Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Government protected freedom is only half the battle

A great article form First Things that discusses the two different forms of slavery we as humans experience: external and internal.

In the modern West, people generally think of slavery, captivity, and the need for liberation in Orwell’s sense, rather than Huxley’s. Our vision of freedom is primarily socio-political, with the greatest threat to human flourishing being the other, whether the Nazi, the slave-owner, or the autocrat. Oppression comes through pain, not pleasure; the essence of liberty is to be without external constraint. Humans are free if they are able to choose, to will their own future, to decide for themselves what they will do with their lives. By this definition, modern Westerners are all free, with the exception of prisoners and the incapacitated.
Many of the ancients saw things more like Huxley. In what could be called a more religious or philosophical vision of liberty, the greatest threat to human flourishing is the lack of wisdom, phronesis, or virtue. Whereas moderns understand freedom in terms of unconstrained individual choices, many ancients regarded the forces underlying individual choices—passions and desires which might in turn be foolish, selfish, or carnal, much like those depicted in Brave New World—as something from which people needed to be freed.

This is an important distinction to make, and one that has contributed to the demise of my respect for liberal politics. The modern consensus seems to be that if we only remove barriers to economic and social freedom (poverty, inequality, discrimination, etc.) that people will have all the tools they need to succeed. The reality is significantly different, and an exploration of every well-intended campaign from welfare to housing projects to affirmative action reveals that government efforts to level the playing field do not necessarily correspond to an improvement in the lives of those who directly benefit.

This is not to say that government assistance programs or the global fight for universal freedom are mistakes, but rather that they are insufficient. They are only the first step, and they are not effective unless they are accompanied by a strong network of moral authority, teaching of values, and religious freedom.
Yet if the human is to be seen as body and soul, physical and spiritual, object and subject, political and religious, then our vision of freedom needs to incorporate both modern and ancient perspectives as well. The fact that the state is best equipped to promote political freedom, which I take for granted, does not mean that it is the only sort of freedom there is.
In fact in many cases, a more lasting and complete success results when a religious organization implements an assistance program that is funded by the government. As  this  article in Philanthropy Magazine states: "Most likely, faith-based groups’ success is attributable to all these factors: clear moral teaching; personalized, loving, face-to-face assistance; dependable emotional support over the long haul and the sense of connectedness this engenders; and the experience of a personal relationship with a loving, listening, forgiving God that strengthens the individual’s confidence and infuses new hope." 

It is this reality that the HHS mandate is threatening. By limiting a faith-based organization's ability to partner with government to serve those in need, the government is in essence saying that the moral guidance religion provides is not only less important than the basic freedoms (or license) provided by the government, but that religion's moral teachings are actually in opposition to these freedoms and need to be regulated to assure our citizen's rights.

This could not be further from the truth, and represents a real danger not only to faith-based charities but to our society as a whole. There are NO examples in history where state-imposed morality has achieved a better society than a democratic system run by a citizenry that values religion. It is certainly the system that our founding fathers envisioned, in their wisdom. It is the system the USCCB is attempting to preserve with its efforts during this second Fortnight of Freedom to preserve the role of the Church in the political realm. It is the reason why the Church is standing up and speaking Truth despite attacks from all sides, despite the vilification and accusations of bigotry, bullying, and evil.
All of which means that, if we are representing Jesus properly, there will be times when our work looks very similar to that of a secular human rights organization, as we seek release for captives. But there will also be times, if we are representing Jesus properly, when we look utterly inexplicable to those same organizations for our incessant talk of freedom from sin, the flesh, and the self. Many today, like citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games and the Judeans in John 8, will look puzzled and tell us that they have no particular need of freedom, because they have never been enslaved to anyone. “But anyone who sins,” we will reply, “is a slave to sin. And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Church and State

A fantastic article about the proper role of the Church in relation to government from Ignitum Today: The Church Should Rule the World

I'm going to have the Tears for Fears song stuck in my head now for the rest of the day....

Friday, June 14, 2013

Government and Freedom

To those who protest the legalization of Same Sex Marriage, I ask the question: What are you trying to accomplish?

The common answer (which I have seen marvelously expressed by people much smarter than I, see end of this post) is "To protect marriage for the sake of children, families, and society." A very laudable goal, and one that we should all pursue. But I don't think opposing the Federal legalization of gay marriage is the way to achieve it.

