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Yes, Virginia, There Is a Religious Left

November 12, 2009


The phrase “Religious Right” is a common rhetorical trope these days.  But is there a Religious Left, as well?  Last night, Father Jonathan Morris joined Sean Hannity to discuss the Catholic Church’s position on universal health care:

The Catholic bishops in the United States have made a big splash in, uh, requiring, suggesting that nobody should support this health bill unless there’s an amendment that prohibits federal money going to abortion.  But what everyone’s said is, ‘now that that amendment has passed, now all the bishops support this bill.’  That’s not true.  What they’ve suggested, as I understand it, is that there is a universal right to have access to basic health care.  But that’s not saying that therefore, socialized medicine is the moral obligation of the government.  And that’s a very important distinction […] it’s not just a Catholic thing; it’s a Christian thing to take care of your neighbor.  But it does not mean, and Jesus never said this, that therefore it should be the government who should take care of all of our neighbors for us.

[The relevant passage begins at the 2:44 mark.]

Father Morris’ theology is dead on—helping the less fortunate is a clear moral obligation (and the truth about who really cares might surprise you), but it’s also an individual obligation.  There’s nothing moral about insisting that such care come via government if government can’t do the job, and using coercive force to make people give leads to problems with the commandment, “thou shalt not steal.”

However, he speaks too soon when he dismisses left-wing tendencies among modern Catholics (54% of whom voted for Barack Obama, despite his radical stance on abortion).  For instance, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ resolution on universal health care parrots the leftist caricature of American healthcare:

The existing patterns of health care in the United States do not meet the minimal standard of social justice and the common good. The substantial inequity of our health care system can no longer be ignored or explained away. The principal defect is that more than 35 million persons do not have guaranteed access to basic health care […] The current health care system is so inequitable, and the disparities between rich and poor and those with access-and those without are so great that it is clearly unjust.

The Conference demands “concerted action by federal and other levels of government,” which, as “an instrument of our common purpose called to pursue the common good, has an essential role to play” in “ensur[ing] a decent level of health care for all without regard to their ability to pay.”  They’re light on specifics, but redistribution clearly has a foot in the door:

When there is a question of allocating scarce resources, the vulnerable and the poor have a compelling claim to first consideration. Special attention must be given to ensuring that those who have suffered from inaccessible and inadequate health care (e.g., in central cities, isolated rural areas, and migrant camps) are first brought back into an effective system of quality care.

Nowhere in the document will you find skepticism as to government’s ability to provide universal healthcare, concern for the individual rights and personal freedoms that such an overhaul would violate, or awareness of the potential for market-based reforms to alleviate America’s health care woes, which the USCCB exaggerates.  The USCCB may not have endorsed ObamaCare yet, but unless Harry Reid and his pals dig in their heels on abortion funding, who’s to say they won’t in the near future?  After all, this is the same USCCB that has also urged Catholics to vote for amnesty and against preemptive war.

The intersection of Catholicism and liberalism isn’t limited to the USCCB, either.  Pope Benedict and the Vatican have a history of criticizing and meddling in America’s already-meager immigration enforcement efforts, and, most recently, the Vatican’s official newspaper announced that Karl Marx wasn’t so bad after all.  I kid you not.

This liberal reinterpretation of Christian theology has its roots in the works of early progressives such as Woodrow Wilson & Herbert Croly, who saw the task of modern democracy as building an entirely new society in which a proactive, unlimited government would work to bring about universal alleviation from any and all constraints on human happiness.  Progressives were all too happy to present this work as nothing less than the divine task of bringing about a sort of heaven on Earth.

As our forefathers did, most conservatives recognize the profound importance of religion to maintaining a free society, but these days, “Religious” and “Right” don’t always go together.  The modern Left has successfully hijacked many religious institutions, and conservatives do themselves no favors by denying the problem.

(Side Note: In the above video, Hannity apologizes for running misleading video during last week’s segment on Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s health care rally.  My Nov. 7 post on the rally has been updated to acknowledge the revelation.)


