When considering the delicate relationship between an individual’s religion and their politics in an attempt to understand their voting history, we must be careful to remember that one should never override the other but more often than not does. For example, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church would love to see homosexuality made illegal. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the extreme ends of the political left would love to see church’s and people of faith capitulate to legislative pressure to officially recognize and in some cases officiate same-sex marriages. These are clearly two extreme arguments but their over-the-top nature doesn’t negate that in the United States they are allowed to be as loud, vitriolic and obnoxious as they’d like. It seems that these days, the only viewpoints we hear about are the ones toeing the line between pro-active extremism and recalcitrant reactionaryism. This leads us to be false conclusion that they may not be the only viewpoints out there in the ether but they are the only ones the media deems worthy of discussing. Therefore, the majority of Americans, who are most assuredly more middle of the road than the media would have us believe, are relegated to a second tier of muted rhetoric and impotent, self-righteous activism. This is where it gets tricky for American Catholics.
Firstly, as a practicing Roman Catholic, I will admit that the majority of us who attend weekly Mass are severely lacking in the missionary aspect of our faith. I can remember at least twice where after leaving the joy and warmth of the presence of Christ within a half hour I was involved in an argument determining the ever-important question; where do we get lunch? The fact is; human beings are weak. We make mistakes. For an hour a week we acknowledge what is supposed to be paramount in our lives and sometimes we even keep our pledges to Christ and curtail our curmudgeonly ways from time to time. However, the majority of the time we are fully engaged in worldly affairs. They are far more pressing in our own minds and therefore require the lion’s share of our attention and effort. As C.S. Lewis put it when taking on the character of Screwtape to his junior tempter, Wormwood; “Teach him to call it, “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”. Change the, “him” to them / they and there you have the point perfectly illustrated. I point to this not to offer a pass to any Catholic who places more emphasis on the more innocuous practices of daily American political thought. Rather, to proffer the notion that more often than not, it is simply easier to allow belief and adherence to certain inherent moral truths to take a back seat to the pseudo-intellectual reasoning of mainstream liberalism. Let’s crunch some numbers before we get too philosophical. Remember, this is “real life”.
According to a source that I don’t let my students use, Wikipedia, as of 2015 there were close to 70 million Catholics in the United States. Of those nearly 70 million, 44 percent identify as Democrat as opposed to 37% who identify as Republican. That means there are nearly thirty million American Catholics who tend to vote for Democrats in the United States. That is a voting bloc larger than the population of Texas. It is impossible to know how 30 million people voted and next to impossible to know how many simply didn’t vote at all. However, the question remains; what do American Catholics find so appealing about the Democratic party? I do not believe that the old ties to the economic mechanics of major American cities are a driving factor in the political ideologies of close to 30 million modern people. At least not anymore. That being said, it cannot be ignored that cities with large immigrant-Catholic populations eventually offered avenues to power for many of the disenfranchised Irish, Italians, etc. who were predisposed to politics. See; Tammany Hall, Mayor Daley, Mayor Curley. However, these now arcane, cultural-political allegiances were hyper-regional and thrived on nepotism. Politics, much like religion, gets passed down from generation to generation. But in this particular instance, the access to information independent of what we are fed by our parents is so widespread, and people are so engaged in social media, that it is difficult to keep the connection to the past vibrant enough to be a legitimate answer. So while this explanation offers a semi-romantic, nostalgic window to the past, the overall allure of the Democratic party for the rest of American Catholics can’t be explained away using the gangster analogy. Although if we analyze the appeal of the Democratic party, using the empirical evidence of their manipulation of the mostly uneducated and desperate Catholic immigrant population which flooded this country during the 19th century, we can see a disturbing pattern. This is the basis for the current argument on the right that Democrats want largely unhindered immigration or amnesty as a means to secure a dreadnought of a voting bloc in order to ensure political supremacy for the foreseeable future. It is disingenuous to deny a party’s practical history while at the same time assuming that due to nothing more than the passage of time, that human beings now are somehow morally superior to their ancestors. However, it does no one any good to speculate on motivation when those who are the by-proxy pawns in the speculation are wholly innocent. In this case, the immigrants themselves. It fosters resentment in all parties and leads to arguments based solely in sentiment rather than logic. This is where, I believe, the appeal lies for the American Catholic to align with the Democratic party. At least partly. The Democrats offer sentiment and emotion masquerading as an ideology of practical politics which exists for the good of others.
