If you only hear Pope Francis when he agrees with you, you’re doing it wrong.
Far be it from me, as a protestant, to try to parse or explain the intricacies or even broad brush strokes of Catholic doctrine. But it is generally true that Christianity is a counter-cultural religion, one that from the beginning has been at odds with prevailing cultural and political norms.
So it follows that if you are not challenged in some way by the word, whether it comes from the pages of Scripture or the mouths of prophets, you probably aren’t really listening. This has confounded believers since Jesus’ time and rulers even before then. Lord knows I struggle with it all the time.
Still, there was a particular dissonance in the commentary about this pope’s first trip to the United States.
It wasn’t just because one cohort went on about Francis’ words about climate change and “unbridled capitalism,” while another pointed back to church teachings on abortion and marriage. Rather, it was the clanging, crashing sounds within a progressivist movement that is suddenly fine with letting religious-based morality inform public policy, at least sometimes.
Some in those ranks tried to spin their (ahem) conversion as a matter of conservative hypocrisy: So it’s OK for the church to demand government intervention on abortion, but not climate change, huh?
As far as I’m aware, though, there are no conservatives calling for an American theocracy. Those positions on the right that remain heavily influenced by theology are best seen as the ones to which the religious right has retreated after a decades-long culture war the left has largely won.
It has won, and now engages in skirmishes chiefly at the times and places of its choosing, in no small way by denying that one’s religious beliefs should inform one’s policy preferences. Thus do many pronouncements begin with “I personally” — as in, I personally wouldn’t have an abortion, but I wouldn’t make it illegal for another person to have one.
This would be less than remarkable if it were simply the typical — on both sides — lack of consistency we see in politics. But there’s something else missing in this instance.
Having discarded religious belief as a guide, progressivists replaced it with … nothing. They’d like to tell you it’s liberty, but they’re also the leading proponents of the nanny state. They’d like to tell you it’s equality, but most often the result of their policies is simply favoritism for different interest groups.
You might call it faith in government, but not in the Constitution, the favorite parts of which on the left are found in between the lines while explicit protections — the Second and Tenth amendments, to name a couple — are deemed dispensable. Increasingly, the contemporary left can’t even be described as “liberal.”
If you find yourself surprised by how and why certain issues crop up, let me suggest this absence of core guiding principles is one reason. It’s telling that one of the few examples progressivists have to offer is a holdover from Christianity (albeit a misinterpreted one): “Judge not …”
And now they have the pope, when convenient. I doubt his agreement with them on certain issues will cause them any introspection about others, but I’d like to think it could. Miracles do still happen.