Religion

Joe Biden Needs Schooling in the Thought of John Paul II

A tapestry of Pope John Paul II hangs at the Vatican during canonization ceremonies in 2014. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)
America could benefit from serious engagement with The Gospel of Life.

I used to be one of those people who argued with the people on television. I was a political junkie from my earliest days, so there I would be on a Saturday morning thanking Bill Buckley on the other side of the screen for correcting his Firing Line guest’s wayward thinking or to tell Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group that there is another way to think about things (as if she didn’t know that on her own or, well, could hear me). Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot more peaceful about things and watch a lot less television. These days, with people seeming to watch politics like a sport — or a never-ending reality-TV show — it’s good to remind yourself that there still is a lot more to life. (Also, there is the fact that I have a few platforms now where I can communicate an opinion or insight to actual people reading. Thank you.)

But lately I’ve reverted to hollering at the screen again — albeit typically on my phone now. And it’s principally in response to the use and abuse of religion in politics. I love my Catholic faith and over the years of my life have been moved being in situations at Mass alongside people with whom I don’t agree on some fundamental things. For a period of time in college, I would frequently be at Mass with Ted Kennedy at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill. He would quietly sit in the back and not go up to Communion. I always prayed for him when I saw him and respected the humility I saw there that wasn’t necessarily what I’d see on the Senate floor or a campaign rally. He was a man in his sunset years and only God knows what might have been happening in his heart. The point is that faith is the most important thing alongside life and family and so, of course, it’s important to politics. But we had better watch out about trying to conform God to our political image. God is bigger and better than Donald Trump or Joe Biden, any political party, and everything of this world.

The pandemic and unrest and all the rest has been laced with anxiety for many. There’s some taking up of bad habits that’s been happening, or picking up of old ones. And now I have found that when Joe Biden decided to quote John Paull II, you are going to hear me if you are in the vicinity. He did it recently, and the only healthy response is to reread John Paul II’s Gospel of Life. In it, he quoted the Second Vatican Council:

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.

The violence in the streets makes sense in this context. There is so much intimate misery that people are suffering because of all of this. So much makes sense with these words. We were warned — what we were doing to ourselves was pointed out to us. And now it’s worse. Of course.

And, yes, that quote included deportation. To be pro-life is about more than opposing abortion. But don’t quote John Paul II to me while also telling me you are going to continue to go after the Little Sisters of the Poor’s conscience rights, as Biden has. Don’t quote JPII to me without challenging the Democratic Party and the nation on abortion when you are in the position to do so. Catholics and all our fellow Christians and people of faith must do better in the public square. It’s a matter of integrity, and we owe it to the common good.

At the end of the aforementioned section of Evangelium Vitae, John Paul writes:

Not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.

See how that’s where we are today? We need to stop hiding behind euphemisms and in bombast.

This 2020 experience of shutdowns has been purportedly about protecting the vulnerable. So it should be with every choice we make in life. And absolutely our politics. From that perspective, thanks, Joe Biden, for mentioning John Paul II. Now let’s you, Donald Trump, and every man and woman who can, sit down and read The Gospel of Life, 25 years on. It’s a road to healing and renewal. It’s why faith is important to politics, to call us to our better angels, not to make God a campaign slogan.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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