Why Catholics and Other People of Faith Should Defend Democracy

Photo by Harold Mendoza on Unsplash

In an interview with Interfaith America’s Mary Ellen Giess, millennial Catholic Chris Crawford says:

The way I approach democracy stems from the way I approach human dignity in general.  My public engagement is rooted in my Catholic faith and the belief in the dignity of every person and that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. That core religious value plays out in a couple of ways in my advocacy for democracy. First, I believe every person has a right to vote as part of their right to help create the society in which they want to live and create better conditions for themselves as well as the most vulnerable people.  That has to be a focus of our democracy. I think democracies facilitate human flourishing. The opportunity for people to reach their full potential – the best chance of that is in the context of a democracy. My faith causes me to come at this from a different angle than other people might approach democracy; for me it’s about the idea that democracy is a means to respect the dignity of every person and help them to flourish and have their rights secured….

I love the Declaration of Independence; I love the lofty ideals contained there.  People who have gotten our politics right over time have seen it as their mission to help us live up to those ideals while recognizing we haven’t done so many times over time.  Expanding the idea of who is covered in the words of “all men are created equal” – that’s a sacred obligation for each of us.

You can read the full interview here.

Michael Gerson (1964-2022)

Former presidential speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson died last week. We featured many of his articles and reflections (all of which can be found here), including his TED Talk on AIDS treatment and writing on Christmas hope.  Here are some of the many reactions to his life and his Christian witness.

Daniel Silliman writes:

He gave Bush’s speeches about compassionate conservatism and moral internationalism their rhetorical framework: starting with the “inexorable” call of the historical moment, adding the demands of duty and conscience, naming the various temptations that could lead the American people astray, and ending with a clarion call to do the right but difficult thing, forging forward with “confident hope.”…

He remained convinced that conservatives, despite some big mistakes, should pursue bold political visions at home and abroad. They should have “heroic ambitions.”

When asked for examples, Gerson most often pointed to the president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In 2003, only about 40,000 people on the entire continent of Africa were receiving antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. In five years, the US government program delivered treatment to two million people….

Gerson frequently criticized evangelicals and conservatives in his columns, writing about how appalled he was at Christian support for Donald Trump, for example, or about how the nation needed “Republican vertebrates” with a backbone for bravery.

But he also, as time went on, wrote more intimately about his life. Some of his most popular columns were about taking a child to college and his love for his dog.

Peter Wehner writes:

Mike was one of the most gifted writers of his generation, a presidential speechwriter for George W. Bush who became a twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. He wrote on politics and faith, movies and books, the Queen of England, his beloved dogs, his first bout with cancer, and dropping his son off at college. Mike loved words, and he wrote like an angel. It was a way to express the longings and loves of his heart.

The best speeches Mike worked on with George W. Bush were his efforts to call forth our better selves, to right wrongs and dispense comfort, and to strive for justice….

Over the course of our friendship, I came to understand how essential faith was to Mike. He attended Wheaton College, the flagship evangelical school in America. He had been accepted at Fuller Theological Seminary for graduate studies, but Chuck Colson, then president of Prison Fellowship, hired Mike right out of college to write for him. That brought Mike to Washington, D.C., and changed the trajectory of his life, but not the outworking of his faith. He believed that politics, at its best, could advance justice.

Mike’s views reflected what he called a “Christian anthropology”—a belief in the inherent rights and dignity of every human life. It led him to solidarity with the weak and the suffering, the dispossessed, those living in the shadows of life. His faith was capacious and generous; it created in him a deep commitment to justice and the common good….

Mike Gerson was a beautiful writer with an even more beautiful soul. He lived a wonderful and consequential life. “You have been a voice for Jesus,” one friend, Jack Oliver, wrote to Mike as he neared the end. “Your homecoming will be amazing.” He hadn’t just been an example for his sons; he was an example for us all.

Mike is now with the Lord he loved and served so well. But oh, how I miss my friend.

via PBS NewsHour:

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Age of Social Media Is Ending by Ian Bogost: “It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end—and soon. Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature.”

3 issues Catholics should follow after midterm elections by MSW: “Three aspects of the election stand out as especially significant for Roman Catholics: the issue of abortion and the throwaway culture; the demographic reality of Latino voters continuing to shift to the GOP; and participation in, and preservation of, our democracy.”

How Twitter Shapes What You Know, Even If You’ve Never Used It by Yair Rosenberg: “From American politics to COVID-19, the site fosters a chattering-class consensus that isn’t always correct, but reverberates far beyond.”

A ‘right to sex’ is not the cure for what ails so many men by Christine Emba: “Proposing that a “right to sex” will cure mens’ ills wrongly assumes that the depression, nihilism and economic dislocation that Hunt correctly identifies as serious problems will be eliminated by a higher number of sexual encounters. In interviews for my own book on what ails our sexual culture, one psychotherapist described to me how many of her young male patients pursued sex compulsively (and often succeeded in getting it) but still found themselves unsatisfied. In many cases, their underlying desire wasn’t for the act itself but for the chance to be with someone — to feel intimacy and closeness, to wake up next to someone else. They weren’t struggling from a lack of sexual entitlement, the therapist explained; they were lonely and atomized.”

