Lookout! Worry About Pope Francis Address Congress. Worry!

Everyone’s predicting that the Republicans are going to get an earful when Pope Francis addresses Congress in September. I’m predicting it too, of course. But I also predict the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful. That was my immediate reaction when I saw the exchange between Black Lives Matter protesters and two of the Democratic presidential candidates at the Netroots conference (http://time.com/3963692/bernie-sanders-martin-omalley-black-lives-matter/).
Martin O’Malley seemed not to have been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter debate when he responded, “All lives matter.” We’ll just leave that to: he’s out of touch. More telling to me was Bernie Sanders’ response. When Black Lives Matter demonstrators challenged Bernie Sanders, Sanders got testy. He asserted his history of having engaged in activism for the black community, but attempted to shut down the messaging of the demonstrators. Sanders by effectively trying to dismiss the concerns of the demonstrators in the exchange seemed very arrogant.
I don’t think Sanders was being arrogant, though. Sanders has a very strong ideological politico-economic position. As far back as his days in college, Sanders believes that racial inequaltiy is a fruit, not a cause, of economic inequality; if you stay faithful to the social-democrat paradigm, you can uproot economic inequality, and, by doing so, uproot racial inequality. Sanders has argued that line for a very long time.
I have heard that same argument in scores of other places; most notably, at the Left Forum (http://www.leftforum.org/). I’ve attended that forum twice, and found it very annoying both times. Here you have a forum attended pretty much exclusively by left-wing activists; myself among them. Yet, somehow, you still have an incredible amount of inflamed infighting among those who attend the forum; folks challenging each other over who’s the true progressive. Evan the socialists who attend the forum fight with each other over whos the true socialist. Then you have those who are committed to very specific agendas arguing that others participating in the forum are not true progressives because others do not feel as strongly about their particular position or do not embrace the ideological paradigm behind their position. So, at times, the Left Forum breaks down into infighting between those whose primary concerns are economic justice vs racial justice vs lgbt justice vs disabled justice vs environmental justice vs animal-rights justice. It breaks down between between what progressive vision is more pure or what socialist vision is more pure. It gets really crazy. The root of the Left Forum’s breakdown rests in many people being more focused on ideological purity than they are about people.
That’s the same breakdown that occurred at the Netroots conference when Black Lives Matter demonstrators confronted the Democrat primary candidates. Which agenda is the more authentic agenda: economic justice or black-rights justice? Sanders’ response seemed arrogant, but it illustrates he’s more ideologically focused than people focused: a bad trait for a politician. That trait also won’t move the general electorate to get behind him.
Here’s why I think the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful from Pope Francis when he addresses Congress. Catholic social doctrine does not play in the world of politico-economic ideologies; in fact Catholic social doctrines holds that ideologies get in the way.. Catholic social doctrine addresses the matter of the proper relations between people and between a person and society. Yes, economic justice, racial justice and other questions of justice are involved in the question of Catholic social doctrine; and, as Pope Francis has emphasized in his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si,” so is the question of ecological justice. But Catholic social doctrine does not embrace particlular politico-economic ideologies. Moreover, as Pope Francis insists, embracing ideologies objectifies human persons.
So, here is my prediction. The Republican politicians and their supporters should be shaking in their boots in anticipation of addressing Congress. But Bernie Sanders and his supporters should be concerned too. [Sidenote: I think the likelihood of Sanders hearing and chaning course is greater than the likelihood of Republican politicians doing so. They’re motivated by different things.]


Morally Correct: or, Rebuke of Politically Correct

confederate-battle-flagSeveral times, this week, the term, politically correct kept popping up in the news; mostly around the question of the Confederate flag outside the South Carolina statehouse. A South Carolina state legislator used the term in opposing the flags removal; as did pro-Confederate Battle flag demonstrators outside the statehouse. A firefighter in Minnesota used the term in justifying why he mounted the Confederate Battle flag to the back of his fire engine for the Independence Day parade. It’s also implied in numerous memes circulating online social networks. Those calling opposition to the official display of the Confederate Battle flag politically correct are suggesting that their rights are being impinged by overly-authoritarian, politically-doctrinaire liberals. The implication is that displaying the Confederate Battle flag is an innocent expression of a common identity; and that taking a position against the flag is an assault on free expression, and on the common identity of those making the expression.
But look at all the things that right-wing politicos and their minions call, politically correct. In the vast majority of cases, what are called politically correct are the assertions that language or behavior that are demeaning, dehumanizing or dis-empowering to minority races, women or lgbt are wrong. In other words, calling an assertion politically correct is an effort to diffuse the moral quality of the assertion, rather than take responsibility for analyzing whether the moral assertion is correct. In other words, “I’m going to do or say whatever I want, no matter who it hurts, convincing myself it doesn’t hurt anyone at all, and you’re just being politically correct if you tell me I can’t.”
So it would be more accurate to say that what those on the right refer to as politically correct assertions are actually morally correct assertions. Morally correct because it is never morally okay to intentionally inflict harm on another person just to assert a personal liberty of your own; even if that liberty legally or politically exists. Everyone (except sociopaths) knows that instinctively. Where the equivocation is, in these cases, is in what constitutes a harm. It would behoove those who self-identify as conservatives, then, to step back and assess what moral quality might actually lie behind so-called politically correct assertions. Seriously ask yourself, “What harm to whom might actually be caused by my language or behavior that somebody is telling me is wrong?” If you don’t do that, then you’re being hypocritical when you confess a personal commitment to morality.
Along the lines of morals and liberties, let’s chat for a minute about the claim that legalizing same-sex marriage somehow impinges on the religious liberty of those who oppose it. That’s been in the news a lot the last few weeks as well.
Most people who oppose the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling are religious people, some deeply so. I understand that. I also understand that the ruling was a shock to your sense of the world; because you get your sense of the world through the prism of your own faith, which says marriage solemnizes a covenant between a man and a woman. So what seems to be an attack on your sense of the world comes across, also, as a direct assault on your faith. As a consequence, you perceive that your religious liberty is under assault. Right-wing politicians, and politically-motivated right-wing faith leaders, are playing on that anxiety, suggesting that the State is going to come in and direct what your faith community believes or does: old-fashioned fear mongering.
What you’re forgetting is the very subjective nature of faith. While you, in your particular faith community, might have a particular worldview and understanding of what marriage is, individuals in other faith communities have other world views. Are you right and those who hold differing worldviews wrong? Maybe so. We’ll find out in the afterlife, I guess. But keep in mind that others believe they’re right and you’re wrong.

Who is to be the arbiter of that? In the case of same-sex marriage, those of you who oppose it acted as the arbiter. In declaring same-sex marriage a constitutionally-protected right, the Supreme Court effectively said you can’t be the arbiter for everyone. In other words, while you do have the right to believe what you want to and personally act on that belief within the confines of your faith community, you do not have a right to impose on others your own worldview. Others have their religious liberty too. So step back and stop hyperventilating over your religious liberty. Those entering same-sex marriages are not harming you or your liberty; but you asserting their marriages have no value harms them. You cannot assume moral power over those whose lives you disagree with for the same reason you cannot dismiss moral assertions about language or behave that does harm others as politically correct: doing either merely asserts your right to power over others. Period. And, by the way, desiring power over others while feeling vulnerable and claiming victim-hood when those you desire power over push back is usually a trait of a schoolyard bully.