Why a Catholic newspaper must report and comment on politics

Why does a Catholic newspaper need to report on politics? What about “separation of church and state”?

At first glance, it would seem unnecessary or wholly contradictory to the American regime to have a section in a Catholic newspaper on politics. However, such a critique hardly understands the nature of law, politics, and religion.

Fundamentally, all law is normative. Law seeks either to institute or promote some good, or disincentivize or proscribe some harm to society. For example, we seek to assist parents in raising families and thus offer a child tax credit. We seek to minimize the number of fatalities in automotive accidents and thus enforce speed limits. The state seeks to influence a number of actions, whether it is through prohibiting murder or exempting charitable donations from taxable income. All these actions seek to institutionalize some “good” and eliminate some “bad.”

Therefore, it is contradictory to assert that we must not legislate morality or force other people to assent to our notions of the good. If people truly assented to such a false notion of politics, then true political freedom would consist in an anarchic order. As political actors and citizens engaged in debate, we must acknowledge our notions of the good and seek earnestly to convince our fellow citizens of the profundity of our moral vision. We must not shy away from our anthropologies, ingrained presuppositions, teleologies, or our accounts of “the good life.”

In this manner, law works as a teacher. It possesses the pedagogical effect of rewarding or leaving alone good behaviors and outlawing bad behavior on pain of criminal prosecution. It can bring people closer to an ideal, or, in its worst iterations, repel them from it.

Under this paradigm, religion has a clear role. The religious individual orders his or her life around certain ideals and rituals that molds them into the person they wish to be. To become a “good person” is to be shaped into the kind of person one would be if one properly lived according to one’s ideals.

Catholics have the benefit of a unique pedigree of a rich, 2000-year tradition of tried and true ideas rooted in both natural law and common sense. Catholics have the luxury of avoiding what G.K. Chesterton called “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” Ideas such as subsidiarity, religious freedom, human rights, the proper regime, just war, and the virtuous life have been formulated, debated, reformulated, and developed by some of the greatest minds for two millennia. Such ideas should not be ostracized from mainstream discourse merely because the author wore a collar, a habit, or a crucifix.

Furthermore, to hold that religious ideas should not be seriously considered in legitimate political discussion is to relegate religious beliefs to the realm of irrationality as mere passions with no external validity. However, many religious beliefs are rooted in reason. Reason and faith proceed from the same source; therefore, both faith and reason represent legitimate avenues for understanding and elucidating truths about the human person. There are some areas of religion that seem “irrational” or “arbitrary,” for example, not eating meat on Fridays and other dietary restrictions. These tenets and practices stem from faith. On the other hand, it is not mere faith that dictates the immorality of murder and stealing. No one should be bound to sectarian dietary restrictions or compelled to profess faith, but the precepts of the natural law should be enforced with prudent deliberation. For example, if 100 legislators voted for a bill that outlawed murder because of their religious convictions, we would not hold that it was an intolerable violation of church and state. Rather, it would seem a legitimate exercise of legislative power.

It is because politics concerns higher notions of the good that one of Vatican II’s four central documents, Gaudium et Spes, calls those “who are suited” to “prepare themselves” for “the very noble art of politics.” Politics is not an end in and of itself, nor is it the focus of this life. However, Catholics have a clear role to play in the greater debates about life, debates with clear political implications and which shape this side of the eschaton in preparation for the next. The politics section of the Irish Rover plans to address the intersection of politics and Catholicism through reporting that understands the human individual as a holistic being with a spiritual end and by introducing serious moral and theological analysis into political questions.

Sean Tehan is a senior from Dallas, Texas majoring in Political Science with minors in Constitutional Studies and Theology. He can often be heard arguing with friends or enjoying the cultural masterpiece “The Office.” He can be reached at stehan@nd.edu.

Featured art: “Scott Rotary Web Printing Press” from the Appletons’ cyclopaedia of applied mechanics, vol. 2, edited by Park Benjamin; New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1880