Conservative? Liberal? No: Catholic

My father-in-law has been asked if he’s conservative — or liberal.

His answer: “I’m Catholic.”

I’d give the same answer.

Catholic teachings are quite definite, so it’s possible to peg them on the American political spectrum — as long as you don’t look at the big picture.

Taking bits and pieces of Catholic beliefs, and the history of Catholics in America, I could claim that the Catholic Church is conservative or liberal. That would be as big a mistake as seeing all conservatives as hate-fueled foes of diversity, or all liberals as irresponsible lunatics.

Sex, Death, and Immigrants

The Church might seem liberal because we’re told that sex is a good thing, social justice is important, and the death penalty should be a last resort. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 19281942, 2267, 23312391)

We’re also told that extra- and non-marital sex is a bad idea, private property is a good idea, and both abortion and euthanasia are wrong. That isn’t far from many conservative viewpoints. (Catechism, 22702279, 23482356, 23802381, 24012406)

I see immigrants as neighbors I haven’t met yet; folks who are doing pretty much the same thing my ancestors did, not long ago. That makes me a Catholic who takes our faith seriously: not a liberal. (Catechism, 2241)

The Catholic view of immigrants isn’t new, which doesn’t make it “conservative:”

“You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
(Exodus 23:9)

“‘When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.
“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”
(Leviticus 19:3334)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,”
(Matthew 25:35)

As a Catholic, my knee-jerk reaction is — irrelevant, except maybe to me. Let’s see what the Church says about defending my life, and the lives of others.

Hawk? Dove?

Defending myself from a lethal attack is okay; even if my action results in my attacker’s death. But I must use the least possible force. (Catechism, 22632267)

That’s because my life is precious, and so is my attacker’s. My intent should be saving my own life, not killing another person: even if that is the unintended effect of my action. (Catechism, 2258, 22632269; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, II-II,64,7)

The same principle applies to decisions national leaders face. War kills people and breaks things, so avoiding war is a good idea.

But sometimes being nice and reasonable won’t keep innocent folks alive. That’s why leaders are allowed to use force when defending the lives they’re supposed to protect. (Catechism, 23072317)

“…As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

I could edit Catholic teaching to make my beliefs fit — or shun — pigeonholes like ‘hawk,’ ‘dove,’ ‘bleeding heart liberal’ or ‘heartless conservative.’ But that doesn’t seem prudent.

Fear and Politics

I can see why ‘real Americans’ might fear ‘those Catholics.’ Many of us don’t have English ancestors, for starters.

That doesn’t mean I agree with Alma Birdwell White or her Pillar of Fire Church. The outfit’s called Pillar of Fire International these days.

Catholics lived in the thirteen colonies and other parts of today’s United States long before 1776, but we didn’t start arriving in disturbing numbers until the 19th century.

Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and other foreign parts were mostly working-class folks. Not surprisingly, most Catholics voted Democrat: 70% overall, 80% of the Irish Catholics.

That changed, of course. Children or descendants of the immigrants became white-collar workers, developing voting and other habits that were closer to the American norm.1

Blending in with the crowd isn’t necessarily a good thing. I’ve talked about ‘going native’ before. (August 14, 2016)

It’s like Fulton Sheen said:

“Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.”
(“Life Is Worth Living” (1951-1957), Program 19, The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, via Wikiquotes)

Why Bother?

Taking an active part in public life is part of being a Catholic. That starts with my personal responsibilities: in my family, at work, in my community. (Catechism, 19131917)

The “at work” part of my life is over now, so I’ve got more time for family and other activity: like researching and writing these posts.

I enjoy learning and sharing what I find, but that’s not why I keep doing all this.

I’m passing along, in my own way, the best news humanity’s ever had.2

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (Matthew 5:45; John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Our Lord said loving my neighbor, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, is the source for “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 2196)

Over the last two millennia, folks like Saints Austine of Hippo, Teresa of Ávila, Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux, have thought about what Jesus meant.

It still boils down to love and hope.

I think that makes sense. What you decide is up to you.

More about acting as if God and love matter:


1 Catholics living in America, politics and attitude:

2 Anyone who tries to do good and avoid evil is on the right track. I became a Catholic after learning who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter. (Matthew 16:1719; Catechism, 551553, 781801, 874896)

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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13 Responses to Conservative? Liberal? No: Catholic

  1. Thank you Brian Gill. it is very interesting to read about the Catholic Church history. Globally the Catholic Church, played a very crucial role in developing and educating people. Today almost everywhere Catholics are at front in assisting brethren and sisters to come and experience the Lord’s love and also running orphanages and schools. We have one in the country, St. Boniface College, been doing exceptional good and is top of all government and private schools.
    Special article on St. Augustine I was baptised and named after him, oh what a great honour, my Parish is also named after the Saint Augustine Catholic Church.
    Augustine
    Namibia

    • My pleasure, Augustine Kasherody. And thank you for taking time to comment.

      By now we have a great deal of history: two millennia and counting, plus the many millennia since Abram of Ur was told to move. 🙂

      About St. Augustine of Hippo – – – yes, he certainly is among the most deservedly well-known Saints. To be named after him is special.

  2. Deb says:

    thank you for this article – I shared it on my facebook page, if anyone is still reading that. I, too, label myself as Catholic when people ask my political affiliation – much to the eyebrow crinkles of my very liberal siblings. It’s good to know I have company. keep up the good work! God bless You.

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  7. M. L. says:

    Well, I think I found my new favourite blog! Thanks for teaching me!

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  9. Anni H. says:

    I had briefly seen that quote by Fulton Sheen once before, but I didn’t really pay attention to it until today. Talk about true, and quote powerful!

    Thank you for this article – it makes me understand I am not alone in a decision I made this past election season. I shared with my husband that, as conservative as I have been in my past, I am realizing the more I learn about my faith, the more I being called to identify as “Catholic” when someone discusses politics. And, unlike the thought of my youth – the whole “politics and religion are separate” – I am realizing my religion shapes my approach to politics now. The more I learn about my Faith, the more I am recognizing they go hand-in-hand… which makes voting down a party line so difficult!

    This was great insight, as always. Thanks for sharing!

    • My pleasure. After two millennia, building on a far older tradition, there is a great deal to learn about our faith.

      Happily, it all boils down loving God, loving my neighbor, and seeing everybody as my neighbor: like our Lord said in Matthew 5:43–44, and the story of the good Samaritan. It’s simple. And, at least for me, anything but easy to do consistently. 😉

Thanks for taking time to comment!