Higher Power

Conservative? Liberal? No: Catholic

norski / 22 Jan, 17 /

My father-in-law has been asked if he’s conservative — or liberal.

His answer: “I’m Catholic.”

I’d give the same answer.

Catholic teachings are quite definite, so it’s possible to peg them on the American political spectrum — as long as you don’t look at the big picture.

Taking bits and pieces of Catholic beliefs, and the history of Catholics in America, I could claim that the Catholic Church is conservative or liberal. That would be as big a mistake as seeing all conservatives as hate-fueled foes of diversity, or all liberals as irresponsible lunatics.

Sex, Death, and Immigrants

The Church might seem liberal because we’re told that sex is a good thing, social justice is important, and the death penalty should be a last resort. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 19281942, 2267, 23312391)

We’re also told that extra- and non-marital sex is a bad idea, private property is a good idea, and both abortion and euthanasia are wrong. That isn’t far from many conservative viewpoints. (Catechism, 22702279, 23482356, 23802381, 24012406)

I see immigrants as neighbors I haven’t met yet; folks who are doing pretty much the same thing my ancestors did, not long ago. That makes me a Catholic who takes our faith seriously: not a liberal. (Catechism, 2241)

The Catholic view of immigrants isn’t new, which doesn’t make it “conservative:”

“You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
(Exodus 23:9)

“‘When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.
“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”
(Leviticus 19:3334)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,”
(Matthew 25:35)

As a Catholic, my knee-jerk reaction is — irrelevant, except maybe to me. Let’s see what the Church says about defending my life, and the lives of others.

Hawk? Dove?

Defending myself from a lethal attack is okay; even if my action results in my attacker’s death. But I must use the least possible force. (Catechism, 22632267)

That’s because my life is precious, and so is my attacker’s. My intent should be saving my own life, not killing another person: even if that is the unintended effect of my action. (Catechism, 2258, 22632269; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, II-II,64,7)

The same principle applies to decisions national leaders face. War kills people and breaks things, so avoiding war is a good idea.

But sometimes being nice and reasonable won’t keep innocent folks alive. That’s why leaders are allowed to use force when defending the lives they’re supposed to protect. (Catechism, 23072317)

“…As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

I could edit Catholic teaching to make my beliefs fit — or shun — pigeonholes like ‘hawk,’ ‘dove,’ ‘bleeding heart liberal’ or ‘heartless conservative.’ But that doesn’t seem prudent.

Fear and Politics

I can see why ‘real Americans’ might fear ‘those Catholics.’ Many of us don’t have English ancestors, for starters.

That doesn’t mean I agree with Alma Birdwell White or her Pillar of Fire Church. The outfit’s called Pillar of Fire International these days.

Catholics lived in the thirteen colonies and other parts of today’s United States long before 1776, but we didn’t start arrive in disturbing numbers until the 19th century.

Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and other foreign parts were mostly working-class folks. Not surprisingly, most Catholics voted Democrat: 70% overall, 80% of the Irish Catholics.

That changed, of course. Children or descendants of the immigrants became white-collar workers, developing voting and other habits that were closer to the American norm.1

Blending in with the crowd isn’t necessarily a good thing. I’ve talked about ‘going native’ before. (August 14, 2016)

It’s like Fulton Sheen said:

“Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.”
(“Life Is Worth Living” (1951-1957), Program 19, The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, via Wikiquotes)

Why Bother?

Taking an active part in public life is part of being a Catholic. That starts with my personal responsibilities: in my family, at work, in my community. (Catechism, 19131917)

The “at work” part of my life is over now, so I’ve got more time for family and other activity: like researching and writing these posts.

I enjoy learning and sharing what I find, but that’s not why I keep doing all this.

I’m passing along, in my own way, the best news humanity’s ever had.2

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (Matthew 5:45; John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Our Lord said loving my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, is the source for “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 2196)

Over the last two millennia, folks like Austine of Hippo, St. Teresa of Ávila, Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux, have thought about what Jesus meant.

It still boils down to love and hope.

I think that makes sense. What you decide is up to you.

More about acting as if God and love matter:


1 Catholics living in America, politics and attitude:

2 Anyone who tries to do good and avoid evil is on the right track. I became a Catholic after learning who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter. (Matthew 16:1719; Catechism, 551553, 781801, 874896)

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