Everything that rises must converge.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Since November, the 2012 election campaigns have become overcrowded with ideas and narratives, some silly, some frankly false and some fractured, leaking lofty nuance like helium. Distractions pay huge dividends, right now.
The silly ideas are the ones accompanied by odd hysterics from what Jimmy Breslin used to call “the official women.” Nancy Pelosi has declared that the loyal opposition is intent on watching women as they lay dying on the floor in pools of blood and Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the villains want to first see those women raped by machinery.
The frankly false ideas are being served up by the mainstream media and others who evidently believe women are staggeringly stupid. The GOP, they maintain, is after their ladyparts, and colluding with Christians who suddenly wish to outlaw contraception.
This astonishing falsehood which first emerged at a GOP debate where moderator George Stephanopoulos—seemingly out of the blue—queried Mitt Romney on the idea of states banning contraception. “Who is even talking about that?” wondered a puzzled Romney.
It turns out the administration was. This lie is another distraction, and an exceedingly cynical one. Prior to that debate no one was even thinking about contraception bans as a public issue; even now, the only people actually doing so are assorted Democrat operatives and their allies in the media. Time will tell whether American women are as stupid and susceptible to baseless fearmongering as the Democrats clearly believe them to be.
This brings us to what is fractured, which would be the previously sound relationship between the U.S. Government and religious entities that—for the past 230 years—have been considered efficient and helpful co-deliverers of social services beneficial to the public good, but are suddenly become public hindrances. On January 31, the administration amended the policies of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: those working for church-related schools, or charities are no longer eligible. An administration-supporting associate informs me that the move “was showing sensitivity to the establishment clause.” As a similar explanation seems to lay behind the administrations refusal to allow the USCCB’s continued assistance in providing aid to victims of human trafficking, I suspect such “sensitivities” will soon render ineligible for federal loans those students attending church-related schools. One wonders if such a hyper “sensitivity” will eventually find religious interests ineligible to parade (or protest) on public streets.
This is of a piece with the administration’s unprecedented assault on First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and the exercise thereof, a move calculated, some believe, to eventually push the churches out of the public arena altogether and redefine freedom of religion as mere freedom of worship. That notion seems a great deal less paranoid than it did, even a week ago as, at a recent congressional hearing, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro appeared to suggest that religious liberty doesn’t extend beyond the right to worship.
Recently, I asked a friend why he supports the administration’s “accommodated” mandate; he responded that the administration has now promised an eventual adjustment that will move the participation of the churches from a direct to indirect co-operation with evil, a theological subtlety that is already being debated. Catholics advocating the point are willing to overlook the elephant in the room: that the administration’s face-saving theological “nuance” still permits the subversion of the First Amendment, and the intrusion of the state into the conscience of the church.
Through its mouthpieces, the administration has already begun to argue that “an institution does not have a conscience.” This is utter nonsense. The missions of the church are predicated on conscience, and conscience and mission feed and build upon one another. Conscience is what sent Catholic religious women to drag Civil War soldiers off the battlefields and into their hospitals, regardless of uniform; it is what put Catholic charities and hospitals and schools in place often before civil authorities thought to intervene; it is why the Vatican provides funding for adult stem cell research.
Institutional conscience is behind our government sending billions of dollars to Africa, to combat death by AIDS and malaria. Indeed, President Obama himself cannot deny the truth of it; he recently suggested that conscience is what animates his institutional policies.
Here is another truth: everything that rises must converge. Fractured ideology and theology are now rising and converging, and whether they raise our discourse or further divide will depend upon our ability to articulate and absorb sometimes subtle arguments without allowing our attention to be diverted from the central matter at hand: does the government have any business inserting itself into our religious conscience with the intention of commanding it? Should its reach extend into our theological musings as a means of effecting our eventual, and unsubtle marginalization?
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
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Pelosi and women "dying on the floor"
Dahlia Lithwick "Raped by Machines"
Stephanopoulos' out of the blue interest in banning contraception
Obama administration disqualifies church-employed from loan forgiveness
HHS denys USCCB spot in Human Trafficking Assistance
Marginalizing the Churches
Moral Theologians Debate Co-operation with Evil
Catholic Sisters and the Civil War