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

  1. jby permalink
    November 12, 2009 6:27 pm

    i have been aware of the religious left for a while. my partner’s church, in athens GA, was huge on the “social justice” BS. they essentially don’t care about how the poor and indigent are helped so long as they are helped. if that means taking forcible/coercive govt intervention/etc. from those who have then so be it. i honestly do not understand how my partner and others can buy this line of reasoning and still call themselves christian. they have rationalized that they are somehow doing what god/jesus would be doing if they were here on earth. and the last time i checked i dont remember seeing a reference to a “robin hood” commandment in the bible.

  2. Janet permalink
    November 13, 2009 6:38 am

    The leftist leanings of the Catholic Church in the U.S. which seem to have arisen in the last half of the 20th century are completely to blame for the “scandal” we are slowly emerging from. In order to be politically correct the Church ordained men who had agendas, not vocations, and consequently great harm was inflicted on many young lives. And now it seems, again to be politically correct, many Church leaders assert that we need to overlook the fact that ten to fifteen million people came across our borders illegally, but should be treated in every respect as citizens. If successful, this path will have many more far reaching negative consequences than the earlier mistake.

    It is true, however, that just as our Country, its government and its inhabitants, is idealogically split, so too are the hierarchy and members of the Catholic Church. It was mystifying to me that my Pastor, retired now, who I felt was a candidate for Sainthood, was sympathetic to the Democrat platform right down the line, ’til it came to abortion. He was so utterly against the Iraq war and George Bush’s policies, but with subtlety. I recall writing him a letter, before we actually sent troups to Iraq, when, in our Weekly Church Bulletin, he suggested we go to a website originating at the University of Notre Dame for alternative solutions to war. I was incensed and my letter read as much, defending every word George Bush spoke. At that time, had the President suggested we invade the entire middle East, I would have enlisted (although pushing 70, I probably would have been turned down). I received a beautiful letter in return letting me know how difficult it was to walk a line to please all.
    I knew that he was a good, kind and gentle man, and a sincere man with no ulterior motives behind his beliefs and until he left we disagreed on many issues, but I left him alone. I still think he’s a candidate for Sainthood.

    And so it is now, a difference in idealogies. We conservatives see the folly in government intervention in every area of our lives. The other side doesn’t get it. And I think it’s only in retrospect when minds will be changed. Tooo late.

    • Marie permalink
      November 20, 2009 10:36 pm

      Janet, I hope you were not fooled by bush and his family, you are so right, the church has leaned the other way. I am not sure we can believe/trust the Catholic Agenda. They once ruled our Government, are they trying to rule it again? It didn’t work then , It sure won’t work now, neither will the Muslim/ Islam world take over… me!!!!!

  3. November 13, 2009 10:21 am

    ‘Conservative’ Catholics pay no attention to left-wing priests or bishops, or even a liberal Pope, because they know that they, themselves, are the true believers and that the others are simply CINOs (Catholics in Name Only) who favor abortions, big government and amnesty for illegal aliens (many of whom are Latino CINOs themselves). Fear not, inevitably the day of reckoning will come.

  4. November 16, 2009 12:25 pm

    This tactic will either prove to be a brilliant way to keep the Left from making the health care bill “universal”, or it will backfire completely; a way of drowning the baby while saving the bathwater.

    The Left will either keep abortion for poor women funded by limiting the government run health program, or they will shrug their shoulders and laugh off one of their pretend values to grasp the power offered. Then they will use that power. And such provisions can always be cut out of the law at a later date.

    It was pointed out in comments recently that the hard Left has no real agenda other than taking power into their own hands. The question here is how firm are they in true support of free/low cost abortions? The Obama administration has already shown that it is willing to shrug off interest groups long dear to liberal hearts.

    By using the health bill to force an abortion concession are the religious right giving away the farm?

    Time will tell.


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