Monday, April 26, 2004

Asking the right question
Fron the Washington Post (requires registration) via Atrios:
A question has been gnawing at Frank A. McNeirney since he read that some Roman Catholic bishops want to deny Communion to Catholic politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, whose public positions are at odds with church doctrine.

"Does this only apply to abortion?" asked McNeirney, 67, of Bethesda. "What about the death penalty?"

Mr. McNeirney has managed to nail two of my favorite hypocrisies with one shot: selective enforcement of religious law and selective indignation over the sanctity of human life.

The former are those Christians, Jews, and Muslims who quote their sacred to law at the drop of a hat if it supports their favorite biases. Usually this means sacred law is less a guide to life to them than it is a cudgel with which to beat their opponents. If the law is eternal, something that must be unwaveringly obeyed, then that must mean all of the law. On the other hand, if religious law is subject to history in the same way human law is, then it is fair to interpret all laws in the context of the age. They can't treat sacred law like an ala carte smorgasbord, picking and choosing those parts that demand unquestioning obedience and those parts that are open to interpretation. A person who travels on the Sabbath and eats shellfish can't demand stoning for homosexuals.

The latter hypocrites are those who only get excited about protecting the sanctity of human life when it is in the womb. They become indifferent to that life when it is in the world looking for food, shelter, and medicine, and the demand the ending of that life when it transgresses.

Mr. McNeirney reassures me that there are still religious people who are ethically consistent and rational and that they exist on both sides of the political divide. Not that I really doubted; I have known plenty of deeply religious people who were decent and honest. But it's nice to be reminded that they exist beyond my excentric circle. The WaPo article makes the same point.
But McNeirney is not alone in questioning whether the church's political vision has become myopic, focusing too narrowly on abortion.

Some Catholic publications, educators and elected officials are also warning that church leaders may appear hypocritical or partisan if they condemn Kerry because he favors abortion rights while they say nothing about Catholic governors who allow executions, Catholic members of Congress who support the Iraq war or Catholic officials at all levels who ignore the church's teachings on social justice.

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