The Corner

The Communion Debate

Andrew Sullivan has now weighed in, twice, criticizing a Robert Novak column and expressing dismay that “even the usually sober Ramesh Ponnuru” has enlisted with the “theocons” on this issue. He says that the people who think the bishops should deny Kerry (and other pro-abortion politicians) communion should explain how far they would go: Do we think that opponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment should be denied communion? Supporters of the death penalty? Politicians who support legal abortion, or average citizens too? I am actually working on an article for NR that tries to answer just these questions, and also to make some suggestions about how non-Catholics should think about the issue. I think I will finish the article and then, if there are points Sullivan raises that I have not been able to address in it, address them here. (We have plenty of time: The bishops’ special committee to figure out what to do about Catholic politicians who favor legal abortion isn’t going to report until after the election.)

For now, let me say something about that word “theocon.” I think its use (and the use of the word “fundamentalist”) detracts from the more thoughtful parts of Sullivan’s commentary. The term originated in a rather nasty and inaccurate cover story by Jacob Heilbrunn in The New Republic in 1996. If it means someone who opposes religious freedom, supports theocracy, believes all religious obligations should be enforced by the state, or believes that religious truths inaccessible to human reason can be a legitimate basis for public policy in a modern democratic state, then I am definitely not one. If it is taken to describe someone who is both a conservative and a theist, then I suppose I am one. And if it covers a middle ground of territory—if it means conservatives who subscribe to a view of church-state relations that is not the same as that of contemporary liberals—then I am also a theocon. But the prefix seems unnecessary, since the vast majority of conservatives have always been in that camp.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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