Projecting Christian truth

  • November 11, 2010

In his Oct. 24 Catholic Register column, Michael Coren reports that he has been deluged by e-mails from “people complaining about how some journalists use their Catholicism as a rather self-indulgent vehicle for their own secular politics.”

While not singled out by name in the column, I am clearly among the rascals whose writings Coren’s correspondents (and Coren) dislike. I am replying to this criticism here, because I believe that Coren’s column raises interesting questions about the nature and scope of Catholic journalism, and indeed the Catholic practice of everyday life, that deserve to be answered.

What kind of political advocacy, for example, is appropriate for Catholic citizens to undertake?

In this regard, Coren makes a curious distinction. There are, on one hand, “explicitly Catholic political principles.” These include “the sanctity of the unborn, the precious nature of all human life or the essential defence of Christian marriage and family.” On the other hand, there is the “fashionable and banal politics that so dominate the Canadian landscape.” In this latter, illegitimate category, Coren continues, are concerns about the quality of the mass media (“Jesus and the possibility of Sun TV coming to our screens”), about the environment (“the Church and recycling policy”), about cultural strategy (“what... the Pope say[s] about municipal arts grants”) and so on.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out the basis of this discrimination. In its authoritative teachings on society and the human person — in papal encyclicals, the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, in the Catechism and other sources — the Catholic Church invites her members, and all people of good will, to affirm certain essential convictions: the sovereignty of God, for instance, and the paramount value of every human life from conception until natural death.

From these propositions flows the magnificent and indivisible treasury of Catholic social doctrine. Among the “explicitly Catholic political principles” one finds there is surely the defence of the unborn and opposition to abortion — I have never questioned this — but also the defence of the environment, the advancement and protection of human and civil rights, and the promotion of richness, depth and diversity in cultural life, including political culture. To wrench out one part of this teaching, and proclaim it the only part that is explicitly Catholic, is to threaten the integrity of the whole project of Christian truth.

It is very difficult, of course, for ordinary Christians living and working in an increasingly coarse, profane society to keep everything in mind all the time, and this is as true of Christian social doctrine as it is of all else that is life-giving. So we do what we can to stay in touch with what matters.

Some of us layfolk pray the Liturgy of the Hours day by day in order to remain close to what the Church believes and teaches; some read books on Christian devotion and theology; many of us read Catholic periodicals such as The Register with the reasonable expectation of finding news and opinion there we can’t get elsewhere. Like every other columnist in this newspaper, I take seriously the task of interpreting current events and cultural trends, to the best of my ability, in the light of Catholic teaching because I know Catholic readers will find such interpretation of cultural and political life only in the Catholic media.

In preparing to write my recent column about Rob Ford, for example, I tried to ignore the mass-media punditry swirling around the candidate and stay focused on a few fundamental questions that arose from Catholic social teaching and my experience of the campaign. Would a Ford mayoralty hasten the building of the city Catholics pray for? A city of justice, peace, compassion and civility, especially as these qualities affect the poor, homeless, the refugees and new immigrants among us? Did Ford’s policies and behaviour indicate that he was the right fit for leadership in a large, modern and extraordinarily complex urban community?

As Register readers know, I decided Ford was not the right man for the job. I challenge anyone to ask himself or herself the same questions I asked myself, and come to the opposite conclusion. Be that as it may — I could be wrong about Rob Ford, of course; we’ll have four years to find out — I think the questions were the right ones to pose.

Unless Catholics begin and end our evaluation of candidates and other personalities, and trends and events in urban culture, with the spacious, comprehending teachings of the Church, we are indeed liable to be dragged this way and that by the resentments that animate both ends of the secular political spectrum.

I am particularly concerned about the current drift of some Catholics toward the secular hard-right ideology of bitterness, stinginess and self-interest. Because of this concern, I agree wholeheartedly with the words (if not the personal reproach) of the final paragraph in Michael Coren’s column: “We need to be fair and we need to be informed and we should never throw ourselves blindly towards any ideology. Yet that, tragically, is what some Catholics seem intent on doing and it is foolhardy if not positively dangerous.”

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