Sunday, October 31, 2010

Embracing the title...

First, let me say that this will be my one and only post about the elections.  I am finding elections and the conversations surrounding them increasingly depressing, and am not positive that my contributions are an exception.

Catherine Kaveny has a piece in America exploring the question of Catholics voting for candidates who support legalized abortion.  Unlike some of her previous piece, this seems to be a good faith effort to reconcile the sides of the issue, rather than to lead cheers for her side, so I mean this to be a constructive engagement with the piece versus a "takedown."

Prof. Kaveny closes the piece by dividing Catholics engaged in politics into two camps -- "prophets" who provide bold witness to where we need to be, and "pilgrims" who are engaged in the world as it is, and calls for a more productive conversation between the two.

She does not endorse either camp, though I don't think there's much doubt which she would put herself in, or would advise others to join.  Unfortunately, those who responded to the piece were not so reticent about which camp has, like Mary Magdalene chosen the "better part."  And that's not surprising -- would you rather be seen as the haughty prophet boldly proclaiming the sinfulness of those around you, or the humble pilgrim, dirt under your fingernails, dealing with people where they are, sins and all.

I would challenge those eager to accept the title of pilgrim to consider what a pilgrim actually is.  The defining characteristic of a pilgrim is not humility or moral flexibility to work with the world as it is.  Indeed, the American Pilgrims came here because they believe it was impossible to reconcile their religious beliefs with the Church of England.  The defining characteristic of a pilgrim is one who is journeying toward a destination.  If one is looking for a word to express willingness to accept and work with the sinfulness of the world as it is, one could scarcely do worse than "pilgrim."

Looking at the conversation around Catholics voting for candidates who support legalized abortion, the image of a pilgrimage is not one that immediately comes to mind.  We're still at the "Abp. Burke makes a hard-line statement; liberal Catholics react in horror" stage we were at six years ago.

Some might say that the prophet side has to move some.  Indeed, the 2004 emphasis on intrinsic evil, to the point where many were using the word "intrinsic" as if it were an intensifier, does not seem to have been entirely thought through.

But it seems that those accepting the title of "pilgrim" are also accepting the responsibility to move the conversation forward.  (And, BTW, with little difference between the parties on the war, torture thankfully gone, and health care reform passed, what exactly is the proportionate reason for supporting pro-choice candidates?) A true pilgrim would not be working to make it more comfortable to support pro-choice candidates, but be working to make the conversation irrelevant.  We should be moving forward not standing still.

The use of the word "pilgrim" to describe those willing to support pro-choice candidates may have been a linguistic mistake, but it may point the way forward to a solution.
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