Thursday, January 30, 2020

For Want of an Authentic Culture of Life

"You can't be a Christian and a Democrat."

If you've spent any time in online forums, or around evangelical Christians in real life, you've probably heard this.

My first reaction is generally, "You can't be a Republican either."

Here's a report card on the 2020 presidential candidates that The Catholic Worker recently released. Notice who gets the higher overall grades.

Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang are among those with the best scores, while Donald Trump comes in the lowest of all, with a D-minus.

And yet, once again, spend any amount of time online and you'll hear Christians thanking God for Donald Trump and berating his Democratic opponents as the face of evil.


Because far too many Christians have reduced their Christianity to two overriding issues: opposition to homosexuality, and opposition to abortion.

I see the latter all the time in Catholic culture, while it's the evangelical Protestants who tend to be more vocal about the former.

Take another look at the Catholic Worker report card and you'll see why right-wingers love Trump. In a world where abortion overrides everything else, Trump trounces his opponents. That's why this year's March for Life essentially turned into a Trump re-election rally when the president, who regularly exposes his disdain and contempt for the most vulnerable members of society, showed up to proclaim his solidarity with the pro-life movement.

The problem is, following in the way of Christ involves far more than just opposing abortion. As the report card reminds us, it also entails fighting poverty, opposing capital punishment, and welcoming the stranger. That's the essence of Catholic social teaching and the heart of the Catholic church's seven Corporal Works of Mercy.

But what do we see among so many Christian Trump supporters? Do we see them promoting values rooted in compassion and mercy? No. We see them defending policies that demonize migrants and rationalize the caged separation of mothers from their children. We see them supporting the eye-for-an-eye vengeance of the death penalty. We see them cheering on the U.S. assassination of another nation's political leader and longing for war with Iran. We see them applauding when the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Trump administration policy allowing the denial of green cards to anyone who may be likely to need public assistance.

I'll believe that the pro-life movement is truly pro-life when its members pour as much energy and passion into defending the human rights of refugees, supporting the social safety net, and opposing the death penalty as they do taking a stand against abortion.

Moreover, I'd love for a Trump-supporting Christian to show me where he or she sees the president upholding the values of the Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor and meek, do unto others, love your enemies, turn the other cheek), or how his policies square up with the pronouncement of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 ("whatsoever you did for the least of these, my brethren, you did for me"). I'd also love them to point out which fruits of the spirit Trump embodies -- love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

At this point, Trump-loving Christians will be ready to smear me as an America-hating communist. But that's the problem with our binary politics. Disliking what one "side" does is not an automatic endorsement of the other "side."

When it comes to social justice, the Democratic Party indeed does a better overall job, in terms of its support for social programs that help the poor and needy. But the left also has a gaping blind spot when it comes to abortion, which is reflected in the Catholic Worker scores. Just as the right dehumanizes migrants coming to our border as animals, thieves, freeloaders, and criminals, so the left dehumanizes the unborn as clumps of cells or parasites or "products of conception."

The establishment left, moreover, is just as complicit as the right in its support for American empire. If you criticize our endless wars, and the massive amounts of money we waste every year on supporting militarized violence and death, you'll be slandered and smeared as an enemy of freedom, a Russian bot, or worse. Just ask Tulsi Gabbard.

And then bring up the spiraling cost of our profit-driven healthcare system that drives Americans into bankruptcy and forces people to choose sickness and death over care they can't afford, and the left will pay lip service to the idea of a universal single-payer system. But when push comes to shove -- i.e., when the lobbyists push back -- suddenly healthcare reform becomes just too big a hurdle to overcome. Sorry to all those who are suffering and dying under our current predatory system.

And so we end up with a situation that's an affront to all humanity and decency, whereby we can spend three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year on the military and no one bats an eye, but when it comes to ensuring access to affordable healthcare for every American, the conversation invariably centers on asking "how are we going to pay for that?"

Moreover, the left has an unfortunate tendency to sort people into collectives based around immutable characteristics like sex and race, with the inevitable end result of ostracizing anyone from those identity groups who challenges the political ideologies that prop them up. Diversity of appearance is great; diversity of thought, not so much. This is why censorship is de rigeur among the "tolerant" left these days.

It's not hard to see, of course, how such a rigid ideology demands scapegoats -- someone to blame for every identity group's problems. Hence, cancel culture, with its thoughtcrimes and its blanket demonization of certain elements of society -- typically, straight white males who play the role of the devil in this worldview.

