Friday, November 14, 2008

Politics and Religion and Hypocrisy, Oh, My!

I don’t often discuss either politics or religion on this blog because they tend to invoke ire, mostly in myself... here I shall abandon my normal abstinence on the subjects and point you to this little abomination

A Catholic Priest holding Communion over the heads of his democratic voting parishioners

If any of you stopped in for the usual fiction writing banter, I’ll continue that in my next post. I’ll state ahead of time that I don’t tolerate derogatory commentary about an entire group of people, so any religion or Catholic bashing is disallowed – making points on things you dislike is fair game, but not blaming an entire population.

If you haven’t read the article yet, go read it... I’ll still be here when you get back...

This is wrong on so many levels I scarcely know where to begin. The thing I find possibly most offensive is that this priest is a representative of my faith. It is fine to preach from his pulpit, that is his job. It’s fine to impart to his individual parishioners the teachings of the Church, but to tell them that voting for a candidate is a sin so grievous that they should forfeit the right to the Sacrament of Communion? Really, Father?

To be fair, Rev. Jay Scott Newman actually said that if his parishioners voted for a pro-abortion candidate when there was an alternative candidate who was pro-life, it, “...constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law.”

He went on to say that they should not receive Communion until they had made the Sacrament of Reconciliation... Okay, I have a few qualms with this. First, aren’t we always under the judgment of divine law, and by ‘divine’, don’t we mean God’s judgment rather than a priest’s judgment? Not to negate the job of a priest, they are spiritual leaders and if his vantage point was in counseling one of his parishioners against having an abortion, I’d have no problem with this. That’s his job, and is in line with the Church’s teaching for his congregation and parishioners, not for the entire country regardless of what they believe.

This smacks to me of spiritual extortion – and I am a Catholic, which makes this even more unnerving, because it seems to me that this priest is laying aside other tenets of our faith in order to further one agenda. What of those parishioners who voted for Obama? They could just make confession, take their penance and be done with this, right? Not if they are true Catholics and abide by their faith, they can’t. You can’t lie a penance – God doesn’t fool that easy, and that’s essentially what this priest is telling them to do – repent their vote... how many of them do you think changed their minds in light of his sermon? So, say some of them did decide just to lie the confession and get the episode behind them – lying to a priest is a sin, too, isn’t it? And wouldn’t it be the priest at fault for that sin?

Another factor to the Sacrament of Reconciliation that he seems to be missing – by the Church’s teaching, a sin is an action taken by a person with full knowledge that what they are doing is wrong and harmful to another person, their relationship with another person, and theirs (or another’s) relationship with God. While the priest might argue that by voting this way they’ve affected another person’s relationship with God, or that they’ve condoned another person’s sin, the priest cannot verify in any way that the parishioner believed this to be a sin at the time they voted or even currently consider it a sin... you can’t sin on accident – you also can’t judge what’s in another person’s heart – not even if you’re a priest.

Many devout Catholics do believe that you should abstain from Communion unless you’ve received Reconciliation. So telling his parishioners to go to Confession isn’t so much the issue, as telling them what they have to confess.

There have been other cases of Church officials stating that politicians who support pro-choice legislation should be denied the Sacraments. First, this is a little less unsettling to me than telling an entire congregation who might disagree with a politician’s stance on this issue but think him best for the job otherwise that they are sinning by voting for him. It’s still unsettling though because you are asking a politician to put his job to the side and rule through his religion – and they can’t do that. Well, I take that back, many of them do just that, but it’s absolutely wrong when they do. There’s a separation between Church and State for a reason and no one of faith should want them to overlap at all.

Ethically, the politician has promised to answer for his constituents, not himself. As a private entity the Church is allowed to deny the Sacrament, but I think it’s an injustice to deny any Catholic the body and blood of Christ for following a promise and doing what he feels is ethically and morally right. And I think it’s overstepping for the Church to deem these sins, especially sins heavy enough to essentially cut the person off from God – isn’t that the biggest sin, to turn someone away from God?

I think the largest problem here, for me, is that you have one or a handful of priests and Bishops making these decisions. These are men. Their vocation demands respect, but they are still men. I don’t feel that these rulings adequately portray the teachings of the Church, either, but people outside of the Catholic faith see these things and form an opinion that is less than good... it’s been known to turn Catholics away from their faith as well.

Well, that’s my two cents. What’s yours?


Erica Orloff said...

Wow . . . where to even begin?

My grandparents were Catholic. I had tremendous respect for their faith. They were the two most decent, wonderful human beings I have ever met in my life. They taught me so much, gave me so much. I "get," even as a non-Catholic, how special the sacraments are to those who receive them. Withholding them over a vote is extortion.

