The Modern Virtue of Feckless Faith: Senator Tim Kaine’s selective Catholicism

The Catholic Church proclaims that all human life is a beautiful gift of the Creator.  The U.S. Constitution declares that every person is endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.  The first and most basic right, is the right to be born, that is, the right to life.  If one agrees with this article of faith and the Constitution, he should make efforts to uphold that precious dignity that remains under constant assault today.  If he disagrees with the concept of intrinsic human value, he’s free to impose a new standard for who receives legal protection (by class, skin color, age, etc.). But could a person be internally torn, wanting to simultaneously defend and attack innocent humans?  What if a person’s mind and heart contradict each other?  This post seeks to examine such a stance. But in the final analysis, a binary option remains – every single life has intrinsic value by virtue of being human, or not.

Can you discuss in detail a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position?

Virginia Senator and Vice Presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, was asked this question at the tail end of his debate with Governor Mike Pence.  It should strike us as an odd question for at least two reasons.

First, every believer feels these tensions but displays the strength of his faith by allowing it to inform and shape his public life.  Your beliefs will be respected nowadays as long as they don’t influence your actions.  Our culture loves to hear people share about their faith, and the tension that faith causes, as long as politics wins in the end.  That is, it receives public approval as long as that faith remains only personal, private, and has zero influence on a person’s actions.  If faith stands firm and ultimately shapes a decision, then you reveal your true colors as a religious fanatic, or worse, “close-minded.”

When it comes to belief in the public square, it is a modern virtue to talk out of both sides of your mouth.  It’s fashionable to really believe something devoutly (on Sunday), but when it comes time to exercise that belief (during the week), allow it to topple under the pressure of political gain.

Secondly, for anyone who has heard Senator Kaine speak on the challenges of keeping his Catholic faith consistent, this question immediately came across as an obvious set up for him to defend his selective Catholicism.

The question implies if one’s personal faith consistently influenced public policy positions, he would be out of balance.  Kaine, clearly prepared for this, made a brilliant move in discussing the death penalty.  But this question was really only about one thing – abortion.  He shifted the focus away from the crucially important and controversial question of the value of innocent human life, in order to lay the groundwork to justify how he can be against ending children’s lives in their mother’s wombs, yet constantly promoting further bloodshed.

In other words, he claims he hates it when mothers’ have a doctor end the life of their unborn children, but loves promoting and protecting their right to do so.

unborn-baby

A brief examination exposes the absurdity of this stance.  When we look back in history, what would you think of a political figure who claimed to be very much against slave-holding if he said it was wrong for him personally, but he would never force his views on another slaveholder?  And what if he didn’t merely passively allow others to own slaves, but actively promoted, defended, and signed into law one’s ability to own slaves?     

If I appeal to my religious beliefs in order to respect women, but appeal to my public life in order to denigrate them, you’d call me a hypocrite, because I am one and the same person.

What about child-abuse?  Does it limit a parent’s freedom to say it’s wrong and hurtful, and enforce laws which limit it?  If Kaine’s main argument – women should decide for themselves – were consistently applied, that logic would also defend all child abuse.  Yet, he doesn’t because knows some actions are wrong and hurt others.  He knows not all choices are good for people.  Kaine is not pro-choice on child-abuse, slavery, and assault. Don’t we make some choices illegal and make efforts to stop or limit them, such as rape and murder?  We don’t say, “A man should choose for himself if he wants to assault a woman.  I don’t want to impose my religious beliefs an any man.”  Choice jolts us away from the real concern: human dignity.

We work to prevent child abuse because we correctly focus on the rights of the child, not the freedoms of the parent to choose.  Yet, abortion is the ultimate child abuse.  It causes the worst kind of physical damage to the child, death.

Reasonably, we would conclude these persons – the slaveholder, the child abuser, the womanizer – were on the wrong side morally.  And here’s the rub: We are so selective with our morality today.  In many ways we really hate morality – you can be religious (whatever that means) but please don’t be moral, especially consistently!  You can go to Church, read the Bible, pray, and say how important your religious upbringing is, that’s all well and good.  But for the love of God (we invoke him here because he understands our frustration), shed that morality!  For example, if you believe marriage is a sacred permanent bond between one man and one woman, and so cannot support gay-marriage, now your faith is a serious problem.  Can’t you just keep the parts of your faith that don’t bother anyone?  Keep it locked up in your heart and your home, but don’t allow it to influence your stance on moral matters.

