The Unchurch Militant

May 5, 2004 | 24 comments

In politics, there’s something to be said for being known by the company you keep.


24 Responses to The Unchurch Militant

  1. Clark Goble on May 5, 2004 at 11:28 pm

    The religious divide is rather troubling. I think our system of government truly depends upon a viable two party system. When any one party gets associated with one group that group often is marginalized or extreme forces within that group come to the forefront. I think this has happened with some races. (i.e. African Americans and Democrats) and now it is happening with religion. While there isn’t quite the religious divide the article suggests, it tends to be that those who are “conservative” religiously tend to associate with Republicans. That’s troubling.

    Part of the problem is that Democrats truly don’t seem to see the issues that are important to many religious people. Even if I disagree on some of them (i.e. the Evangelical and Catholic views on stem cells) it seems that Democrats don’t even try to attract these voters. Part of this is certainly the leaders of these groups encouraging a kind of block voting. (i.e. like the leaders of the African American community do with fear mongering among that subgroup) But I think a larger part truly is a growing rift.

  2. lyle on May 6, 2004 at 12:02 am

    How about this? The Governor of New Jersey has agreed not to take communion, following criticism by two Bishops (Trenton, Camden) & the ArchBishop of Newark, re: his anti-Catholic political positions (i.e. abortion, et al.).

    WOW!!! talk about a fireball. You know the press will eat this up & Sen. Kerry will have to respond. WOW!!!

  3. Dave on May 6, 2004 at 2:11 am

    Nice article, Adam. I don’t think polarized politics is what the country needs. But there’s nothing in the article about gerrymandering, by which parties carve out safe districts–safe from the moderating influence of real elections in balanced districts, where candidates need to move to the middle and practice moderation, with a careful eye on their electorate, to get reelected.

    Gerrymandering makes our legislatures more extreme, because the candidates can practice polarized politics safely. Only Presidential candidates need to “move to the middle.”

  4. Clark Goble on May 6, 2004 at 4:16 am

    I think the theory was that gerrymandering was supposed to make things more diverse. However I agree that it hasn’t worked that way. Moderation and diversity (pluralism) often seem difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile.

    On the other hand, what is funny is that the so-called polarization in the US is between two fairly similar perspectives. Let’s be honest. Compared to the diversity of views in most parliamentary systems, the US seems rather one sided.

    Look at Kerry and Bush. Both agree with tax cuts, Kerry just wants more payroll taxes and fewer cuts on the high end. Both want to stay in Iraq. Both supposedly want multilateral talks. Kerry supports the UN more, but I suspect wouldn’t be *that* different in practice. Indeed when you go down the roll in this election and the last, there were only a few places they differed. i.e. abortion, and environmental regulations. Even there the difference is far less than what you’d see in other countries. I rather doubt Kerry would try to get something like Kyoto passed for instance. And abortion is easy because in practice there is little either could do.

    So we have the irony of polarization between two opinions that seem very similar to outsiders. Makes me think of a Catholic looking at Methodists and Lutherans debating.

  5. Kaimi on May 6, 2004 at 8:10 am


    I’ve said it before — such moves by Catholic bishops look pretty suspect to me. I’m not Catholic, of course, and not an expert in communion decision. Still, I haven’t heard a reason why no one denies communion to Rick Santorum for his votes and statements on the death penalty and the war in Iraq — both diametrically opposed to the Vatican — and to other Catholic politicians who favored the death penalty and Iraq invasion. So, to me, it looks like a crass, politically based decision.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on May 6, 2004 at 9:10 am

    Kaimi, I’m not Catholic either. However, I’ve read a fair amount of Catholic theology, and have some close friends who attend pretty seriously to the statements of the Vatican and evolutions in Catholic dogma. On that basis, I’d have to say your claim regarding Rick Santorum and “his votes and statements on the death penalty and the war in Iraq–both diametrically opposed to the Vatican” is misinformed. There is a difference between papal statements, paper encyclicals, and the actual cathechism of the Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II clearly opposed the war in Iraq; his statements, however, neither addressed nor refuted the centuries of just war theology which is built into Catholic teaching, and thus can’t really be construed as impacting in any real way on assessing the faithfulness of any given Catholic. The death penalty is trickier–JPII has challenged the legitimacy of capital punishment in most societies in a much more theologically comprehensive way, as part of his “seamless garment of life” ethic, and even very conservative (in an American sense) Catholic theologians can’t deny that the tradition seems to be pointing in an anti-death penalty direction. (Cardinal Avery Dulles, a supporter of capital punishment, wrote a long and thoughtful exegesis on this in First Things a few years back.) However, neither of these possible/probable readings of Catholic teachings even approach the level of dogmatic certainty which surrounds the issues of birth control and abortion. The magesterial teachings on these points have been reiterated in several papal encyclicals, and are an obvious implication of the authorized catechism of the church. So there really is no comparison here.

