Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meditations on the HHS Policy, Why it isn't JUST about Contraception

First, the Administration wants to utterly dictate the extent to which we practice our religion, that it be limited to our thoughts, not spoken, not lived out in the minutia of our lives. 

The HSS mandate has upset a lot of people, a lot of Catholics, a lot of individuals on both sides of the political aisle.  This is a good thing.  We should be uncomfortable.  Catholics are not supposed to be comfortable in a singular political party, we're supposed to call the Democrats to be champions of the unborn, and the Republicans to recognize the dignity of the poor that survive the womb. There isn't a party in which a Catholic should feel wholly comfortable, indeed, if one feels wholly comfortable inside a party, one is probably ignoring some tenet of one's Catholic faith. God didn't say "I favor the GOP or Jesus would be a Democrat." Man makes that affiliation to flatter himself and demean his political opponents and their followers. He is wrong in either case. 

The protest against the HHS policy isn't just from the USCCB. Douglas Kmiec, who was one of the most prominent proponents of this Administration thinks this is a violation of religious liberty, Over 135 bishops in the US, a number of Imams, Episcopal and Orthodox clergy have expressed concern that this policy overreaches. Even Chris Matthews, hardly a Fox News sycophant for the GOP, felt deep concern at this federal policy.

While the Friday announcement of "accommodations" was supposed to make everything better and certainly there were sycophantic pundits and even Catholics willing to carry the water for this administration, sober judgement of the new/old HHS policy indicates that the administration is (as is typical of this administration), doubling down. 

Not only will I not alter the policy in your favor, I will tighten the restrictions and speed up the process by which you must comply (6 months and all will provide free birth control --it's just the insurance will pay).  So we're all morally free of blame because we're not buying it, we're just purchasing the Insurance.  The Insurance is providing it....Free...like tortilla chips and salsa at the table.   Calories consumed by those free chips still count.  Providing the service is immoral.  Relgious institutions and organizations have refused to purchase such plans that provided those services in the past because they don't want to provide such services period.  They don't want to provide them as an added bonus feature! It was never about the money, it was always about the morality stupid!

 It is coercion via government fiat.  Obey or be destroyed.  Bow willingly or be forced to kneel via heavy fines.  Give out policies that provide free birth control, abortion drugs and perform sterilizations because we say so, or watch as we take over. Pay to play or go home.

In places where the religious exemption is narrow, (up to now) universities and school districts that wanted to hold true to the faith in their practice as an entity, gave extra money to allow individuals to purchase a prescription plan which would provide if necessary.  That is the change. That self insured approach that would relegate the decision to the individual, has been removed. There is no out. If the government declares you must purchase a product you deem immoral, then purchase it you must or face swift steep fines. You can comply or we can drum you out of business. Hardly the actions of a free people, or of a government that respects the rights and liberties of a free people.

I have good friends who have told me, "Hey, what's the big deal? We already fund Planned Parenthood to the tune of 33 million to pass out birth control (or so we've been told),  we already do this if we work for a secular business and pay into insurance."  And I know the arguments, that we already pay for everything. If I go to a discount store, I'm exploiting cheap labor. If I buy pink ribbon yogurts, I'm supporting Planned Parenthood.  If I work in a business that is non denominational and for whom this is not a morally troubling issue, my premiums also pay for products like birth control pills and sterilizations and abortions and Plan B's and RU486ing baby medications.

But this is different. 

This is the government demanding that people pay for what they deem immoral and in violation of their conscience even if they are in the  business of trying to live out their faith.  That should matter, even if the violation isn't considered a big deal by some.  We should protect the Amish and the Quakers and the small time churches that hold things dear we disagree with, just as surely as we should the mega churches and the Jews and Mormons and the Muslims and the Atheists and the Catholics.   It is not okay for the government to dictate to a church or to people who take their faith seriously that they must violate their faith. The government cannot give dispensation from one's faith.  The government cannot give us forgiveness for our sins or tell us what is and is not a sin.  This is Caesar trying to render what is God's and demanding that we swear allegiance to Caesar first. 

To those who say it makes no difference, it is a drop in the bucket, it is a nothing to get upset over issue:

We take stands all the time, not because they are popular or guaranteed to come out in our favor, but because we believe them to be important.  If on occasion, we should boycott Starbucks or Coca-cola because as corporations they engage in practices we deem objectionable, (divestment for South Africa in the 80's was trendy as I recall, and now free trade and fair trade) then we know that sometimes simply speaking up changes the landscape, changes the argument, changes opinions, informs the public. The USCCB and others who spoke out, did so because the Government suddenly and abruptly demanded a new level of civil obedience that required religious disobedience.  It was wrong.  It still is wrong.  It should be fought, regardless of how it plays out, because it is right to fight this ruling.  It is right to say the Government should not be in the business of defining religion or the practice of religion or the limits of how one may conduct one's self in accordance with one's religion.

In this case, why would we talk about such things ever?  They are personal private decisions, none of the Church's business. Stick to God and serving the poor and stuff like that. Catholics are not supposed to compartmentalize their faith and take it out for special occasions like Christmas and Easter
Our religion says God loves us as a father does his child. My dad cares what I read, what I think, what I do, what I don't do. God cares for me more than my dad does.  I believe that this is so for everyone. God cares about how we conduct ourselves in all things, not simply if we serve the poor.  He cares how much we love, He cares that we do even the littlest things with great love, and He cares if we enable sin when we could stop it. 

