God and mammon on Twitter

One of the risks with mixing religion and politics is the chance of “mission creep”: religious groups find themselves influenced (or contaminated) by political ideas that have little or no theological weight to them, but which gradually take on the importance of articles of faith. A good example is the drift of churchgoing Catholics toward Republican activism over the last 40 years.

First, let’s be clear: there’s no ambiguity about the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, regardless of what Nancy Pelosi wants to think. And some Catholics see Republicans as the natural home for them, because of the party’s ostensible opposition to abortion (what the party actually does on abortion is another matter). The problem, for these Catholics, is that there’s a whole range of policy positions endorsed by the Republicans that are contrary to Catholic teaching.

So what do you do, as a faithful Catholic? Well, you can conclude that since neither party represents your beliefs, that your best option is to join a third party; register as an unaffiliated voter; use your ballot to write in candidates more to your liking; or skip voting altogether. Or, you could reach a stage where you’ve decided that the Republican Party and the Catholic Church are interchangeable, and there are no contradictions between them.

I was put in mind of all this on Tuesday night, when the Rev. Jay Finelli, a Rhode Island priest who blogs and podcasts as “The iPadre,” tweeted this during the presidential debate:

#Obama believes in redistribution, not the free market. #debate

I sent him links to Rerum Novarum, Populorum Progressio, and an address his current boss gave back in January, in which the pope said:

In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution.

Do you see the problem here? Finelli did not; he tweeted back a quote from Rerum Novarum in which Leo XIII defended private property, as if that’s the same thing as the free market (it is not). Finelli has accepted another organization’s orthodoxy in place of his own, because of their common position on a handful of issues. It’s hard to see how this is good for either religion or politics.

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12 Responses to God and mammon on Twitter

  1. Jeremy rich says:

    Is he a younger priest? How does he not know this stuff?

  2. Tom Breen says:

    I’m not sure about his age, but I think there’s a lot of willful blindness among American Catholics about the less GOP-friendly teachings of the church. Many of them don’t realize Benedict is far more concerned about climate change than Barack Obama, for example.

    • Jay Croft says:

      Hey, President Obama has to deal with a Congress where rich capitalist Republicans predominate. Benny doesn’t have to worry too much about opposition; he has a lifetime job.

      • Tom Breen says:

        Yeah, but I don’t think Obama has any problem with rich capitalists; he is governing on their behalf. He’s an Ivy League technocrat who came of age in a post-Seventies climate of activism that prized “pragmatism” and “solutions” above idealism and principles. The pope, by contrast, is a 20th century German intellectual who has philosophically grounded objections to capitalism that would never get a hearing in the context of electoral politics (I guarantee you Benedict has read a lot more Marx than the president).

        • Jay Croft says:

          If you’re POTUS, you gotta be pragmatic. Run for president some time–even for mayor–and you’ll see.

          • Tom Breen says:

            Sure, but they’re not the same things. The pragmatism needed to run for mayor doesn’t usually require people to think about whether they’d approve drone strikes on civilians, torture of people never convicted of crimes, unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens, or the massive deportation of Latino immigrants, which are all things your pragmatic pal in the White House has done.

          • Jay Croft says:

            And YOUR pragmatic pal who wants to be in the White House–is suddenly going to stop all the wars, either keep the “Latinos” within our borders or kick ‘em all out, and so on, all the while amassing even more personal wealth?

            As Nero Wolfe would say: Pfui.

        • leftover says:

          I think he’s read more Keynes than Obama, too…by the look of it.

      • leftover says:

        From Open Secrets last year…

        Fully 37* Senate Democrats and 30 Senate Republicans reported an average net worth in excess of $1 million in 2010, according to the Center’s analysis. The same was true of 110 House Republicans and 73 House Democrats.

        The median estimated net worth among Senate Republicans was $2.43 million, and the median net worth among members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate was $2.69 million*, by the Center’s tally.

        Meanwhile, in the House, the median estimated net worth of a GOP House member was $834,250 in 2010, according to the Center’s research, compared to a median net worth of $635,500 among House Democrats.

        I think rich capitalists…if being a millionaire counts as “rich” these days… are well represented on both sides of the aisle…as well as in The White House. And we haven’t even touched on the neoliberal legislation they’ve been passing or propose to enact in the future.

        If there are substantive differences between either candidate…other than rhetorical cosmetics and a command of basic arithmetic..point me in a direction where I might find them enumerated.

        As for Ratzinger…you know by this time, Jay, that I’m no fan…but he does have opposition to deal with. There is, as Tom has pointed out, some serious differences among Catholic bishops over interpretations of doctrine. Ratzinger may not be facing reelection, but he is conscious of what every pope desires almost as much as heaven: Lasting Legacy. Ratzinger has made a career out of interpreting and enforcing adherence to papal doctrines. He wants to unify his church, while not appearing to compromise his authority. And he has to deal with American and European Catholics, congregants as well as clergy, who are making a habit of ignoring, and even challenging, that authority and, as PEW has pointed out, are leaving the church and taking their checkbooks with them.

        Ratzinger doesn’t have an electorate, per se, but adherents are voting with their feet, and he wants to be remembered as the pope that reconciled the differences and antagonisms within the church that are causing that exodus…especially in America.

        And then…if you’re a believer…he has God to deal with…I’ve heard He can be a bit testy sometimes.

  3. ChrisB. says:

    I’m completely agree with you on this. I don’t think there’s much room at all in Catholicism for a debate on abortion. And honestly, in the early Christian writings like the Didache it’s a non-negotiable item.

    But . . . that really is one of only a select few issues where the Republican Party and the Catholic Church agree . . . after that it gets really sketchy.

    That’s why it’s also sort of unsettling when I encounter liberals who wholly object to the Catholic Church . . . because overall, they actually agree on a lot of things: namely social justice.

    • Tom Breen says:

      Agreed. That’s why I think it’s so hard (or rather, should be so hard) for people trying to be faithful Catholics to find someone to vote for. The notion that you’ve got to pick either Cola Red or Cola Blue is a product of the peculiar American political system, not church teaching. Yet that kind of self-examination is depressingly hard to find in the American church.