George Weigel on Authentic Catholic Citizenship, and the Duty of Catholic Politicians to Behave as Catholics
9/17/2003 2:44:00 AM By Karl Maurer
Chicago, September 16, 2003 - George Weigel, one of Americas leading commentators on religion and public policy, was given the 2003 Catholic Citizens of Illinois St. Thomas More Award for outstanding Catholic citizenship. Previous recipients of this award include Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly and the author of Goodbye Good Men, Michael S. Rose. Mr. Weigel attended the groups awards banquet on September 12, joining Congressman Henry Hyde and Catholic leaders from Illinois and across the country.
In his stimulating address, Mr. Weigel focused on two themes: firstly, that democracy ungrounded in moral truth is deficient and doomed, and secondly, that the moral arguments of Catholics are not sectarian, political opinions, but articulate the very foundations of human liberty and freedom, thus forming the basis of a morally and intellectually coherent public worldview that defends life from conception to natural death.
Mr. Weigel began by referencing a passage from a letter written by a second century Christian, probably a bishop, to a pagan, in which was captured the essence of Christianity.
Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language or custom, for nowhere do they live in cities simply among their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities as each ones lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time, they demonstrate a remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food, but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and in their private lives they transcend the laws.
The image of the Christian citizen as someone who is always a resident alien, noted Weigel, has had a powerful influence on Christian thinking about politics, political responsibility, and our obligations in this world for the last eighteen hundred years.
Mr. Weigel perceives that this double life is driven by the fact that Christians live in time and live ahead of time. Living in time, in the real world, managing jobs, families, sickness and health, are challenges obvious to all of us. The process of living ahead of time occurs because we are a people who know how the story is going to turn out, that God will be vindicated, said Mr. Weigel. For practicing Catholics, this future reality is lived out in the form of our major holidays, like Easter, our Sunday Mass, where Easter is replayed, and the devotions to prayer and charity during our daily lives.
Jesus is Lord, God is God and Caesar is not God
The faith and hope that allows us as Catholics to live ahead of time has a profound impact on the way Catholics look at politics and the demands of citizenship. If Jesus is Lord, God is God and Caesar is not God, than no one else is God but God, Weigel noted. There is an anti-totalitarian dimension built into the Creed from the beginning
This is an important part of Christian convictions when confronting the modern state because the modern state is very good at setting up false gods for us to worship.
So if God is God, and Caesar isnt, politics can never be more important than religion and morality. Since the so-called Enlightenment, there have been many examples of the brutal consequences for ignoring this fact, from the French Revolution, to the bloody wars of the 20th Century, and in communist dictatorships that tyrannize millions today. For Catholics, politics must always be more than just a brutal quest for power. Christ the King would have it no other way.
The Christian conviction that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not Lord is, noted Weigel, in the long view of history, one of the deepest roots of what we call democracy. It does not begin with John Locke or the European Enlightenment, democracy as we experience it in the West today has its deepest roots in the Christian civilization. If Jesus is Lord and Caesar isnt, that leaves the Church as what Weigel called a sign and safeguard of the transcendence and dignity of the human person, because the Church sees in every human being someone for whom Christ died.
The fallacy of the 20th Century is the notion that somehow, democracy can be run like a machine independent of moral underpinnings. In the Catholic view of these things, observed Weigel, democracy is never a finished product, but an ongoing experiment in a peoples moral capacity and ability to be self governing. By moral capacity we mean our ability to know what is good, to act on that knowledge, and to defend the good. It takes a certain kind of people possessed of convictions and virtues to make democracy work.
Mr. Weigel pointed out the failures of the meticulously designed Weimar Republic, which collapsed into Nazi tyranny, as a cautionary tale for those secular elites who believe moral and cultural foundations are unimportant to democracy. Catholics, said Weigel, are uniquely qualified to demonstrate how morality and faith in God are necessary to avoid the tyranny that comes when modern derivations of Caesar declare themselves to be supreme gods and rulers of all, whether they come dressed as generals, lawmakers, or Supreme Court Justices.
The Duties and Responsibilities of a Catholic Politician
Given our inclination as Catholics to see politics as our founding fathers did, in moral and political terms, it is especially difficult in the post Roe vs. Wade era to sort out how to respond to the onslaught of secular mandates coming from all corners of government. Fortunately, the Holy See and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the participation of Catholics in Public Life. This is an extraordinarily document and is vital to Catholic participation in political life. Mr. Weigel pointed our four reasons why this is so.
1. Not all issues in public life are equal
The Roman Catholic defense of traditional moral principles are simply not on the same plane as fiscal or public works issues: Abortion, euthanasia and biotech issues like human cloning and post-aborted fetal stem cell research are not the same as highways, bridges, fiscal policy and foreign aid. The CDF document makes it clear that these fundamental moral issues of life and death cut to the very foundations of justice in a society and must be given priority.
2. Not all issues can be dismissed as purely partisan political opinions
The Catholic defense of the right to life is not a question of a sectarian imposition of views, said Mr. Weigel. Church teaching on the right to life is grounded and articulated in principles that are available to anyone willing to work through the moral argument. In other words, one does not have to be a devout Catholic to understand the argument that life begins at conception and extends to natural death. Rather than being sectarian or partisan, it is an argument that impacts every American, regardless of race, creed or gender.