Look, I completely agree with Catholic teaching in this regard, and believe wholeheartedly in a lifelong union of one man and one woman for the purpose of creating a stable unit in which to raise their biological children. This is God's plan for us. The Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality represent the only approach that fully integrates body, soul, and spirit the way God intended us humans to operate.

HOWEVER, we live in a fallen world. Our technologies have already divorced sex from procreation, and our laws have already established that individuals have the right to bring children into their lives in any manner they choose. (Again, this is wrong. It is wrong to conceive a child from an affair; children deserve to live with both parents in a stable family unit. It is wrong to use a surrogate in India to gestate your biological children; women deserve more than to be used for their body parts. It is wrong to use contraception, abortion, IVF, or visit a sperm bank; children are a blessing, not a commodity to be acquired in the exact manner and timing we wish.) The Church has consistently spoken out against contraception, abortion, fetal stem cell research, divorce, premarital sex, and a host of other ills plaguing our society. Yet our government continues to prize individual freedom over morality or societal stability, and will continue to do so as long as we operate under our Constitution, because that is the system we have set up.

The fact is, same sex couples have access to all the same methods of procreation as infertile heterosexual couples or single parents. They can use a surrogate and DNA from one partner, they can visit a sperm bank, they can adopt both internationally and domestically, and they can bring biological children into the union from previous relationships. Children are a part of same sex marriages, period. And because this is the case, those children need the protection of law. 

I hear what you are saying. But the government should protect those children without redefining marriage and weakening the family structure that is BEST for children!

There really isn't a way for the government to do that. There's nothing that mimics marriage, which is precisely why we are having this fight. Contracts and wills do not protect the union itself, they just articulate the division of assets if the union ends (through death or otherwise.) Marriage is unique in its ability to provide for the protection of each individual in the relationship as well as those dependent upon it. Civil Unions do not afford tax breaks to promote raising children, or mandate that insurance companies and businesses provide coverage to spouses without paying jobs (either because they are disabled or taking care of dependents), or allow immigration protection for the partners. And only marriage prioritizes the couple as the primary guardians of the children in their care.

It's indisputable that it's best for children to be raised by their biological parents in a loving home. Children deserve that, and it's a tragedy when anything interferes with it. But same sex marriage is not the only impediment to the family unit. The family has been broken for a long, long time. In fact, just like adopted parents, step-parents, or single parents, same sex couples can actually be part of the solution. We can't come at this issue without acknowledging the reality of many situations where a same sex couple would be the better choice of parents for a child than his/her biological parent due to abuse, addiction, or abandonment. Reality does not always reflect the ideal, and government does a very poor job of providing for the emotional and spiritual needs of broken families. This is where the Church is so incredibly important, and where the government should be supporting Church efforts to build responsible and caring communities.

But it's important that Christians are free to express our beliefs. Our rights are protected under the First Amendment. The government can't make a law that takes away our rights in order to grant rights to another group.

Yes, and this is the real fight. The Church is not going to amend official teaching on God's plan for human relationships because it is the Truth. And it is GOOD for society to have strong religious influences that are active participants in government. The government needs to protect religious freedom and the ability of individuals to express their religious beliefs in the public square, without allowing that expression to take away the individual freedoms of other groups of people (like those with SSA.)

We must admit that the Church (and by Church I mean All People Who Love God) has not done a very good job of communicating Truth with Love on this issue. When we kick the children of a lesbian couple out of Catholic school, refuse to rent rooms in a Bed and Breakfast to a lesbian couple, or refuse to bake a cake for a same sex wedding, I have to ask again, what are we trying to accomplish?

Again, the common answer is that we are standing up for our beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman and the choices of those with Same Sex Attraction (SSA) should not infringe upon our rights as Christians to practice our faith.

Friends, does anyone truly believe that refusing to allow a dying man's life-partner into his hospital room is showing the love of Christ? Or that by refusing to "celebrate" a gay couple's marriage, that we are in any way standing up for Christ, who ate at the home of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes at a time when to do so was seen as legitimizing their sins and even being tarnished with them Himself? In His time, even talking to someone outside the established frame of the Judaic community was to soil Himself, yet he freely addressed the Woman at the Well to show us that interacting with sinners neither supports their sin nor makes us sinners ourselves. Providing flowers for a same-sex wedding is NOT equivalent to standing up at that wedding as a Christian witness. From what I've read about the florist, she is a faithful Christian and a very loving person. She is countersuing the State after being ordered to provide the flowers. I admire her, and yet I disagree with her choice in this instance.

