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Why the Alliance between Catholics and the Democratic Party Has Broken Down

The presidential candidates are never asked the really tough questions, the ones about religion, philosophy and the meaning of life, because these questions threaten to break open the fault lines dividing American society.

harold_fickett_photo


During election seasons tough questions for the candidates make news.
Prior to his election in 2000, then-governor Bush was embarrassed by a reporter who quizzed him on the names of world leaders. Tim Russert's "Meet The Press" interview with the President now has everyone buzzing over whether Iraq was a war of necessity or choice. No doubt all the young people who asked questions of the candidates for the Democratic nomination over the course of Chris Matthews' College Tour stayed up nights thinking of devilish queries.

The really tough questions that might be asked of the candidates never are posed, however, because they are philosophical and religious in nature. Even after 9/11 most still want to avoid theology at all costs. These questions are highly threatening, because they confront the fault lines cleaving American society. Mass media pundits wonder aloud why we live in such a divided nation, with so much anger on each side. But they don't really want to ask the questions that explain the division.

The answer is already in the air, though. Everyone understands that it has to do with the "culture war." Bill O'Reilly speaks of the "traditionalists" versus the "secularists." When interviewed by O'Reilly, Stanley Greenberg, author of Two Americas, tried to be a little more direct, pointing out that the division corresponded to peoples' differing faiths.

The other night on 60 Minutes Gary Bauer confronted the gentlemanly reporter Morley Safer with the hard facts that that those who go to church regularly overwhelmingly vote Republican; those who don't vote Democrat. Ann Coulter, drawing on a study by the Pew Center, reported on what we all know but won't say: if you are white and a church-goer, you vote Republican.

The tough but never-asked questions that divide this country are the basic questions of worldview.

1) Do you believe a personal God created the universe? This is the question of cosmology. How did the universe come into being? Is everything here by way of a cosmic accident or is what exists the product of an intentional act?

That question may seem abstruse for a political discussion, but it is the underlying question about everything from gay marriage to abortion to stem-cell research.

If creation is the product of an intentional act by God, then society ought to insure that its institutions reflect God's intentions. If God made men and women for each other, then society would do well to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions. If, on the other hand, the universe came about by chance and the division of the sexes is merely an evolutionary phenomenon, then societies might well choose to institutionalize cultural overrides of biology such as gay marriage.

The other tough questions flow from the first. 2) Do you believe in the reality of evil? 3) If so, what is it cause? Is God responsible or is humankind? 3) What is the nature of the human person? Is he or she a creature made in God's image or another chance phenomenon of a self-contained universe?

Today, the overwhelming majority of Republicans still believe in the explicit theology of the Declaration of Independence; they believe in "Nature and Nature's God." America was founded during a time when Enlightenment thinkers and Christians alike—the two most important philosophic groups in 18th Century America—believed in a created order. God had brought the world into being by an intentional act and the institutions of government and society should reflect that order. Deists and Christians only differed about God's continued involvement in human affairs, not God's role in creation.

The majority of Democrats no longer believe in a created order. They believe that humanity itself creates whatever order it enjoys, culturally and politically, and should respond to new social realities—the emergence of politically powerful interest groups such as the gay community—by accommodating their interests. That's what democracies do. They extend rights to constituents. Republicans counter that rights are God-given.

I suspect that most Democrats find this a sentimentality. They usually respond to the God-given rights arguments by finding fault with the founders' consistency in extending rights to African-Americans and women-as if inconsistency in application disproved principle.

I was listening to John Kerry the other day. He was making good points about our problematic relationship with Pakistan and the threat their nuclear weapons pose. I enjoyed listening to him. I would enjoy considering the prospect of voting for him. When the Democratic candidates speak about the needs of the poor, how America's social services— health, education, etc.—could be improved, I find myself engaged as well. Catholic social teaching is no friend of libertarianism. The Church teaches us that the free hand of the marketplace can be guided toward theft on a socially devastating scale—as the recent corporate scandals underline.

For me and others like me, however, this Presidential election and every election for the foreseeable future is over before it begins. Because I believe in a created order, the realty of evil, and that the human person is made in God's image, I cannot possibly vote for a Democrat.

Despite the Catholic baptisms and Catholic college educations of many Democratic politicians, those who run the Democratic party and their most ardent supporters by and large answer the toughest questions humanity faces with secular answers. They do not believe in a created order—or if they do, they have no sense of the logical implications of such beliefs. They seem to believe that evil is only a structural phenomenon, not a personal one as well. They have embraced the state as the source of human rights rather than their administrator.

