Two Different Worldviews: The HHS Mandate Presents a Teachable Moment
It is whether we are to have a politics and a nation under God, or a politics and a nation that is God
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 ...
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