The Next Great Awakening
Calling Catholics to fuller participation in civic life

Carl Anderson, author of Proclaim Liberty


LOPEZ: You make clear that Catholics should be “following Catholic social teaching in their own lives . . . withholding our votes from candidates and propositions that oppose Church teaching on matters of intrinsic evil.” You go on to say that this “should be done in every case, in every race for political office, regardless of the party of the candidate.” You continue, “It is impossible to say what party might benefit most in the long run,” but “if Catholics take such a stand, we could literally change the face of our country’s political debates.” But in the short term, doesn’t that mean not voting for Barack Obama? Is there a danger that Catholics will become too aligned with one party?


ANDERSON: There are candidates in both parties, seeking local, state, and federal offices. Some in each party are pro-life, some in each party are not. My point should not be taken simply in the context of one race, but in the context of all of them. We should apply an objective principle, and we should do so consistently. If we make exceptions based on party, it nullifies the effectiveness of the entire proposition. We need to get back to looking at our political choices from the perspective of the bible and our Judeo-Christian values. We shouldn’t conform our values to our political preferences.

LOPEZ: Many people ask me: Why won’t more bishops say more explicitly what you just said? We both know there is a lot of anger and confusion out there among Catholics and non-Catholics on this point.

ANDERSON: I can’t speak for the bishops, but I know that many of them have been crystal clear in recent months on what it means to be a faithful citizen, especially in regard to candidates who promote intrinsic evil.

LOPEZ: In the vice-presidential debate, there were, of course, two Catholics who expressed two very different positions on abortion. Was one simply right and one simply wrong? Why can’t we say this with a solid voice as Catholics?

ANDERSON: One was right and one was wrong and we should say so. The teaching of the Catholic Church is unequivocal on the question of the intentional killing of innocent human life and anyone who doubts that has not carefully read Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. I think that beginning with Mario Cuomo, we have had a number of Catholics who claimed that they could separate their conscience from their political life on the issue of abortion by claiming that they did not want to impose their view on others. But the irony of this is that nearly six in ten Americans say abortion is morally wrong and nearly eight in ten want significant restrictions on abortion, according to our polling. So in reality, these politicians are imposing a minority position on the majority of Americans as well as violating the teaching of their own Church. In effect they are saying: “I am not willing to impose my deeply held beliefs on others, but I am willing to impose someone else’s beliefs on both myself and a majority of Americans.” The logic escapes me.

LOPEZ: “Matters of intrinsic evil have historically been at odds with the sanctity of life, and often also intertwined with issues of life in this country are matters of religious liberty.” Why is that?

ANDERSON: When we think of the Declaration of Independence, we think of the Creator having endowed us with rights to life and liberty. Thomas Jefferson noted that “the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” I think the reason we see these two linked is that they are intrinsically linked — and have been since the founding of this country. So when we have the most stunning and far-reaching attack on religious liberty by the federal government in our history, it is no surprise that at the heart of that attack is an attack on the right to life. God gave us life and liberty at the same time. Our government has tried to remove both rights at the same time.

LOPEZ: Who’s to say what intrinsic evil is, by the way? Can we really talk in such a way when we don’t have a consensus on so many things that we did in the past?

ANDERSON: Is a lie intrinsically evil? I think we all know the answer. And down deep, we all know right from wrong. Americans also have a much greater consensus than people think on issue after issue. Part of the reason that people believe there is such division is that Washington, the media, and even most polling make it seem that we are divided. The Knights of Columbus have undertaken an extensive polling project in the past year, and what we found is really significant. Americans aren’t divided on many issues — including abortion, religious liberty, belief in God, ethical business practices, etc. There is an enormous consensus on these issues, but to find that consensus, sometimes polling has to give people the opportunity to say more than just “yes or no” on one issue. If you ask someone simply “are you pro-life or pro-choice?” and leave it at that, you are going to end up with a split answer. But ask people when they think abortion should be allowed, and suddenly you find that the idea that we should have abortion on demand at any point during a pregnancy is held by about 10 percent of the public. It’s not a mainstream position, even if some in politics and the media present it that way.

LOPEZ: “As the Catholic population of this country increases . . . it is critical that these immigrants not feel that they must surrender their religious values at the border as the price of admission to the United States,” you write. Is it also a concern that because so many have come here from countries where religious liberty isn’t as valued as it has been here — where perhaps governments do things like issue regulations forcing individuals and churches to violate their consciences — that it’s harder to garner a marching-in-the-streets movement in response to this overreach?

ANDERSON: I think that people who come here from countries with a history of religious intolerance come here in no small part because of the freedom that America promises them. Faith is very important in many immigrant communities, and seeing their church at odds with their government may remind them of issues in their own homeland. I personally find it difficult to believe that people from a country without religious freedom, who come here and experience religious freedom, would suddenly be willing to give it up.