Joe Lieberman's failed candidacy makes clear that there is virtually no place today for people with a consistent Jewish or Christian faith in the Democratic party. The old Democratic-Catholic alliance has totally broken down, because Democrats have committed themselves to godless philosophical models.

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February 11, 2004

Harold Fickett is the author of "The Living Christ" and other books. He is a Godspy Contributing Editor.

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READER COMMENTS
06.22.05   cuchullain says:
I would like to respond to rtresp. First, I respect your opinion and in no way intend to belittle the seriousness of the social issues that you have raised in your comments. I also thank you for your continued work with the less fortunate in our world.However I do not think that a serious argument an be made that the better way to follow in Christ's footsteps is with a party that not only supports legalized murder in our nation, but also pushes for the coupling of abortion to foreign aid. I will agree with you that the treatment of the poor in this country is unacceptable, I concede that Christ did give preference to the poor and down-trodden; however there exist certain non-negotiable truths and completely unjustifiable evils. That is to say, there are certain evils that can never be justified, and there for never supported. Abortion, as the murder of the most innocent and defenseless members of society would be one such evil. Poverty, hunger and heavy taxation do not fall into this category. Neither does capital punishment; states have the duty to protect their members from dangerous members of society, and the church does not exclude execution in extreme cases where there is no other means of preserving the public well-being. Granted, with the modern prison system, such cases are far less frequent than the number of those on death row would suggest. Still the fact remains, that abortion must remain far more morally abhorrent ill treatment of the poor. I long for the day when I may vote the social issues mentioned by rtresp. However in the face of non-negotiable evil I must stand firmly opposed to it. Joe Whelan

05.08.05   Northcountryred says:
I do beleive the alliance between Catholics and Democrates has broken down. I'm part of it. My Irish grandfather and grandmother are probably turning in there graves because I voted for a republician--Twice! I do believe my Catholic traditions are better represented in the Republician party. They were the party that brought forth freedom from slavery (Abe Lincon) and today, I see a party that is more in line with my catholic values when compared to the democratic party.I see the Republicians beleive in the value of life. As a start...it is all about saving the baby bottoms. Sometimes I feel this is distorted. I went to a benifit diner once for a christian based organization dedicated to helping mothers carry babies to term instead of aborting them. Virtually all the churches in the area supported this effort and the budget was over a million dollars a year. The report to me was appauling. they were proud to announce that they had saved 11 babies that year but more importaintly, 1200 souls were "saved". My feeling on this was it was a tragity. I had to wondered how many baby bottoms would have been saved if the concentration was on the bottoms and not the souls...I see the same arguments used in the democratic party. Don't worry too much about the abortion, worry about the raising of the children or the type of life they will have. No...I disagree, we should worry about the problem.... dead baby bottoms. I simply cannot support a policy that does not protect a fetus as a human being. I would soon run down a slippery slope which one day would make it okay for me to agree that down syndrome babies have no right to live...they are just too much of a burden. The democratic party with there platform of safe, legal and rare, sees nothing wrong with this...my church does.... I see the republicains beleive, as I do, that volunteer groups and organizations can do a better job than government in the needs of the poor. I read once that in 1900 there were two people helping the poor for each poor person. Now, the definition of poor has changed but how many people have stopped because some government program stepped in. I work as a social welfare examinor, giving out food stamps and temporary aid. but often before a non profit organization will help, the people are required to come to my office and be denied. Let the government do it first, then, maybe we'll help. Thankfully, I not had one visit from a person who catholic charities has turned away because there was a government program that needed to be explored first. I'm not sure it won't happen, but it hasn't happened to me yet. When people come to me needing clothing, I send them to the local Catholic church. They provide them for free. I see the republician party is interested in the end of life issues. Terri was but one case but did you hear about the Buffalo fireman who came back from a ten year comma? I see these cases are similar except the ending. The republicains more than the democrates decided that once again, it was the life that was important, not the quality of it. Real questions were raised about validity of Terri's wishes as told by her husband. She died of starvation in one of the richest country in the world....what a shame. But my democratic senators (Shumer and Clintor) failed to step in to stop this. My church was rightfully outraged.

