Monday, March 29, 2010

"I Take No Interest in Politics" isn't an Option

"I take no interest in politics" sounds very high-minded, even noble.

It's not an option for me.

What brought this to mind were some of today's headlines:
The "health care reform" issue is not, I think, going to go away any time soon. And I'm pretty sure that it's going to get messy. For example, over the weekend I read that, essentially, opposition to the president's health care ideas is racism.1

Pedophile Priests! Pedophile Priests!

Incidentally, it struck me that the current flurry of news, along the lines of 'did the Pope shield pedophile priests', came just as a critical vote on health care was coming up in the American Congress. Coincidence? Maybe.

Or, maybe it was time to discredit the Catholic Church again. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been downright uppity lately, saying that some aspects of the health care proposal weren't acceptable.

I don't have an opinion on the whether or not there was a connection between the somewhat exuberant headlines and Catholic opposition to abortion and euthanasia. To form an opinion, I'd need facts that I'm not likely to get, about what goes on in the editorial offices of America's news services, and in places where decision-makers meet.

All I have to go on is the decision to focus on the continuing sorting out of a dreadful mess in the Catholic Church during a critical moment in American politics.

Religion and Politics

I was born in America, and absorbed quite a lot of American culture over the decades. On the whole, I rather like living in a federal republic with strong democratic (small "d") traditions. I even think that the American system of government is pretty good, compared to other available options. Mostly because of the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place.

But I don't think that the American system is the only 'right' way to run a country. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (November 15, 2009))

Although I don't share the 'sophisticated' loathing of all things American, I have to admit that it'd be easier to be a citizen in a place like the United Arab Emirates: provided that I wasn't one of the few thousand people who can vote. The UAE is a federation, like America, with some powers in the hands of the federal government - and emirates where we have states.

The United Arab Emirates aren't America

There are quite a few differences, of course, between the USA and the UAE. For starters, UAE law forbids political parties. Some public offices are elected positions, some appointed, only members of the electoral college can vote for the candidate of their choice: and they're appointed by rulers of the seven emirates.

Like I said, as long as I wasn't in the electoral college, being a UAE citizen wouldn't have some of the headaches that come with American citizenship.

Not, getting a little off-topic again, because it's a 'boys only' club: As of December, 2006, 1,189 of the 6,689 Emiratis in the electoral college were women. So it 'should be' exactly half - by contemporary American standards: so what? A little over one in eight isn't exactly 'token' - and give them time. The literacy rate (people over 15 who can read and write) is 77.9% - 76.1% of the men, 81.7% of the women.("United Arab Emirates," World Factobook, CIA (last updated March 23, 2010)) I'm inclined to see literacy as at least as significant a mark of power and position as being tied to a desk or being given a hotshot title.

America isn't the United Arab Emirates

As wistful as I might get, about being out of the decision-making loop for state and national policy, I don't think the UAE's system would work in America. We've got too much of a stake in the political process as it's evolved over the last few centuries (not a typo - what we have now grew out of what the colonists had been cobbling together before the revolution).

And the last king we had was - regrettable. Forensic evidence discussed over the last few decades indicates that George III may not have been entirely responsible for his eccentricities: but I'm afraid he left a really bad impression about monarchies in general, over here.

The culture here in America is different, too: Many Americans think they have a right to vote. And, by our laws and customs, they're right.

Responsibility: What a Bummer!

I don't, really, mind voting. I grew up with this system, and realized that I'd have to pay attention to public affairs and make reasoned choices long before I reached voting age. I'm okay with having that responsibility: just like, if I'd grown up in a different place and time, I hope I'd be okay with having the responsibility of sitting in on the elders' councils - and keeping my mouth shut until I was maybe 35. Given my urge to talk, it'd have been a struggle: but I hope I'd have accepted the way things were.

And if I still thought it was a bad idea after I did get the right to speak - tried to change things.

I don't like having responsibility - but the fact is that I am responsible for quite a few things, whether I like it or not.

Since I'm an American citizen, one of my responsibilities is paying attention to what's going on and voting when it's election time.

Sometimes I don't have an informed opinion on something that's on the ballot. When that happens, I look for someone whose opinion I trust and ask for advice. A very few times, when it's been an option, I haven't voted on an issue.

'Everybody Knows' Religion Has No Place In Politics

One of the American assumptions about politics, in some circles at least, is that religious beliefs should have no part in politics.

In a way, I think I can see that point of view. After the Renaissance, the northern princes of Europe arguably embraced Protestantism as a means to help break the political and economic hold that southern Europe had at the time. Between that, the feudal tradition of the Church holding land, and the institution of state churches later: politics with a religious coating happened a lot.

And, I think, left a really bad impression in many people's minds.

About the Church holding land? During most of the feudal period, Europe didn't have a money economy: and it was much more practical for landholders to tithe by permanently transferring land to the Church, than driving some number of cows, pigs, and chickens, along with part of the harvest, over at intervals. Which is yet another topic.