To be clear; I do not believe Catholic Democrats are evil, stupid, dangerous or silly. I truly believe that they have their hearts in the right place. I do, on the other hand, believe that their mechanics of charity and compassion do not gel at all with the theology or literal interpretations of Christ’s teachings. In Mark 12:17, Jesus states; “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s“. Jesus does two equally important things here. First, He states that it is important to practice charity in the name of one’s religion and also important to acknowledge one’s membership in a citizenry even if there is widespread consensus, as there was in His community at the time, that the powers that be are less than optimal. This is not to say that Christ is advocating becoming a doormat to government oppression. His mere mentioning of Caesar in his answer to the Pharisees in Mark 12:17 is His way of acknowledging the status quo for better or for worse. It was also a way for Him to trap the Pharisees in their own questioning by suggesting the owner of the sin of idolatry was Caesar himself and not the Jewish people who were forced to carry coins with his visage on them. Second, and most importantly for this discussion, He draws a clearly distinct line between government and charity. In essence, Christ is explaining the truth that Charity is the product of the divine and therefore inherent in every human being’s soul. Charity therefore lives in the heart and so naturally, it should flow from the heart. Christ is also warning us that charity is no longer charity when it becomes legislation. The essence of charity is trivialized to the point of non-existence when the charity becomes tax. This crucial point, I believe, is grossly misinterpreted by the majority of American Catholic Democrats. They believe that the juxtaposition of compassion and government is in line with Christ’s teachings and a perfect union between the necessity of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and helping others as it seemingly exists to do little more than take care of you. Essentially, the misconception that social programs have the best interests of the marginalized in full focus and not the interests of lobbyists and special interest groups for the sole purpose of garnering more financial support is a problem that plagues both political parties. In the Democratic Party, the manipulation of this particular misconception reaches a level that is almost an art form. Unfortunately, the ruse is taken hook, line and sinker by the majority of politically aware American Catholics. The same people who would agree with logic behind the ‘teach a man to fish‘ adage routinely vote in legislators whose platforms are built entirely on the premise that it is better to give the man someone else’s fish. Because after all, you should want to give the man your fish even if it leaves you with little for yourself. The true essence of charity is to care for and provide for those who are simply unable to care for themselves out of a desire to better someone’s station in life by offering the tools to create a better existence. Not the desire to merely view the station as pathetic because of the instantaneous gratification we ourselves feel when we alleviate the immediate situation. If your moral compass points you in a direction which hinders the human spirit’s resilience, desire for personal happiness, thirst for self-affirmation and need for the knowledge in order to achieve all three, your charity is self-serving. Then it is no longer charity but merely a gesture.
Next weekend, thousands of Catholics along with other pro-lifers will descend upon our nation’s capital for the March for Life. It is no secret that the Catholic Church views abortion as public enemy number one. I am not going to get into my personal views on abortion in this piece as they have no bearing on the question at hand as I am not a Democrat. According to a poll conducted in 2013, 55% of American Catholics surveyed believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The ‘most cases’ argument must be analyzed before we can go any further. In cases where the life of the child or mother is in danger, it can be argued that most people would agree that the question of abortion, perhaps not the act itself, may be raised. This is how we, human beings, get to hold opinions about things without ever having to take a hard-line stance. We agree that the question of the possibility in order to save a life, in those cases, ought to be raised and we are perfectly content to leave it at that. That is perceived as a separate issue regardless of the fact that it is still an example of the same action. While these legitimate issues are raised in the, ‘most cases’ question, it cannot be overlooked that depending on the agenda of the pollster, different and far more extreme examples are mentioned. For example, bringing up an instance of incestuous rape to someone who has stated that they may be open to abortion as an option is as obvious a leading question as is the rarity of these occurrences. So where does the American Catholic find the justification for their pro-choice stance if not in the realm of self-serving group-think where ideology overtakes theology and ‘reality’ reigns supreme? Even the act of abortion can be labeled as charitable when a moral code is inextricably linked to a political party. When sentiment trumps reason it is easy for us to fall into a loop where our two selves, the religious and the political, are constantly justifying each other in order to create a semblance of order within our worldview rather than acting as counter-balances for each other as they were meant to. The never-ending argument becomes the crutch. The infinite permutations of reason are forever lost to the necessity for dilemma in order to lend a purpose to the mind for no other reason than simplicity scares the hell out of us. Human beings need to constantly be in a state of argument whether it is with our fellow citizens or with ourselves. The rub here for the American Catholic, is that this system of grim, ideological, mathematics becomes incredibly attractive as the values for the variables are always; emotion, charity and compassion. Three things that Christians, not only Catholics, are taught to be paramount in our lives.
It would be cruel and altogether incorrect to end this brief delve into the motivation of Catholic Democrats by saying that Catholics in the United States are easily duped and therefore tend to conflate their religion and their politics. The two aren’t meant to be completely separate of each other but they were never meant to over-power the central purpose of either’s existence within the individual. I suppose, in the end, it would be a quick clean up to mention the malleability spawned by the Second Vatican Council which has seen the Church become more open to outside pressure. The perceived liberality of the current Pope is another issue but for the purposes of discussing American Catholics who have been by and large Catholic for years before his tenure doesn’t scream, “relevance”. To conclude, I would have to argue that it is the learned behavior and poorly taught theology of the American Catholic coupled with the inherent, God-given, drive for compassion and justice that facilitates the majority of them becoming members in the Democratic party. The problem is that doesn’t explain the disconnect that occurs when the already discussed issue of actual charity and shoddy legislation masquerading as charity issue is raised. But that can be answered somewhat easily. Human beings tend to do and say things which sound wonderfully compassionate but when push comes to shove, they’d rather see to their own self interests. The Roman Catholic is taught from a young age that it is this selfishness which affixed Our Lord to the Cross. While that fact is not untrue, it is a much different early religious education than our Protestant brothers and sisters receive. To be well-versed in guilt before your first Eucharist is a regrettable reality for most American Catholics. It is that guilt, cultivated within the mind of the individual which is the primary fuel for the argument that charity must be part in parcel with legislation. It is the explanation why some are unwilling to judge the action of abortion as they would rather not take the risk of being seen as judging the person. It is why American Catholics become Democrats in large numbers. We are taught that a life based on guilt is no life at all. Yet it is the underlying narrative and motivation for the majority of the actions taken by the left. I never said they weren’t diabolically brilliant.