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Conscientious Objections, Religious Wars?

Politics, sex, and religion: is there a more potentially energizing debate-mix anywhere?

Case in point: the ongoing, unresolved controversy over new Health & Human Services "health" regulations requiring religious institutions to (WARNING: Opinion coming HERE) violate their core principles or face government sanctions. Or, as others have opined, are these regulations that strengthen "women's health" by being applied to all, rather than "favoring" a specific religious group?

 Whether or not the topic now has passed out of the news-cycle merry-go-round of the media (and it would seem that, at least temporarily, it has) the issue remains a troubling question for many-- among them, yrs truly and a correspondent by the pen-name of "periscope," apparently a frequent poster on the Newsweek/Daily Beast site.  It was here that I, recently if briefly, joined a discussion-in-progress in one of my (relatively rare) offerings on a non-Redroom web-posting site.

As always, please feel free to take it up from here, in dispute or support.

--Earl "Instigator" Merkel

Re: Kirsten Powers’ column on The Daily Beast/Newsweek website


Daily beast posts 2-7-11

1 Hour Ago

There's a startling level of smug vitrol in many of the postings today, attacking the Catholic church for taking a stand on a matter of conscience regarding a central principle of its faith; one wonders why a distaste for "conscientious objection" in this --as opposed to, say, in  the anti-war/anti-draft movement of the Vietnam War era-- is being so selectively (and even gleefully) imposed against a religion.

But the controversy does, IMHO, illustrate how to energize a secular political base with an incendiary NON-economic issue; that it also may energize the opposing religious base apparently has been deemed an acceptable risk.

Much has been made about Catholic institutions accepting tax dollars. One wonders when reimbursement for health services rendered to poor or indigent patients (or for medical research) became a matter of debate, or that it is somehow preferable to NOT treating those in need at Catholic health facilities. As a matter of conscience, the latter option is considered anathema to Christians as a whole, and Catholic Christians have long provided this social benefit-- even predating any Federal tax-dollar reimbursements; expect it, also as a matter of conscience, to continue despite the current controversy.

There's also been much said about the number of Catholics who practice birth control using methods banned by Church teachings. This too is a matter of conscience for those individuals, if also an area where some of those individuals remain intentionally uninformed: some methods prevent a fertilized egg from implantation in the womb, effectively aborting what the Church states is a "human being from the moment of conception." Individual Catholics are not immune from making choices, informed or less so, that meet their Church's definition of "sin;" but to demand that their Church collaborate in easing their individual consciences might seem a bit extreme, as it requires that Church to refute two thousand years, more or less, of its own conscientious principle.

Like it or not, the actions of this Administration is forcing American Catholics to make a decision, one that is both personal and political. Expect it to expand into other areas now, including areas where the sensitivities even of American Catholic leadership have engendered a curious near-silence.

For just one example: The doctrine of the Catholic Church holds that it is sinful --potentially, a mortal sin-- to cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate if a viable pro-life candidate is available. While this has been generally soft-pedaled by the American bishops (not unlike a similar doctrine regarding withholding the sacrament of Communion to proponents of abortion) it remains a Catholic mandate.

Letters opposing the Administration's new insurance mandate reportedly have been read prior to Sunday services in the past two weeks; one must wonder why the pro-choice voting prohibition has not yet been mentioned. If it finally is, and if Catholics are informed that their voting choice may be considered a grave sin, one wonders if this "nuclear option" might alter their individually "conscientious" voting decisions rather drastically, even if it fails to derail the newly stated policies of this Administration in the short-term.

Ms. Powers expresses an opinion when she terms the new policy "mean-spirited." It may well be --certainly, some of the posts here are; or it may merely be a cynical political gamble by those in the Administration who seek to distract from economic issues less attractive than an assault on a religious institution's core beliefs.

But in either case, it is tantamount to a declaration of war. In this war, conscientious objectors will be in the front rank of the battle.

--Earl Merkel
Chicago, IL

1 Hour Ago
Religious fanatics are always "going to war" to impose their views on everyone else. The Church has been doing it for centuries (see: the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.), and today this Church, which took a blind eye to the molestation of children by thousands of priests worldwide, now wants to enforce their mythological contraceptive views on secular society.
We condemn Muslims who cry for "Jihad," and we should do the same for a Catholic clergy that denies contraception even though the vast majority of their flock are for it and practice it.
blue553 and 1 morelike this.
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2 Minutes Ago
Yes, indeed-- and various Popes have fathered children, fought to enlarge the former Papal states, etc. etc. etc. While I thoroughly enjoy a historical debate --even involving examples that happened centuries ago-- flawed humans in powerful positions are fairly common (even in more modern times, whether in Washington DC or in parish back-rooms where despicable criminal assaults indeed did occur). What the Catholic Church calls "sin" is a sad part of individual human activity; but if the Catholic church ever comes out in favor of it, as an institution, it will clearly be headline news.

But your points --I hesitate to call them "talking points," out of politeness-- have little relevance to the discussion at hand.

1) There's been a lot of "going to war" over the centuries, and it's a bit facile to blame it blindly on "religion." The Crusades --the most oft-mentioned cliche these days-- might have been "preached" as a "Holy War," but the fact that the (armed) second-sons of secular rulers needed a place to be sent to avoid fighting among themselves in Europe had a wee bit to do with it... as did the prospect of plunder, certainly not a motive with much to do with religious dogma. The fact that the Crusades turned into a war of pillage, rape and blood surprises only those who seize "religious war" as a handy catch-all.

2) In the current conflict, it would seem the Catholic Church is engaged in a defensive war, does it not? Defending oneself against an attack --especially one that seems to have been an unprovoked attack, except for perceived opportunism of political gain through "energizing" those with pre-existing prejudices-- is pretty much considered justifiable, even for most pacifists.

3) Ah-- so if a "vast majority of (their) flock is for it and practices it," a religion should accept that action? It would be interesting if this was practiced even in secular democratic systems, but wildly interesting if a religious institution (which recognizes the flawed nature of humans, as well as the need for some bedrock model for behavior as both a social and a moral compass) took a binding vote on what was popular. (See "pillage, rape and blood" reference, above). In this particular situation, the Catholic church holds to a doctrine of faith, is acting in accord with its institutional conscience, and acknowledges that what may be "popular" may still be... wrong. Is that not the definition of "conscience"? Or would it be better for a return to those non-celibate Popes, or allow those pedophile priests you mention to make their individual decisions freed from the chains of dogma?

Is there a need for a government to dictate the actions, based on beliefs, that are held by a religious institution --this, especially in light of Constitutional protection of such beliefs? That would seem to be the question, and employing dorm-lounge cliches that only serve to cloud a relatively important issue -- what we are as a nation-- tends to be useless navel-gazing, does it not?

--Earl Merkel