Trump: Pulling Back the Curtain on America’s Hypocrisies

I think that Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency have unveiled, and exploited, the hypocritical underbelly of the Left, the Right, the media, and Conservative Christianity and put those faults on a national display.

(Obviously I’m making generalizations here, not every individual in these groups is responsible. Though it’s clear that these generalizations aren’t void of some truth.)

First, in the past few months we have seen the violent intolerance of the tolerant left. One of my old professors used to say “The tolerant cannot tolerate the intolerant,” and this has been displayed at places like UC Berkeley where free speech is something to fight against and not for.

Second, one of the things that set Trump apart early in his campaign and helped attract such a loyal base was his nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric. He taped into the underbelly of American Conservatism that in one breath wants the Ten Commandments in courtrooms but also ignores the command to welcome to stranger. Who in one breath says “we are pro-life” and “all lives matter” while also saying “America First” and refusing to recognize the dignity of the foreigner fleeing violence and poverty.

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Third, Trump has revealed and exploited the subtle (and not so subtle) liberal bias within the media. The very bias that has refused to call pro-lifers anything by “anti-choice” and has consistently ignored the March for Life every. single. year. The very bias that has driven conservatives toward “fake news” for years because people do not like being continually deceived and misrepresented.

Finally, Trump’s campaign put the hypocrisy of American Conservative Christianity on full display. For years the Christian Right spoke of “family values,” the “sanctity of marriage,” and, in the era of President Clinton, they insisted that “character matters.” Then when Trump was the only Republican left standing they, without apology or hesitation, publicly endorsed a thrice married adulterer who makes money off of porn and who treats women as sexual objects. They proved that their Party comes before their Faith.

Politics runs downstream of culture. President Trump isn’t the cause of our woes, he is the symptom. We who made winning a higher priority than our principles created President Trump. We who claimed a moral high ground with lectures on tolerance while totally demonizing those we disagreed with created President Trump.

He is my president because I am guilty of this hypocrisy, he is our president because he is who we deserve.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Schools of Unconditional Love

My wife, Kristina, and I were blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families conference back in 2015. The wonderful Professor Helen Alvaré gave one of the keynote talks during that week that really struck me.

Professor Alvaré was talking about how the love we give and receive within the family grows and overflows into the wider world. Specifically, she spoke on how a parent’s unconditional love for their child “organically and divinely” grows into the unconditional love of strangers. She said:

Eventually, if you have asked God day in and day out to work His will with you, you begin to see every child as if they could be your child…You won’t be able to look at the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the fatherless, without remembering how they are someone’s child or sibling or mother and then converting that co-suffering converting your maternal and paternal selves into action.

This comment resonated with me at the time and still resonates with me now.

Just a few weeks before this conference started, there was a picture of a little boy that was circulating online. The boy was three years old in this picture, just a little older than Simon, my eldest son. In the picture he was lying down with his knees tucked under him, his arms off to his sides, and his head full of light brown hair turned sideways. It looked just like Simon when he slept.

Except this little boy wasn’t sleeping in this picture, he was lying on a Mediterranean beach after drowning in the Aegean Sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and his family were refugees fleeing Syria.

I remember staring at this picture when it came across my newsfeed and it totally captivated me. This little boy reminded me so much of Simon. I realized at that moment that this little boy, Aylan, was loved by somebody as much as I love my own son. Aylan smiled and laughed and cried and played like my own son. Aylan drowned in the Aegean Sea along with his brother and mother because his dad wasn’t able to hold onto them. I just sat in front of my computer and cried.

 

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Aylan Kurdi – Daily Mail, “Daddy, please don’t die”
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223447/Daddy-don-t-die-Drowned-Aylan-Kurdi-s-tragic-words.html

We’re supposed to see Christ in others, because all of us bear the image of God. We are especially supposed to see Christ in the poor and the hungry and the homeless and the refugee because He said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.”

But that’s really hard to do.

