Archive for June, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Conundrum

Here’s the crazy thing about the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which ruled that corporations need not provide health insurance coverage for medical practices the corporation’s owners/officers find morally objectionable:

Hobby Lobby says: “You can’t force your beliefs on us.”

Those who disagree with the court’s decision say: “You can’t force your beliefs on us.”

So who wins?

Perhaps a fresh look at the age-old example of the “suicidal friend” will apply. Say for instance that you, the reader, are my friend. And say, just for the sake of the argument, that you tell me to go out and purchase a gun for you.

“What for?” I ask.

“So I can kill myself with it,” you hypothetically reply.

Now, you believe that you are doing absolutely the right thing by killing yourself and have no moral objections to suicide. I, on the other hand, am radically opposed to suicide because of my deeply-held religious beliefs.

I don’t wish to live my life as a hypocrite, as I strive to apply my convictions to my everyday decisions, rather than constrain my moral and ethical senses to one hour in a church building every Sunday morning. So I refuse to give you the gun. Actually, I go a step further and do my best to talk you out of the whole thing.

“You can’t impose your beliefs on me!” you (hypothetically) yell in frustration.

But I can. I’m not going to give you the means to do something that I find morally objectionable – that I in fact see as a grave moral evil.

“Fine,” you say, “just tell me where I can get a gun.”

I’m not going to do that either, because then I would be complicit – responsible, though indirectly, for an action that I am convinced, in my informed, reasonable, rational conscience, is deeply wrong.

In fact, aren’t you imposing your beliefs on me by asking me to assist you in committing suicide?

What if I own a gun shop and you come in to buy a gun, and tell me you’re going to use it to shoot a restaurant full of people? Do I have the right to refuse you the gun?

“You’re a businessperson,” you tell me. “You have to sell me the gun because it’s your profession to do so. You have to separate your business from your personal beliefs.”

In essence, you are telling me to divide myself – to believe X but to act according to Y. It doesn’t take a degree in neurology to see that this is an absence of personal integrity.

I’ve noticed a paradox in the predominant thought of our present culture: On the one hand, many people view persons of faith as hypocrites. The thinking runs something like this: “You Christians” – and I don’t choose this particular faith at random, since Christians are, in my experience, the folks most often accused of hypocrisy – “are a bunch of hypocrites because you go to church on Sunday and then commit all kinds of sins on Monday.” Even worse is the accusation against Catholics: “You Catholics go to Confession on Saturday and then commit all kinds of sins during the rest of the week, because you just think you can go to Confession again the next Saturday and everything will be okay. Hypocrites!”

In the first place, one of the requirements for a Catholic to receive absolution – that is, the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness from the priest as His representative – is something called a firm purpose of amendment – the sincere intention to no longer fall into the sins you’ve just confessed. So the attitude of “I can keep committing these sins and just go to Confession all over again” is an abuse of the sacrament.

In the second place, the hypocrisy accusation itself is challenged when people of faith carry their convictions out the door of their house of worship and into the wider world. When religious people do this, they are then accused of violating the “separation of church and state.” This way of thinking runs something like this: “You religious people should leave your faith at the church door and not bring your religion into public life. Religion is a private matter.” So I’m supposed to be one person in church and another person in my workplace and voting booth.

So when people of faith fail to live consistently according to their beliefs (and they fail frequently because they are imperfect humans), they are accused of hypocrisy. When they try sincerely to live according to their faith, they are accused of violating the principle of church-state separation by living their beliefs in public.

Back to the matter of business owners refusing to provide or be complicit in providing services they find morally objectionable. I can hear the counter-argument: “You’re talking apples and oranges! Contraception and abortion are not the equivalent of suicide and mass murder!”

But according to the teaching of the Catholic Church – not to mention Orthodox Judaism, Islam, evangelical Christianity, and some expressions of Buddhism, to name a few – contraception and abortion absolutely fall within the category of murder. One involves the prevention of life, the other the active ending of a life that is already in developmental progress. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II called the increasing tolerance – nay, embracing and encouragement, bordering on idolatry – of abortion and artificial contraception evidence of the West’s “culture of death.” So for those who agree with Catholic doctrine (and why call yourself Catholic if you don’t?), participation in or even indirect compliance with either of these practices, particularly abortion, makes one an accessory to murder.