First of all, let's just start there. To my way of thinking then, do you withhold from every parishoner who had sex before marriage? Who had feelings of lust for another while inside a marriage? Who has ever told a lie and not confessed it? I mean where does the sacrament-denying stop? Because frankly, unless Jesus stepped up for communion . . . no one is perfect.

The other issue is purely political, and that is how does one decide what issue is the most "sinful"? Was Sarah Palin's decision to allow rape victims to be charged for their own rape kits sinful? That strikes me as very sinful. Or what about the candidate who says, "I personally am against abortion, but I understand that a woman whose life is in danger might seek one," or the candidate who says--also against church teaching--"this is a free country, I believe in birth control"--whatever the issue, you can certainly find cause to say candidate A is inherently more "sinful" than candidate B. McCain is divorced--and left his first wife under atrocious circumstances. Obama is still married to his wife. Who is anyone to say Obama is the worse canddate to vote for--or vice versa? McCain served his country. Yet a true pacifist might say he killed people. Yet you can say look he did x or y that was very great. It's far from black and white. A priest should simply counsel--vote your conscience, whatever that conscience is.


Precie said...

I'm so happy to read this post. Not happy about the article or events that prompted it, but very very happy to read such a thoughtful and detailed reflection. Thanks, Merry!

Colleen_Katana said...

People like this give the entire religion a bad name.

I was raised Catholic as well and still consider myself to be. However, I disagree with a lot that the Catholic church boyfriend tells me that at the end of the day, I'm technically NOT a Catholic cause of my beliefs. (I believe in the use of birth control, I'm pro choice, I believe that same sex couples should be allowed to marry, I don't believe in "confession" to a priest, etc)

But I was raised in a very liberal and progressive Catholic home and parish. I was lucky that my parents talked to us about the lessons after every Sunday School lesson.
We sort of treated our religion as a recipe book...the guidelines were there, but once we learned the basis, we started incorporating our own ideas and beliefs in. So what if the recipe called for paprika? I prefer chili powder! Onions? I hate onions...I'll use scallions instead! (You get the point)A lot of religious people scoff at this practice...called my family and me "fair-weather" Christians. Yet, every Thanksgiving, my family was at the soup kitchen. And every Christmas, my siblings and I had to give up one of our gifts we had opened to give to the children's group home. We volunteered time, energy, money and went to church every week, while the people who criticized us for our beliefs sat at the pool at their country club talking about the tithe they gave the previous Sunday.

Anyway,I kind of went of on a tangent there that did little to discuss what was in your! But it is something I feel passionate about. Sometimes the most "religious" people are also the biggest hypocrites.

Great post, Merry!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

What a great and thoughtful response! And I agree with you -

It's far from black and white. A priest should simply counsel--vote your conscience, whatever that conscience is.

We get down to the essence, no one can understand what is in another's heart. And withholding God from another person is unbelievable.

I think these things, this small percent, has a way of making people abandon the Church, and while I believe a person can keep a very real relationship with God without belonging to any faith, there will be a percentage that because they've lost their faith in religion also pull away from God... and the ones I've met who have always draw back to something said or done by the clergy or religious teachers in their past that they can't reconcile morally.

The other thing that I think is important to mention here, because outside of Catholicism I don't think everyone understands the significance of our Sacraments. Communion is the body and blood of Christ - not a representation, but an actuality. For a Catholic to be denied Communion it's a statement that he's not worthy to receive God. It's huge.

And some of these priests and people add their own take to the teachings, so that even Catholics sometimes don't have a firm grasp on what the Church's true teachings are. For instance, birth control hasn't been considered a sin for a long time. Once upon a time they said it was, because the teaching was that sex was purely for procreation. The teaching, since well before my birth actually, I think some time in the sixties, is that sex has a place in marriage not only for procreation but as a means to strengthen the marital relationship and bond. In other words, the Church views sex a lot more liberally than people tend to think, acknowledging that it should also be enjoyable.

For a long time, they held to disallowing certain types of birth control, bringing to the world the ever famous rhythm method... which led to very large Catholic families :-) I think, currently, the only thing they are against is the morning after pill, because that would be causing the distruction of already fertilized eggs and the Church believes life begins at conception. That is their right and I don't fault them for the belief - on a theological level, how do we tell when a soul enters a body? so on that level, I understand why it's more reasonable to err on the side of caution and say the beginning rather than set a month mark and take the chance that you're wrong. It's still a theological argument, though, and to me those don't belong in law.

Things get very convoluted because some priests and teachers don't teach the Church's teaching, but supplement their own. And you're right, everyone does sin and in most congregations that is left between the person and God. The sin of sex before marriage is no greater than the sin of homosexuality.. I don't actually consider either of these a sin, which is another thing entirely. Some people will tell you that unless you believe every aspect of your faith you cannot be truly of that faith. Hogwash. You're allowed to think. Also, as I stated in the post, the Church's teaching on sin is that it's something you undertake knowing it is a sin. If I don't in my heart believe it to be a sin, it's not. God can see in our hearts - He knows if we're fudging here.

