Millennials, the Whole Life Approach, and the Democratic Party

On Monday, I spoke at the 2015 Democratic Revival at the National Press Club. Here are my prepared remarks:

My position on abortion is progressive not conservative. I believe in robust government action to protect the lives of unborn children, as I refuse to draw a distinction between humans and persons. All humans are persons. To depersonalize or dehumanize others is the first step to stripping them of their innate dignity and worth in order to take away their fundamental human rights. The gravest injustices of history follow this script, and social justice is achieved by resisting these efforts and defending the vulnerable—the poor, the disabled, the sick, the enslaved, the disenfranchised, the repressed, and those who have not yet been born.

The solution to abortion, as expressed in the #chooseboth campaign, is a comprehensive approach that secures legal protection for unborn life, while addressing the root causes of abortion, particularly the economic vulnerability faced by many pregnant women and families struggling to make ends meet who feel unable to choose life. Only a pro-woman, pro-child approach, which addresses crucial issues like healthcare, prenatal care, a living wage, childcare, and family leave can lead to the abolition of abortion. Restrictions on abortion are necessary and just, but they will never be enough. We need a communitarian approach that reflects a progressive commitment to government action and social justice if we want to build a successful culture of life. Read More

The Personalism of Pope Francis

Like Catholic teaching itself, Pope Francis is inspired by personalism, which is premised on the innate worth and dignity of each person and the importance of our relationships as members of numerous communities, rather than as autonomous individuals or parts of a mass collective. Michael Gerson has a great column in the Washington Post on Pope Francis’ personalism. He explains:

God regards us — all of us, proud and broken, wounded and whole — as equal in value and dignity. Francis described ‘the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.’ The social implications of this personalism are profound. Human beings can’t be reduced to the sum of their consumption or the total of their pleasures. They can’t be made instruments for the benefit of others. This is not a view of human rights rooted in contract theory or chosen behind a veil of ignorance. It is a belief that human beings can’t be exploited or abused without defacing the divine.

This approach puts the person first and rejects ideologies that dehumanize or depersonalize others:

Catholic social thought is broad and complex. It does not dictate a political ideology, but it clearly rules some out: social Darwinism, materialism, nativism, and libertarianism. Without dictating policies, Francis is leading in the direction of a more humane politics. At one point in the speech, referring to the world’s current upsurge in refugees, he insisted on the importance of “seeing their faces.” Which is a pretty good summary of his message.

Gerson also discussed Francis and his approach in a recent video, which you can view below:

5 Reasons Pope Francis is Calling for Action on Climate Change

In the wake of Laudato Si, Pope Francis has continued to address climate change to emphasize the importance of the issue and our responsibility to protect creation. In his latest remarks, he raised five important points:

  1. Climate change is a social issue (with “grave social consequences”), not just an environmental issue
  2. Climate change hits the poor the hardest
  3. Protecting creation is a matter of justice
  4. Solidarity compels us to respond
  5. We owe it to future generations to do our part

While pictures of polar bears seem to be the most indelible images associated with climate change, climate change is currently killing tens of thousands of human beings each year around the globe. The poor and vulnerable are the ones who suffer most. This is a matter of justice; if we value social justice, human rights, and the common good, we must respond at every level of society.

Some would argue that we should respond because it is in our enlightened self-interest. That may very well be true. But for Christians, there is a more powerful motive: solidarity. We are one human family, all children of the same God. The suffering of our brothers and sisters should wound us, and it should motivate us to take action to alleviate that suffering and prevent others from experiencing similar pain.

The responsibility to protect the poor and vulnerable adds urgency to the issue, but so too does the long-term forecast if the status quo is maintained. It is a grave threat that demands an immediate change in our personal lifestyles and social structures. Responding to this challenge will allow us to live more virtuously by fulfilling our duties and living more simply and intentionally. And by giving up a reckless, short-term mentality, we can fulfill our responsibilities together as a community to ensure intergenerational justice so that future generations inherit a world that is more compatible with human dignity, rather than one torn apart by the reckless misuse of creation.

Pope Francis and the Dictatorship of Relativism

The central focus of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the poor. Over and over again, his words and his actions show that he wants a poor Church for the poor. His focus is sometimes contrasted with Pope Benedict’s focus on “the dictatorship of relativism” and the collapse of the Church in Europe.

Of course, Pope Benedict also displayed a profound commitment to social justice and the poor. What might be more overlooked is that Francis has not ignored the dangers of relativism. In both Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si, which is addressed to all of the people in the world, Pope Francis sees relativism behind a great deal of injustice: Read More

The Global War on Christians

The protection of religious freedom is fundamental to the protection of human rights. Franklin Roosevelt rightly included it in his “four freedoms”—freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and religion. It is integral to the common good and fostering conditions that are compatible with human dignity. If we care about human flourishing, we must be conscious of threats to this cornerstone of human rights and freedom.

We should therefore be grateful that one of our finest journalists, John Allen, has written a book that highlights a myriad of grave threats to religious freedom around the world, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. Allen shows that in the real “war on religion,” Christians are facing beatings, starvation, and even murder. This book is essential reading for Christians who are concerned about their coreligionists’ plight and for every person on the planet who cares about human rights. It addresses an issue that is grossly underreported and too often ignored. And it is an exceptionally balanced account. In sectarian hands, focusing on the plight of Christians in particular would almost certainly be an absolute trainwreck, an abandonment of the universal values at the heart of the Christian faith and an authentic commitment to human rights. In the hands of Allen, the book is excellent, engrossing, and extremely valuable. Read More

The Wisdom of Donald Trump

This is obviously a short post. Somewhere between Donald Trump’s hilarious and horrifying moments in the GOP presidential primary debate last night, Donald Trump actually touched upon the structural injustice that is undermining the democratic nature of American government, creating tremendous obstacles to achieving policies that would promote the common good. This should be one of the central issues of the presidential campaign:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

Economic elites have an extraordinary amount of power and influence in American politics because of our disastrous campaign finance system. We need policy changes to promote the common good, but we desperately need political reform to actually achieve these policy changes. The Donald is right about this: the system is broken.