FaithWorld

U.S. Catholic Democrats and the “party of death” charge

Catholic Democrats logoWith the charge about the “party of death” still ringing in its ears, a group called Catholic Democrats has issued a Q&A on abortion setting out its case that faithful Roman Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his consistent pro-choice record. Catholic Democrats makes the same argument as the Matthew 25 network, i.e. that Democratic policies would actually reduce the abortion rate, which spiked under Republicans in the 1980s, fell during the Clinton administration and have leveled off — and may have begun rising again — in the Bush administration.

Archbishop Raymond Burke/Archdiocese of St. LouisFormer St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told an Italian newspaper two weeks ago that the Democrats risked becoming the “party of death” for their support for abortion rights. Other U.S. bishops have criticised two prominent Catholic Democrats — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi — for suggesting the Catholic Church was anything but totally against abortion.

Catholic Democrats cites the bishops’ own guidebook, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” to stress that Catholics should not be one-issue voters and could vote for a candidate if his overall platform is morally good, despite a pro-choice plank that the Church regards as intrinsically evil. “If the only difference between two candidates is that one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then a pro-life voter should obviously vote for a pro-life candidate,” Catholic Democrats says. “However, elections are never so clear cut. Republican and Democratic candidates differ on many issues: healthcare, the war, the economy.”

The “Faithful Citizenship” guidelines do say that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters” (item 42) and that “there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons” (item 35). They also say “that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (item 37).

Even though it leans heavily towards a “no” answer, “Faithful Citizenship” seems to leave a door open for the interpretation that Catholic Democrats and the Matthew 25 network favour. Nor do the bishops seem to have a clear view of how to end abortion.

“Religulous” — a film call to atheist arms

Maher and director Larry Charles pose during Toronto International Film Festival, 7 Sept 2008/Mark BlinchComedian and talk-show host Bill Maher has issued the latest “call to atheist arms” in his recently released documentary “Religulous.”

He wants his fellow non-believers and doubters to “come out of the closet” to counter what he views as religion’s dangerous influence on the world. To do so, he preaches to the converted in “Religulous”, a scathing documentary that skewers Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The film is part of the “neo-atheist” backlash to the rising influence of religion in public life, following a path recently blazed by a trio of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins, a renowned Oxford biologist, has also presented a documentary critical of religion called “Root of all Evil?” on British television.

Monthly church attenders swing Obama’s way

Americans who attend church once or twice a month have become a sought after “swing vote” — and they are swinging to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the run-up to the Nov 4. presidential election.

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That is one of the key findings of a new survey conducted by Public Religion Research on behalf of Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center.

It found that, based on religious service attendance, the biggest shift in candidate preferences between 2004 and 2008 was among those who went once or twice a month. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got 49 percent of their vote in 2004 while Obama is now pulling 60 percent.

Has the faith factor fizzled in the U.S. campaign?

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin after vice presidential debate, 3 Oct 2008/Carlos BarriaAfter the 2004 election, the buzz was that religion was a key factor in U.S. election campaigns. It’s come up this year with Barack Obama’s “pastor problem,” speculation about Sarah Palin’s Pentecostal church and several other points. So I thought it was worth getting up in the middle of the night (cable TV had it from 3 a.m. here in Paris) to see what if any role religion played in her debate with Joe Biden.

From that narrow point of view, I could have stayed in bed.

The only interesting point on any of the usually divisive “culture war” issues was the way Palin agreed with Biden that gay and lesbian couples should not be denied legal benefits granted to married heterosexual couples. “No one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties,” she said. Neither supported gay marriage, but that was their stated position already.

With the financial crisis dominating the news these days, there was little chance that these issues would take up much time in the debate. But the fact that Palin didn’t use the wedge issue when it arose was interesting. According to a new study by Beliefnet “moral issues are dramatically less important this year than in previous years – even among the most religiously observant voters.”

Where does religion have its strongest foothold?

Indonesian Muslims pray at Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque during Ramadan, 5 Sept 2008/Supri SupriThe answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.

Indeed Islam is well represented in the top five countries where religion is valued in life — with Tanzania, Jordan, Pakistan and Nigeria following Indonesia.

At the bottom of the chart was France, where only 10 percent saw religion as very important and 60 percent said they never pray.

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.

New book on Republicans adds to U.S. “culture war” debate

Grand New PartyA new book on the U.S. Republican Party sets out an agenda that its authors argue will help weld working class voters — who have bounced between political allegiances over the decades — to the party as the foundation for the next conservative majority.

Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Reihan Salam, an associate editor at the same magazine, is already making some waves.

What readers of this blog may find most interesting is some of its comments on religious conservatives, a key Republican Party base, and its contribution to the growing debate about America’s “culture wars.”

Interesting faith conference at Lipscomb University

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressOne of the themes at the annual “Christian Scholars Conference” at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, is “faith and politics in the current political climate” — subjects that readers of this blog will know we often touch on.

The conference, which kicked off on Thursday and ends on Saturday, features an impressive academic line-up. A link to the abstracts can be found here.

Keri Thompson of the University of Texas has what looks like an intriguing presentation on “Progressive Christianity in Election 2008: The Rhetorical Strategies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

New, younger leaders for France’s Muslims and Jews

This is such a coincidence that some might suspect it wasn’t one. France’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, both the largest of their kind in Europe, elected new leaders on Sunday. In both cases, they opted for younger leaders who promised to play a more active role in their communities. We may see and hear more from these two groups than in the past.

Mohammed Moussaoui, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesThe French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) chose Mohammed Moussaoui, 44, of the Moroccan-backed Rally of French Muslims group as its new president. Its outgoing president, Dalil Boubakeur, 67, boycotted the election. This is a secular post, so Moussaoui is the top Muslim representative in France, not a theological authority. Although he is an imam, his “day job” is mathematics lecturer at the University of Avignon. After five years of paralysis at the CFCM, it was a breath of fresh air to see him publish an action programme in advance and pledge to reform the council. We covered his election here and the first round of the voting on June 8 here. There are about five million Muslims in France, around 8 percent of the population, and Islam is the second-largest religion here after Roman Catholicism. Moussaoui was born in Morocco and came to France for university studies.

The Rabbi and The Cardinal — Bernheim (l) and Barbarin (r)Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, 56, won election as the new grand rabbi of France, replacing Joseph Sitruk, 63, who had held the post for 21 years and sought reelection. Bernheim is an orthodox rabbi who has frequently spoken out in public on a wide range of issues. A former university chaplain, he is rabbi of the largest Paris synagogue, the Synagogue de la Victoire, and has been active in dialogue with Christians. He recently published “Le rabbin et le cardinal” (The Rabbi and The Cardinal), a long conversation with Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. This commitment to dialogue earned him some criticism during the election campaign from more traditionalist voices in an unusually lively campaign (see this pre-poll article in The Forward). In French, check out reports in Le Monde and RTL radio (audio and text). There are about 600,000 Jews in France.