So when the Little Sisters of the Poor say that they can’t even so much as sign a piece of paper giving a third party permission/power to provide abortion and contraception services to those affiliated with their organization, this is what they mean.

No, I can’t force my beliefs on my suicidal friend who asks for a gun. That person has free will – as I do. Forcing my beliefs on another is not my intention. My intention is only to exercise the freedom to act according to my own convictions – not just within the walls of my house of worship, but in every area of my life.

You’d call me a hypocrite otherwise.


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Catholic – and Unconventional

Greetings and welcome to the first post on “The Unconventional Catholic.”

Full disclosure up front: I am a “revert” – that is, a person who was baptized as a Roman Catholic, practiced Catholicism at one time, left the Catholic Church for a time, and then returned to it. We can’t be called “converts” because a convert is a person who has changed his or her religion from one church or organization to another. We are reverts in the sense that we have “reverted” back to something we once were.

My story will be revealed in time. In fact, I might end up writing a whole book on it (though I might have to publish it as fiction, since no one will believe it could possibly be true outside of Soap Opera Land). For now, I think a bit about myself would be in order.

I believe in the doctrine established by the Catholic Church – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have returned to the Church after about a ten-year absence. In fact, one of the reasons for my return was my observation that the Catholic Church was one of the only vocal opponents of the doctrine of current cultural trends. Whether or not you agree with Catholic teaching, it would be wise to defend its right to speak out publicly – it’s healthy to have multiple voices in the public square. Anything else, or anything less, amounts to a form of cultural fascism.

So if I agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church, what makes me so unconventional?

I’m divorced.

The popular conception – even among practicing Catholics – is that divorced persons are “excommunicated” – that we have no voice or place in the Church. This is far from the actual case.

I was married outside of the Church because my now-estranged husband had at one point in his life been married and subsequently divorced. We were married by a Unitarian Universalist minister. A few months after our wedding, I was received into the Episcopal Church. I was done with the “Church of No,” as the Catholic Church has recently been called.

In the fall of 2012, though, due to a series of events and a multitude of factors, I decided to return to the Catholic Church as asked my then-husband to pursue an annulment from his first marriage. He agreed and began the annulment process by filing a petition with the local diocese.

I began attending a local parish church, though I followed church doctrine by refraining from receiving Holy Communion. To shorten an extremely long story, I will skip to my separation from my husband, which occurred at the beginning of 2014. Right after we decided to separate – and I mean right after – I left our marriage counselor’s office and headed straight for my pastor’s office. He heard my confession and I attended a noontime Mass in a neighboring town (as my own church has no noon Mass). I’ve attended Mass and received the sacraments ever since, even in the wake of my divorce.

I think it’s fairly unconventional for someone to be married to a divorced person outside the Church, leave the Church, return, subsequently divorce the person she married outside the Church in the first place, then become a lector in her parish, seek employment in a Catholic school, and even join the lay branch of the Dominican order. All of this is exactly what I’ve done, and that makes me an Unconventional Catholic.

There are plenty of blogs out there that reach out to non-Christians. My blog is intended to address people of faith in an effort to help them understand their own scriptures and the doctrines of their own faith tradition. Of course, I will do this from a Catholic point of view, since that is who and what I am. Still, if you’re a curious non-Christian, by all means feel free to read and comment.

No doubt I will end up posting things on here that will seriously cheese some people off, considering that the Catholic worldview has become radically counter-cultural. But it’s not my intention to be antagonistic – I want to develop a dialogue and hopefully get folks thinking in a different way. I’ve found that if people know the reasoning behind certain moral and theological arguments, they can at least develop an understanding even if they continue to disagree. That’s part of my goal here – to lay out the Catholic positions on various issues in a way that clarifies the reasoning behind those positions. I will also engage current events through the lens of my own faith.

With all this in mind, I also welcome suggestions for issues to tackle on this blog. The thornier the better!







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