Monday, August 25, 2008

Indecision 2008

Way back in January, an editorialist wrote on, “This election is going to be a nightmare for Catholics.” I wish I could remember who it was so I could quote him or her accurately, but alas. Way back in January, I read the article and shrugged. The election, almost a year away, was hardly a topic of importance; I was more focused on my last semester of college and finding a job. Of course, as the [ridiculously long and dramatic] primary season drew to a close I became more invested in learning about candidates, policies, and voting histories. The 2000 version of me would have been a straight ticket Republican, no exceptions. The 2004 version was more a mixed ticket, unhappy with the President but equally unhappy with John Kerry. However, this time around I’m truly in agony as November 4th draws closer. I’ve seen the USCCB’s DVD about “Faithful Citizenship” and read Archbishop Chaput’s excellent book, Render Unto Caesar . However, even the guidance of the bishops isn’t helping all that much. Whoever it was who said this election would be a nightmare was right on the money.

It’s even more fun now, since Obama has selected Joe Biden as his running mate and we’re off to the conventions. The pundits are all pretty confident that this smiling elder statesman from Delaware will help Obama draw the “Midwestern lunch-pail” vote, i.e. people who don’t own a Prius, Mac Book Air, or stock in Google. More specifically, Biden is a Roman Catholic (or claims to be, at least), and it seems logical, then, that the Catholic vote will turn for Obama/Biden. I’m not so sure. First of all, what is the “Catholic vote,” exactly? The “Catholic vote” is about as descriptive as “the brunette vote.” There are several broad constituencies that could fall into the "Catholic vote" category. There are “cultural Catholics” like Senator Biden, perhaps better known as cafeteria Catholics. There are lapsed Catholics. There are traditional, old school Catholics. There are moderate orthodox Catholics. So which group are the pundits talking about?

Cultural/Cafeteria Catholics were often raised Catholic and like the comforting rhythm of Catholic life- Mass, baptisms/weddings, those nice feast days, fish fry nights, bingo. But when it comes to following Church teaching on important issues of morality, forget it. Contraception? “Stay out of my bedroom, old celibate men in Rome!” The death penalty? “Fair crime and punishment, like in Leviticus (only the nice parts of Leviticus, though; that part in chapter eighteen isn’t relevant anymore).” The Iraq war? “That whole Jesus, Prince of Peace thing? Just marketing.” Abortion? “Psalm 139 is simply nice poetry. People aren’t people until* they’re born.” (*maybe not even then, if you agree with Barack Obama). To be fair, there’s a sizable subset of cafeteria-goers who are legitimately in love with Christ and His Church. However, for whatever reason (tough life situations, poor catechesis, etc.) they aren’t on board with everything the Church teaches. By no means am I condemning these people, most of whom are wonderful, loving folks trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. But the point is that Cafeteria Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.

Then there are the lapsed Catholics. I’d guess these are folk who might go to Mass at Christmas and Easter, or when someone gets married. They might even try out a Protestant church or two, especially if those denominations fit more nicely with their own personal version of right and wrong. The religion in which they were raised has little bearing on their decisions. Like their friends in the cafeteria, lapsed Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.

Next up are the traditional old school Catholics. These are the sort of people who hated Vatican II, who cringe when the choir sings anything by Dan Schutte, frown when they see girls as altar servers, and not-so-secretly want us to go back to the Tridentine Mass. God love them, I’m sure they’re nice people, but seriously. As far as November is concerned, I’m betting they don’t like either candidate. Historically, the Catholic vote was a sold bloc for Democrats, especially for Kennedy. But that really isn’t the case anymore, especially since the Democratic Party decided that the only way for politicians to hold a membership card was to condone the murder of 40 million children since 1973. The GOP doesn’t have it much better, given that their version of health care and social concern doesn’t quite jive with “caring for the least of these” as Jesus would like. Really, traditional old school Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.

Moderate orthodox Catholics are just as perplexed. I (speaking as one myself) don’t like either candidate. McCain is apparently pro-life, but I’m not quite sure I believe him. I strongly dislike his Iraq policy, economic plan, firearm position, and health care plan. I like Obama’s health care plan, education policy, willingness to repair our shattered international image, energy plan, and stance against the Iraq war, but I don’t like his abortion record. Moderate orthodox Catholics don’t fit into either party’s platform, so I’m not sure which way the pundits expect their vote to swing.

Let’s Hear it for the Rainbow Tour
Just as disturbing is the apparent cult of personality that’s gathered around Obama. It seems like a lot of talk and little substance; a lot of “hooray for us!” sentiment going around. I don’t think that a nice smile, charisma, and popularity entitle someone to be president. He’s also getting a tad cocky; on his recent European Rainbow Tour (à la Evita) he seemed to be acting as though he’s already been inaugurated. “Fake it till you make it” might work to impress classmates at a high school reunion, but I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for someone running for president.

I’m really torn here. I have no desire to cast a vote for either one, but if I abstain (courteously) I’ll feel like a washed-up, pathetic, poor excuse for an American citizen. The only reason I would vote *for* John McCain (instead of just *against* Barack Obama) would be the judges thing. In the next eight years there might be two to four seats open on the Supreme Court. There are big issues coming up in the next few years, stem cell funding and same-sex “marriage” among them. As much as I dislike some most of McCain’s policies, I’m pretty sure that he’s more like likely to appoint judges who will uphold traditional marriage. However, I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason to vote for him. Even when I try to make myself feel better about (maybe) supporting Obama, I cringe when I think about his votes on the Born Alive Protection Act. I truly wrestle with whether or not I can vote for someone who shows that much contempt for life.