The Problem With Letting Therapy-Speak Invade Everything by Tara Isabella Burton: “It’s not just that this Instagram therapy gives its adherents a convenient excuse to bail on dinner parties or silence our phones when friends text us in tears. Rather, it’s that according to this newly prevalent gospel of self-actualization, the pursuit of private happiness has increasingly become culturally celebrated as the ultimate goal. The “authentic” self — to use another common buzzword — is characterized by personal desires and individual longings. Conversely, obligations, including obligations to imperfect and often downright difficult people, are often framed as mere unpleasant circumstance, inimical to the solitary pursuit of our best life. Feelings have become the authoritative guide to what we ought to do, at the expense of our sense of communal obligations.”

Are We More Addicted to Shopping Than We Think? by Tish Harrison Warren: “The problem with consumerism is that it’s not often clear when it’s actually a problem. It doesn’t seem to have as bright an ethical line as, say, theft or adultery. After all, human beings need food, clothing and shelter. I need floors in my house! In a real sense, our life depends on consuming things. Yet consumerism is not simply consumption. It’s attaching our heart to the acquisition of new and better things. It’s our preoccupation with novel goods or experiences. It’s the (usually) silent, buried belief that if we can buy enough or travel enough or have the right experiences or the most interesting friends, we can make ourselves whole.”

Black, Christian and Transcending the Political Binary by Tish Harrison Warren: “Justin Giboney is a lawyer and political strategist in Atlanta who grew up in the Black church. He says his theological foundation came from his grandfather, who was a bishop in a Black Pentecostal denomination. Giboney is also the president and a co-founder of the AND Campaign, a Christian civic organization meant to represent people of faith who do not fit neatly into either political party. I’ve written before about how I’m intrigued by people and movements that defy our prescribed ideological categories. The AND Campaign, which is based in Atlanta and has 15 chapters across the United States, is one of those. Led almost entirely by young professionals, artists, pastors and community leaders of color, the group advocates voting rights and police reform, leads what it calls a “whole life project” dedicated to reducing abortion and supporting mothers, endorses a “livable wage” and champions other issues that break left and right, in turn.”

Conservative policies linked to higher mortality among working-age people, except when it comes to marijuana by NBC News: “Conservative state policies regarding the environment, gun safety, labor, taxes and tobacco have been associated with higher mortality rates among working-age people relative to liberal policies, new research found. The one exception to the pattern was conservative marijuana policies….One surprising finding, Montez said, was that conservative labor policies — such as a low minimum wage or lack of paid sick leave — were associated with higher rates of death from alcohol consumption. The reasons for that aren’t known, but Martez said one theory is that people facing work-related hardships may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress. The link between liberal marijuana policies — such as legalization and access to medical cannabis — and higher mortality was also unexpected, Montez said.”

What Moneyball-for-Everything Has Done to American Culture by Derek Thompson: “Cultural Moneyballism, in this light, sacrifices exuberance for the sake of formulaic symmetry. It sacrifices diversity for the sake of familiarity. It solves finite games at the expense of infinite games. Its genius dulls the rough edges of entertainment. I think that’s worth caring about. It is definitely worth asking the question: In a world that will only become more influenced by mathematical intelligence, can we ruin culture through our attempts to perfect it?”

Confucius Envy by Mason L. Wong: “Much has been written lately about the American Right’s embrace of Hungary, which is said to reveal both the increasingly authoritarian tack of America’s conservatives and one possible outcome for America’s future. I would argue that the American Right’s fascination with China should be seen the same way—as telling us more about post-liberals than about China. When the new reactionaries write about China, their admiration involves a good deal of projection.”

This Is What Happens When Race Is Everything by David Brooks: “But while all this complex pluralism is happening on the ground, many politicians and conflict entrepreneurs like Tucker Carlson revert to crude racial binaries in order to justify their status and gain power. Sadly, history shows us how ridiculously easy it is for people to whip up in-group versus out-group hostilities, especially if they can spread a worldview that asserts that life is essentially about a zero-sum war of group against group.”

What is the Good Life Now?

via the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University:

If you are a young adult living in Washington, DC, or another city in the United States, how can you find purpose when politics seem irreconcilably divisive, church leaders seem out of touch, personal and systemic challenges seem insurmountable, and meaningful relationships are hard to come by?

This special Salt and Light Gathering for leaders under 40 brought together four remarkable Catholic leaders—a Notre Dame philosophy professor who teaches popular classes on this topic, a Boston College psychology professor who teaches and researches mentoring and youth purpose, a Catholic advocacy director, and a young professional living in Washington, DC—to explore what fulfilling work, relationships, faith, and lives mean today.

Michael Wear Launches The Center for Christianity & Public Life

via Yahoo News:

At 34 years old, Michael Wear has already been a faith adviser to an American president, written two books and developed a reputation as a thoughtful and connected leader in American politics and religion.