We're not supposed to limit our love to when it is convenient or popular or publicly approved. We're supposed to be seamlessly Catholic.  Ergo, we cannot stay silent and we cannot pretend that it doesn't affect our souls.  Silence on moral issues invites presumed allowance, leading to greater demands for more silence. Even if 90+% of Catholics do not follow the teaching, it is still the teaching. Truth does not evaporate because a false argument is more popular, it is merely ignored.

 But, as Galadriel says, "Some things that should not have been forgotten, were lost."

What we practice, what we say and what we do, what we do not say and what we do not do, defines us. What we allow, what we ignore, what we pretend isn't, and what we hope is, reveals who we are in our limited capacity to affect and understand the world. Dorthy Day understood that her actions of serving the poor stemmed from her love of Christ, and that the acts were a manifestation of her internal faith. 

Likewise, Catholic hospitals are created from that same core, as are Catholic schools and Universities. They were founded by orders, they are designed to teach children with the faith, all of the subjects infused with the faith, and as such should not be considered somehow compartmentalized from the rest of one's faith.  . Organizations that at their core and beginning and inspiration and purpose, are Catholic --revealing Catholicism via acts educating --University of Notre Dame, serving and living out the beatitudes --Catholic Charities for example, should not have to violate the source of their corporeal actions in order to be allowed to exist by the state. To my mind, this is secular puritanism and it is as unforgiving of non-believers as the Puritans ever were. Catholic Charities closed up their adoption agencies in Massachusetts because they were told to violate their religious beliefs in order to stay in the business.

But to the HHS point itself; So Catholics should just go along? Should just shrug their shoulders? At any point should Catholicism or the faithful say we won't do this? If not, then Sir Thomas Moore and all the Martyrs of the Church were the greatest bunch of saps ever. Imagine, standing up to the popular and powerful all for one's faith! They didn't do it all in one sweep, most of them started by simply speaking out or refusing to go along to get along. Their lives and writings often reveal a deep struggle to hold true which (if it is unnecessary), seems a fool's decision at best, if not the actions and thinkings of madly insane people.  Ultimately, they had before them Christ and the State;  Jesus and Caesar; the Church and the King.  The saints chose one way.  The same choice is before us now, perhaps not to the extent of martyrdom, but that makes any cowardice on our part all the more shameful. We don't fear the prospect of death as they did and still, we won't speak. 

The thing is, we've (Catholics/the Church) often failed to stand up in the past and even now. We are still indited for those failures. We will always be held accountable for those failures. The Catholic Church and its body is supposed to be courageous, is supposed to speak out, is supposed to know right from wrong and always side with Christ, and to be luminous in its acts of mercy, it's daily business, its everything and all things.  Because we are sinners, because we are fallen, we often give a dim reflection of what should be blinding light.

We're supposed to serve lavishly, give lavishly, hope lavishly, pray lavishly and love lavishly. We are often misers on this point with all of our gifts, burying them in the yard for fear of reprimand, for all sorts of reasons.   We're called to recognize that we must not let ourselves be afraid, we must not be misers of our gifts, we must speak, we must act, and we must follow Christ first in all things.  We're supposed to Be Catholics first, not Americans.  We're supposed to be Catholics first, not Liberals or Conservatives. We're supposed to be Catholics first, not Republicans or Democrats.  We're supposed to be Catholics first, last and always.  Alas, we are fallen and often put those other labels first, when what we should do is speak "Friend" and enter. 

Thanks for reading. I have taken a few hits lately for speaking out in the writing community. But as I said to another friend who disagreed, if we can't ever have a discussion about hard issues about which we disagree, then why do we bother talking? If we can't say what we think without being called names or calling names, we don't have an argument of ideas, we have a fight of emotions (See Beck and Olberman) --and that proves/improves nothing. 

One last thing, to those who think the Bishops have no business speaking out because the Church in recent years has failed to be a good steward of its people; The Church, like her people, is an imperfect vessel. I see components of her beauty and I agonize when she is less than what she is called to be.
That we fail sometimes does not negate that we are right now.  The Church is speaking with authority and truth. We must stand with her stewards and princes.

As for the rest of it, I have few answers.  I recommend prayer and fasting and petitioning for intersessions from Blessed Pope John Paul the Great and Blessed Mother Teresa. They embody the whole of the Church, the male and the female, the call to deep prayer and evangelization and profound knowledge of the history and the Church and her teaching and her great wisdom, and the need to feed the hungry, the poor, nurse the sick and sell everything and follow Christ.  Neither compromised their faith or their actions. They understood the deep mystery of suffering, both physical and spiritual, they got the hard reality of service and the need to sit at the feet of Christ in Adoration.  We need the strength of both, the clarity of both, the wisdom of both, and the intercession of both.

 We should be doing this anyway, but I'm asking for deep prayer not for the outcome of healing, health, wholeness for all.  Lastly, we need to act.

So first, we need information. 
Here is the actual HHS "Fact Sheet" put out by the White House.  It is what they want us to believe.
Educate yourself with this, and this and if you want more, this and this and this.
Arm yourself
Get involved.

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