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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

2/24/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

It is whether we are to have a politics and a nation under God, or a politics and a nation that is God

Underlying the HHS mandate and the Obama administration's lack of accommodation is an attitude, or perhaps better, an ideology that touches and concerns the relationship between man and God, between man's politics and God's reign.  It involves, in fact, warring political philosophies, a Christian and a Hobbesian.  It's a war of the Olympians against the upstart Titans, if you will.  It is whether we are to have a politics and a nation under God, or a politics and a nation that is God.


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

2/24/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: secularism, liberal secularism, radical secularism, Hobeesian, Catholic Social Doctrine, HHS Mandate, Andrew Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services compelling Catholic charitable and educational institutions, either directly or indirectly, to provide or pay for insurance coverage for preventive health care defined to include contraception, sterilization, and abortions may be for secularist liberals as well as Catholics, a "teachable moment," to use the phrase President Obama used after Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his home in 2009.

We can frame the issue confronting the Church and the federal government in various ways.  We can say, for example, that the HHS mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.  We can go beyond that statute to argue that the HHS mandate violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Such arguments are being made, and in both cases are probably right.  But only courts-probably ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court-will decide unless the Obama administration backs down from the mandate, which it does not seem to want to do.

More vaguely, one can argue, as some have done, that the HHS mandate violates the "rights of conscience," and the Church understands that the State ought generally to recognize the right of conscientious objection to an unjust law, and certainly when the law requires a person to violate the natural moral law.  (see Compendium, No. 399)  This is certainly correct as far as it goes.

But the issue really is deeper than a federal statute, the U.S. Constitution, or conscientious objection.  Underlying the HHS mandate and the Obama administration's lack of accommodation is an attitude, or perhaps better, an ideology that touches and concerns the relationship between man and God, between man's politics and God's reign.  It involves, in fact, warring political philosophies, a Christian and a Hobbesian.  It's a war of the Olympians against the upstart Titans, if you will.  It is whether we are to have a politics and a nation under God, or a politics and a nation that is God.

The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer perceived our nation's traditional and Christian political foundation through his wire-rimmed glasses in Nazi Germany shortly before he was arrested and executed much better than our modern liberal secularists.  "American democracy," he wrote in his unfinished Ethics, "is founded not upon the emancipated man but, quite the contrary, upon the kingdom of God and upon the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God." 

The liberal secularists--liberal secularism is the ideology driving the HHS mandate and the Obama administration's insensitivity to Catholic religious liberty and the natural moral law which finds contraception, sterilization, and abortions to be intrinsic evils and anti-life--believe differently than Bonhoeffer.  They believe that American democracy is founded upon "emancipated man."

The Catholic Bishops, on the other hand, believe, like Bonhoeffer, that American democracy is founded--indeed must be founded--on the "kingdom of God and upon the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God."

It should be pointed out that the American founding Fathers and our fundamental and organic law--read, if you wish, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers where it is apparent enough--do not believe in "emancipated man."  Our political traditions presuppose the "kingdom of God" and "the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God."  That's the meaning of the Jeffersonian phrase that we are answerable to the laws of Nature and Nature's God.  Bonhoeffer is absolute right from a historical standpoint.

The Catholic Bishops are therefore acting within sound American political tradition in taking issue with the HHS mandate.  The American political principles, after all, have been informed by the Gospel, though secularist liberals prefer to forget that fact.  That's why when the Catholic Bishops cried foul at the HHS mandate and the Obama administration, they were in the main supported by a whole host of religious as well as politically conservative leaders.  "We are all Catholics now," said the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  The Mormon Glenn Beck launched a "We are All Catholics Now" movement.  Such as these would be odd bedfellows if this were a uniquely Catholic matter.  But it's not.

Those outside the Catholic Church which have voiced support see that this is a skirmish--a very important skirmish--between those who believe that American Democracy is founded upon "emancipated man" and those who believe that American Democracy presupposes the "kingdom of God and "the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God." 