04.22.05   rtresp says:
I am a Roman Catholic. I am a Roman Catholic nun. I am a Democrat. Many Roman Catholic nuns, particularly those who work with poor people, are Democrats.The reason I am a Democrat is because the Republican party has become the party of the rich and the corporations. The Bible says that that the way to follow Christ is to have a preferential option for the poor. In the Gospels, when Jesus is asked about the criteria for obtaining heaven, his response is the famous parable of the sheep and the goats. "When I was hungry, you fed me; when I was thristy, you gave me to drink." The Republicans talk the culture of life line but don't act on that line. Bush flies back to sign a law re: Terri Schiavo but proposes a budget that would cut the funds to pay for people like her. Bush is against abortion but also against anything that would help poor children once they are born. To be for a culture of life means being for a consistent ethic of life from pre-natal care to birth to life and to opposition to the death penalty. Bush praised the previous Pope but shared few of his values of social justice and help for the poor. While government is not the answer to all problems, government can help or hinder. Currently in many states, if one reviews the entire tax burden, (all taxes, sales, income, etc) the bottom 20% has a higher tax burden if evaluated by % of income paid in taxes. The national sales tax proposed by Bush would unfairly put more burden on the bottom half of the population. The bankruptcy law just passed unfairly burdens those devastated by unexpected illnesses, job losses, etc without putting any requirement for responsible lending on the credit card companies. I cannot think of any law or decision made in the last four years that did not advantage the rich and disadvantage those in the bottom half of the population.I am a Democrat and a liberal because that seems a better way to walk in the footsteps of Jesus than to be a conservative Republican. Yes, I would like the Democrats to be pro-life but I think that often the pro-life people seem to concentrate on getting babies born but little else. Perhaps if the pro-life people since the Roe-Wade decision had concentrated on changing hearts and minds, on caring for women with unwanted pregnancies, on spirituality instead of concentrating on changing the law, we would have many many fewer abortions. Strangely enough, the numbers of abortions went down during the pro-choice Clinton presidency and has gone up during the so called pro-life Bush presidency.Sr. Rose Tresp

04.27.04   eric_in_IN says:
QuoteOriginally posted by: Peacehawk I believe that we should build a social system that cares for people and in which people can care for one another. I do not see the Republican Party leading the way toward that kind of caring society, and I see the Democrats beginning to falter in pursuit of that goal. The relentless materialism of modern conservatism, its glorification of economic gain, its enslavement to corporate values and the ravages it perpetrates on God's creation are as contrary to the spirit of Christ as anything I can imagine. This kind of conservatism is narrow, crude and ugly. If liberalism has become an uncertain trumpet, it still has within itself the element of soul-searching struggle that makes for moral choice. Where is that in today's conservatives, who manipulate faith in the service of plutocracy and raise altars to nationalism?Two points stick out to me in your words, quoted above:First, you assume that the Democrat Partyline regarding conservatives (and Republicans specifically) is the reality of the individuals involved. Granted, we have to generalize when talking about Republicans and Democrats, a bit, because the permutations of either group are uncountable...but, I think your assuming that because political conservative A is against raising the minimum wage, uncontrolled spending on education and welfare programs, etc that he is "against" fairness to workers, educating children, and providing for the poor who, in the words of Jesus, will ALWAYS be among us. The subtlty of this is that most "conservatives", myself included, are not against any of these outcomes...we DO have grave reservations regarding the way liberal Democrats look to the State to solve these problems, even when the State's record of success is suspect, at best. True liberalism would look for solutions, not stop-gap, feel-good measures that make the giver feel good ("well, at least we're doing SOMETHING") without actually helping the problem. I would submit that many of us who you feel are "narrow, crude, and ugly" are actually far from it. Second, to believe that a secular society could ever produce the type of Utopian "caring" that you long for is to ignore both history and theology. This country was founded upon the realization that governments will always, eventually, fully restrict the liberties of the people whom they govern, and the only way to delay that here is to ensure certain basic freedoms. The less government, the better, in other words. While I would join anyone in criticizing the Republican Party's record regarding the limitation of government (especially on a national level), I would challenge you to consider in what way you think a bureaucratic solution to education, poverty, workers rights, and the other issues you claim are the sole property of the Democratic Party. Every year the size of our government increases, which increases the prospect for (and actual occurrence of) abuse within that system. It also increases the need for those ingrained in administering the system to make sure there are individuals who will still need their services in the next year, the next 10 years, etc. To believe that taxing and mandating "caring" is the key to our problems is a precursor to disaster, in my thinking. Man is fallen, and tends to act that way almost without thinking. No man-made government will ever provide the peace, prosperity, and caring you are looking for. The more we look to our government for the "answers" the easier it is to say, "that's the State's responsibility, not mine" (or, "not the Church's"), the more that we hand over the responsibility placed on OUR shoulders, by Christ, to those who do not believe, do not respect, and do not support our Lord.Warmest regards,eric