    In short: for a Catholic bishop to deny communion on the basis of an individual’s support for the Iraq war, or the death penalty, would arguably be unsupportable as a matter of doctrine, and possibly an instance of ecclesiastical abuse. A denial of communion to a supporter of abortion rights would be neither. (That’s not to say it would be WISE–maybe it wouldn’t be. But answering that question is a matter of figuring out the place of a dogmatic faith in a pluralistic polity, not an issue of dogma itself.)

  7. Adam Greenwood on May 6, 2004 at 10:07 am

    I will say that I tip my hat to the governor for accepting the decision. He could have gotten into a high dudgeon over his faith getting almost Papist in its insistence on dogma and its ideas of authority, but he didn’t. I like my abortionists just a little abashed.

    I don’t know that the actions are politically motivated. For some they may be of course. If so, I suspect their actions will probably be bootless. The Catholics who would be influenced are probably with us anyway. In any case, we must be careful what we mean when we say something is politically motivated. The Catholic doctrine is question is not just that life is sacred from the moment of conception, but that a polity that doesn’t legally protect the life is therefore in sin. So in a sense any action the bishops take is inherently political. The real sting is accusing them of being political is if beating up Democrats and Kerry is what they really care about, and any stick wll do.

  8. lyle on May 6, 2004 at 11:37 am


    I think Russell had a good explanation to the answer I provided you earlier:

    If there is this much attention to Abortion, etc., then if there is a double-standard here, the Catholic Church would be counseling Catholic Politicians on the Death Penalty, etc.

    The failure of the RC Church to do so indicates the lack of one.

    Of course, as Russell points out…the ‘wisdom’ of such a decision is up in the air. However, if the LDS Church is free to exclude folks from their religious ‘club’ for reasons of their choosing…it seems awfully paternalistic (pun intended) to dictate who gets to be in the RC ‘club’. (of course, this is the same free associational reasoning behind Dale & the Boy Scouts, so…perhaps it is suspect to liberals anyway).

  9. Gary Cooper on May 6, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    I wonder how much of what the article details and what this post and its accompanying threads discuss ties in with BoM and other scriptural descriptions of societies over whom “the sword of the Lord’s justice” hangs? Certainly it seems to fit the pattern of neighbor against neighbor, but also perhaps a “clear division” of the wicked and the righteous?

    Those Americans who feel at least some allegiance to the idea that there is a God to whom we owe obedience, and that certain things (unlimited abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.)are wrong because they are an offence to Him, would seem to be a pool of people to whom the Restored Gospel’s message could appeal, especially if the saints became more active than we currently are in politics (I mean the saints, not the Church, though I don’t discount the real possibility of the Lord having the Church reverse its policy of political non-involvement in the future). In any case, this polarization might be looked on more favorably by the saints, if it weren’t for the fact that the political/religious conservatism of most Americans (or at least a plurality) doesn’t seem to be translating into a committment to personal righteousness (most of the Republicans I work with in their 20′s to 40′s are just as likely to engage in fornication, adultery, swearing, etc. as any democrat, with the exception of a many devout Christians).

    This religious divide, while it has some very negative side effects, may also be positive. Secular history shows no examples of great civilzations who, reaching the point of degradation that ours has, ever were able to “turn things around”. The difference in our case is that we seem to be the first in which a very large and significant minority of common people are dedicated and active in saving the country. Of course religious history (the BoM) shows that it is possible for a society, if ti turns back to God, to save itself from destruction. So, I’m glad the divide exists, if for no other reason than the fact that this demonstrates the battle is not over yet. If you go to Europe, the overwhelming secularization and sexual immorality strikes you as virtually unredeemable, because NOBODY CARES. Here, some do care, a lot, and are doing soemthing about it. The question is: when are we as Latter-day Saints going to get up off our duffs and provide soem real leadership by example?

  10. Damon Linker on May 6, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    Russell asked me (as a Catholic) to look over his comments and clarify them if I thought he made any misstatements. I’d say that he’s largely correct but needs to put things a bit more precisely.