Some Religious People are Crackpots: Some aren't

In today's world, antics of the likes of Pat Robertson and Tony Alamo do nothing to make 'religion' seem like something other than a psychiatric condition: or a scam.

I don't see religion that way: but I'm one of those religious people you hear about. And 'everybody knows' what they're like.

Yes, some very religious folks are crackpots. I've run into quite a few over the years.

Men and Women, Trousers and Skirts

Some, back in the seventies, were convinced that the Bible said it was sinful for women to wear slacks. I am a little sympathetic with some of those folks. There was a lot of change going on, and they'd grown up in a culture that was falling apart. Back in their 'good old days,' women always wore skirts or dresses: and they may never have seen a kilt.

I think it's a good idea to acknowledge that there are two basic models of homo sapiens sapiens, but I also know that options for expressing that difference are determined by culture. (September 26, 2009)

Demon Rum, Sinful Cigarettes

Then, several few decades back, there was the denomination that had members in northern and southern American states. By the time they had a national conference, one group had become convinced that tobacco was the work of the devil, but that a drink now and then was okay; the other group 'knew' that drinking demon rum - or any sort of alcohol - was sinful, but that smoking tobacco was okay.

I heard that they thrashed out some sort of agreement.

The point is: I think I understand why some folks who aren't 'religious' themselves think that all religious people are like the loud crackpots they hear, and think that religion should be kept strictly out of politics.

Me? I think the crackpots tend to cancel each other out.

Religion, Beliefs, and Values

And in my view a religion that has no effect on what a person believes is right and wrong is pretty useless. And if the religion does have standards - and teaches that its adherents must not apply those standards to their lives, it's worse than useless.

Like it or not, American citizens are allowed to vote.

As a Catholic, I'm required to be a good citizen. (September 24, 2008) Since I am an American citizen, part of being a good citizen is following local, state, national and world events so that I can vote responsibly.

That makes me very "conservative" on right-to-life issues like abortion and euthanasia.

That makes me very "liberal" on right-to-life issues like capital punishment.

Maybe I'm more "conservative" than "liberal," because there is not an absolute ban in capital punishment. People in some cultures have no option except to kill the most dangerous members of their society, in order to protect those who do follow the rules. I think America isn't in that position - but acknowledge that it's a debatable point. Part of my objection to capital punishment is not whether or not it's just - but whether or not the Supreme Court can raise a wrongly-executed person from the dead. Since they can't, and since they're human beings and can make mistakes: I don't trust them with executions. (October 2, 2008)

War? I grew up in the sixties, so I've heard the changes rung on 'Jesus was a pacifist.' I'm Catholic, and so I think that human life is precious. I'm Catholic, so I also know that there are limited circumstances under which war is an option. (June 7, 2009)

All of which makes me a war-monger bleeding heart liberal conservative with no respect for mom, apple pie and the flag or the right to choose.

It's work, shoveling through impassioned rhetoric - from all sides - to get at the occasional nugget of fact. It'd be much easier, if I could either throw myself into some political movement and accept what I was told: or pretend to be spiritually and/or intellectually above the rabble and say 'I take no interest in politics.'

Well, nobody told me this would be easy.

Related posts:

1 I wish I was making this up:
"The Rage Is Not About Health Care"
Frank Rich, Opinion, The New York Times (March 27, 2010)

"THERE were times when last Sunday's great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC's 'This Week,' a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner..."

"...There's nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

"How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn't recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht...."

"...But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That's because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance...."

"...It's not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend's abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan 'Take our country back!,' these are the people they want to take the country back from.

"They can't. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven't had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

"If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that's their right...."
[emphasis mine]
I am about as certain as I can be that some people are opposed to President Obama's policies because he's black. ("The Sign Says "Obama Half-Breed Muslin" - Freedom of Speech, Politics, Spelling, and Race," Another War-on-Terror Blog (October 1, 2008)) There may even be some who oppose him because he's America's first Hawaiian president: although that doesn't seem to be much of an issue.

But, with due respect to America's dominant culture, I think that a person may oppose the views of another person: independently of the ethnicity of either individual. For example, I assume that it's possible for a black member of Congress to oppose the views of a white member of Congress, not because the other member is white, but because the member of Congress who is black believes the white member's views to be wrong.

At least, I hope so.

I am fairly certain that some people oppose the Obama administration's policies because some of the president's ancestors came from Africa: just as I'm fairly certain that some people didn't want John F. Kennedy in the White House because he was Irish, and outwardly Catholic.

If you think that being against J.F.K. because of his ethnic background or religious affiliation is silly, I'm inclined to agree. But some folks will be like that.

But, just as I don't think that every black Democrat is a white-hating radical: I don't think that everybody who opposes the current administration's health care package is a racist. Some are, I'm sure. But all?!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.