In the end, though, does it matter? I don’t know. There’s a sense of inevitability about Obama’s candidacy (granted, I watch Jon Stewart for my news, so maybe that’s why). Even though latest polls show that the country is evenly divided, I still have a hard time believing that a nation coming off eight years of presidential ineptitude will elect another old white man from the same party. I have a feeling it’ll ultimately be Obama. Maybe I should just pray that if he does become President he’ll change what needs to be changed and otherwise leave well enough alone.
In the end, there really isn’t a Catholic vote. There are perhaps seventy million self-identified Catholics in the United States, but the gradations of who’s a “practicing Catholic” and what that even means splinter off from there. The best I can hope for it not getting too angry when CNN or MSNBC shows snippets of Nancy Pelosi claiming that we don’t know when life begins.

Way back in January, I already had a feeling of ennui about November. It’s August now, and not much has really changed.

St. Thomas More, pray for us!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I wrestled for a long time with the desire to write a blog and the conflicting notion that I don't say anything interesting or insightful enough to warrant one. Time will tell, I suppose. I've finally given in to this long-standing idea . I'm not quite sure why I chose today.

Ah, I've thought of reason.

It's been a little more than two months since I've moved away from all that I know and love in Madison to work in Waupaca. I absolutely do not regret that decision in any way, mainly because my job is wonderful and I'm excited about the potential next several years hold. But I still miss Madison, and especially my friends there. If I were still surrounded by close friends and a vibrant, young community, the thoughts that will inevitably end up posted here would have instead been discussed with friends at a coffeehouse, walking along the tree-lined streets of my beautiful former neighborhood, or over a pitcher of Spotted Cow at the Terrace. Since those opportunities will be sparse, I'm resorting instead to writing them out.

Here we go! I'm not sure how long I'll even keep this up or how regularly I'll write. But for now, I'm excited to let loose some of the thoughts that keep sloshing around in my head.

Quick note of substance (maybe):

Today is the twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time. Often the readings and Gospel on ordinary Sundays can be quickly forgotten because they might not point to a great feast day or holiday or memorable miracle. That is definitely not the case today. Check them out here. I'll wait.

Even though today is an "ordinary" Sunday, these readings are a big deal. They point to one of the fundamental, crucial things about the Church: she is apostolic. Scott Hahn (to whom I'll refer a lot, since he's one of my intellectual heroes) explores the connection between the Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16 passages especially well in two of his books, A Father Who Keeps His Promises and Rome Sweet Home. When I was deciding whether or not I should become a Catholic, it took a lot for me to swallow the whole "one holy apostolic church" business, since Protestants can be (in)famously pluralist. The difference between a church and The Church is a big one, but it took me a while to get there. However, these two passages help lay it out. Jesus was a king in the line of David; the perfect, long-hoped for Davidic messiah king who fulfilled all the prophecies. Davidic kings, as evidenced in Isaiah 22, had ministers to help them run things. Twelve ministers, in fact. Above the other eleven, one was appointed prime minister, like Eliakim in this case. To the prime minister were given the keys to the kingdom, and the ability to speak with the king's authority if he happened to be out of town.

Fast forward a few millennia.

Jesus selects twelve of his many followers to help him run things. Later, he appoints one of the Twelve to hold the keys to the kingdom. To speak with the king's authority if He happened to be out of town. His name? Simon bar-Jonah. But we know him as St. Peter, apostle, martyr, and first Pope. There are two really important things I draw from this reading & Gospel. The apostolic succession of the Church wasn't some power grab invented in the dark ages to manipulate people and acquire wealth. Rather, the Church was set up and guided by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. Given that there were less than twenty people at the Last Supper and there are more than one billion Catholics today, I'd say she's succeeding. More work lies ahead, of course. But we toil on. Equally important, "the gates of the netherworld (hell) shall not prevail against it." (verse 18) This Church has another big job: fighting against the forces of evil that "prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls." By no means does this imply that bad things can't happen within the Church herself. There have been more than enough sketchy bishops and poor papal decisions to refute that. However, the funny thing is this: (note: I'm paraphrasing Dr. Hahn again, though I forget which book this point is from) The Church's history isn't pretty. Any other organization, company, or charity that had such a terrible legacy of violence, bigotry, abuse, and corruption would have a hard time surviving/ flourishing for over two thousand years. But Holy Mother Church prevails. Why? Because she is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Bride of Christ is protected by her Spouse, Jesus, who has proclaimed that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

It's a good time to be Catholic. You might take issue with that, protesting that the post-Vatican II Church is slipping into postmodernism. For some people, that might be true. Call it post-adolescent idealism or youthful optimism, but I see a springtime; a return to orthodoxy even as the world rages against it. But more importantly, it's always a "good time" to be a Catholic. It might have been easier in the 1950s, it might have been the cultural norm in the 1400s. But the Church is the Church. When I remember that, it's a little easier to swallow disturbing news about women's' "ordination" or pro-abortion "Catholic" vice presidential candidates. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. If Roman emperors couldn't get a few hundred first-century Christians to hush up by threatening lion-feedings and burnings-at-the stake, I'm not really too fussed about a few misguided women in Canada who want to be priests or a handful of prominent politicians who claim they can still be Catholic while denying inherent human rights and dignity to unborn children. Of course, I'm still upset about these things, but I'm not clutching my heart in fear that the Church will fall apart because of them. She won't. Especially with Papa B at the helm.

Curse you, loquaciousness! I set out to write a simple "Hello, this is me" sort of post, but here we are many paragraphs later... ah well.

On an entirely unrelated note, exactly five years ago today my parents, sisters, and I loaded up the minivan and drove to Madison to set up my new life as a college student. Whew, that does not seem like it was five years ago. Ridiculous. I have a feeling there will be more "n years ago..." sentiments coming. I give fair warning.

So, hello there. Welcome :-)