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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