I’ve been thinking a lot recently about politics. The Republican Party is currently in the middle of one of the more difficult primary seasons in recent decades. The current administration is promoting an insurance regulation that directly impinges on the religious freedom of Catholics causing them to either violate their consciences or pay exorbitant fines. No political party truly respects the dignity of the human person from conception through natural death.
Many Catholics (for the sake of easy stereotyping and contrasting we’ll call them ‘Social Justice Catholics’ or SJC’s for short) engage in the American political arena as Democrats, focusing on using the power and use of government to care for the poor, provide healthcare and restrain the tendency of the rich to use their wealth to accumulate more wealth at the expense of the poor. Many other Catholics (these we’ll call Faithful Conservative Catholics™ or FCC’s for short), concerned about the government’s seeming inability to do anything efficiently or well, focused on the key issue of abortion, engage with any candidate that promises to fight abortion and limit government, usually Republicans.
Both SJC’s and FCC’s claim that their respective positions are the true living out of the Church’s teachings in the reality of American politics. Furthermore, many in both camps claim that the other camp is not following the Church’s teaching on particular issues (often this attack has an element of truth to it) and therefore are not ‘Real Catholics’. The problem is that by making those two claims, both camps conflate Church teaching on issues and doctrines with the implementation of solutions. The problem is compounded by each camps tendency to identify individual bishops and the USCCB in general with either their own camp (good bishops) or the other camp (bad bishops), forgetting that the duty of a Catholic is docility towards the bishops as the successors to the apostles. Mark Shea has an excellent piece on the matter here.
Docility to the bishops has to do with faith and morals and more broadly speaking as examples of how to live a Christian life. For example, out of docility to the bishops, I’m happy to look at the issue of climate change and the environment (even though I am extremely skeptical of the ‘science’, mainly because climate ‘scientists’ aren’t nearly skeptical enough of their own discipline).
However, I think faithful Catholics can (and probably should) disagree with each other over the best solutions. I come down firmly in the ‘government meddling will inevitably make any bad situation/issue worse’ camp. And in the ‘any regulation will likely have awful unintended consequences’ camp. SO, I am extremely skeptical of government schemes to regulate CO2. However, I do believe that we ought to conserve energy, recycle and otherwise care for our environment and I do support straightforward regulation to compel major corporations to do those things with the caveat that there needs to be careful consideration of any unintended consequences as well as a clear view for the economic harm likely to be caused by any regulation (whether or not that regulation is a ‘good’ regulation).
Likewise on healthcare and immigration. The focus needs to stay on caring for ‘the least of these’ but I think that we should be extremely skeptical of government aggregating power to itself to control decisions that ought to be made at a level much closer to those affected. Obamacare, in my view, is a law that increases the government’s power over the lives of individual citizens (see HHS Mandate) in ways that are improper for the Federal government. I think the whole law needs to be scrapped and something started from scratch that will address the same needs. Support for local solutions, catastrophic care insurance (as opposed to ‘everything and the kitchen sink insurance), the ability to purchase insurance across state lines (instantly makes insurance affordable and available to a majority of the currently uninsured), availability to purchase any health insurance plan with pre-tax dollars as well as make any health care spending with pre-tax dollars. Elimination of employer-provided health insurance (making the policy portable). All of these things I think would drastically reduce the 47 million that are uninsured currently. Then I think some reasonable effort, through the tax code to fund an ‘emergency’ fund as well as a ‘pre-existing condition’ fund at the local level to help those who still wouldn’t be able afford insurance and/or funding for free (to the uninsured) community health centers to provide that care.
However, there are there are those who think that a federal solution to those issues is best. While we disagree on implementation we do agree about the fundamentals of the issues (human dignity, right to healthcare, right to a just wage, etc.).
In arguing about these issues we need to pay careful attention to those things that our bishops and Church require of us, what things they strongly teach as being (nearly) universally normative, and what things the Bishops speak about but deliberately leave the particulars up to lay Catholics to figure out. For things that fall into the first two categories (required or dogmatic and taught as normative even though not dogmatic) it’s important to be docile to the teaching of the Church and the Bishops. A good example of something taught dogmatically is opposition to abortion and contraception. A good example of something taught as normative even though not dogmatic is opposition to the death penalty.
In all things, respect for the wisdom and authority of the Bishops is important for they are the heirs of the apostles and ought to be treated that way (even the ones who don’t act like it).