21 May, 2004
Dear Father Joe
When somebody standing on a pulpit says that they are not going to tell you who to vote for, you can be sure they are getting ready to tell you who to vote for.
I'm having a delayed reaction to that pamphlet they had you hand out last Sunday, and the carefully worded communication you delivered with obvious reluctance from some unknown source in ecclesiastical middle management.
There was a piece on NPR this afternoon to the effect that a number of Protestant religions, in addition to the Catholics, are doing this exact thing - putting out directives that, while careful to say that you are free to cast your vote as you please, letting you know nevertheless that it is morally perilous to vote for candidates who support certain positions such as abortion or birth control or euthanasia (capital punishment, cluster bombs, the killing of women and children by sniper bullets significantly omitted from the list of sins against the sanctity of life), and then, by means of "informative" web sites comparing the positions of the candidates, leaving no doubt that to vote for other than Republican office seekers is a ticket to hell. I think I threw my brochure away. If I had it back I could roll it up into a tube and have you return it to the sender to be inserted where it most especially belongs.
Let us be really clear about this. Those of us who oppose the Bush Administration do so because we can see on our television screens the ghastly things that they do. We witness the culture of death they represent and the tribulations they have brought upon the world. If there be a God who loves and weeps, surely He weeps today because of these obscene things. If the Holy Roman Catholic Church chooses to make common cause with mad dogs, to subvert its redemptive mission to the service of necrophiliacs, pornographic stooges, liars and con men, she must understand that many of us will not stay with her. Paradoxically, it is the teachings of Christ that lead one to this pass. "By their fruits shall you know them," he cautioned us. Hard to avoid those vile photographs of the fruits of neoconservatism, of Texas evangelical Christianity and its bogus compassion, its bombed-out weddings, its piles of tortured prisoners, its dead babies and ambulance drivers. Hard to believe that if Christ chanced back into Christendom He would find much to admire.
It is my grievance with institutional, pastoral Christianity that it invokes the bogeyman of moral relativism to discourage the exercise of individual conscience and grants us no personal connection to the ground of our being, save that of supplication. By the mercy of the bureaucracy of the apostolic Church we are gathered back and saved, they tell us, by passive citizenship, not by the exercise of innate reason or trust in the light of our own common decency.
The role of the Church, one way or another, is to expedite our return to Eden. If the Kingdom is within us, the Church need not trouble itself with social issues. She is mandated, in that case, to vigorously reveal to us the truth which frees us from our perdition, if she in fact possesses it. However if the Church is tasked, as a militant body, with the transformation of the world, she is correct to assert herself in the political arena. Assuming she would prefer a leading historical role, why would she wish to be seen as the hireling of secular piracies? To be taken seriously, shouldn't she register herself as a distinct political party and present herself as an open alternative to the standing wave of robber barons who dominate this world? How else do you avoid becoming an embedded wizard, the shamanic apologist to some larcenous king? To become competitive and truly free, you risk being crushed by your secular rivals. So perhaps it is safer to remain a lapdog and conflate the building of the New Jerusalem with getting out the vote for George Bush and big oil.
For all but the most hopelessly gullible, that is too much of a stretch, now that the Bush Agenda Dirty Picture Book is out. I will be obedient to the lackeys of fascism when they have made me naked and terrified and insane, when they break out the dogs and cattle prods, not because they have instructed clerics to pretend they possess the power to yank my soul away from me. Tell them it didn't work. Tell them we laughed.