It must be informed, informed not just with thoughtfulness and knowledge but also compassion for one's fellow man. There is no freedom without sacrifice. Freedom exists because of sacrifice.

As Pope John Paul II once said: "As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live." We must change this country not by political speeches but by change in one family at a time. We are called to be missionaries to the secular world. It is in this missionary work that true change can—and will occur. All we must do is put our Hope in the correct place and be the change through Him who sent us—and do all this with perfect confidence in His love.


In chapter three of the Georgetown University Press book by Charles E. Curran, Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: a History, pages 77 to 78, the censured Curran makes an interesting deduction: that American constitutionalism as found in the prevailing inalienable rights "is in continuity with medieval constitutionalism" (78).

All other questions of Curran the theologian aside, the first two paragraphs on American political consensus are a good read. As St. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:21: "Test everything; retain what is good"!

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