National Catholic Register


Denver’s Partisan Theology

BY Mark Shea

October 5-11, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/30/08 at 2:38 PM


Well, the Democrats had their moment in the sun, and it mostly proved to me that, though the faith finds no natural home in either party, one party is really working overtime to make clear that the faith is unwelcome.

The trouble is this: America is still the home of millions of Christians. So the first task of the convention was to convince Red State America that the Netroots (online political activists) who spend their time spitting on the Judeo-Christian tradition and reviling the Pope with gross obscenities can be held in check while the cameras were rolling and something like respect for the God of Abraham was plausibly simulated for a few minutes.

Unfortunately for the convention planners, all the business of opening night prayers fell on the heels of one of Obama’s court prophets informing us that Jesus would have been cool with abortion, followed immediately by Nancy Pelosi instructing NBC’s Meet the Press” that we shall have no god before Roe. Incredibly, she appealed to Sts. Augustine and Aquinas in an attempt to show that zeal for abortion is perfectly legitimate for a Catholic.

Pelosi achieved something rare for a Democratic politician: a complete ecclesiastical pile-on from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishops Chaput and Wuerl, and a tartly worded reply from Cardinal Egan, all of whom attempted in vain to instruct this preternaturally foolish woman that appeals to fifth-century gynecological speculations are a poor way to “prove” that the Church’s immemorial teaching is wrong.

But Madame Speaker was nothing daunted, issuing another statement of the “Who died and made the magisterium the teaching authority in the Church?” variety. Somebody should inform Ms. Pelosi that the one who died, in part for sins such as abortion, was Jesus and that he didn’t just die — he rose from the dead.

Meanwhile, the most zealously infanticidal candidate the Democrats have ever managed to scrape off the inside of the tank chose a zealously infanticidal Catholic for his Veep.

I think the one-two punch of Biden and Pelosi over the weekend was intended to shake the tree for any ignorant Catholics who have received just enough catechesis to be able to parrot, “My conscience trumps dusty old Church teaching.” For the goal, after all, is to persuade a huge block of Catholics who know perfectly well that baby killing is wrong to vote for an administration that will place baby killing (the one, immovable core doctrine of the Democratic Party for the past 30 years) right at the top of the agenda.

However, judging from the bump McCain got in the polls during these antics, it would appear, in retrospect, that slapping the face of a major world religion when all eyes are on your party’s convention was a sub-optimal strategy.

The preliminary pretense of Abrahamic piety over, the Democratic leadership then returned to their standard operating procedures.

One notable moment came when Sister Helen Prejean made clear, in the midst of an interfaith discussion of the death penalty, that belief in Jesus as the sacrifice for sins sent by God the Father was a “projection of our violent society.”

“Is this a God?” she asked. “Or is this an ogre?”

Now, I share Prejean’s opposition to the death penalty. I concur with the Church that the death penalty should be a last resort (Catechism, No. 2267).

But I must also add that Sister Helen’s remarks are a perfect illustration of what happens when you take a particular aspect of Church teaching and expand it into the entire faith.

Opposition to the death penalty is, like predestination, the sanctity of property, the love of the poor or any other Christian virtue, a fine part of the Whole Faith, but a lousy substitute for the Whole Faith.

Expanding predestination into the Whole Faith got us Calvinism. Expanding the sanctity of property into the Whole Faith meant embracing the 19th-century laissez-faire capitalism that Pope Leo XIII condemned. Expanding the love of the poor into the Whole Faith led some misguided Catholics to embrace communism. And expanding opposition to the death penalty into the Whole Faith is now giving us the denial that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25).

I am happy to report that rank and file Democrats (no doubt many of them Catholics) greeted Sister Helen’s bizarre rejection of the sacrificial work of the Trinity with stony silence. I laud her work against the death penalty.

But predicating it all on the tired leftist vision of a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross is a lousy way to persuade serious Christians to listen. Which is too bad.

Mark Shea is senior content editor