Indeed, as religion loses its grip on society, it's obvious that cancel culture has become its own substitute religion, complete with dogmas, heretics, original sin, and blasphemies, and with transgressors expected to recant on bended knee. And don't even get me started on the weird Gnostic-like trend that sees humans as sexless blank slates, flipping the very notion of being created male and female in the image of God on its head.

And so the witch hunts and inquisitions of old have been repackaged for the 21st century, under the banner of being "woke." It's essentially Christianity with no chance of redemption.

And that's no laughing matter, because as Christianity wanes and becomes replaced with a dangerous Frankenstein-ish imitation of itself, we're also casting aside the very ethics and values that were the cornerstone of Western civilization.

If it feels like the fabric of our society is being torn apart, that's because it is. A diverse and democratic society will ultimately splinter if it no longer has a firm set of beliefs and ideals at its core that its citizens can all agree on.

And so neither "side" in American politics reflects Christ much, if at all. Yet each "side" continues to try to fit Jesus into its political paradigm, from the most liberal Christians to the most right-wing evangelicals.

And that's the whole problem. We try to make Jesus conform to us rather than allow ourselves to be challenged out of our paradigms, our certainty, the comfort of our political echo chambers that see "us" as the good guys and "them" as the bad guys.

The thing is, Jesus doesn't care about your political allegiances. But he does care about how we do unto others, with a special concern for the most vulnerable members of society. So Republicans oppose abortion and Democrats support the social safety net for the needy. That's great. But what else do they do? How do they otherwise reflect or oppose Christ? That's a question all Christians need to examine when they decide to hand over their allegiance to a political party. Do you fit Christ into your politics, or your politics into Christ?

The only U.S. political party I've found that genuinely strives to do the latter is the American Solidarity Party. The two major parties certainly don't.

I've always wished I could feel an allegiance with the pro-life movement, but I never have. And it's because of how the people who make up the movement so rarely show themselves to be "pro-life" outside of one issue, and on that issue they seem to have a distressingly naive notion that abortion can simply be banned. Or, worse, there's a significant contingent of the movement that reveals its deficiency of compassion by thinking it's appropriate to either shame a woman out of an abortion or to even hold her criminally liable for her actions.

It's essentially the right's version of the gun-control crusade. Both groups think the thing they dislike can somehow be legislated out of existence. It's magical thinking in both cases. If people want to get a gun, they'll get one. If women want to get an abortion, they'll get one. To get to the root of either issue, you have to persuade people to see a different point of view. You have to change hearts, not laws.

But our society craves simple solutions to complex problems, so we look for the easy fix -- legislative restrictions -- rather than encourage a true culture of life in which violence becomes unthinkable. A world that embraced the radical love and hospitality of Christ would reject death as a first-line solution to its problems, as our society so often does. 

I wish I could say that the disconnect on life issues that I see in this movement is the exception and not the rule. But no. These are the folks who cheered for Donald Trump when he showed up at their rally, and who so often reveal their true colors when it comes to war, the death penalty, care for pregnant women and young mothers, aid for children, life-saving affordable healthcare, and so much more.

Just bring up the issue of detention of migrants and refugees, for example, and you'll eventually hear someone ask, "Are you going to feed and house all these illegals?" The irony, of course, is that this is precisely the same question pro-choicers point at the pro-life movement: "Are you going to adopt all the unwanted babies?" It all circles back to which people you choose to dehumanize. Put aside for a moment that Christians are charged to help the "least of these" and that the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that anyone in need is your neighbor: You simply can't say things like this and call yourself pro-life.

After this year's Trump-adoring March for Life, I'm afraid the movement has sacrificed any credibility it had left. It's no wonder the world sees Christians as hypocrites. Principles and integrity matter, and sometimes the truth hurts.

We can do so much better. As the hands and feet of Christ in this world, we have to do better.

I'll close with a prayer for peace to Our Lady that I'm quite fond of -- one that if, taken to heart, can surely help us build an authentic culture of life.

Mary, Queen of Peace,
we entrust our lives to you.
Shelter us from war, hatred, and oppression.
Teach us to live in peace,
to educate ourselves for peace.
Inspire us to act justly,
to revere all God has made.
Root peace firmly in our hearts and in our world.

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