03.30.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
Yvonnesdaughter brings up a good point. It may be that we Catholics need to review the official platforms of the political parties we claim for voting purposes. If there is something anathema to our faith, or to our social predilection, then we should (as honest and forthright as we can be) register accordingly.The cornerstone to all this dialogue seems to rest on our parents' or ethnic culture's political orientation. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree but sometimes the tree has been overly pruned or bulldozed for the new barbecue site! Do we change party affiliation when the party changes its credo? Our Church has not changed its doctrine, though the delivery of it (the Liturgy in the local language, for example), is viewed by many Catholics as a betrayal of Rome and the traditions of many centuries. Witness the Old Catholic movement.Do we Catholics leave this world, this society, to work on the Kingdom of God? Is not the Kingdom among us, does not the Holy Spirit inspire us still?Do we engage our faith with our politics? Do we strive to change the politcial party we belong to? Or the society we are part of? I wish I knew, for the debate among Catholic academics (clergy and laity) makes strong and defensible arguments on both sides (conservative vs. liberal, Democrat vs. Republican).Mother Church characterizes us as Pilgrims. Does the route we take follow the easy road and pass only the hospitable towns?

03.29.04   yvonnesdaughter says:
I belong to a parish, attend mass regularly, pray daily, and do all the things that any good Catholic would normally do. I am also a Democrat. I felt like I'd been slapped in the face when I read this insulting and narrow minded point of view. Although I'm a progressive Catholic and feel there is a great need for reform in the Church, I enjoy Godspy because of it's overall intelligence. This article has proven to be an exception. Please open your mind and realize that the Democratic Party is comprised of more than one type of individual.

03.02.04   cons says:
Another point that I failed to flesh out: without virtue, and without the faith in God that encourages its practice, man cannot govern himself. This means government must intrude in order to restrain man's passions. Therefore, a democracy stops looking like a democracy and starts looking more like a tyranny. Remember, Rome moved from a republic, to the trappings of a republic, to military rule. Its decay was internal.

03.02.04   cons says:
I am a Catholic and a lifelong Republican. The Democratic Party irrevocably changed during the 1972 George McGovern campaign. It is no longer the party of Truman. Tragically it is been overtaken by secularism and humanism. In my view, it also seeks to adopt the views of Gramsci and the Frankfurt School (hence it's attacks upon the family and the Christian churches). There are two fundamentally different views of human nature in both parties. One says that man is perfectable, that he/she can be refashioned through institutions. The other says that man is wicked and that the greatest assurance against catastrophe is when society assumes that man cannot be perfected. My point is this: today's Democratic Party encourages the passions of the people. This is what the Founders wanted to avoid. Our republic was created in which men were free to reason, not free to do as they pleased. In order for men to govern themselves, they must be virtuous, and virtue is inseparable from faith. Without virtue, the only instrument left to restrain the passions of man is Big Brother government, or Hobbes' Leviathian, or what God calls in Job "the king over all the children of pride." Encouraging licentiousness and sexual "liberation" among our youth is just one of the many aspects of the modern Democratic Party that seems to justify my view. As far as disengaging religion from politics, as one individual has replied, separation of church and state was meant to protect THE CHURCH from the state, not the other way around. Indeed, we now have a court in California telling Catholic Charities that they must distribute contraceptives.

03.01.04   jamball says:
Pre Ronald Reagan I was a democrat. But what I found was that the democratic party I thought I belonged had long ago ceased to existed in reality. My parents, for example, thought they belonged to the party of FDR whereas I looked to JFK who brought us the moon launch and championed civil rights. I think a lot of Democrats today think of the good old days.What my family came to realize was that our party had been hijacked and now stands for the things we as catholic-christians detest. "Democrats stand behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade". These words from the D. party platform Textare a line in the sand that any God fearing christian dare not pass. Further, the church's stance, indeed God's message from the beginning was that he created male and female for intemacy. Democrats have made this an issue that clearly breaks down faith lines. Republicans were by and large leaving this alone (unless gays wanted to be teachers or boy scout leaders).I'd love to consider candidates on the non-core issues but can't consider them in the voting booth without thoughts of what I'll have to say in the confessional booth. Worse yet, what I'll say to Jesus Himself when I stand before him saying I voted for a man who veto'd two bans on partial birth abortions.Peacehawk, just a question. You say you believe in God. That's good, but have you made Jesus Lord. Making Him Lord makes you the slave. His will is our will. When His will is clear we must follow. We must.Democrats leave us no room in their party.

