Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Better as People, but not Political??

I'm rather dismayed today in reading a comment made by Jeb Bush. As reported by the New York Times:
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Mr. Bush said. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
On the face of it, this seems to resonate with the American understanding of the separation between Church and State. The Church cannot, within this system, set the policy by which the State operates.

Yet if you scratch the surface, a question comes to the fore. If religion is meant to make us "better people," and if we live together in society, then does it not stand to reason that religion does indeed come to bear upon the political realm? The scriptural admonition to tend to the "widow, orphan, and stranger" demands translation into action. Human actions are inherently political because they take place within society and contribute to shaping the way we live our lives together as a people.

It must be born in mind that the Pope - who, incidentally, has a more substantive scientific background than many who criticize him - did not compose his encyclical letter on the environment in a vacuum. He did not, that is, sequester himself in a theological library to consult Aquinas on the environment. Using the vast array of resources at his disposal, I have no doubt he has drawn on the best scientific research available to help him think through the theological implications of our human affect on the environment.

Gladly do I agree with Michael McKenna who opines, "This guy is not in sync with the American catholic Church. Guys like Jeb and Rubio are more in line with the American Catholic Church than the pope." The American Catholic Church too easily worships at the altar of fad and outrage, focusing more on its political allegiances than how it is being called to serve God's Kingdom. It is to the Holy Father's credit that he is out of step, and my most fervent prayer that the rhythm to which he marches slowly enter into and animate that of the American Church. The American Church is ~6% of the world's Catholic population and to think that our extraordinarily limited perspective should set policy for the rest of the world is the height of hubris.

If one's religious faith serves only to cocoon a person or wrap one in a feeling of warm sentiment and comfort it is, sadly, probably false. A faith that is concerned solely with self-improvement is not Christian faith: Jesus did not go to the Cross because he advocated being better people. He died because he saw that our progress as a people demanded engagement with, and a transformation of, the culture in which we live. The Holy Father is rightly and presciently drawing needed attention to the environment and to the pressing issues raised by our common home. Rather than worrying about him politicizing faith, we should be trying to find out how faith can offer us insights into our political sphere and contribute to making our world more just, not only for special interest groups, but for all who call this planet their home. 

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