Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why John Stewart is Wrong About Catholics

This picture is making the rounds of the social networks this week, showing a recent remark made by John Stewart of the Daily Show.  While Stewart may think he is being funny,equating the recent dissatisfaction of the Catholic bishops about the HHS mandate with a child's temper tantrum, his quotation is being posted by various atheists and Catholic haters as evidence that the Church is wrong.

What this ignorant remark misses is that for Catholics, our mission, given to us by Jesus Christ and carried out through the apostolic mandate of the Church for the past 2000 years, is to change the world to make it reflect Christ's teachings, not simply to accept injustice or things that are morally unacceptable and walk away. We are, in fact, sent into the world from every Mass to bring the truth of the Gospel into that world.

If the "society" Stewart speaks of is wrong or unjust, we Catholics have a missionary mandate to work to change injustice in that society.  In this case, the injustice is in the government attempting to force Catholic and other religious  institutions to provide access to birth control (including abortifacient drugs) as part of insurance plans, which in the case of Catholics, is simply directly against the teachings of the Church. The core of the teachings about birth control and abortion is that we are always in favor of God's action through human reproduction to create new life. We simply believe that the prevention of, or the ending of that new life for our own personal convenience is against God's will - because life is always the will of God.

Far from being about "getting everything we want", this is actually more about getting what God wants. Genesis 1:28 says "be fruitful and multiply."  The fifth commandment says "You shall not kill."  Put the two together and you have the reason why Catholics reject both birth control and abortion (including any drug that causes abortion). Regardless of the personal belief of individual members, many of whom, influenced by the norms of American society and desire for their own personal convenience, dissent from these teachings, the Church continues to teach that all sexual relations between a husband and wife must be open to the creation of new life. New life, once conceived (defined as an egg fertilized by a sperm, even before implantation) must never be ended by human intervention.

Agree, disagree, it does not matter. It is simply what the Church teaches. The constitutional right to religious freedom in the United States demands that this teaching be honored. While the Church can wish that all Americans would abide by this,  that is not even the point. Catholic institutions have the right to follow the Church's teaching, and by the principle of religious freedom, no government can ask them to do otherwise. Why the Obama administration believes that this matter is even negotiable for the bishops is simply beyond my ability to understand.  I will not mention here all the various arguments about the particulars or the wider moral implications of that mandate or of the so-called "modification", as the USCCB and numerous other Catholic bloggers have certainly done that.

However, I want to make the point that those who are spreading this quotation in apparent agreement don't have any idea who we are as Catholics, why for the majority of faithful, practicing Catholics this government mandate is a challenge to our very identity, or why we simply will never back down. It is not that we are childishly objecting to not having our own way. It is quite simply that any government attempt to force Catholics to do something against the teachings of the Church is never going to be acceptable.  Ever.  Doesn't even matter if individual Catholics personally support that teaching. Most Catholics do, however, support the right for our Church to have that teaching, for the right for that teaching to apply to us as American citizens, and for the right of our institutions to make decisions about health care that are consonant with that teaching.  John Stewart is simply dead wrong to imply we are having a temper tantrum.


  1. I agree, very well said. Thank you.

  2. Im not catholic but i stand with them on this issue

  3. Thank you both. I have had people point out that Stewart made this remark in jest following a video... but when it is put on his photo as a quotation out of context, it is pretty much humorless. Interestingly, it seems that mostly atheists have been posting it, and many of them are not just non-believers, but feel no shame about dissing the Church for everything.

  4. I'm an Orthodox Jew. And my religion has very different teachings on birth control and abortion, as well as on stem cell research, assisted reproductive technologies, and other areas as well.

    In my religion, a pregnant woman whose pregnancy threatens her life is OBLIGATED to have an abortion. It is not an option. You would deny her that right to life and right to practice her religion, and in fact the Catholic Church has managed to get complete abortion bans in several countries.

    We also agree that "be fruitful and multiply" is an important commandment, and we see that assisted reproductive technologies are an important vehicle to achieve that. I personally know numerous families who have only had children after using these technologies, which in New York are a mandated insurance coverage. You would deny these families this opportunity.

    We see the preservation of life and the pursual of technology to extend life as a great mitzvah. Embryonic stem cell research is a promising technology that could in the future lead to life-extending therapies. My religion supports this strongly, yours doesn't.

