00 7/14/2009 3:19 PM

Let me just add here the last two posts on CIV that I thought should go on the main BENEIDTC XVI NEWS thread too.

This one takes a shot at the mindless ideological reflexes - and they are mindless because they are reflexive, robotic responses - with which political-minded people have reacted to the encyclical.

The audacity of the Pope
Op-Ed Columnist

Published: July 12, 2009

Papal encyclicals are supposed to be written with one eye on two millenniums of Catholic teaching, and the other on eternity. But Americans, as a rule, have rather narrower horizons.

As soon as the media have finished scanning a Vatican document for references to sex, the debate begins in earnest: Is it good for the left, or for the right? For Democrats, or for Republicans?

This was true in the 1950s, when the young William F. Buckley Jr. famously feuded with liberals over how much respect he owed to papal pronouncements on economic matters.

It was true in the 1990s, when conservatives eagerly cited John Paul II’s condemnations of abortion and euthanasia, while liberals countered by noting his criticisms of the death penalty.

And it’s especially true today, when a document like Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), the third encyclical of Benedict XVI’s papacy — whose release, last Tuesday, was slightly overshadowed by a celebrity funeral of some sort — can be wrangled over endlessly within hours of showing up online.

These arguments never seem to go anywhere. When a Pope criticizes legalized abortion, liberal Catholics nod and say that yes, they agree, it’s a terrible tragedy ... but of course they can’t impose their religious values on a secular society. [No, it's worse than that! They actually share the secular view of abortion as a fundamental human right!!

When a Pope endorses the redistribution of wealth, conservative Catholics stroke their chins and say that yes, they agree, society needs a safety net ... but of course they’re duty-bound to oppose the tyranny of big government.

And when the debate isn’t going their way, left and right both fall back on flaccid rhetoric about how the papal message “transcends politics,” and shouldn’t be turned to any partisan purpose.

Caritas in Veritate has been no exception. It’s a “social” encyclical, in the Church’s parlance, covering issues ranging from globalization and the environment to unions and the welfare state.

Inevitably, liberal Catholics spent the past week touting its relevance to the Democratic Party’s policy positions. (A representative blast e-mail: “Pope’s Encyclical on Global Economy Supports the Principles of the Employee Free Choice Act.”)

Just as inevitably, conservative Catholics hastened to explain that the encyclical “is not a political document” — to quote a statement co-authored by the House minority leader, John Boehner — and shouldn’t be read as “an endorsement of any political or economic agenda.”

Boehner is half right. The Pope is not a Democrat or a Republican, and his vision doesn’t fit the normal categories of American politics.

But Benedict’s encyclical is nothing if not political. Caritas in Veritate promotes a vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism. It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.

This is not a message you’re likely to hear in Barack Obama’s next State of the Union, or in the Republican Party’s response. It represents a kind of left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.

But that’s precisely what makes it so relevant and challenging — for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

We’re passing through the worst economic dislocation of the past 80 years. Our politics are polarized; our institutions gridlocked. The governing party is mistrusted, the minority party despised.

Yet there’s remarkably little radical thinking taking place. The Republican Party is retrenching, falling back on Reagan-era verities. His promises of post-partisan change notwithstanding, Barack Obama’s agenda looks like the same old Democratic laundry list, rewritten in a sleeker, Internet-era font.

[It may be sleek, but not sleek enough to hide its general outlines, for those who are not self-blinded to see. The audacity of power, one might call it, is fearsome, to say the least, and it threatens American soceity as we have known it. Obama's big government wants to step in and take over every aspect of individual life in a Fascist-like grap for power that does not care if its ambitious take-over programs are burying future generations in debt - and they've only been six months in power!]

This doesn’t mean that America needs a third party with Caritas in Veritate as its platform. The Church is not a think tank, and there’s room for wide disagreement about how to put its social teaching into practice.

But Catholics are obliged to take seriously the underlying provocation of the papal message — namely, that our present political alignments are not the only ones imaginable, and that truth may not be served by perfect ideological conformity.

So should all people of good will. For liberals and conservatives alike, Caritas in Veritate is an invitation to think anew about their alliances and litmus tests.

Why should being pro-environment preclude being pro-life? Why can’t Republicans worry about economic inequality, and Democrats consider devolving more power to localities and states? Does opposing the Iraq war mean that you have to endorse an anything-goes approach to bioethics? Does supporting free trade require supporting the death penalty?

[But all these imagined 'mutual exclusivities' are nothing but expressions of rigid ideology which governs every thought that ideologues make. One can argue that leftist ideologues in the United States are far more rabid about barking out their Pavlov-dog ideological reflexes than their counterparts on the right.]

These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore.

But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington.

[About which few in the media are brave enough to say the emperor has no clothes - after all the blatantly shameless and widespread disregard for the Emperor-Messiah's own repeated promises of transparency and no lobbying and no new taxes and pie-in-the-sky for everyone.

What administration can have any moral authority when the President insists that Congress pass its bills as fast as they can to get it to his desk by his deadline, without even having a complete bill to present to the members before they vote on it, and whose major bills so far - the stimulus package, notoriously - were passed with most of the members of Congress matter-of-factly admitting they had not read the bill at all, or only parts of it?

I wonder if the Pope was aware of this blatantly immoral open secret in Washington which the media is not at all condemning, or at least protesting?]