27 September 2011

Catholics targeted again by Obamacare


Catholics are under fire again. Obamacare, a program that supposedly will make health care affordable for all (or at least most), comes with a high cost. That cost is to the conscience, to religious freedom, and indeed to the individual freedom held so dear by Americans. At the heart of the debate now is the issue of coverage for prescription contraceptives and sterilization procedures. In this health care plan, a good number of companies and individuals (through their premiums) will effectively be funding programs of which they object. Catholic hospitals, universities, and other institutions, for example, would be forced to choose between dropping health care for their employees or paying for procedures they find morally objectionable. This was detailed in a recent article regarding a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What is most troubling to me in this recent episode is not even that there are aspects of Obamacare that run contrary to historic Church teaching, for we expect that the ways of the world often will run contrary to the Church. Rather, what is most troubling is that the exemption from certain provisions of Obamacare is so narrowly defined that, as the USCCB stated, not even Jesus would qualify.

The provision for exemption is only available to a religious organization, and organizations are deemed not to be religious if they meet the following criteria: (1) It serves those who are not already members of the church, (2) it fails to hire based on religion, or (3) it does not restrict its charitable and missionary purposes to the inculcation of religious values. Unfortunately this tends not to apply to any branch of the Catholic Church. Any church that seeks to follow the model of Christ violates Number 1, as our duty is to help all people, whether they are members of the Church or not. Number 2 is often violated when people are hired based on skill set rather than adherence to a particular religious creed. Similar to Number 1, Number 3 is violated when the Church does more than proselytize, seeking to make people's lives better, e.g., disaster relief in Haiti, disaster relief after other natural disasters, and inner city youth programs to teach life skills. Do any of these things, and it appears that your church is not eligible for the religious exemption under Obamacare. I agree with the USCCB statement that not even Jesus would qualify, for his ministry was to help all people. So was the ministry of the early Church, and so is the ministry of the Church today.

Some might say that this is a non-issue, given that surveys show a large number of Catholics do not agree with or follow the proscriptions against artificial contraception. I submit that this is not the real issue here. The issue is one of religious and individual freedom and of Church sovereignty. Obamacare as it stands now appears to be forcing a large number of people to go against their conscience, with exceptions available only in situations that generally occur only when they are not living up to their duty as Christians. It's a Catch 22.

What is important to note here is that if the government can do this on such a widespread scale on this one particular issue, it sets a precedent for further discrimination against and persecution of Christians. Christians are being marginalized in our increasingly secular society. Most every group of society has more rights and protections today than Christians. Most every group of society today has more right to object based on conscience, more right to say what they believe, and more right to live their lives according to their beliefs than Christians.

This outcome was predictable. As more and more immoral activities were brought into the mainstream, the voice of dissent became the Christians...and most especially true Catholics, as many Christian denominations have gone the way of the world. The Catholic Faith stands in opposition to much of what American society is currently doing. It is no surprise that society wishes Catholicism suppressed or at least rendered less effective in influencing society morality and actions.

This is the real reason why this current fight against Obamacare is so important. It's not a political matter as some try to suggest. It is simply a matter of faith. It is a matter of upholding the Faith, even against attacks. It is a matter of doing one's duty as a Christian. The price of failure will be the souls of many who are lost due to the suppression of religion by the government. We must never give up or yield one inch to the forces of darkness in the world today.

13 September 2011

Disturbing Trend in American Religion


A recent article that I read underscores a serious problem in American religion. The article, entitled "More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs," discusses the growing trend of Americans simultaneously claiming they believe in Jesus and accept the Bible, but do not accept the Church. Rather, they make up whatever they want as a religion. According to the article, many of those who do not attend so-called "regular church" say it is because of the clergy and the churches themselves. For example, they lament that a priest says "say this prayer," but then it does not work for them, they get burned out and discouraged, and then leave to do whatever makes them feel better. This is all a most unfortunate turn of events. They simply have it wrong. And, they are giving up too easily.

When someone tries a prayer and then says "oh, it didn't work, so the prayer and the church must be flawed," they make one very large error. That error is the one of expecting that prayers will be answered exactly as we want or expect, rather than how we need, and in our time rather than in God's time. We see ourselves too much as mere individuals rather than as part of a much greater plan that knows neither time nor space. The other problem with this attitude, though, is just that: attitude. Someone who goes into prayer with a half-hearted "I'll try this, but if it doesn't work now, I'm leaving" approach is not so likely to be successful. It is a wrong attitude. It is a selfish attitude. One must approach God with true humility of heart, and that takes time and effort to develop and continued work to maintain. And when you quit trying in favor of an alternative that simply makes you feel better or gives you an emotional high, you are doing nothing more than selfishly looking for an easy way to achieve a solution. That is the sin of pride. The trouble is that it is no solution at all. It has the veneer of a solution, but underneath is spiritually empty.

So, instead of sticking with the faith given to the Apostles and handed down to us, this article discusses how many are going it alone, making up their own version of Christianity. The trouble is that one cannot simultaneously claim to accept Jesus and the Bible while rejecting the Christian Faith and the Church. The Church was founded by Christ. Acceptance of one necessitates the acceptance of the other. Without both, one cannot call one's self a Christian. These pseudo-Christians are self-deluding themselves into thinking that they have the Christian Faith. The worse thing is that these days the trend is contagious. As the trend grows, more and more people are encouraged to go this harmful route. The Church herself need not be worried about her own survival, for she will survive, even if reduced to a handful. The Church is and should be worried about the souls of those who are going astray.

Those who are tempted to make up their own version of Christianity need to come back into the Church and try again. They need to evaluate the attitude with which they approach God. They need not to quit because things are not, in their opinion, perfect. And, the clergy need not be blamed for their imperfections and used as a justification for this disturbing trend of self-customized Christianity. The clergy, though called to service by God, are not perfect. The clergy have a special role of pastoral leadership. Yet, that does not mean that the members of the clergy do not have character flaws, just like everyone else. To refuse to listen to the clergy simply because of their flaws is another manifestation of the sin of pride, for we indeed all are sinners. Look at the men and women God has chosen to lead his Church and work great miracles. They include men of ill temper, a murderer, a womanizer, and even one man who was already dead. It has been said that if God created the darkness, then it was so that we can better see the light. So too with the leaders of the universal church. If the clergy and the Saints throughout history have had personal imperfections and character flaws, it is so that we all may better see the light of life and the truth that they preach. May all mankind see this light and return to the flock of Christ.