They are arguments validated by science, confirmed by logic, noted Mr. Weigel. Nothing that is a human being was ever anything but a human being; nothing that is going to become a human being was ever anything but a human being
Its not a question of church and state, but of morality and public policy. In spite of this common sense approach, religious tests for public office are flourishing, their most recent victim being Bill Pryor. Prior was told smugly by liberal Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) that his deeply held (Catholic) beliefs disqualified him for service on the federal appellate bench, as if only Senator Schumers deeply held beliefs qualify anyone for judgeship! exclaimed Weigel. This is unacceptable! This is constitutionally and philosophically appalling!
The Catholic defense of life, said Weigel, is not a question of sectarian imposition, but a genuinely public argument made in a public vocabulary everyone can understand and engage in. In that context, Catholic politicians who adopt the Im personally opposed but wont impose my values on a pluralistic society are not really behaving as intelligent Catholics, or demonstrating any intelligence at all. They are suggesting that being pro-life is an exercise in sectarian particularism, when in fact, what is going on is genuinely public debate.
3. Catholics have a duty to be morally coherent
Being loyal and obedient to the traditions, doctrines, and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church is not just a religious duty, but a public duty. For Catholics to remain in communion with their faith, the choices are clear. Ones coherence and integrity as a public official requires that one connect the dots between conviction and policy, said Weigel. Would Im personally opposed, but have been an intellectually coherent stance on apartheid, or on slavery? What I conclude is that pro-choice Catholicism is morally incoherent and publicly incoherent.
Is it the bishops role to counsel such politicians about their errors? Sure, says Weigel, but it is also the duty of lay Catholics to challenge the integrity of the Im personally opposed, but Catholic politicians. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is morally and publicly incoherent, said Mr. Weigel, drawing an extended applause. When he says, there are many views on this, he has to be told
he is inaccurate and incoherent
over and over again
challenge their coherence, challenge their own integrity.
Weigels advice to Catholics across the country dealing with pro-choice or Im personally opposed, but Catholic politicians is to inform them in no uncertain terms that they are in defective positions of communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Weigel suggested approaching Catholics with the proposal that their own integrity requires that (they should) refrain from expressing a bond which has been broken
If you think that this is a constitutional matter of a free people, then as a matter of your own integrity as a Catholic public official, you should not present yourself as being in full communion with the Catholic community when in fact you are not.
4. Catholics must lead the way to a richer and more honest understanding of tolerance
One of the frequent criticisms Roman Catholics endure is that by holding pro-life views, we are all intolerant. This isnt fair, and it isnt true. In fact, there is hardly anything more intolerant that the fallout from the Lawrence vs. Texas decision, which imposes state secularism (i.e. the worship of the imperial, autonomous me) as the state sanctioned and mandated national ideology of the United States. The CDF points out that real tolerance does not mean avoiding differences, or suggesting that profound moral differences dont make a difference. It means being intelligently honest enough to engage in debating differences in a free market of ideas and opinions
Genuine tolerance means engaging differences, arguing about them, debating them within a bond civility, human respect and serious arguments, observed Weigel. When we insist that certain questions are not settled, regardless of what the Supreme Court says, we are not being intolerant, we are being intelligently committed to reminding Americans that equal justice for all must be more than eighteen words carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court.
To suggest that Catholics are somehow suspect when we bring these religiously formed, intelligent arguments into public life is a form of intolerant secularism, said Weigel. And the storm clouds are darkening, especially in the short time since the Lawrence vs. Texas decision, which Weigel noted mandates an understanding of liberty that simply evacuates moral meaning from the word. If thats all that liberty means, we have a very serious problem - the court has established a new god - with a small g - and that god is self. Those who do not burn incense to the god of self are now, according to Lawrence, to be under strict scrutiny to prove that we are not bigots because of it. In what could turn out to be the understatement of the decade, Weigel observed, This is all really bad news.
Time to get to work, and get back to our roots
The answer says Weigel, is that Catholics have to be willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We have to propose to the country a richer idea of freedom, like the one the founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for
We have to remind our country of what our founders knew in 1776, namely that freedom and moral truth are intimately connected.
And Catholics are not alone in that fight. For centuries, the Catholic commitment to representative democracy has been articulated by great saints who defended individual rights. Weigel noted that Pope John Paul II has consistently supported these teachings, and the notion that freedom untied from moral truth is freedoms worst enemy.
In cultures where there is no ultimate appeal to God and the natural law, one of two things is going to happen, noted Weigel. Im going to impose my power on you, or you are going to impose your power on me. That is the end of democracy and a self governing people. That is the tyranny of the strong, and it is freedoms worst enemy.
Mr. Weigel closed his remarks by commending the hundreds of organizations rising up across the United States who were contending for a place for moral truth in society. He noted that imbedded in the Catholic message were the distinctly American values that our country rests not on the same foundation of our own personal willfulness, but on the richer nobler foundation of certain self evident truths, about the human person, the human condition, the human community, and human destiny. To contend for that - to fight that good fight - is a noble task from which we should never shrink and we should never tire.
Karl Maurer is a CPA and the web editor of catholiccitizens.org. He writes from Chicago, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org