I mean, Saint Mother Teresa saw Jesus in the poor, but she’s a saint! The best I can muster up when I see a beggar is pity…not the love and respect due to our Lord. Yet God is so wise. He knows that it’s hard for us to see His image in the stranger, so He gave us our families to be training grounds for unconditional love. He lets us first see every child as if they could be our child so that we may eventually learn to love the outcast like we love our own children. He gave us our family as a school of love.

As a Christian, I must resist looking at the poor, the homeless, and the refugee as “people,” as an abstract group or “issue.” I must see every human person for the unique and valuable individual that he or she is. I must see the poor as I would see my own family. I must love the homeless as I would my own family. I must treat the refugee as if they were my own family.

As Professor Alvaré put it, “We start with family and end with strangers in need whose only link is our common humanity.” Go love your family, and let that love overflow into the whole world.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Mercy, Evangelization, and Pope Francis

Paul Fahey – November 9, 2016

This past summer I read a really wonderful book by Pope Francis titled, “The Name of God is Mercy.” The book is the transcript of a long interview the Holy Father did with a Vatican journalist about the Year of Mercy. Since this Year of Mercy ends this month, I thought that one last reflection on this Jubilee Year is in order. Also, now that the election is over I think a little more mercy in our lives would be a good thing.

I found the book comforting and refreshing, but I also found it very challenging, reading it was a kind of examination of conscience. The entire book really is fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For this article, I wanted to share one powerful passage from the book with you and give some comments on it. I would encourage you to read Pope Francis’ words slowly and prayerfully, read them as if he was writing to you personally.

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This passage comes from the chapter titled, “Shepherds, not Scholars of the Law.” Pope Francis says:

We need to enter the darkness, the night in which so many of our brothers live. We need to be able to make contact with them and let them feel our closeness, without letting ourselves be wrapped up in that darkness and influenced by it. Caring for outcasts and sinners does not mean letting the wolves attack the flock. It means trying to reach everyone by sharing the experience of mercy, which we ourselves have experienced, without ever caving in to the temptation of feeling that we are just or perfect.

While he doesn’t mention the word “evangelization,” I think that is precisely what the pope is talking about here. I’ve heard it said that evangelization is one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is. Likewise, I think Pope Francis would say that evangelization is one sinner showing another sinner how to experience God’s mercy. What’s cool about thinking of evangelization this way is that it’s not complicated and it doesn’t require a theology degree. How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? How has God saved you from your own sin and suffering? Have you ever shared this story with anyone? The pope continues:

The more conscience we are of our wretchedness and our sins, the more we experience the love and infinite mercy of God among us, and the more capable we are of looking upon the many “wounded” we meet along the way with acceptance and mercy.

Shortly after being elected pope, Francis was asked “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” And his response was, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” The Holy Father says that it is a true grace for someone to feel like a sinner, and that if we don’t feel that way then we should ask God for the grace to feel like a sinner. It is only as a sinner that we can experience God’s infinite mercy, it is only in our weakness and humility that we can truly know God’s greatness. When I read this passage of the book I was really challenged. I don’t like to see myself as a sinner, I like to think of myself as a good and righteous person. Since then I’ve found myself at times asking God for the grace to see myself as a sinner in need of mercy, because if I’m not a sinner then I have no need of a Savior. Recognizing oneself as a sinner is also one of the first steps of evangelization, the pope says:

So we must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam is his own. Let us always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when ninety-nine righteous people have no need of repentance. When a person begins to recognize the sickness in their soul, when the Holy spirit – the Grace of God – acts within them and moves their heart toward an initial recognition of their own sins, he needs to find an open door, not a closed one. He needs to find acceptance, not judgement, prejudice, or condemnation. He needs to be helped, not pushed away or cast out. Sometimes when Christians think like scholars of the law, their hearts extinguish that which the Holy Spirit lights up in the heart of a sinner who stands at the threshold, when he starts to feel nostalgia for God.

This passage really hit me like an examination of conscience because I find myself really quick to judge someone else’s faults. Too often I act like a “scholar of law” who stands on a self-righteous pedestal judging others. It’s easy for us to treat people as “the other,” as enemies in a culture war, as bad Catholics, instead of Children of God. But judging other from “lofty heights” is the opposite of evangelization.