    This is not about religious freedom so much as an argument of your religion's teachings vs. mine. If the Catholic Church's position wins on these issues, I lose the right to do what my religion supports. Do you really argue that it should be that way because the Pope is right and the Rabbis are wrong? Or should things be determined by which religious lobby is stronger in the capitals? That is how the assisted reproductive technology mandate happened in NY -- the Orthodox Jewish lobby was stronger, and the State Assembly Speaker is an Orthodox Jew.

    Or perhaps you just believe that everyone should be able to decide for themselves, that anyone should be able to get out of any mandate by claiming religious exemption. Where do you draw the line? There are Christian groups that are opposed to any medical treatment at all. Should they have the right to opt out of all health insurance mandates? Those employers would have a HUGE competitive advantage! And why stop with health insurance. There are Christian groups that are opposed to all wars. Why should they not get out of paying taxes to support the military? At some point one needs to address the fact that in a civil society, we don't get our way all the time.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I guess I am not understanding why the Catholic Church asking the government not to force all religious organizations to provide birth control (or medications that cause abortions) affects the ability of anyone outside our organizations to obtain it. If you read the USCCB statements, we are NOT asking for anything that affects anyone else. Sure, some Catholics would like to, but that's not realistic. And Amish, who do not believe in medical care DO get exempted from the entire insurance mandate. That has been part of the Catholic argument - why them and not us? Again, the bishops' official argument against this does not ask that this affect anyone but us. A few rogue ultra-conservatives would have it otherwise, but not the mainstream.

    2. Non-catholics are employed by catholic institutions. You would force them to comply with your religious doctrine, thus affecting them.
      The Amish and others are afforded an exemption because of their status either as individuals with an expressed religious view (not an organization, which do not have rights)or, in the case of an organization, because all members profess the same religion and the organizations is primarily religious in nature.

      Catholic institutions like hospitals and charities cannot make this claim, many non-Catholics are employed there and their main purpose is not as religious institutions. Individual Catholics are of course free to decline using their insurance for contraception as they see fit, but as an employer of secular employees, the Catholic Church may not pick and choose which labor laws to follow, nor may they dictate their religious practices unto their employee's personal life to the extent that they try to control what kind of medical procedures the employee use , which this would amount to. Economic sanctions are an important means of controlling behavior.

      The Government grants churches tax-free status, which is the same as subsidizing them. Thus, tax-money from all tax-payers of all beliefs end up supporting practice preformed by the churches which they do not condone, find morally reprehensible or against their religious belief. Yet this is the price we all pay to live in a society that functions by laws, some of which we do not agree with.

      This intense interest of celibate old men in the reproductive practices of women, both of their religion and not, makes my skin crawl.

      Not to mention, an exemption for the Catholic Church would of course result in many other exemptions, weakening the law and undermining universal health care in the US, something that seems desperately needed.

    3. I appreciate where you are coming from but again, Cathoics are, in the initiative against the HHS mandate, NOT asking non-religious institutions to be included in this exemption. All we are asking is for OUR institutions to be free of this mandate... because it violates our teachings and means the government is asking the Church to cooperate with evil. Even remote cooperation is not acceptable. You would be surprised, actually, at the number of Catholics who agree. The percentage I have seen is actually that 68% of active Catholics side with the Bishops in favor of fighting this as an issue of religious freedom - even though a much smaller number actually agree with the teaching on contraception.

      Pregnancy is simply NOT a disease - and prevention of it should not be on a par with actual disease prevention. The conception of new life is a natural and God-given condition - and our belief is that new life should always be welcomed. Besides, even in the case of any Catholic woman employee who disagrees and wants contraceptives, she is free to follow her desire for that even now. No one is stopping her.

      The Church, however remotely, will never pay for that. The Church will discontinue offering insurance plans before giving in to this. It is a matter of unbreakable principle.

  5. Genesis 1:28 says "be fruitful and multiply." The fifth commandment says "You shall not kill." Put the two together and you have the reason why Catholics reject both birth control and abortion"

    Pithy enough to use in 6th grade catechism.

  6. It is the individual who decides to use contraception so it is the individual that commits the "sin" and has to deal with his or her God. So why is the church responsible if the individual decides to use contraception?

  7. That's not the real point of the controversy. Any Catholic woman right now is free to choose to disobey the Church, based on her conscience. That has always been the case. The point is that she should not ask the Church itself to pay for her contraception, which it considers a grave evil since it prevents life, which is God's decision, not ours. That makes her employers into collaborators with evil.