Tuesday, March 29, 2005

MH - The Role of Faith in America

Hadleyblogger Mike calls our attention to Sunday's edition of NBC News' Meet the Press. The topic: Faith in America. Not surprisingly, the discussion focused on the Schiavo case. Forthwith, an excerpt from a very interesting exchange between Tim Russert and Senator Joe Lieberman:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, your Republican colleague from Connecticut in the House, Christopher Shays, had this to say. "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy. ... There are going to be repercussions from this vote [on Schiavo's constitutional rights]. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them."

You agree with that?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D-CT): I don't. But that's a very credible and respectable opinion for Chris to take. See, I think--and Chris was there on the floor of the House, so maybe he heard in the debate some things that I didn't hear following it from a distance. The fact is that, though I know a lot of people's attitude toward the Schiavo case and other matters is affected by their faith and their sense of what religion tells them about morality, ultimately as members of Congress, as judges, as members of the Florida state Legislature, this is a matter of law. And the
law exists to express our values.

I have been saying this in speeches to students about why getting involved in government is so important, I always say the law is where we define the beginning of life and the end of life, and that's exactly what was going on here. And I think as a matter of law, if you go--particularly to the 14th Amendment, can't be denied due process, have your life or liberty taken without due process of law, that though the Congress' involvement here was awkward, unconventional, it was justified to give this woman, more than her parents or husband, the opportunity for one more chance before her life was terminated by an act which was sanctioned by a court, by the

These are very difficult decisions, but--of course, if you ask me what I would do if I was the Florida Legislature or any state legislature, I'd say that if somebody doesn't have a living will and the next of kin disagree on whether the person should be kept alive or that is whether food and water should be taken away and her life ended that really the benefit of the doubt ought to be given to life. And the family member who wants to sustain her life ought to have that right because the judge really doesn't know, though he heard the facts, one judge, what Terri Schiavo wanted. He made a
best guess based on the evidence before him. That's not enough when you're
talking about aggressively removing food and water to end someone's life.

MR. RUSSERT: You would have kept the tube in?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I would have kept the tube in.
A courageous statement by Lieberman both morally and legally, covering the 14th Amendment question which others have raised. Now, contrast that with the statements below from Fr. Robert Drinan, who from 1971-81 also served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts:

MR. RUSSERT: Father Drinan, do you think it was appropriate for Congress to be involved in this matter?

REV. ROBERT DRINAN: No, I don't. I think it's rather well settled at the state level, and it's rather well settled also in Catholic theology. I would recommend that the viewers look at the Web site of the Catholic Hospital Association. For years, they have been developing a coherent philosophy on this matter and the Holy See in the last year seem to have been a bit more conservative, which is understandable. It's a terrible, terrible, agonizing thing. But I think that all the judges that heard it, 20, 25 judges, we have the most certainty that we can have in this difficult situation.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to read something that you said to The Washington Post in
2003: "Catholics have no right to impose their views on others. Even if they say homosexual conduct is unfitting for a Catholic, they have no right to impose that on the nation."

If you believe that homosexuality is immoral or that abortion is the taking of a life, or that you believe very strongly that Terri Schiavo should remain on a tube, are you not honor-bound as a political figure to try to, in effect, bring about that result, if it's a firmly held motional belief?

REV. DRINAN: Yes and no. Go back to Vatican II. Three thousand bishops agonized over this, and at the end of the day, they said that the church should never seek to impose its views. They should not have any shadow of coercion, renouncing 20 centuries of the church dominating the scene. So I think that it's a different world, and we respect everybody else and there's lots of things that are immoral that should not be illegal.
Now, lest anyone get the idea that Fr. Drinan always articulates the Catholic position, we should note that when he was serving in the House, he practically wrote the manual on how a Catholic politician could be pro-abortion. (Notice how he suddenly says these things should be handled "at the state level." Wonder if he felt that way about Roe v. Wade?) More recently, as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus reminds us in the April edition of First Things, he “gained public attention by his vigorous opposition to a ban on partial birth abortion, also known as live birth abortion.” Fr. Drinan says it’s not appropriate for a public official to let his religious beliefs influence his stands. Looking at Fr. Drinan’s record, it’s difficult to see how he lets his religious beliefs influence any part of his life.

And let’s look again at that last quote: “Go back to Vatican II. Three thousand bishops agonized over this, and at the end of the day, they said that the church should never seek to impose its views. They should not have any shadow of coercion, renouncing 20 centuries of the church dominating the scene.” Granted, but there’s a huge difference between the Catholic Church “telling” Congress what to do, and individual representatives, informed by their Catholic beliefs, voting to do something. At least I thought it was a huge difference, but apparently the subtleties have escaped the good Father.

Yes, I know that’s rather uncharitable, but once again we have to remember that it is only though our public actions that we give others the opportunity to draw conclusions about us. What Fr. Drinan has told people in the confessional may well be responsible for saving hundreds of lives, and in the box he may be a shining example of Catholic charity. But, as I’ve said before, we have to live our lives according to our beliefs, and that includes the public lives of public servants. And you gotta believe something. Evidentially Fr. Drinan believes the Constitution of the United States, or the platform of the Democratic Party, makes that impossible. I do not.

But that’s getting a little far afield (I do seem to have that problem, don’t I?). Here’s another exchange:

(Videoclip) PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY: Let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own. (End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own," Father. That's politics and religion together in a very clearly stated way.

REV. DRINAN: And I think that it--we all agree with that. The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs.
Yes, but once again Fr. Drinan has it all wrong. An example of what he’s talking about might be if the Catholic Church lobbied to have divorce outlawed because the Church doesn’t accept it, or pushed to have the Immaculate Conception made a public holiday. That’s an example of enforcing our “particular beliefs.” Last time I checked, though, murder wasn’t a particular belief of any particular denomination or sect. I haven’t been watching much TV lately though, so maybe I missed something.

Anyway, don’t listen to Fr. Drinan. It’s much more interesting to listen to Sen. Lieberman answering this question later in the show (we should also note that he said the Congress missed having Fr. Drinan there):

MR. RUSSERT: But is there a risk where politicians will say, "We must ban gay
marriage because God wills it? We must ban abortion because God wills it. We must not drill in the arctic wildlife because Adam and Eve say no"? Is there a risk in that?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I think that people have--this is another part of the First Amendment, everybody has a right to petition their government and to petition it in terms that are relevant to themselves. And some of that will be faith-based, some of it will be totally secularly based sense of justice or morality. I mean, the answer to the question that you posed to Father Drinan in the end is the democratic process will decide, Congress will decide, the courts will decide. But I think that the public square is greatly strengthened and enriched when people are prepared to speak, not just about secular notions of justice, but about the moral sense that our faith gives us. And again, I want to say that to me that is not un-American, that is very American. We are--our Constitution says we don't establish a religion, but it also says everybody has freedom of religion, and everybody has the right to speak their mind. And if your mind is faith-based, God bless you. Speak your mind.
Speak your mind. I like that. Unfortunately, not enough people share that opinion.

Of course, Lieberman has been wrong a lot in his political career (take the 2000 campaign, for example), but you have to give the man his due when he says something like this. And even if you don’t agree with everything he says here, it’s thought-provoking at the very least. There's also some other good stuff from other panelists. Mike says it’s essential reading, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Read the entire transcript here.

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