Wear is now launching an institution that will train Christians in public life to reject culture-war fights and to emphasize the public service aspect of politics.

Most Christian political organizations argue for politicians to take a position on a few issues of particular concern. Wear’s new group, the Center for Christianity & Public Life (CCPL), will argue that leaders in politics and elsewhere should emphasize personal character and service to the least fortunate….

While Wear wants his organization to engage in political debates over issues, the centerpiece of the organization’s first year will be a fellowship program for a dozen individuals who are already civic sector leaders but are looking to apply their Christian faith more deeply to the way they live their lives, professionally and personally.

At Christianity Today, our 2017 Millennial of the Year, Michael Wear, writes:

Political sectarianism—and the culture it promotes—enables a destructive and suffocating social imaginary. Toxic politics deforms the whole person, along with their relationships and practices. It causes spiritual harm. Our civic culture doesn’t shape governance alone; it affects ever-expanding realms of the social and emotional.

We also need to come to terms with how much it claims and dictates our theology….

Out-party hate has become more powerful than in-party love. Many voters would choose to forgo helping themselves if it means passing up the opportunity to harm their opponents. We’ve lost the imagination for a politics that helps people and instead bought into a political logic that justifies hurting them. And we tell ourselves, This is just how the game is played. They’ll do it to us if we don’t do it to them. But would Jesus agree?…

One of the greatest contributions Christians can make to our politics right now is caring about it without making an idol of it, and then reminding our country that political decisions are very rarely a simple issue of dogma—religious or secular—and more often about prudential matters….

These convictions ground The Center for Christianity and Public Life, a new nonpartisan institution based in the nation’s capital that I, along with our board and staff, have launched this week. Our mission is to contend for the credibility of Christian resources in public life and for the public good. We advance that mission through two parallel streams of work: civic influence and spiritual formation.

No single organization or leader will solve the problems we face. There’s no silver bullet to the social and political dysfunction we see, and we should be wary of quick fixes. It will take many diverse leaders, organizations, churches, and Christians encouraging each other and partnering together to advance a basic vision of faithfulness to God and loving service to the public. This vision is key not just to our organizational vision but to the Body of Christ.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Listening to young Catholics by Timothy Matovina: “They also taught me that, now more than ever, the outreach of young leaders to their peers is our most effective means as a church to inspire healing and faith among our younger sisters and brothers. If we desire a more vibrant and youthful church, we need to personally invite young people to leadership and prioritize our collective support for them in their formation.”

Why Your Social Life Is Not What It Should Be by David Brooks: “My general view is that the fate of America will be importantly determined by how we treat each other in the smallest acts of daily life. That means being a genius at the close at hand: greeting a stranger, detecting the anxiety in somebody’s voice and asking what’s wrong, knowing how to talk across difference. More lives are diminished by the slow and frigid death of social closedness than by the short and glowing risk of social openness.”

Lost in the college-major-regret story: It’s not about the majors Image without a caption by Christine Emba: “In a democracy whose success depends on the discernment of its members, shouldn’t the goal of higher education be something — well — higher than individual financial success? “To prepare each citizen to choose wisely and to enable him to choose freely are paramount functions of the schools in a democracy,” Franklin D. Roosevelt said years before he signed the GI Bill and essentially reinvented American higher ed. According to that ideal, students ought to be citizens, not just consumers. And while choosing the right major might help define a vocation, part of the process should be understanding that vocation within the context of the broader society.”

Catholic teaching on the human person points a way forward in US politics by MSW: “The bishops need to start with Christian anthropology. They need to say less about individual issues and more about fostering a Christian worldview capable of withstanding the moral relativism of the ambient culture.”

Fetuses smile for carrots but grimace over kale, study suggests by Amarachi Orie: “Fetuses create more of a “laughter-face” in the womb when exposed to the flavor of carrots consumed by their mother and create more of a “cry-face” response when exposed to kale, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science on Wednesday.”

Oregon’s drug decriminalization effort sends fewer than 1% of people to treatment by the AP: “But Oregon still has among the highest addiction rates in the country. Fatal overdoses have increased almost 20% over the previous year, with over a thousand dead. Over half of addiction treatment programs in the state lack capacity to meet demand because they don’t have enough staffing and funding, according to testimony before lawmakers.”

It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions by Jesse Singal: “One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.”

The Guggenheim’s Scapegoat by Helen Lewis: “Spector’s offer led to a high-profile exhibition at one of New York’s most prominent art institutions, making LaBouvier a trailblazing Black curator in a white-dominated world. It also began a chain of events that, in the summer after George Floyd’s murder, saw Spector cast out of the Guggenheim, branded a racist and a bully, and left unemployed—a phenomenon the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo described to me as a “social death.” All of this happened even though an independent investigation found “no evidence” that Spector had racially discriminated against LaBouvier.”

American Family Policy Is Holding Schools Back by Stephanie Murray: “But less attention has been given to another profound influence on our educational system: our nation’s family policy. My reporting suggests that many of the elements fostering children’s academic success have roots outside of school—and that if America wants to help teachers, it will have to do a better job of supporting parents.”