    The Church claims authority to define “faith and morals”; on those matters, its declarations are binding on Catholics who wish to remain in good standing with the Church and thus receive Communion.

    For nearly 2,000 years of Church history, abortion has been decalred by the Church to be a grave sin — indeed, one that leads immediately to excommunication for the woman who has the abortion. I’m unsure of the consequences for the doctor who performs the abortion — let alone for a politician who supports the woman’s “right” to procure one. The latter, I suspect, is very unclear — and that’s why I don’t think you’re going to see the withholding of Communion for pro-abortion politicians become a widespread practice. And it’s a good thing, too. It is up to the each Catholic to decide whether he or she is worthy to receive the sacrament; no tests are (or ought to be) administered during the Mass.

    As for the death penalty and the war, these are very different matters. Just as abortion has always been considered a grave sin, the death penalty has always been considered a punishment that the state can legitimately employ in order to uphold the common good. This has not changed under the current pope. What John Paul II has done is say that, although the punishment remains legitimate in principle, circumstances in the modern world are such that, in the Church’s view, it is unwise to employ it. That’s not a change in faith and morals (which the Church claims can never, ever change); it’s a matter of prudential judgment. And that’s the core of the difference with abortion: in the end, the final decision about whether to apply the ultimate punishment is one that must be made by statesmen, whom the Church gives considerable latitude to exercise prudential judgment. So, when Senator Santorum (or any other Catholic) supports the death penalty, he is not contradicting the Church’s teaching on faith and morals; he is, rather, differing from the Church (and this particular pope — the 463rd) on a matter of prudence — and as a politician, he’s given the latitude to do so by the Church.

    This is even more true in the case of the war in Iraq. The death penalty — and the subtle change I outlined above — is discussed in the latest version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Obviously the Catechism has nothing to say about whether a particular state may go to war in a particular circumstance. On the contrary, the Catechism leaves such decisions entirely in the hands of statesmen who (hopefully) possess the knowledge and virtue required to make such judgments well. When a particular pope makes statements about whether he supports or opposes a particular war, that is something that Catholics should consider and weigh along with other considerations — but it is not in any way binding on the ultimate decision about whether to go to war. (Let alone statements by other Vatican officials, which have recently been much more unambiguously anti-war; these are not binding in any way.)

    So, in other words, it is not hypocrisy for a Catholic to oppose abortion and yet support the death penalty and the Iraq war. Indeed, it involves no dissent from Church teaching whatsoever.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on May 6, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Damon. Regarding your statement about the death penalty that it is “not a change in faith and morals (which the Church claims can never, ever change); it’s a matter of prudential judgment”–I was under the impression that at least some of the statements from the Vatican regarding capital punishment went beyond matters of prudence, and implied that a morally grounded opposition was an “emergent” doctrine. Am I wrong here?

  12. Thom on May 6, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Forgive me in advance for this question which is entirely tangential to the subject of this post.

    Regarding capital punishment, Damon Linker said: “although the punishment remains legitimate in principle, circumstances in the modern world are such that, in the Church’s view, it is unwise to employ it.”

    I am curious as to exactly which circumstances in the world would cause the current Pope to believe that it is more unwise to employ capital punishment now than it has ever been in the past.

    Surely there are people who are factually innocent who get wrongfully convicted and executed. However its not as if this never occurred in previous eras of world history, and given how infrequently capital punishment is used nowadays and the extent to which Western governments go to ensure due process and fair trials, I think it is safe to assume that it wrongul executions happen far less frequantly now than in former ages.

    How exactly can it be unwise now and not unwise in the past, unless the current Pope personally believes that it has always been unwise?

  13. Kaimi on May 6, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Damon and Russell. That makes a lot of sense.

    I think I was probably inclined to view these decisions as politically motivated anyway, given their timing (six months prior to a Presidential election where one candidate is Catholic). But I’m amenable to being conviced otherwise.

    I have a few follow-up questions, for Russell, Damon, or anyone else who knows and wants to answer:

    First, what is the Catholic position on (a) birth control, and (b) divorce? I know that both of these are opposed by the Catholic church; are they opposed at the same level as abortion? (A grave, excommuncable sin, and/or a cathechism element?).