For Kaine, this inconsistent, dishonest, and logically impossible stance – simultaneously pro-choice & pro-life – has become a norm for him and many others.  History provides a lesson when we look at Senator Ted Kennedy and the evolution of his faith-informed politics.  Most people are not familiar that the pro-life movement in the U.S. was a liberal cause inside the Democrat party.  The right to life was seen as logically consistent with rights for the poor, immigrants, and others in the underclass. As a liberal democrat, Kennedy was a prominent defender of the right to life for the unborn.  Before 1973, we could see that his Catholic faith, which he could appeal to in order to justify his public stance, was seemingly strong and consistent.  But when 7 men in the Supreme Court imposed abortion on all 50 states, the Democrat Party adopted the opposite stance.

Kennedy supplied what’s now all too familiar, I’m still against it (religiously) even though I’m for it (politically).  That is, I’m personally opposed but communally for abortion.

One seems free to appeal to religion as long its separate from the real world.  “I’m religiously against but realistically for abortion.”  Such reveals a most horrid reality that Kaine has furthered: when faith and politics are in tension, politics must win!  Kennedy showed his allegiance to his political party was greater than his allegiance to his Church.  

One can wear a Catholic mask to appease critics, but when the tough gets going, faith gives way to political gain.  It reminds me of the story when Nikita Khrushchev asked a factory worker, “Do you believe in God?” and he replied, “At home, yes.  At work, no.”  Is that not Kaine’s position?

Religion becomes pure sentiment, even if heartfelt, mindful, or both, when its reduced to a psychology divorced from life.  This faith is a schizophrenic ideal that can be allowed to survive only in mental isolation in order to maintain street cred with those religious “fanatics.” This sort of belief is no longer a place of religious action but submission to the more important tank of political action.   Kaine’s faith appears soft and inoffensive.  We can all agree, “Well that’s nice.”  But his politics are a war tank.  And he’s not afraid to run over anyone brash enough to stand in the way of the government with laws, taxes, and public shaming (pronounced, “ignorant,” “misogynist,” and “superstitious”).

The Catholic Church professes that every human life has intrinsic value, dignity, and beauty from his or her first moment of existence.  When is that moment? What’s great about this stance, is it doesn’t require religious faith to arrive at the conclusion.  This religion concurs with what the intellect observes.  Science and biology reveal that human life begins at conception – at that moment a new human person emerges with her own DNA.  It takes mental gymnastics to deny this obvious truth.  The Church has always held this position because She professes the belief that each person is created in God’s image and thus cannot lose their worth.  The Church condemns any actions which ignores the respect due to such a person.  Abortion is one of the most grave violations of one’s dignity because it purposely kills an innocent child in what should be the safest place for her.

A final word to those who have experienced abortion. If you, or someone you really care about, has experienced abortion, you should know this: the Catholic Church does not condemn you.  Following Jesus Christ, we recognize the harm of sinful actions and see persons as its victims.  By sin we simply mean an action that offends God.  Abortion hurts everyone involved – the mother, the child, the father, the doctor, and ultimately, the Creator of life, who alone has the right to take it away.  Sin is often a self-inflicted wound that also harms others.  So we hate sin and love sinners (and we recognize ourselves as sinners too) because we know it damages the spirit and the body.  We hate the damage it causes and love the person who is harmed.

Any person who commits a sin needs to be and can be forgiven.  Any person who has experienced emotional, psychological, or physical pain, can be healed.  Regret, shame, turmoil, fear, anxiety, and a host of other paralyzing consequences are the fruits of abortion.  The Good News is the Catholic Church is in the business of healing and forgiveness!

If Kaine understood the reality of what abortion does and the terror it leaves in its wake, he would likely understand the work the Catholic Church does to bring healing and restoration to its victims, and her efforts to build a culture of life which embraces and celebrates every little one, unwanted ones, and even weak and broken ones.  He would also know what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Devaluing the life of the unborn devalues the life of everyone because we dropp “all” from “all men are created equal.”  Now the government is free to decide who is protected by the law because they have redefined who qualifies as persons (and we’ve seen that with slavery in America, Apartheid in South Africa, and repeatedly in history).  “We’re not taking away your rights because you don’t qualify as a human.”

We can only plead with those who claim to be personally against abortion to be consistently and logically against it, and to apply their faith to their life the way their Lord commands his followers to do so.  Or, to stop appealing to his Catholic faith that he doesn’t fully embrace or apparently understand.  The Catholic Church stands for freedom, truth, and beauty.  If those appeal to you, I can only invite you to discover the peace and joy She promises those who drink from her eternal fountain.

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