We knew it would come to this, but we weren’t sure until when until the Obama administration announced the contraception mandate; even then, we weren’t sure when exactly it would be explicitly spelled out by the leadership of the Church. I am referring to the U.S. bishop’s recent statement declaring, among other things, the following:
It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.
It is essential to understand the distinction between conscientious objection and an unjust law. Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience—conscription being the most well-known example. An unjust law is “no law at all.” It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal. (Emphasis added)
In making this statement, the bishops have echoed Pope Leo XIII’s statement in his encyclical Libertas: “But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God.”
By the patrons of liberalism, however, who make the State absolute and omnipotent, and proclaim that man should live altogether independently of God, the liberty of which We speak, which goes hand in hand with virtue and religion, is not admitted; and whatever is done for its preservation is accounted an injury and an offense against the State. Indeed, if what they say were really true, there would be no tyranny, no matter how monstrous, which we should not be bound to endure and submit to.
Pope Leo XIII, Libertas
In his great encyclical Libertas (1888), examining the nature of liberty, Pope Leo XIII gives present day American Catholics much food for thought. A few selections:
13. Moreover, the highest duty is to respect authority, and obediently to submit to just law; and by this the members of a community are effectually protected from the wrong-doing of evil men. Lawful power is from God, “and whosoever resisteth authority resisteth the ordinance of God’ ;(6) wherefore, obedience is greatly ennobled when subjected to an authority which is the most just and supreme of all. But where the power to command is wanting, or where a law is enacted contrary to reason, or to the eternal law, or to some ordinance of God, obedience is unlawful, lest, while obeying man, we become disobedient to God. Thus, an effectual barrier being opposed to tyranny, the authority in the State will not have all its own way, but the interests and rights of all will be safeguarded – the rights of individuals, of domestic society, and of all the members of the commonwealth; all being free to live according to law and right reason; and in this, as We have shown, true liberty really consists.
29. From all this may be understood the nature and character of that liberty which the followers of liberalism so eagerly advocate and proclaim. On the one hand, they demand for themselves and for the State a license which opens the way to every perversity of opinion; and on the other, they hamper the Church in divers ways, restricting her liberty within narrowest limits, although from her teaching not only is there nothing to be feared, but in every respect very much to be gained. Continue reading
In the previous part of this series, I gave a detailed comparison of the views of John Locke and Pope Leo XIII on the state of nature, the origin of private property, and the proper use of private property. In this final part, I want to make a few more points regarding what I think can be called “Lockean” thought, at least as it exists in contemporary America, explore the relationship between the Catholic Church and the United States, and explain why I think all that has been considered thus far is relevant for our political situation today.
There are many political fault lines that run through American society, perhaps more today than any point in recent history. We can all probably name a few of the ideological, cultural, and religious lines, but there is one in particular that I wish to explore with you today: divisions over whether or not, and to what extent, it is legitimate to resist the government. By resist, or rebel, I mean a refusal to comply with laws, though in the future it may mean something else entirely.
When “left” and “right” are set aside, what appears to separate the “mainstream” from “extremism” is the position they take on this vital question.
Naturally, in a country with revolutionary origins, whose founding document establishes the right of the people to overthrow governments that break their end of the social contract, talk of resistance or rebellion in general cannot be dismissed as insane, though some undoubtedly try to argue along those lines. There is also a broad political consensus in the mainstream that civil disobedience against overt racial injustice is legitimate; few Republicans these days have anything other than praise for the aging heroes of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Having recently re-read one of the most insightful critiques of the socially destructive effect of mass pornography I have ever come across, I was struck by how the central message was actually present in George Orwell’s 1984. The article is titled “The Politics of Porn”, authored by Robert R. Reilly, and the important message to take away from it is summarized in the following lines:
No matter how democratic their institutions, morally enervated people cannot be free. And people who are enslaved to their passions inevitably become slaves to tyrants.
The mass production and consumption of pornography, Reilly argues, has “morally enervated” the American public and poses a serious threat to the true foundations of liberty – personal virtue.