Israel and Judah

For some reason, I still seem to mystify people in my views on the American political scene. Indeed, the most mysterious criticisms I get are the ones illustrated in the comments here, for instance, which say (in mixed tones of bafflement, rage, and disappointment), “How can you simultaneously be a Catholic writer who respects the Church’s teaching . . . and yet also be so critical of torture and its apologists?” How do I live in that sort of contradiction? I am large. I contain multitudes. I also believe in democracy, and yet I vote. I oppose abortion and yet love babies at the same time. I think the family and marriage to be sacred, and yet I hate divorce and oppose gay “marriage” as a sham and a fraud. I believe in Catholic Just War teaching, and yet I oppose war crimes. I say I support Catholic moral teaching, and yet I reject the notion that the ends justify the means. Clearly, I am a fragmented and incomprehensible personality. There’s no telling what I might say next! That, apparently, is why people repeatedly talk as though things I have to say about the Bush policies that resulted in the torture and even murder of detainees (not infrequently innocent detainees) have nothing to do with things I have to say about Catholic theology.


This phenomenon of bafflement about how to fathom the connection between my religious views and my politics happens with my Lefty readers, too. How can I believe in the gospel of love and the Prince of Peace and yet be so mean as to reject the sham of gay “marriage”? How is it possible for me to regard the Bush Administration as a catastrophe and yet not be filled with elation at the election of Obama? My e-mail box is full of puzzled frustration at the mystery of my political views and lots of advice from people who tell me, “Stick to theology,” as though the two have absolutely no connection in my mind.
In turn, I find the mystification of my readers even more mysterious. Here’s the key to the riddle: I’m a Catholic. So, in my mind, politics (like everything else in the universe) is intimately connected to theology or, more precisely, to God. I think that politics is the art of the possible. I regard political parties as large, clumsy mechanisms that Catholics should attempt to use in order to try to enact as much Catholic social teaching as possible. Sort of like trying to knit with tire irons. The moment such parties stand in the way of some fundamental aspect of Catholic social teaching is the moment I drop them like a hot rock and look around for some other means of advancing the Church’s teaching. I have absolutely no party loyalty whatsoever and never have. Such loyalty seems to me as sensible as cleaving loyally to a hammer through thick and thin, when what might be needed to do the job is a wrench or a screwdriver.
I also endeavor to have as little ideological loyalty as I can possibly manifest, because I regard ideology as almost intrinsically heretical: an aspect of the Church’s teachings that is ripped off of the whole and then blown up to absurd proportions. As such, ideology almost invariably tends to start crowding out other aspects of the Church’s teaching sooner or later — generally sooner. There can be grace periods where there doesn’t necessarily have to be war between the part that is the ideology and the whole that is the Faith. But when war comes (as it almost always does), I want to be on the side of the whole Catholic teaching rather than on the side of the heretical shred.
So, for instance, the Democrats were, once upon a time, much more amenable to enacting Catholic social teaching. They were also, as are all politicians, about getting elected. But it was still a workable alliance, so long as they didn’t pit themselves in a fundamental way against some crucial and non-negotiable teaching of Holy Mother Church. During that long-ago time, it was the GOP that was a political home for registered Republican Margaret Sanger. Had I lived then, some 60 or 70 years ago, I would have been an Al Smith Labor Democrat, trying get as much of Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno enacted in policy as I could.
But when the Democratic Party cast itself in with fealty to the sacrament of abortion in the 1970s, they committed spiritual suicide in their worship of Moloch and have paid for it ever since. I will never support a candidate who favors intrinsic moral evil, and abortion is a spectacular example of precisely that.
A lot of people share this sentiment. So many, in fact, that the GOP saw the opportunity in the late 1970s just as the Democrats were making themselves willfully blind to it. So the GOP became, sort of, the party that “opposed abortion” and started to bill itself as the Party of Human Life. They also, to a degree, became serious about the Little Guy (though, to their credit, the Democrats still have those sympathies too — to a degree).
Of course, the GOP “opposed abortion” largely by phoning it in every Roe v. Wade Anniversary and occasionally enacting laws that brought American jurisprudence and legislation up to sub-Carthaginian levels of respect for the unborn. They also gave us such valiant pro-life warriors as David Souter, Harry Blackmun, Anthony Kennedy, and Sandra Day O’Connor, who did ever so much to advance the pro-life cause. And they reliably made the right noises to us pro-lifers every four years, keeping us on the reservation and getting our votes while coughing up an occasional token effort here and there. Oh, and they panicked the faithful into voting booths with dark prophecies about the horrors of Democratic presidents who appoint pro-choice justices — even as they supinely approved the appointments of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer.
