Over the years I have written articles on a number of topics for quite a few magazines. And every time I begin to contemplate a new article, I have to ask myself the same question: Given a periodical’s necessary lead time (always at least a couple of months), will the material contained in my article be as relevant when it appears in print as it seems at the time that I wrote it? In the case of every article I have ever written before today, I always hoped that it would be. But with this article I don’t. I pray that by the time you read these words the problem about which I am writing will have become a thing of the past — I hope so, but being from Jersey City I doubt it very much.
I’m writing at a time when one topic is on everyone’s mind and lips: the outrageous and discouraging assault on religious liberty that has been mounted by the administration in Washington. Of course I am referring to the provision in the administration’s health care program that would compel virtually all Catholic institutions to supply health insurance that covers sterilization, artificial contraception, and (worst of all) abortifacients. In other words, our government has told us that we must ignore our deeply held religious convictions in the name of what they consider to be a greater secular good.
Events such as this have made me realize I come from a different time, a time when the convictions of people of faith were taken seriously and honored by the American people in general and certainly by our elected officials. I have lived long enough to see a different and sadder time, a time when those whom we have elected believe they have both the power and the right to compel people to act against their basic religious convictions. These days the administration seems to have the idea that religious convictions and real life don’t (or shouldn’t) intersect. In other words, it seems they are asserting something like the following: religious people can believe anything they want as long as they don’t let such beliefs affect the way they act in our society. Such a position — aside from being nonsensical — is absolutely incompatible with Christianity. As Catholics, and certainly as priests, we know that it is our faith that informs our actions. The two can never be separated, and no government has the power to demand such a separation.
In response to a tsunami of indignation from Christian and Jewish religious bodies, the president “graciously” agreed to make some “accommodations” for those who objected to the idea of federal law turning them into the abortion industry’s accomplices in the murder of the unborn. These “accommodations” turned out to be insignificant and all but useless. We are left in virtually the same position as before: violate our consciences and abandon our belief in the sanctity of life (not to mention the sanctity of the family) or refuse to obey the law.
Perhaps a tolerable position will be reached (It is, after all, an election year). Perhaps not. But no matter what happens, we will still be faced with a huge problem: a growing feeling in our country that the time of religious faith is past. The ideas of religious people are increasingly considered to be tainted, worthless, or even dangerous. They have become ideas that may be dismissed without consequence. Those in power feel more and more that they have a right to compel people to violate religious convictions. Such an attitude toward religion is strong and widespread; it’s become part of the Zeitgeist. It’s breathed along with the air these days. If that were not the case, no politician would think of doing what the current administration did.
In other words, although there is some possibility that we might win this battle, the war is far from over. There will be other such assaults in the future. And you don’t have to be a pessimist from Jersey City to count on that. TP