Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 31, 2004
True faith permeates politics
Prime Minister Paul Martin's May 12 comment that faith or religion has no room in politics is perhaps not surprising. We have had a long string of Catholic prime ministers who have at least acted as though their faith had no bearing on how they governed the country.
Nevertheless, Martin's comment is sad . . . and false.
Certainly no one should want a government to establish a theocratic state with a legal or social system governed by some "Catholic law," analogous to Islamic law. Not only would such a project be doomed by lack of public support, but the project does not exist in the first place. As the Canadian bishops' social affairs commission stated in its reflections on the upcoming federal election: "The Gospel does not give Catholics a specific program of social and political action."
But that is not the end of the story. There are principles which are "Catholic," although they are just as surely human principles. The Church upholds principles such as the inviolability of human life, the common good, the centrality of marriage and the family in society, and a preferential option for the poor. But so should any person - Christian, Muslim or atheist - who is concerned that good be done and evil avoided.
There used to be a fear (and perhaps there still is) among some non-Catholics that a Catholic leader of government would take direction from the pope and somehow undermine basic human freedom. The Catholic reaction to this typically took the form of Catholic politicians distancing themselves as far as possible from Church teachings. The great moment for this dissolute approach came when soon-to-be-U.S.-President John Kennedy in 1960 told the Houston Ministerial Assoc., "I do not speak for my Church on public matters - and the Church does not speak for me."
distanced themselves from Rome has been on the abortion issue. It seems to be an accepted axiom of Canadian politics that for a Catholic to become prime minister, he must show his "freedom" from the Church by refusing to defend the right to life of the unborn.
Abortion should not be a uniquely Catholic issue. The right to life is a basic human right, not a theological principle. But it is to the Church's credit that it is the one social institution that has steadfastly refused to stop defending that right. Moral strictures against abortion were universally accepted in Western society not all that long ago. Many Catholic politicians, it would seem, are afraid to be seen as old-fashioned and moralistic by upholding those strictures in the face of radically changed public opinion.
So where is the connection between faith and politics? The connection is that Christians, by virtue of their faith in God, should have a stronger commitment to human dignity. It is Jesus who identifies himself with the outcast - "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). This statement makes Christian activism on behalf of the poor and marginalized not only a civic duty, but also a matter of faith. When we come to politics, it is faith more than duty that drives us.
And so when the prime minister defends his party commissioning a poll which asks people if they were "more or less likely to vote for the Conservative Party if they knew it had been taken over by evangelical Christians," we must be deeply saddened.
The sort of innuendo and prejudice that once was directed at Catholics is now being directed toward evangelicals. People of all faiths should be welcomed into the Canadian political forum. To do so is one way of giving life to the opening line of our Constitution which says, "Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law."
The Constitution welcomes a mix of faith and politics.
So should the prime minister.
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