    Relatedly, I would like to clarify Kerry’s and McGreevey’s perceived duty regarding acts that are already legal. After all, it is not like Kerry, McGreevey, et al, are seeking to strike down anti-abortion laws; abortion is already legal, and they are refusing to support attempts to reverse its legality. This seems to suggest that at least some bishops believe that Catholic politicians have a duty to make sure that sinful acts (as defined by the church) become illegal (as defined by the state).

    Finally (combining the prior two questions), if Catholic politicians have some sort of duty to try to make sins illegal, then must Catholic politicians also sponsor and support laws that would make birth control and divorce illegal (or else not take communion)? It seems that is a potential implications of denying communion to McGreevey. I may have missed or misunderstood something, however — as I have tried to make clear, I’m no expert on Catholic theology.

  14. lyle on May 6, 2004 at 3:32 pm

    Kaimi: as a caveat for your question, many folks don’t consider the abortion is legal. By judicial fiat, it was made so. However, in a very non-democratic way. So, your question could be seen not as “a duty to ensure sinful becomes illegal” but as “returning sinful & democratically chosen illegal behavior as illegal”.

  15. Adam Greenwood on May 6, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    speaking as an outsider, I had taken the Pope’s position to be something like: a murderer doesn’t deserve freedom but the modern state (and here’s where the prudential judgment comes in) has the resources to pay for incarceration instead of execution and the stability to ensure that the incarceration will be permanent; alternatively, the argument may be that the state is justified in doing whatever it must to defend its citizenry from someone who has shown themselves a killer, but if the state is stable enough to incarcerate for life instead of killing, it ought to.

  16. Nate Oman on May 6, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    Kaimi: Didn’t we do a run around on the sin-law distinction a while back on ldslaw. I simply don’t think it will do the kind of intellectual work that you want it to do.

    Just take off your Democratic partisan hat and admit that Kerry is an evil sinner bound for hell, why don’t you ;->

  17. Adam Greenwood on May 6, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    You may be missing a possible wrinkle in the argument. I don’t know about divorce, but I think there’s a distinction between abortion and contraception. In the Catholic view abortion isn’t just a grave sin, it’s murder. While theoretically one could view something as a sin while not trying to prohibit it (which is a position you strongly advocate), I don’t see how one could view abortion as murder but and not think the state had a duty to intervene. In the Catholic view, as in most, the state is if nothing else instituted to protect innocent life. Acting to keep abortion legal may be a sin in the way that refraining from introducing contraceptive’s legislation may not be.

  18. Damon Linker on May 6, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    To Russell: The pope himself might want to change the Church’s fundamental teaching on capital punishment — and to do so, he’d have to explain it in terms of a “development of doctrine” — but in this case I think it would be impossible. There’s just too much precedent (almost 2,000 years and 462 popes!) on the other side. The Catechism — which is the only binding document in this case — doesn’t put the issue in terms of a fundamental change in doctrine, just prudence. At least on my reading. The Dulles essay in First Things that you cited is indeed the best (most careful) article on the subject.

    To Thom: The main issue for the pope is that we currently live in a “culture of death” that sanctions abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, (almost) human cloning, etc. In such a culture, we should not be putting anyone (else) to death. He’s also made much less convincing arguments about how we can now so effectively incarcerate criminals that there’s no longer a need to put them to death (as if we executed people in the past because we couldn’t figure out how to build jails). This is actually the position defended in the Catechism, which is unfortunate, because I think it’s pretty weak.

    To Kaimi: I don’t know enough about the subtleties in gradations of sin to speak authoritatively about divorce and birth control. But here are a few things (I think) I do know.

    1. Divorce is not allowed for Catholics; marriages can be ended by annulments, which the Church grants in rare cases. But of course lots and lots of Catholics are divorced. Those Catholics have commited a serious sin by defiling the sacrament of marriage (just as they defile the sacrament of communion if they receive the Host without first having undergone the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), which few Catholics do today. So, most of us are in some trouble. That’s why there are no “tests” of worthiness before taking Communion.

    2. As for birth control, I don’t know how bad it is to use it — but about 90% of American Catholics do. The important thing to keep in mind is that abortion is an a different class than everything else here — because it’s the taking of a human life. But that still doesn’t mean that the Church should refuse to allow a pro-abortion Catholic politician to take Communion. As I said earlier, I think that decision should be up to the politician — and he or she will face the consequences. Gov. McGreevey of NJ has, I’ve heard, agreed not to take Communion because of his support for abortion. That’s the right way to go, in my view.

