Divining Authority (Religious Endorsements)

Many many many Christians, readers have pointed out, are not worried about the Rapture tomorrow–despite the confident predictions of some committed co-religionists.  While some of the faithful have quit jobs to prepare–and to alert others of the coming judgment, other committed Christians are expressly continuing to live their lives as before, going to school, work, or even church.  People within the same families have vastly different expectations about what’s going to happen tomorrow, and who’s going to be hanging around the house the day after.  (See the New York Times, “Make My Bed? But You Say The World is Ending.”)

By the way, New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has announced that, in the event of Rapture, the City’s alternate side of the street parking regulations would be suspended.  It’s got to be a relief not to have to worry about towing in the event of the Final Judgment.

One easy point here: well-intentioned people can look at the same source material, in this case, the Bible, and come up with very different interpretations, even about something as fundamental as the Second Coming.

If organized religion doesn’t give clear guidance on this clearly critical matter, what about other contemporary issues?  How about the Federal Budget?

Before Speaker of the House John Boehner gave the commencement address at Catholic University, a group of professors sent him a letter, charging the the House version of the federal budget violated Catholic teachings by failing to take care of the neediest.  Laurie Goodstein reports:

The letter writers criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut financing for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies “anti-life,” a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.

But it’s not just some, uh, professors.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a letter challenging Congress to take seriously the Gospel charge of taking care of the “least of these,” paying particular attention to the poor, the hungry, and the unemployed.

Well, now that the Roman Catholic Church is on record, it’s pretty clear what a committed Catholic like Speaker Boehner should do.  Not quite.

Days later Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued his own letter, supporting the Republican budget and the work of Speaker Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, who drafted the budget.  Responding to an inquiry from the House leaders, Dolan replied:

I commend your…attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike.

Thus, both supporters and opponents of the Ryan budget can claim cover from the Catholic hierarchy.  Don’t think for a second that the clerics in other religious traditions are less divided, or that other issues are less contested.

Committed Catholics who actually try to promote a consistent ethic of life, as Cardinal Bernardin advocated, oppose abortion, poverty, war, nuclear weapons, and capital punishment.  They have a difficult time maintaining political alliances–and therefore influence, of any kind.

Everyone else picks and chooses.

The mandate of heaven is claimed not discerned.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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