Wednesday, 29 July 2009

When religion becomes militant

It is said that politics and religion make strange bedfellows. However, that is precisely what is happening not only in the US but also now to an alarming degree in Canada. Political votes are directly influenced by lobbyist of every imaginable background including the Catholic Church. In recent years the issue of abortion clearly determined which of the two powerful parties eventually were eventually elected to office. In the past some members of the U.S. clergy and neo Catholic activist such as Terry Randall (see Wikipedia for his profile) have made claims that anyone who supported a Pro-choice politician should be declared a virtual anathema. Like it or not, that was precisely the platform under which George W. Bush was elected for two consecutive terms.

This idea seems to have filtered down to the public at large. Find an opposing view on any issue, and on that basis decide whom you will support. In a two-party country, such as the U.S. the choices become rather black and white. But should this avoid the need for us to seek common ground? And, does that not force individuals to choose between two possible evils? Jesus called on us to minister to all not just those that agree with our point of view. Recall the story of the Good Samaritan. Nothing could be more catholic (small ‘c’) than that challenging parable. Regretfully, some members of the clergy insist on throwing in their weight to force us to decide, under the threat of loss of communion, etc., where to cast our vote. Often it is difficult to determine a particular motive for their actions. This would not be necessary if we truly understood what it means to love our neighbour!

What is particularly disturbing is the level of militancy to which some political activists including Pro-lifers, have risen these days. A lot of their rhetoric borders on a call to resurrect the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Seldom do these groups call for dialogue. A measure which could result in middle or common ground solutions. It is their way or the highway! Witness the slanderous opposition regarding the proposed address by US President Obama at Notre Dame University.

More recently Catholic News Service (July 22) announced the reaction from several sources on the hotly disputed issue of Health Care in the USA under the banner of ‘Pro-lifers fear U.S. Care Reform’. Again Pro-life forces have decided to throw doubt and fear on the matter. In the end this group could very well sabotage any attempts to implement a much needed health care system especially for those millions of citizens who cannot now afford life giving medical care. (I’ll leave the staggering statistics to the experts).

Here is what will continue to happen in the US if this bill is not passed. My brother, living and working in the U.S. lost his wife last week following her very lengthy illness. The cost of the medicines and care not covered by insurance already total more than US $ 100 thousand. Unlike most of us my brother was subsequently unable to retire at age sixty-five and until recently was finally forced to stop working at age seventy to attend to his ailing wife. To add to the devastation he was unable to pay for her funeral. This is the sad reality for millions of people who are currently denied a universal health plan.

And what had the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to say about all this? “No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion”. I would ask readers to seriously consider how such a one-sided reaction could eventually affect the implementation of a national health plan while it continues to put so many unfortunate people at risk to the point of their lives? Should the U.S. Bishops not represent the interest of the entire flock rather than that of a select group? Furthermore, should these bishops not espouse spiritual food rather than political fodder? Should they not encourage dialogue rather than create doubt and confusion about a much needed health plan?
Let us pray that those US Bishops who seem bent on derailing a national health plan realize they also share a moral responsibility to explain how the poor and marginalized are to receive proper medical assistance without it - especially in the case of life threatening situations. Abortion is not just about an aborted foetus, a life can just as easily be prematurely 'aborted' due to the lack of funds. Surely, Pro-Life includes ensuring that we don't 'abort' life giving support to the aged, the handicapped, the sick and homeless who can't afford health care otherwise. Abortion is an issue that must involve all forms of life from the Alpha to the Omega. This might be a good time to reflect on the wisdom of Solomon, 1 Kings 3:16-28.

When viewed in this context it may be easier to understand how some Pro-life activist have radicalized religion with the aim of promoting their particular agenda however noble their cause! The time is now ripe to question how radicalism has found its way into the church. It is time to ask where our religious institutions left their God given wisdom, forgiveness, compassion and understanding and become the spokespeople for political parties? For those people who support Pro-life I say God bless. For those who choose Pro-choice I say God bless. Unconditional love means “don’t judge”. Jesus meant just that. If Pro-lifers want to change the world they must do so with compassion.

As Canadians we can be thankful for a national health plan, albeit straining and under siege at times , however, as believers our doubts and fears should not lead us to exchange spiritual goals for political ones.

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