  19. jeremobi on May 7, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    Bolce and De Maio don’t present a very persuasive argument and spend most of their energy publishing in outlets where they are certain be unchallenged.

    There is a perfectly good reason why the mainstream American press is replete with stories about the evangelical and neo-conservative roles in the so-called culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s: the term was first and repeatedly used by neocons like Bennett and Kristol to defend their opportunistic alliance with the anti-intellectual Southern fundamentalists.

    The theory of a ‘culture war’ between religion and ‘irreligion’ is about political power and is only useful in justifying the alliance of ambitious right-wing intellectuals with Southern and some Midwestern voters.

    The concept is fatally flawed for many reasons. Here are three for starters:

    1) ordinary Protestant fundamentalists continue in large measure to hold Catholics (and Mormons) as something less than genuine Christians—and Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists will burn in hell. The Christian Coalition, recall, attempted to create a Catholic wing but failed because of the anti-Catholic bigotry of the fundamentalists;

    2) black protestants were never won over, largely because they still recognized the lingering racial prejudices in white Southern protestants;

    3) most neocons who gain positions in power on the backs of religious voters cannot be distinguished in their personal lives from ordinary secularists. Strauss’ distinction of the ‘philosophers’ from the masses, whose minds could only comprehend traditional religion, justifies this hypocrisy.

    Gilman has a more useful and provocative take on what the newly ideological Republican Party means for Democrats and the country:

  20. Adam Greenwood on May 10, 2004 at 2:35 pm

    You ignore:
    (1) the data about the increasing secularization, even religious hatred, of the Democratic party and
    (2) the actual experience of people like me who prefer the Republican party because we feel we can be believers here. Alliances aren’t unions–they are always to a degre unwieldy and tense–but people will overcome differences in a New York minute if they feel threatened enough, which sense of threat the secular Left is thoughtfully providing.

    Most of what you say is simply irrelevant to the observation that religious commitment or distaste for it is becoming the biggest line dividing the parties.

  21. jeremobi on May 10, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    Adam: “You ignore:
    (1) the data about the increasing secularization, even religious hatred, of the Democratic party and”

    What data?

    “(2) the actual experience of people like me who prefer the Republican party because we feel we can be believers here.”

    I do not doubt for a second, New York or otherwise, that you might feel the Republican party is comfortable for you. But what does this have to do with the fabrication of the concept of ‘culture wars’ as utilized by Bolce and De Maio?

    “Alliances aren’t unions–they are always to a degre unwieldy and tense–but people will overcome differences in a New York minute if they feel threatened enough, which sense of threat the secular Left is thoughtfully providing.”

    Exactly my point. The neo-conservatives framed policy disputes in the 1970s and 80s in order to create fear among some religiously-oriented voters for their own purposes.

    “Most of what you say is simply irrelevant to the observation that religious commitment or distaste for it is becoming the biggest line dividing the parties.”

    First, I wholly agree that the differences between the parties today appears to be that the Republicans are more idealogically driven, while the Dems are less ideologically coherent.

    But the role of religion in American politics is very, very messy. See, for example, this 2000 Pew poll:

  22. jeremobi on May 10, 2004 at 8:46 pm

    For more data on the important but ambiguous role of religion in American politics see:


  23. lyle on May 14, 2004 at 2:18 am

    Ok, let’s move to a new topic. Now, it isn’t just Catholic Pols who should be denied the sacrament; but individual Catholics _voting_ for politicians who are pro-abortion, etc.

    I’m sure the conspiracy theorists here will have a reason why it was the Bishop of Colorado Springs who has extended the sanction of the Catholic Church to those who would vote in support of sinful activities.

    Makes me long for the day when President Grant told the Mormons not to repeal prohibition; which prophetic request they refused. Sadly, he didn’t
    mention to them that they were endangering there souls by legalizing sin. It would certainly simplify matters today if President Hinckley would make a similar statement (over the pulpit, and perhaps even in the Name of the Lord for the skeptical types).

    Then again, we’d have lots of whining about separation of church & state…which I haven’t read about in the scriptures lately…but hey…why not? American’s are the best (after Canadians of course), why shouldn’t constiutional principles be more important than someone’s privacy or the right to life?

  24. Adam Greenwood on May 14, 2004 at 10:59 am

    I think the situation of the voter and the politician are vastly different. The voter has a number of reasons to support a pro-abortion candidate that may have nothing to do with his stance on killing embryonic life.


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