It’s easy for us to judge the young unmarried couple bringing their baby to be baptized, the couple who lived together before their wedding, the couple we know is using contraception, the gay person at work, the person with the Other Party’s bumper sticker in the church parking lot, etc, etc. I use all of these examples because these are ways I have judged others in the past. “These people” aren’t enemies in a culture war, these are the “lost sheep” who Jesus rejoices over more than the ninety-nine who never strayed.

Pope Francis is telling us that we can only stop judging others and start loving them when we have the humility to see ourselves as the greatest sinner in the room. The Holy Father said, “Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine.”

In these final days of the Year of Mercy let us pray for the humility of Pope Francis and the courage to share God’s mercy with those who have fallen away from the Church. Let us ask God for the tremendous grace to see ourselves as sinners so that we may fully experience His Love.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Voting with the Heart and Mind of the Church – Part 3: Our Options this Election

Paul Fahey – October 24, 2016

This is the third article in a three-part series I’ve written about voting with the heart and mind of the Catholic Church (Here is Part 1 and Part 2).

In the first article I talked about how Catholics are called to be “salt, light, and leaven” in the political arena, and thus we have the moral obligation to vote. However, if we vote like everyone else, and not like Catholics, then our political participation is worthless.

In my second article I talked about how to vote as a Catholic. We all have political priorities, issues near and dear to us, issues that impact our families and jobs. However, as Catholics we are called to make the Church’s priorities, Christ’s priorities, our own. These priorities that the Church is most concerned with are rooted in the infinite dignity of every human person.

The Church also puts a special weight on issues that are so dramatically opposed to human dignity that they are “intrinsically evil.” These are issues that can never be supported and must always be opposed. The US Bishops list the following issues as intrinsically evil: abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, torture, targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, and redefining marriage. Furthermore, the Church says that of these issues abortion and euthanasia have the highest priority. However, the Church also warns us against being “one issue voters.” We cannot focus on just one issue and ignore or dismiss the others (though support for an intrinsic evil “may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support”).

With all of this in mind, it quickly becomes clear that all of the major candidates running for president this year actively champion intrinsic evils. So I want to spend the rest of this article laying out what options Catholics have this presidential election. Based on the US Bishops’ document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, we have three options for this presidential election that won’t violate our consciences.

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via Wikimedia Commons

The first option is simple. A Catholic in good conscience can choose not to vote for any of the major party candidates and instead vote for one of the few third party candidates who do not support any intrinsic evils.

The second option is also pretty simple. A Catholic in good conscience can choose to be a conscientious objector to this presidential election and just vote down ballot. The bishops say, “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate…” So while this is an “extraordinary” thing to do, a Catholic can simply choose not to caste a vote for any presidential candidate.

The third option is a little more complicated. A Catholic in good conscience can vote for either one of the major party presidential candidates in spite of their support for intrinsic evils. However, this is not an option that Catholics can choose lightly. The USCCB says:

A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

 

Let’s unpack this teaching. A Catholic in good conscience can vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil if the Catholic meets the following narrow criteria:

  1. The Catholic voter recognizes that the candidate supports this grave evil. If we are going to vote for either of the major party candidates we cannot be ignorant of the evil things that they support, nor can we dismiss or downplay those evils.
  2. The Catholic voter opposes this evil and votes for this candidate in spite of the candidate’s intrinsically evil position and not because of the candidate’s support of intrinsic evil.
  3. The Catholic is voting this way for truly grave moral reasons and not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences. In other words, if I choose to vote for either of the major party candidates I must be doing so for truly grave moral reasons and not because the candidate is a Democrat, a Republican, a woman, a business leader, etc.
  4. The Catholic is voting for a candidate in an effort to prevent the election of another candidate who the Catholic truly thinks is even more morally flawed than the one they are voting for, and who also supports intrinsic evils that are proportionate to the evils that their candidate supports.

A couple things to keep in mind with all of this. I am not saying that all candidates who support intrinsic evils are morally equal. As I said above, the US Bishops say that abortion and euthanasia are the most important issues to consider. Thus if a Catholic is considering voting for a pro-choice candidate, they need to really pray and discern what evil or evils are proportionate to the evil of abortion.

