"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bowing Out of Politics

I imagine that the title of this post seems a little odd. How is Theologian Mom bowing out of politics? Especially since the one post I wrote on politics I never even published! Well, I admit that my more flexible schedule this year has given me some time to keep on the news as I just haven't been able to in the past two years. I'm sure this would make my dad happy. He could never understand how someone so "educated and smart" could know so little about current events and care so little about politics. Here's to hoping Dad sleeps through this blog post (chances are pretty good since his "retirement" keeps him too busy to read his kids' blogs).

Could there be anything more divisive for the Church in the United States than American electoral politics?

My brief foray into actually thinking about politics has led me to think the answer is no. It seems that only a presidential election can make Catholics so angry at each other. All of the sudden, whether in the news, on blogs, or in my academic department, there seem to be only two kinds of U.S. Catholics: Republicans and Democrats. And the adjectives "liberal" and "conservative" are pretty misleading. Being theologically conservative doesn't make one politically conservative. nor does being theologically liberal make one politically liberal. But most Catholics seem to equate one with the other.

I find this whole deal very distressing since both political parties are constructions, neither of which began with Catholic ideals nor represent well Catholic positions today. But if it were just a matter of preference, like a sports team, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Of course, the choice of a political party is more decisive than that of a sports team. But what's distressing to me is, first of all, the way that these political party convictions seem to outweigh Catholic convictions to some extent. What I mean is that it seems Catholics are sometimes more swayed by their political convictions than their religious convictions. They are more convinced of the Republican (or Democratic) platform than they are of the CCC. They spend more time arguing about politics and law than repenting and worshiping. Not only that, but-also distressing-(at least on the basis of my recent exposure to in-person discussions and Internet discussions) Catholics don't seem to do this arguing in a very Christian manner. Of course the issues being debated are important. But name-calling and non-thoughtful judging don't really help the debate.

It was only four years ago (Kerry vs. Bush) that I found myself in the middle of a petition war at daily Mass in the U.D. chapel. When the priest opened up the floor for "other prayers that we might like to offer" a young undergrad with a "life is not only one issue" t-shirt prayed for all Catholics to have a greater commitment to all issues of life. An older gentleman countered with his much more explicit prayer for "All Catholics to realize that there is only ONE candidate they can vote for in this election." When the third person burst in with a prayer for an ailing grandfather, I'd never been more relieved to pray for a sick relative. This year I've switched to a daily Mass that avoids "prayers of the faithful" altogether. And I can't say I'm really regretting that decision (although it is tough to be out of the house by 6:45 every morning).

On the other hand, the verbal battles I've come into contact with this time around seem just as bad, and pretty removed from the context of worship and holy confrontation. I get the sense that this whole presidential election is making people less charitable to others, and, in general, is making people less holy, as it distracts them from that ultimate goal-the final end of beatitude. I know that following these issues (especially the Pelosi controversy and Obama's pick of a Catholic pro-choice candidate) has made me grumpy and impatient with my fellow Catholics, regardless of their political preferences.

It is for this reason that I am bowing out of politics. Don't take it personally, Clara and Dr. N, that I won't be reading your blogs for a few months. And I will miss keeping up on the Church politics provided by Rocco Palmo's blog. But I'm going to concentrate on becoming a more Catholic Catholic for now and maybe re-enter politics when I'm more spiritually mature.


Ashley said...

I found your blog via Immaculate Conception's website & have been following it for a few months.

I just want to let you know how much I appreciate this post. It is perfect. I am with you 100%. I really dislike how nasty some people get when discussing politics.

And my family? I've heard them completely aghast that a Catholic would vote for whom I'm voting for. It's really quite a mess, really.

Dr. N said...

As you expected, I'm disappointed to read this post. I can understand your frustration, but there is a bright side to the divisiveness you've encountered. Since Catholics are so split between the parties (they've been swing voters at the presidential level since about the 1950s) candidates pay a lot of attention to Catholics. That is good for Catholics, right?

I would add that not all of my blog posts are about the election. Recently, I wrote about wind energy, for instance. But, most probably will be for the next couple of months.

Theologian Mom said...

Sorry, Dr. N.! I'm not sure that Catholics getting attention is a good thing... especially since we apparently don't agree. I'd rather we could have some greater church unity.

Ok, maybe won't stop reading blogs altogether. I just need to take a little break so that I'm not so frustrated and distracted. :)

Clara said...

Actually, politics account for a pretty small minority of our posts in general, though of course the percentage does go up just before an election.

Nastiness is never pleasant per se, but I really see the energy surrounding an election as being an opportunity. Here is the fact: there are practical implications to our faith. A lot of Catholics don't want to take them seriously. And while unity is of course a good on one level, I don't want the kind of unity that stems from poor catechesis and widespread indifference. Which is often, I think, the sort that we've tended to settle for in the American Church. We need the kind of unity that comes from really believing in something, and elections don't create problems among Catholics so much as reveal them. To a large extent, our Catholic communities simply don't have a foundation in substantial shared beliefs, and the furor surrounding an election shows us just how wide the gulf is.

I'm not one of these people who thinks that everyone is obliged to be very politically informed at all times. Heaven knows I'm not. For one thing, it's just time-consuming to keep up with the news all the time, and it does also leave you with that angsty feeling, which isn't always nice. So I don't think it's terrible to withdraw from the political furor at times, but I also think it's unhealthy to conclude that anything that provokes argument, even nasty argument, is bad. These might be arguments that really need to be had. Politics is less important than theology, but if politics happens to be the thing that provokes us into asking important questions about what it means to be Catholic, then so be it.

Among Traditional Catholics, politics may spark a hot debate now and again, but it's a yawner compared to liturgical issues. So I guess I don't worry too much about that on my blog. However, I think this election year has been particularly exciting, because it has sparked some surprisingly stern statements from high-profile figures. Sorry, you may not enjoy all the controversy, but in a Church rife with apathy and indifferentism, I tend to relish anything that shows some Ecclesial backbone.