One of the most surprising aspects of the contemporary Left is its inveterate hostility to the Catholic Church around the world. You’d think that a political tendency whose ostensible purpose is the betterment of the poor would look with favor on the single largest provider on earth of private charity, health care, free education and housing for the needy. Looking back into history, it was the early Christian Church—driven by the Old Testament’s reverence for human life—which eventually moved Romans to stop abandoning unwanted infants to die, sexually exploiting slaves, and forcing young girls to marry against their will. (If you read the stories of the Church’s earliest martyrs, a surprising number were young women killed at their fathers’ behest for refusing to marry the man he’d chosen for them—a liberty unheard of in Roman society until the advent of the Church).
One could understand how in the 18th and 19th centuries classical liberals might be suspicious of a Church that at the time allied itself to autocratic monarchies; but those monarchies are gone, even as the Church has reclaimed at Vatican II her own ancient insights into religious liberty and the rights of individuals vis-à-vis the State—renouncing all the illiberal practices that darkened the Church’s name in the Middle Ages and thereafter. (It’s important to note that Leftists long overlooked, lied about, or minimized far more oppressive practices in their own favored Marxist utopias—as they still do whitewash horrendous abuses in Cuba and even the Islamic world.)
So why do leftists hate the Church? In part, because they don’t really care about the poor. If they did, they’d support school choice, the Second Amendment, strict law enforcement in urban neighborhoods, and a restriction of mass immigration that savagely undercuts the wages of the native working class—to mention just a few policies the Left opposes with all the demagoguery it can muster.
No, the contemporary Left knows that fighting poverty isn’t a sexy issue anymore—that the suburban bourgeoisie which stuffs its coffers has pretty much given up on uplifting impoverished Americans, and retreated behind the walls of its gated communities. Instead, the Left has focused on issues which really appeal to its privileged constituency—namely, preserving and extending the sexual libertinism that became respectable in the 1960s. “Progressives” who’d never drop a dime in a beggar’s cup can be counted on to help keep abortion legal up through the ninth month—lest inconvenient pregnancies interrupt their daughters’ sojourns through Barnard, Bard, or Oberlin.
Likewise, modern liberals can be relied upon to support the assault by unelected judges on the most basic unit of society: the nuclear family, cemented by marriage. The divorce laws promoted by feminists in the name of “gender equality” have rendered marriage itself an unenforceable contract, and stripped stay-at-home mothers of their rights to alimony, significant child support, and other legal protections they once enjoyed—in the bad old days of “paternalism.”
Now “progressives” want to drive one more stake through the heart of marriage—by expanding its definition to include homosexual relationships. An institution which primarily exists to protect mothers and their children from casual neglect and abandonment will now—if the Left has its way—be diluted still further, to the point of meaninglessness. As the heroic Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) rightly pointed out, once homosexual relationships are given the positive sanction of law, there is absolutely no legal or constitutional basis for prohibiting polygamy. (Within the next 20 years, count on Moslems and dissident Mormons to file a successful legal case in this regard.)
I’d go further and suggest that within our lifetime, sado-masochist “slave contracts” will become legally enforceable. (Perhaps the 13th Amendment will block this; but when did Supreme Court justices ever let the words of the Constitution stand in the way of “progress?”)
A Case in Point
Meet Dick Blow. Yes, that’s his real name. If you haven’t heard of Richard “Dick” Blow, you’re obviously not a collector of Kennedy memorabilia—of which he is a prime specimen, likely to appear any day on Ebay. You see, Blow served as intellectual valet to the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. at George magazine.
Now Blow’s clutching the Kennedys' soiled mantle as part of the Left’s ongoing assault on the Church. In a trite piece on the silly Web site TomPaine.com, Blow echoes comments by Rep. Patrick Kennedy condemning the Vatican for presuming to address the issue of same-sex unions. It did so in a recent document instructing believers about the Church’s teaching on the subject, and their duties as Catholic citizens. Blow is shocked, shocked to discover that the neither the pope nor his staff have abandoned the Church’s 2,000 year-old tradition (5,000 if you count the Old Testament) that homosexual intercourse contradicts the will of God. So do a lot of things, and the Church has never been shy about naming them: Premarital sex, adultery, auto-eroticism, lying, stealing, cheating, and just about everything else that keeps soft-core cable TV in plotlines.
