On June 14, 2017, James Hodgkinson, a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter and volunteer for the Sanders presidential campaign, opened fire at a Republican baseball practice in Virginia for an annual congressional charity baseball game. Hodgkinson had a list of Republican lawmakers in his front pocket, and was apparently attempting to kill as many Republicans as he possibly could before his shooting spree was over. Hodgkinson was killed within minutes by Capitol police, but not before grievously wounding Louisiana Republican congressman Steve Scalise, along with lobbyist Matt Mika, congressional aide Zack Barth, and police officer Crystal Griner.
In the aftermath of the shooting, after the gunman had been silenced and the bleeding police officer, lobbyist, and congressman taken from the field, some members of the Democratic baseball team, who were practicing at a different ballpark, gathered in a dugout to pray.
Out of charity, perhaps we can overlook the fact that this impromptu prayer session was likely done with full awareness that it was being photographed, and that those photographs would almost certainly be headline news. As a society, we have long since gotten used to our lives being documented with cameras. And, after all, the Democrats are politicians, and they could hardly have been oblivious to the “optics” value of their prayer circle, of its rhetorical importance in the partisan assessment of blame that would surely follow.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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What struck me most as I looked at the photograph of the Democrats in the dugout was a question to which I still cannot find an answer. Namely, to whom do Democrats pray?
Democratic Party Policy Has No Room For God
Platonic and Aristotelian high-mindedness notwithstanding, politics is hardly the sport of angels or philosophers. There is something deeply unsettling about any politician, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, invoking the help of the Creator in the sausage making, horse trading, back-scratching, and back-stabbing which are the main preoccupations of Washington, DC. King David the political survivor hardly went to his maker with an unblemished record. Likewise, few along the Potomac can honestly claim that cutting deals and compromising fundamental principles is God’s work. The separation of holiness from politics is perhaps the only truly non-partisan issue.
The question of politics and God becomes much thornier in the case of Democrats, though. Democrats, as a party, practice a particularly aggressive form of liberalism which, by its very nature, cancels out the possibility of belief in a transcendent divinity. The Democratic Party platform is nothing if not a rejection of all authority above political expediency.
To give just one example, it is untenable that anyone who claims that I can become a woman can also believe that there is some higher order to creation. If I feel like a woman, the Democrats tell me, then I am one. This primacy of emotivism, the privileging of indefinable feeling over empirically observable truth, stems directly from the post-modernist left’s rejection of “grand narratives,” along with reason, logic, objective reality, and human nature. This conveniently allows the left to promote moral relativism. In turn, the left’s rejection of biological science, among other kinds of scientific knowledge, allows them to conclude that sex and gender are fissionable. Both, the left tells us, are constructed. The difference between sex and gender is that sex is constructed by the individual’s feelings, while gender is constructed by society as a whole.
The picture overall is of complete detachment from creation. More accurately, the left has long used post-modernism as intellectual cover for the importation of Marxism, which not only rejects creation, but also actively arrogates to human beings the power to create for themselves entirely new natures of their own choosing. In adopting this radical auto-Prometheanism, the Democrats idolize individual autonomy, in the process crowding out all else besides the individual him- or herself.
Radical individual autonomy such as the Democrats profess is possible only with the rejection of personhood, the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God. A person, in the Christian view, is mere flesh and blood elevated to the level of supernatural dignity. This is something entirely beyond our control—a gift inspiring gratitude, and never just the provision of raw materials for our own glorification. For the Christian, every human life is endued with infinite dignity by virtue of its being created by God, and in resemblance of God. There can be no interaction with another person, according to the Biblical teaching, which does not subjugate everything to that person’s immeasurable worth in the eyes of God, indeed, as God’s own son or daughter.
But for Democrats, society comprises individuals, not persons. Democrats by and large reject the infinite dignity of all human life. There is no small element of expediency in this, of course, as it allows Democrats to support things such as abortion, euthanasia (even of children), “transhumanism” (which dethrones mankind as steward of creation), and the redefinition of marriage as being between, or even among, anyone. A person is created male or female. An individual, however, is its own creator. This subjugation of human dignity to the fallible will is what makes the gulf between person and individual an unbridgeable one. It is also what logically prevents Democrats from praying to anyone other than themselves.
The Modern State: A True Hobbesian Leviathan
There is an even more sinister aspect to this rampant individualism. Love binds persons together, and the love of Christ compels me to care for my neighbor. But force, and force alone, binds individuals. The modern state, a toxic cocktail of autonomy and the concomitant Weberian monopoly of violence, is a true Hobbesian Leviathan, an iron fist gloved in the velvet of elections and campaigns, but, just beneath the surface, pitiless in its wielding of total police power. A society of individuals does not cohere organically. Rather, it is cowed into obedience.
As a substitute for the true freedom born of our personhood, most Democrats accept the Lockean compromise of plenary “rights” abutting others’ equally plenary “rights.” The Democratic Party platform, for example, uses the word “right” 119 times, but the word “duty” just three times (one of them in the phrase “heavy-duty,” referring to trucks). Authentic freedom includes the freedom to choose the good. This freedom is always tempered by a duty: the responsibility incumbent upon each person to seek out the full truth. However, at a conceptual and structural level, the Democratic Party platform precludes higher-order goods.