Huckabee and Beck and others like them are on board in support of the Catholic Bishops because what is involved here is an American matter.  It involves the American soul

No, it goes beyond that.  It is a human matter, the human soul, since it involves human politics, human law, and human governance wherever and whenever they may be found.

Traditionally, the West--influenced by Christianity--divided history into B.C. and A.D.  We must also remember that politics is divided into B.C. and A.D.  There is a politics before Christ.  There is a politics after Christ. 

The liberal secularists who want to found their politics on "emancipated man" want to go back to the time of politics B.C., when Caesar was all there was.  The only difference is that Caesar's imperium--instead of being tied to the will of one man--is tied, often just by fiction, to the will of many.  But whether it is one Caesar or many Caesars, if Caesar is all there is, it is tyranny all the same.

Though Christ was not a political leader, and though the New Testament is not a political document, what the Son of God did while on earth changed politics forever.  He unhinged it from God.  Something utterly new, utterly freeing, utterly emancipatory happened when Jesus rejected the blandishments of Satan in the Third Temptation and refused--for his part and on the part of his Body the Church--all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor.  How did this emancipation from the earthly powers come?  By worshiping the Lord God of Israel, and serving him alone.  (Matt. 4:8-10)  This, of course, meant also keeping the natural law which is reflected in the Ten Commandments and in the love of God and love of neighbor.  (Matt. 22:37-40)

In unhinging the Church from any State, Christ hardly intended to make the Church a pawn of the State.  Quite the contrary.  He rejected any suggestion that Caesar was divine.  "Render to Caesar those things that are Caesar"--one of which things was Caesar's vain claim to divinity--"and to God those things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21)

What is it that Christ, through his acts and through is teachings, wrought in politics?  It is what Eric Voegelin in his The New Science of Politics called the "de-divinization of the temporal sphere of power."  This "de-divinization" of politics is one of Jesus Christ's great gifts, though Caesar has never been happy with it because it comes at his expense.  Centuries before the First Amendment, there was separation of Church and State, and it finds its principle, it seed in the Gospels. 

There would have been no First Amendment without the Gospels.  There would have been no First Amendment without Christ.  The rights of the First Amendment are not something the State gives to us.  The rights of the First Amendment are something God gave to us.  It is doubtful pagan man would have come to this awareness without the revelation of Christ.

There are two other things that may be learned from this skirmish. 

First, one ought not to be misled by the federal government's use of such innocuous or clinical terms such as "preventive care" and "women's health."  Any person who suggests that pregnancy is an illness which requires "preventive care"--i.e., contraception, sterilization, and abortion--stands outside the world of reality, what is, and has his feet planted in the world of ideology, what one wants regardless of what is.  And ideology, not reality, is exactly what drives the liberal secularist.

Second, we should recognize that there was, and is, grave danger in allowing a government that believes in "emancipated man" and disdains the "kingdom of God" and any "limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God" to make decisions on behalf of all of us when it comes to health care, or anything else for that matter.  It is not necessarily a good to have Caesar oblivious to the limits of his power involved in health care.  It in fact presents a very grave danger.

In this regard, it is salutary to remember that the pagan Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, when he sought to overthrow the Christian Church, established hospitals and orphanages and other charitable institutions-and diverted to them considerable monies from the public treasury.
Julian established these pagan institutions to rival those of the Church.  But Julian's ultimate aim was not to help his people.  Julian's aim was to go back to politics B.C.

What, in summary, is to be learned in this teachable moment?  That there is a politics B.C. and a politics A.D.  That the former believes in "emancipated man," and the latter in "the kingdom of God and upon the limitation of all earthly powers by the sovereignty of God."  That there are those who always want to go back from a politics A.D. to a politics B.C., and this we must resist. 

That, in advocating "emancipated man," the liberal secularists are touting a philosophy or ideology that is foreign to the better angels of our political traditions.  That the American Bishops, in making their stand, are soundly within the best of our American political traditions.  And finally, that at this most important skirmish between two views of the world and political life, we the Christian faithful, ought to stand behind, or better, arm-in-arm, with our vanguard Bishops


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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