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.