03.01.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
Peacehawk:I was a Democrat. Catholic and working class (English Irish/German ancestry). But as the 60s and 70s wore on, the party of my father and mother became Orwellian (ie, 'doublespeak') in its Official Platform. What was the party that brought us out of a world-wide depression, broke the tyranny of management over labor and the working class, and, brought our nation victory over fascism in a world war became the petri dish for special interests. No longer 'demos' but 'oligos,' that is, control by the few. It is instructive to remember that those Democrats who legislated for forced busing in the 60s and 70s were those who (Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Edmund Brown in California) sent their children to private schools. It is well to remember that of the top five richest Presidents, if Kerry were to be elected, he would be number 3 (1, Washington: 2, FDR: 4, JFK, and: 5, LBJ). It is an element of our faith that we respect live REGARDLESS OF HOW IT GETS HERE. Birth defects, mental retardation, physical limitations which develop in early childhood, IT DOESN'T MATTER. All life (yes, ALL life) is precious and has a purpose in God's universe. The Democratic Party platform gives "reproduction rights" over the miracle of birth. I cannot as a Catholic, as a father, as a fellow member of the greater community of humans, support a party that condones killing of nascent human life. It doesn't matter if we agree on when life begins or not, it matters that these fetal beings have not chosen to abort themselves. The Democrats have taken the concept of Free Will away from the individual. We do not vote as a society for our laws (witness the SF Mayor's extralegal action), we permit rogue Democratic politicians or judges to tell us what we should allow or believe. That is not Democratic, that is doublespeak at the most obvious level. As to war, we choose rightly or wrongly to defend our ideals, whether economic, social or political. We owe it to each other to live for each other and to be ready to die for one another if need be. The Catholic clergy needs to demand of our (professed) Catholic politicians public behavior consistent with our moral teachings. To permit otherwise is to treat our faith as a Cafeteria-style denomination which picks and chooses the easy over the (morally) difficult.

02.28.04   Peacehawk says:
I am a Democrat. I believe in a created order, in the existence of evil and that humanity was created in God's image. That is why I believe we must do justice and love mercy. That is why I am a liberal. I do not see how my Christian belief in God is in any way compromised by an acceptance of a scientific view of the origins of the cosmos and the human species. Because my faith is just that -- faith -- and, therefore, is beyond material proof, I accept the necessity of the neutrality of government on matters of religion. My opposition to capital punishment is faith-based, but I do not argue for its abolition on the basis of faith except to other believers. My acceptance of at least a limited right to abortion is based on an acknowledgment that any legal definition of the point at which human life begins is necessarily arbitrary from the standpoint of the plurality of beliefs about it that exist. I cannot imagine advising a woman that she should abort a potentially healthy fetus; not can I imagine condemning a couple who choose not to accept the burden of bringing into the world a child with Down's syndrome. I believe that we should build a social system that cares for people and in which people can care for one another. I do not see the Republican Party leading the way toward that kind of caring society, and I see the Democrats beginning to falter in pursuit of that goal. The relentless materialism of modern conservatism, its glorification of economic gain, its enslavement to corporate values and the ravages it perpetrates on God's creation are as contrary to the spirit of Christ as anything I can imagine. This kind of conservatism is narrow, crude and ugly. If liberalism has become an uncertain trumpet, it still has within itself the element of soul-searching struggle that makes for moral choice. Where is that in today's conservatives, who manipulate faith in the service of plutocracy and raise altars to nationalism?

02.19.04   irishman says:
I just read the article Aliance between Catholics and Democrats and realize how distorted ones thinking can be when they wear the blinders of the Republican party. When one sees so narrowly that they would never vote Democratic because they don't beleive in a created order, I think they're confusing God's Will with George W. Bush's will.I found it amusing that the author of this article liked the message of John Kerry but because he respects individual rights, leaves the judgement of ones morality to our creator, and wants to help all people not just the rich, that this should make him less attractive to Catholics is absurd.

02.11.04   Godspy says:
The presidential candidates are never asked the really tough questions, the ones about religion, philosophy and the meaning of life, because these questions threaten to break open the fault lines dividing American society.

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