There is a reason why the general consensus is that speaking out against same-sex marriage is hate speech. It's because those with SSA feel hated. They are not welcome in our parishes or schools. They are called "disordered." They are shamed, and subject to slurs and violence. Doesn't this sound like a group of people who require the protection of our government?

It is as much a violation of freedom to force a Christian baker to make a cake for a same sex wedding as it is to force a Christian Scientist to vaccinate their children, or an OB/GYN to perform abortions when that's against his beliefs. People have to be free to refuse to participate in an activity they find objectionable.

Yes, to an extent. It's helpful here to explore what we're talking about. In the case of Christian Scientists, the government has rightfully determined that children are the responsibility of their parents. So even the law mandating education is tempered by State laws that allow for homeschooling, religious-based schools, and the like.  The government allows parents to direct their children's care as long as the children's lives and individual human rights are not being threatened. (Ideally. There are plenty of errors and instances where the government WAY oversteps its bounds.) But gay couples are not children. We have no jurisdiction to govern the choices they make. In the case of an OB/GYN who does not want to perform abortions, we are talking about ending a human life, which is far different than baking a cake. Let's compare apples to apples.

How about this scenario? Someone comes to a baker wanting an erotic cake, or a cake soaked with rum or other alcohol. Say the baker objects to erotic cakes on moral grounds, or is a recovering alcoholic and does not want to use alcohol in their store. Is that different than refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple? Shouldn't those bakers have the right to define the terms of their service?

Or what about a photographer who does not want to photograph a same sex wedding? If someone wanted a professional to photograph them defiling a religious statue, or giving birth, or having sex, does the photographer have to participate no matter what his/her personal feelings?

Again, to an extent, the professional must have the right to refuse. However, in the case of erotic or alcoholic cakes, the baker can make a blanket policy and never bake those kind of cakes. That's different than a wedding cake baker who says "I make wedding cakes, but only for weddings I approve of." Does the photographer take pictures of births, but refuse to do out-of-wedlock births or interracial births? The difference is when the professional objects to the activity itself vs the persons who are conducting the activity. That's why the government has consistently defined this as discrimination, and has fined or otherwise penalized professionals who refuse their services to same sex couples.

But two people of the same gender cannot make a marriage, so it IS the action to which these professionals are objecting and not the people who are doing it. The florist served the individual members of the gay couple by selling flowers to them on previous occasions, she just declined to do their wedding because the wedding went against her beliefs.

Back to the question I've asked twice now: What are we trying to accomplish? Because we are NOT accomplishing it by opposing Federal legalization of same sex marriage or refusing to bake cakes for same sex weddings. In states with referendums upholding traditional marriage, legislators are overturning the will of the people to grant protections to same sex couples, precisely because we Christians are creating a hostile environment.

Yes, I say "we Christians" because there are no other groups opposing same sex marriage. I am very familiar with Christ's teachings on how the world will hate us, and twist everything we say, and reject us, and persecute us. It is not to avoid persecution that I am advocating a switch in our focus. I still expect great persecution because our message will not change. But surely we can see that the tactics we have tried (influencing government policy, advocating for laws that protect marriage, protesting gay rights) are not only NOT WORKING but are actually working against our ability to show love, hospitality, compassion, and caring to those who struggle with SSA?  

This is one of the primary challenges we face as Christians. How do we speak the truth with love, stand up for our beliefs without oppressing others, and live in the world without being a part of it? Honestly, I find living my beliefs to be the easiest part of being a Christian. It's the interacting with those who don't share those beliefs that is so tricky, and such a balancing act.

I'm sure we all have friends who have used IVF. We all know someone who is divorced. We all have people in our families who oppose Christian values. How do we treat these people? How do we love them?

These are weighty matters that require us to exercise thought, prayer, patience, gentleness, and humility. None of us has the right answer for every circumstance, but hopefully over the course of our lives we strike the proper balance and prove ourselves faithful to God's plan for us.

These are some of the best posts I've read on this subject:

Meaning and Purpose of Marriage - Catholic Register
The Difficulty of Engaging Gay Marriage - Bad Catholic
A Defense of Marriage, Or Not - LetLoveBeSincere
A Conversation With my Gay Friend - Conversion Diary
If it's Broken Why Defend it? - VoxNova
A Question on Temptation - Catholic Register
SSM and Infertility - Catholic Moral Theology
Marriage and Historical Inevitability Parts 1-3 - Ross Douthat for the NYT

Good sites for explaining the value of Traditional Marriage:
USCCB page on Same Sex Unions
Ruth Institute
Manhattan Declaration