Friday, May 17, 2019

Church Teaching vs. Political Views

One potential problem—as I have mentioned before—Catholics face is the temptation to think of certain concerns as political opinions while elevating their political opinions to Catholic teaching. The result of this is when the Church speaks out against things an individual Catholic thinks is political, the individual believes that the Church is “losing sight” of her mission, getting involved in politics. But, when the Church speaks against a political stance at odds with Church teaching and the individual Catholic thinks the stance is Catholic teaching, that individual accuses the Church of falling into “error.”

So, when the Church speaks about environmental responsibility and the individual Catholic thinks “environmentalism” is a political issue, he or she says the Church should focus on “more important” issues instead. This doesn’t go only one direction though. Catholics with different slants might think that abortion and transgenderism are “political” issues the Church should stay away from. Regardless of political slant, these individuals say the Church is “obsessed” with “minor” things and should focus on “more important” issues... which they happen to support.

The other side of the problem is the elevating of political views to doctrine. The individual usually draws a political stance based on their interpretation of a Church teaching. From there they conclude that rejecting the stance is a rejection of Church teaching. For example, the Church has condemned socialism [§]. From that, some have concluded that laissez-faire capitalism is compatible with Catholic teaching so the Pope warning against its excesses and injustices is seen as “changing Church teachings.” Alternately, some Catholics draw on the Church teaching on caring for the poor and reason that opposing government programs and taxes to fund them must be a rejection of Church teaching.

Both of these assumptions are “doctrinizing” political views. Yes, the Church requires us to do or avoid certain things. But she doesn’t require us to endorse specific political positions in doing so—provided they don’t use that argument to evade Catholic teaching. Yes, Catholics can disagree on the best means to oppose abortion or make society more just. But they cannot use that as an excuse to downplay or ignore the injustice [#]. The Catholic who uses this to avoid their moral obligation altogether does wrong. Remember what Our Lord had to say on the subject (quoting Isaiah):

Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 
“This people honors me with their lips, 
but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me, 
teaching as doctrines human precepts.’ ” (Matthew 15:7–9)

We need to remember that where the Church binds, we have no authority to loose. Where the Church looses, we have no authority to bind. When the Church teaches, we have an obligation to obey. If we let our political opinions interfere with listening to the Church, the rebuke of Our Lord and Isaiah falls on us.


[§] To avoid the fallacy of false analogy, we do need to be aware of the forms of socialism condemned and not automatically assume that the similarities an individual Catholic thinks he sees are the same thing.

[#] For example, the person who ignores or supports abortion and claims that they’re more pro-life because of their support on other issues. See Christfideles Laici #38.

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