Fox News ran an interesting story on its website about the feud between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and several RCC politicians over the issue of abortion in health care reform legislation. The story evidently originated with the Associated Press.
The spark for the latest skirmish is Bishop Thomas Tobin’s request that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (yes, of that Kennedy clan) not to receive Holy Communion because of he supports for abortion rights, which the RCC opposes.
The interesting part to me is that the story reveals in a microcosm the religious thinking of so many Americans.
Tobin is the orthodox believer in absolute truth. He believes in the historic RCC faith and the right of the church to discipline those who stray from it. He feels this is a vital moral issue that is directly impacted by the theology and belief of the RCC. One woman of a group of people interviewed to comment, agreed. She said "If you're going to be a Catholic, be a Catholic.”
However, the Postmodern theology was also represented. One man said "If they believe they're a true Catholic, who's to say that they're not?" In other words, I can believe what I want and call myself what I want and know can refute that, even the leaders of my church. This is my truth (or in this case, Patrick Kennedy’s truth) and it is as valid as yours despite the fact that you are a bishop. Kennedy has in fact said his disagreement with the church hierarchy does not make him any less of a Catholic. That is tantamount to saying the RCC cannot define the terms of its own faith or religion, which certainly is not the position of the RCC. Maybe Kennedy should become a Baptist.
Postmodernism has infected most denominations. Many in the SBC who profess to believe in “soul competency” really believe in the Postmodern concept of defining your own truth with there being no absolute truth to know.
One of the strongest elements in American Christianity is Pragmatism. That is, go with what works, whether or not it is theologically sound. This element was also well represented in the story. For example, Michael Sean Winters, who wrote "Left At The Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats," was quoted as saying he opposes abortion, but bishops are not making “appropriate distinctions when penalizing people over abortion”. In simple terms, the Bishops should only penalize the really bad people, not the politicians (pause for snickering). He noted a difference between an abortion doctor and a politician who wants to legalize abortion. The better comparison here would be a politician who wants to tax people to pay for other people’s abortions as part of mandatory health care legislation. Abortion is already legal and the legality of it is not the issue in this current debate. But, the basis of his point is that you can support abortion as long as you do not perform the actual surgery without being culpable. That, of course, is nonsense. If politicians do not make abortion legal, abortion doctors cannot legally and profitably perform a million or so of them annually.
Nonetheless, you see his Pragmatism. His position is yes, abortion is wrong, but as long as I do not personally touch it, it should not hamper my ability to succeed in my job, which happens to be politics.
Another quoted Pragmatist was former Democratic New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. He is a Catholic. Yet, he supported abortion rights. He gave an interesting speech back in 1984 to the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, and took a supremely Pragmatist view of the moral issue. He maintained that Catholic politicians should not be pressured by the RCC, their own church, to support work for anti-abortion laws. Why? Because, of the political consequences, namely, pro-abortion folks would not vote for Catholics because they know the politicians would live out their religious convictions and vote according to Catholic dogma. In other words, if you had to vote according you your professed faith, you might lose an election, and that is too much cost to pay for your beliefs. That, my friend, is Pragmatism. Belief must take the back seat if there are consequences.
Of course, you realize the problem here. These politicians are not true Catholics in the sense of belief. If you believe abortion is wrong, you believe life begins at conception and killing life is murder, you cannot support it even if it means you have to give up being a hog at the trough.
I am glad the RCC bishops are growing a spine, even if not complete. If faith means anything, it must be lived out in daily life no matter what your job. As James 2:26 says, faith without works is dead.
And you know where a dead gets you.