Tuesday, 3 June 2008

How Politics Destroys Religion

I found this story of Douglas Kmiec - a Republican, Catholic and private citizen who has endorsed Barack Obama for President deeply sad. Kmiec, who strongly disagrees with Obama in that he personally opposes abortion and has worked to overturn Roe Versus Wade, spoke out in favor of an Obama presidency.
In an interview over the weekend, Kmiec argued that 35 years after Roe,
opponents of abortion need to contemplate whether "a legal prohibition" of
abortion "is the only way to promote a culture of life."

"To think you have done a generous thing for your neighbor or that you
have built up a culture of life just because you voted for a candidate who says
in his brochure that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade is far too thin an
understanding of the Catholic faith," he said. Kmiec, a critic of the Bush
administration's Iraq policy, added that Catholics should heed "the broad social
teaching of the church," including its views on war.

What I find so terribly sad about this is that a Catholic priest recently refused to offer Communion to Kmiec on the basis of his endorsement of Obama.

This is a position - the use of Catholic Communion as a weapon against Democrats - that we will surely see more of in this race, having caught a taster of this strategy in 2004 against (Catholic) John Kerry. I find it terribly sad, not because of any harm done to the Obama campaign - I think this incident only serves to highlight the support Obama enjoys from thoughtful religious people such as Kmiec - but for the harm it does to religion in America.

There are countless fine moral judgements that individuals need to take in their political decision making. How can we account for the loss of so many lives in Iraq? How much responsibility for easing the burden of the poor should be born by the taxpayer? If one candidate disagrees with you about one moral issue you feel strongly about and the other disagrees with you on another, what criteria should you use to choose between them?

The whole principle of a free society is to understand that well intentioned people can agonise over these issues and for good reasons come to opposite views on them. For citizens of faith, they ought to be able to address these questions within their own church communities - and if they cannot, if instead they are rejected despite their very best efforts to live up to their own community's ideals, ultimately the church will no longer provide them the moral guidance that they seek.

It is worth saying that a very similar dynamic is responsible for Obama's reluctant decision to leave his own church after so many years. I look on it more in sorrow than in anger.

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