Okay, that was a long enough ramble for now.

Thanks for stopping in, Erica.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Precie,

Thank you. I don't often post about religion, but it's actually one of my favorite subjects. That's the reason I don't post, I think, that's one subject I can't stand to see devolve into flame wars.

Merry Monteleone said...

Colleen, I heart you!!

I was raised Catholic as well and still consider myself to be. However, I disagree with a lot that the Catholic church boyfriend tells me that at the end of the day, I'm technically NOT a Catholic cause of my beliefs. (I believe in the use of birth control, I'm pro choice, I believe that same sex couples should be allowed to marry, I don't believe in "confession" to a priest, etc)

No offense, but tell the boyfriend to pound it... you are Catholic. You're a thinking Catholic. You are allowed to think and still have faith. I hate it when people try to tell you what your religion is because they think you have to fit into a mold... usually a mold they either use to make you look foolish or to make themselves feel pious. ech....

I hold the exact same beliefs as you and I am not only a practicing Catholic but I am raising my kids Catholic - and to be thinking Catholics at that.

Pro-choice and gay marriage are both political stances that the Church, from my perspective, has no right to fight... they have a right to impart their teachings to their own congregation, but not to try to muscle the country into laws that effect everyone.

The Church's actual teachings on homosexuality right now is that a person who is gay is born with that tendency and they are just as deserving of God's love as any other person. They do still view homosexual sex as a sin but it seems to mostly revolve around the fact that homosexual couples can't marry in the CHurch and it's the same sin as sex before marriage. There are large groups of homosexual Catholics, actually, and I think eventually the Church doctrine will catch up with the times - but you can't expect the Church to go faster than society as a whole I guess. Still, the Church does not condone bigotry of any kind, so people espousing anti-gay rhetoric in the name of the Church are sinning, too, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Well, as a Protestant, I've been ex-communicated (not able to take communion, literally) from the Catholic church since before I was born, so I guess this doesn't surprise me much.

But I'm also not a Catholic-hater, the way some Protestants (and ex-Catholics) are, and I'm so sorry for the pain that this priest is causing.

Merry, have you read any John Shelby Spong? He might be too liberal for you, I'm not sure, but he sure throws some interesting ideas out there.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Aerin,

I have a lot of friends who are various denominations - my husband is Lutheran, that hasn't caused nearly as many problems as the fact that he's a Sox fan.

Well, as a Protestant, I've been ex-communicated (not able to take communion, literally) from the Catholic church since before I was born, so I guess this doesn't surprise me much.

I'm not sure if this was a joke or not... even children who haven't received the Sacrament of First Communion are barred from taking communion. This isn't a statement against the person, it's the fundamental belief that the eucharist is literally transformed into the body of Christ. If you don't believe in this tenet, there is no reason to receive communion through our Church.

My husband only goes to Mass for the kids important occasions and he never takes communion because even the faith he grew up in indicates that communion is traditional not literal... he doesn't subscribe to his own faith anymore, either though. His belief is that God makes housecalls and there are too many negative people involved in organized religion that make the religions themselves invalid... I'm obviously not quite on board with that, but I do believe God makes housecalls.

I've never read John Shelby Spong, is there a particular work you'd recommend?

I tend to like a lot of different views on theology and religion, not just ones I subscribe to - I like anything that lets me think and furthers understanding of other people's views and faiths. I think it's important, plus it's dead interesting.

silken said...

wow. hadn't heard this story before reading it through the link. what an interesting post and great comments too. I don't have anything to add. but I too like to listen to peoples ideas and traditions on both politics and religion, when it is actually discussed and not argued or crammed down your throat.

ChrisEldin said...

Erica was here first, so I'll just say 'what she said.'

I was raised Catholic and have many Catholic friends, but am unattached, religiously speaking, and have been for years.

This is scary though. Separation of church and state is an important part of our country.

ChrisEldin said...

This post coincides nicely with my change of avatar...

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Silken,

I too like to listen to peoples ideas and traditions on both politics and religion, when it is actually discussed and not argued or crammed down your throat.

And how! I do like the discussions when they're a civil exchange of beliefs and ideas - often religious tenets get debated in the same vein that politics do these days, though, and I tend to dislike that... a thoughtful exchange is great, and adversarial type of trying to debunk each other's beliefs is not so great.

Chris - churchlady's back! huzzah!

Erica has a habit of doing that - stating exactly what you're thinking or feeling or needing to hear, except better than you could say it... I think she might actually be psychic.

jerseygirl89 said...

It's stories like this that explain my problem with most organized religions. I find their tenets/teachings/texts too dependent on men's interpretations of God which I think presumes a level of altruism that is very rare.