But they were better than nothing, and, while not much to write home about in their supposed dedication to the dignity of unborn human life for 30 long years, they were at least not zealous fanatics for the sacrament of abortion as the Democrats were. So I supported Republicans on the theory that it’s better to have politicians who don’t care about abortion than politicians devoted to killing as many children as possible. But now both parties are increasingly the parties of Salvation through Grave and Intrinsic Moral Evil. Democrats do it with their Nanny State devotion to the Culture of Death and the sacrament of abortion, their sole core value. “Bush Conservatism” does it with its insane dedication to Mystical Imperialism, which believes in redemption through democratic capitalism by means of torture and war crimes. And, as icing, both parties believe devoutly in the Drunken Sailor approach to the national larder. Democrats want to build the Great Society at home, and Republicans want to build the Great Society abroad. But for me, the deal-breaker is not so much the utopian nation-building stuff as the grave, intrinsic evil stuff: Abortion or torture, which shall I choose? As a Catholic, I choose neither.
Living, as we do, in the land where there are only two sides to every question, I find that the result of this choice is to be routinely accused of being a closet Obama supporter on the theory that failure to support the preferred grave and intrinsic sin of the GOP means I simply must support the preferred grave and intrinsic sin of the Democratic Party. But, in fact, when I turn my back on grave and intrinsic sins, my mind actually goes not to the platform of either party but to Scripture.
I find myself thinking of Israel and Judah in 1 and 2 Kings. Israel apostatized immediately and completely after the split with Judah, embracing the worship of Baal and Moloch and never looking back. Israel was eventually smashed to atoms by Assyria after ignoring God’s warnings that things would not end well for her if she did not repent. Judah apostatized slowly and had its good and bad spells as it circled the drain before finally ending in the Babylonian captivity. But the fact is, both apostatized and both eventually paid the piper — as shall we, if we will not face the fact that God is not mocked. The Democrats embraced the worship of Moloch 36 years ago and have never looked back (though the existence of people like Bart Stupak raises one’s hopes that there may be a remnant that does not bow the knee to Moloch in that party). The GOP has made a vague and transparently reluctant gesture of caring about human life, which kept me voting for them for years on the off chance they might occasionally do something. And occasionally, they have.
But with the advent of Bush/Cheney Conservatism, the GOP too has embraced intrinsic moral evil in the dangerous form of cheerleading for torture. With the exception of a couple of leading lights in the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism (for instance, John McCain — sort of — and Ron Paul), the grave intrinsic sin of torture is now as much a pillar conservative ideology as abortion is of liberal ideology. To criticize it is to be called evil and anti-American by the bulk of Movement Conservatives, just as to criticize abortion is likewise to be called evil and anti-American by the bulk of liberals. So I find that the chances are growing ever slimmer that I can support either party’s candidate if they spout the increasingly common party lines in favor of one or the other (occasionally both) of these intrinsic evils. My reason for this is simple and eminently theological: It’s not that I’m a closet Obama supporter. (In fact, I think Obama’s actions with respect to torture have been dodgy and dangerous. And don’t even get me started on his zeal for the sacrament of abortion!) It’s that I’m a Catholic who thinks that, when the Church declares something inexcusably evil, it must not be supported with excuses, much less celebrated as heroic. That goes for both abortion and torture. Indeed, in my more quixotic moments, I’m even a Catholic who hopes that the state will resume its traditional role of supporting the common good and not merely “not doing grave evil.” That is because, at the end of the day, I don’t believe that the state or the corporation or the party are what history is about. I believe history is about Jesus Christ — not the American experiment, nor any other state or nation that is a mere human creation. I believe that Christ is the center of history, and I believe that the family, as the image and likeness of God, is the most crucial thing on earth, short of the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, I believe that the center of Catholic social teaching is the good of the family. All my bleats of protest — whether at the sacred Democratic sins of abortion and gay “marriage” or the sacred GOP sin of torture — have in view my conviction that these evils constitute an enormous peril to the family because they empower something else — whether the individual, the state, or the corporation — to play the tyrant over the good of the family (in addition to being just plain wrong). And I believe that the family matters, ultimately, because it is the primal human sign of the Blessed Trinity. That’s why I find myself forced to talk about political stuff like abortion, torture, and gay “marriage” and any other grave evils our Ruling Classes may attempt to transmogrify into signs of National Greatness: because these things are inseparable from my faith as a Catholic. It’s also why I find myself at sixes and sevens with any political ideology. In the words of Treebeard, I am not on anybody’s side, because nobody is on my side. I try to be on the side of Catholic social teaching. I often fail, whether through lack of wit or charity. But I see no alternative to that approach to ordering my political life, since I am aware of no party that views the teaching of the Church as something other than a thing to be exploited when useful and castigated when it stands in the way of their pursuit of the One Ring. Therefore, as a free man, I make use of political parties when they support Church teaching and reject them when and where they do not.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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  • Mark P. Shea

    Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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