Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 29, 2008
The audacity of separating Church, state
Some will read the statement of the Canadian bishops' Social Affairs Commission that provides guidance to Catholic voters in the current federal election campaign as having a hidden agenda. The bishops are, in the minds of the perennially suspicious, touting a left-wing socialism as the path Catholics should follow.
Of course, they are doing no such thing. One would have to go through some very circuitous reasoning to conclude that the bishops are telling the faithful to vote for some political party or to adopt some political ideology. A more reasonable conclusion might be one of near-despair about the current political situation – how no party or ideology comes anywhere close to holding morally tenable stances on even the small range of issues that the bishops address.
The bishops surely are laying out some of the Church's social teaching and drawing some applications to current Canadian political issues. That is something that will bother many more who may end up making their voting decision based on personalities and TV attack ads or who end up not voting at all.
There still is a widespread belief that religious faith is purely private and that any application of it to moral and community life is a violation of the sacred principle – a principle more sacred than God himself – of the separation of Church and state.
This so-called principle is one of the great heresies of our time. It raises the individual human decision, whether rational or irrational, to a role higher than that of God's purposes for humanity. Even if it allows some minor role to God, it still assumes that I, in the privacy of my own isolated conscience, ought to determine what will be.
The audacity of this is breathtaking. The greatness and dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, is distorted into narcissistic idolatry.
This exaltation of the proud, autonomous individual into a demi-god calls forth the sort of rebuke that God delivered to Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. . . . Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place? . . . Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south? . . . Surely you know for you were born then" (Job 38, 39).
The counsel of the bishops' Social Affairs Commission is modest and humble in comparison with the audacity of the individualism that drives God out of politics.
In a statement earlier this month, Archbishop John Favarola of Miami, Fla., said, "The role of the Church is not to be like the ‘party boss' who goes around telling people how to vote. Our responsibility is to remind people to vote wisely; to reveal to them the wisdom of Scripture, the wisdom of the Church's moral tradition, so that they can base their votes on solid moral ground. . . .
"When Church leaders speak on issues such as immigration, poverty, health care, abortion, war or embryonic stem cell research, we are not telling people how to vote. We are reminding them of the moral teachings that should inform their lives and, as a result, their votes."
This would seem straightforward enough. It ought to be obvious that anyone who worships Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity should pay considerable heed to advice on any issue offered by the successors of the apostles.
The near-despair in which we may find ourselves in pondering the electoral choices before us need not be if we take seriously the bishops' advice to involve ourselves in the political process both at election time and between elections. We have no small role to play in altering the course of local, provincial, national and world events.
Don't be bowed by blather about the separation of Church and state.
And act with moral conviction.
- Glen Argan
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