The best example of this is the platform’s iron link between abortion and contraception, both of which are grounded in the “right to choose.” Human sexuality is clearly designed for procreation, which in turn entails a lifetime of sacrifice for one’s children. Individual autonomy, enshrined in Democratic Party documents, is antithetical to authentic sexual relations, and so abortion and contraception are fundamental to evading this higher good in the name of pleasure, convenience, and, above all, personal autonomy. This is nothing more than the summary rejection of any good beyond the whims of the unbounded self. Deprived of transcendence, those who support Democratic policies are thus forced to exist at an entirely this-worldly level of individual rights and hedonistic pursuit of meaningless pleasure.
Of course, there are many self-professed Catholics who vote for Democrats because they see them as the party of compassion. On health care, food stamps, medicaid, and the other big-government “entitlement” programs, it is a matter of conscience to vote in favor of the party that promises to redistribute wealth to the less fortunate. However, a growing body of literature over many years reveals that the followers of Saul Alinsky infiltrated the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the latter half of the twentieth century, subtly shifting the focus of Catholic public policy from individual (i.e., personal) acts of charity to “social justice.” Increasingly the emphasis among progressive Catholics and their allies in the Church bureaucracy is not private charity but public welfare. Not surprisingly, Catholic Relief Services, for example, relies on the federal government for 70 percent of its budget and this largess invariably comes with strings attached. Catholic Charities, on the other hand, depends on government grants for roughly 65 percent of its domestic welfare spending, much of which has nothing to do with religion. Needless to say, private charity is more effective than the public dole in helping the poor improve their lives. Welfare dependency weakens personal dignity, undermines mediating institutions like the family, and accelerates the collectivization of more and more isolated and powerless individuals.
Also, as local communities broke down in the twentieth century (again, by the intentional design of Marxists hostile to the family and to “bourgeois morality”), personal charity was overwhelmed by masses of denatured people crowding America’s cities and towns. The welfare state was then posited as a substitute for the Church—precisely the goal of Alinskyite “charity” all along. Catholic goodwill, which Modernists inside of the Church have worked to ensure is not informed by a properly developed reason or conscience, continues to fall prey to the worst intentions of the radical, anti-Catholic American left.
Democrats Look to the State for Salvation
Another consideration often overlooked is the nature of American government, which has now become practically atheistic. The federal government, in particular, today forces religions to adopt the rhetoric of liberalism—Lockean freedom—in order even to petition for a place in the public square. For example, watching the American bishops in 2012 petitioning the virulently anti-religious Kathleen Sebelius for “religious freedom” was akin to watching Moses ask pharaoh to let the Israelites go because doing so had been decreed by Seth and Ra.
The Founding Fathers did not intend for this to happen. As is often remarked, John Adams, and many of his towering contemporaries, thought the Constitution was designed for “a moral and religious people”:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Over the past two and a half centuries, however, what Adams feared has come to pass. The whale has gone through the net.
The federal government in 2017 is the amplified version of American Protestantism’s slow turning from religion, to moral code, to philanthropic organization, to cultural institution, to self-sustaining bureaucracy. The high liberalism enshrined in the Constitution, once sufficiently divorced from the Christianity which gave it moral grounding, has left Americans virtually defenseless against the imposition of even the gravest of blasphemies in the public realm. Satan clubs in schools are increasingly commonplace. Satanists lead “invocations” to open city council meetings. Statues of Satan are erected on public property. “Religious freedom” was conceived in a Christian milieu. Transposed to a pagan one, it is carte blanche to unimaginable outrage.
Catholics must reject this warped denaturing of authority, especially when it impinges upon actual Christian virtues. “Freedom of speech,” we may need reminding, is not a virtue. But charity is. However, “charity” from Washington, DC, even when granted to the weakest of citizens and wrapped in the best of intentions, can never be true charity. Persons alone are capable of providing charity to other persons. Individuals can only ever receive material benefits from a government which is fundamentally hostile, or at best indifferent, to the Christian understanding of personhood.
This argument, of course, should make Republicans just as uneasy as Democrats. If anything, Republicans, who claim to favor small government, have often been even worse than the Democrats in expanding it. The failure of Republican majorities even to repeal the monstrously bloated insurance-company-protection-racket known as “Obamacare” belies the nature of the Republican Party: statism for me, but not for thee. There is hardly a monopoly on bureaucratic mission creep by just the blue side of the congressional aisle.
And yet, despite Republicans’ staggering hypocrisy at nearly all levels, the fact remains that the Republican Party platform itself is not intrinsically evil. To vote Republican may be to support unsavory individuals. But to vote Democrat means to vote in favor of abortion, homosexual “marriage,” and the assorted debaucheries of our besotted age. Paul Ryan, for example, may be weak in opposing gay adoption. He may fail, time and time again, to muster the political courage to stop it. But he is not prevented by his own party from acting virtuously. I can vote for Paul Ryan in the hope that he will someday do the right thing. I can never vote for a Democrat with the same hope. There is no double effect in voting. Even protest votes necessarily entail embracing the platform of the (D) next to any candidate’s name. For example, as Democratic National Committee leader Tom Perez recently made clear, for a Democrat, abortion is “not negotiable.”
All of this taken together is what makes the photograph of the praying Democrats so puzzling. I grant that they were surely horrified by the events of the day. I grant that they wished the wounded well and hoped fervently for an end to bloodshed and a return to peace. I grant also that they sincerely believe in the righteousness of their own cause, of their legislative agenda and party platform tout suite. What I cannot understand is why, having wrested plenary autonomy from God—whose very name is nearly taboo in the Democratic Party platform—Democrats would feel the need to ask for any outside help. If the individual is truly sovereign, what could God possibly have left to do?