The Church is not in the business of telling us who we should or shouldn’t vote for, and the US Bishops explicitly say that Church leaders should avoid endorsing or opposing political candidates. Ultimately the bishops present these teachings to us and then let us form our own consciences and make our own decisions. The US Bishops say:

In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting 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.

So what is our responsibility as Catholics this election? First, we must form our own consciences by knowing what the Church teaches and what issues are most important to the Church. Perhaps the best way to do this is to read  the wonderful USCCB document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. There are many Catholic voters guides out there from reputable sources that misrepresent Church teaching, so I would suggest only reading voters guides that come from our bishops. Second, we must do our best to set aside our political priorities and embraces the Church’s priorities. Finally, and most importantly, we must take this decision to prayer and lay everything at the feet of Christ asking for His guidance. If you do this, then you can cast your vote not only in good conscience, but with confidence that God will bless your effort and bring good from your decision.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.

Capital Punishment in the United States is, in practice, always evil

Let’s talk about the death penalty.

I’ll tell you my conclusion up front. While the Catholic Church teaches that, in principle, recourse to the death penalty is morally acceptable, in practice (at least in the modern United States) the use of capital punishment cannot be justified. Therefore, any advocacy for this procedure should be avoided. Essentially, in principle, the death penalty is licit, but it is always evil when we factor in the current circumstances.

I’m throwing my argument out here hoping for thoughtful disagreement, because well, I know I’m speaking contrary to many Catholic minds much greater than my own.

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Attribution: Alexander Gardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As always, let’s start with what the universal catechism has to say (paragraph 2267):

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

The key phrase is this, “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” To state this another way, capital punishment is only morally acceptable when used to defend innocent lives from a violent criminal. In the United States today we have the means to lock up unjust aggressors for life, therefore the death penalty can never be morally used.

However, it may not be the case that the catechism gives the entire story here. Catholic thinkers Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette make a compelling (though I’m not fully persuaded yet) argument that in addition to defending innocent lives, the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church holds that a state can also licitly resort to capital punishment in order to execute just retribution of a grave offense. If justice is giving a man what is owed to him, be it a day’s wages for a day’s work for example, then the death penalty is truly what’s owed to the serial killer. They state:

The fact is that it is the irreformable teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, not merely to ensure the physical safety of others when an offender poses an immediate danger (a case where even John Paul II was willing to allow for the death penalty), but even for purposes such as securing retributive justice and deterring serious crime.

I’m not going to go into their argument here, I trust that if you question their reasoning you will read their articles yourself. However, I don’t think that the death penalty can still be licit in the US even if Feser and Bessette’s conclusion is correct. My argument is rooted in the very first sentence of the catechism quote above, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty…”

If the state is going to deliberately end the life of a human person then the level of certainty that the accused is actually guilty must be as close to absolute as humanly possible, but I don’t think we are capable of that in the US today. One major factor is the racial bias the US has when it comes to who we execute (see here, here, and here). Our uncertainty concerning the guilt of prisoners on death row can also be demonstrated by the 156 death row inmates who have been exonerated in the US since 1973, not to mention the several cases where there’s evidence of a person’s innocence but they have already been executed.

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Clayton Lockett

Furthermore, the US does not have a great track record when it comes to executing criminals humanely. 3% to 7% of executions are botched, with modern methods having the higher failure rate.  One of these botched executions was performed on Clayton Lockett, whose lethal injection, in 2014, took 45 minutes to end his life. There are several reasons why this is the case, but one major reason is because it’s wardens and lawyers, not doctors or personnel with medical experience, who guess both what drugs to use and a drug’s dosage for a lethal injection.

So even if the state can justly kill a criminal for the sake of retribution, there should be an indefinite moratorium on capital punishment unless we can be morally certain that a person is guilty, that there was no racial bias in their trial and sentencing, and that we can guarantee them a humane death. Barring that, I would dare to say that, from a Catholic perspective, capital punishment in the United States today is, in practice, always evil.