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Faith and Reason

You Are Who You Are

In an interview published yesterday by The Washington Post, readers got a glimpse into how pro-abortion Catholic politician, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, justifies her position on this most fundamental issue concerning the sanctity of human life.

Recall that Sebelius publicly professes to be a faithful Catholic yet is one of the most strident abortion rights advocates in government. In May of 2008, due to the public scandal her abortion advocacy created, she was asked to refrain from receiving Communion by her local bishop, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.

Following is an excerpt from the interview:

MS. ROMANO: You are pro-choice.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Yes.

MS. ROMANO: Do you think that the federal government should do some federal funding of abortions, personally?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the President has made it pretty clear that Congress and the new health insurance plan will not provide federal funds for abortions.

MS. ROMANO: Well, I know that. I was asking you what you thought.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I am the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I will support the President’s proposal moving forward.

MS. ROMANO: You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.

MS. ROMANO: What did you think about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that’s what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.

MS. ROMANO: Do you continue to take communion?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I really would prefer not to discuss with you. That’s really a personal—thank you.

Commentary:
We’ve seen this argument before and I’d like to parse it more thoroughly in the future. But for now, notice how her claim to uphold the rights and beliefs of her constituents fails to include the rights and beliefs of those opposed to abortion and the unborn themselves. Equally disturbing is the understanding of the right to life as a religious belief, where she feels in good conscience she cannot impose her religious belief on non-believers. But we are not talking about legislating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are talking about the most fundamental of human rights–the human right of life itself.

Regarding the notion of separation of church and state as pertaining to actions as parishioner versus politician, I cite an address by Archbishop Charles Chaput given to ENDOW in Denver, Colorado, OCT. 17, 2008:

The “separation of Church and state” does not mean — and it can never mean — separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.” That kind of separation steals the moral content of a society. It’s the equivalent of telling a married man that he can’t act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won’t stay married for long.

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Faith and reason, irrationality and terror

Published: Friday, September 4, 2009
The media’s obsession with salvation-through-latex in the matter of AIDS prevention in Africa so dominated the coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s March pilgrimage to Cameroon and Angola that one of the most impressive addresses of the pontificate was virtually ignored.

Delivered to the Muslim leaders of Cameroon at the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde on March 19, Benedict’s concise remarks represented perhaps the most refined statement of the point the Pope has been making since his September 2006 Regensburg Lecture sent the world press into another tailspin.

Here are the key passages:

“My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it.

“We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvelously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us.

“When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendor of human dignity to illumine their hearts, they discover that what is ‘reasonable’ extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce, and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.

“This insight prompts us to seek all that is right and just, to step outside the restricted sphere of our own self-interest and act for the good of others. Genuine religion thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason’s full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith.”

For three years now, the Holy Father has been quietly insisting that the problem of jihadist terrorism and the lethal threat it poses, both to the West and to Muslims of moderate temperament, is rooted in the detachment of faith from reason. Cut that cord theologically, and you end up with a God of sheer willfulness who can command anything, including the murder of innocents. Tighten the cord that binds faith and reason in a mutually supportive synthesis and the religious case for jihadist terrorism collapses of its own irrationality.

No one knows why Islam, which in the early Middle Ages created cultures open to philosophical inquiry and respectful of the canons of reason, underwent what seems to have been a kind of intellectual shut-down, so that by the 14th century the wellsprings of intellectual imagination had largely dried up throughout the Islamic world, leaving only the endless exegesis of Islamic law by Muslim lawyers.

Whatever its causes, however, this desiccation was a crucial factor in creating the irrationalism of contemporary jihadism, embodied in the Taliban slogan, “Throw reason to the dogs — it stinks of corruption.”

It would be helpful if western governments took this history seriously — and took the Pope’s analysis of the problem of faith and reason seriously. It is not government’s task to foster the kind of interreligious dialogue implied by Benedict’s speech in Yaounde: an interreligious dialogue that aims to understand revelation through reason, thus opening up the prospects of a joint exploration of the “splendor of human dignity” and the implications of that dignity for religious freedom and the governance of just societies.

On the other hand, governments that don’t recognize that the detachment of faith from reason defines the fault-line between the jihadists and the rest of us are likely to misread what remains a mortal threat, eight years after 9/11.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.