Blow evinces mock outrage that the Church would presume to tell her followers that their beliefs—about ultimate reality, good and evil, and the purpose of the universe—ought to guide how they vote. I wonder if Blow would have been similarly outraged when Church leaders got out front in the fight against segregation—as Abp. Rummel of New Orleans did in the early 60s, excommunicating a leading white Louisiana populist for his position on race. Or when black reverends pass the hat in church for donations to their presidential campaigns, use church buses to carry voters to the polls, or church conferences as platforms for Democratic candidates—whose positions on most social issues are starkly incompatible with those morally conservative churches’ teachings. Of course not. To ask the question is to answer it.
Blow reaches back into his former patrons’ long tradition of craven political opportunism—the “patriotic” Joe Kennedy sucked up to Hitler, the “liberal” John and Bobby to Joseph McCarthy—to dig up one of John Kennedy’s most disgraceful moments, and hold it up as a model for the future. Few people remember the depth and passion of anti-Catholic paranoia that once held sway in this country, as evinced in the fevered works of now-forgotten alarmist Paul Blanshard (who was forever pointing to papal documents dealing mainly with the administration of the Papal States, to warn of the danger of a coming Catholic theocracy in America).
But fear and loathing of Catholics was still alive and kicking in 1960, and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy appeased it by making a speech to Protestant ministers in Houston. In it, JFK promised never to allow what he advertised as his deepest personal beliefs—when he was campaigning with priests and nuns in Boston—to influence his official actions “directly or indirectly.” None of those reverends would have expected a Protestant candidate to make such a public renunciation of his faith—in fact, they would surely have denounced him if he had. The intertwining of faith, ethics, and politics has a long and honorable tradition in this country, going all the way back to the Puritan, Quaker, and Anglican colonies that predate our founding. While the Constitution clearly and rightly forbids any attempt to erect an Established church, not a word of it suggests that religious values cannot influence one’s opinions on public policy; indeed, the movements that set out to free slaves, abolish segregation, or promote human rights worldwide are unimaginable without the strong religious motivations that drove most of their leaders. No honest person questions the patriotism of Jewish citizens who try to promote the ongoing alliance between the U.S. and Israel, or Protestants who ask the U.S. to safeguard Christians from persecution in Sudan or Indonesia.
But because Kennedy was a Catholic—and for no other reason—he had to go much further, to stand before a hostile audience and effectively renounce his faith, or at least its role in forming his conscience. (Proposed U.S. Appeals Court Justice William Pryor is currently being subjected to a similar religious test.) Kennedy’s craven surrender—and for all its high-flown Pierre Salinger rhetoric, that is precisely what it was—helped Kennedy carry the South.
This ugly moment in which bigotry reigned triumphant inspires Blow with nostalgia—and he holds it up as a standard which should be applied to every Catholic in public life (and presumably in the voting booth). Stooping even lower, Blow points to the genuine abuses which occurred in Boston and other dioceses to suggest that the Vatican has no moral credibility to speak on sexual morality ever again, since it has “become a church of bigotry and buggery.” Thanks, Dick.
Noting that close to a thousand abuse accusations were found in Boston, Blow conceals a crucial fact: that this total accounts for some 60 years, with many of the charges unproven (and by now unproveable). If one looked at the records of a similar large institution with a lofty mission--say, the Boston Police Department--I wonder how many unproven accusations of brutality or corruption one could find. However many turned up, would that mean that Boston police could never again enforce the law? That the city of Boston itself should stop issuing laws, since it had lost all legal credibility? Blow would not hold any other institution but the Catholic Church to such a standard. Here again, Catholics are singled out for “special” treatment. Among Irish Catholics, this should bring back fond memories of the Penal Laws that once forbade their ancestors to vote, inherit property, or attend universities until the early 19th century—and the still-standing British law that forbids Catholics, and only Catholics, from inheriting the throne.
With breathtaking gall, Blow presumes to pass judgment on the consciences of American Catholics, praising them for their “tradition of picking and choosing which elements of church dogma they choose to believe.” Try to imagine a member of any other religion publicly congratulating Jews for disregarding the Kosher laws, or Mormons for getting drunk, or Moslems for worshiping idols, to get some idea of the dim-witted arrogance entailed in this statement. Even as Dick Blow and other Leftists pat American Catholics on the head, they’re really kicking us in the ass. And I, for one, am in no mood to turn the other cheek.
J.P. Zmirak is author of Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist. He writes frequently on economics, politics, popular culture and theology.