The Economist: American Christians Need to Realize that ‘Their Salvation Does Not Lie in Politics’


FACED with what she described as “breath-taking insults” to Catholicism, contained in a leaked exchange of emails among people close to Hillary Clinton, a prominent Catholic academic has loudly lamented the cynical and over-politicised mindset which these messages apparently reflect. Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University, observed that such conversations “reveal a conviction that everything in life must be reduced to politics”.  She added: 

…No one, ever again should have to remind religious Americans that their salvation does not lie in politics. This isn’t just about the Clinton campaign or just about politics. It’s rather about the beast that politics is. In its mind, all is politics, whether grist for politics, or as an obstacle to be smashed or subverted for political ends.

Is that a fair reaction? Let’s look first at the leaked conversation which left her, and apparently many other people, feeling so winded. It includes an exchange between Jennifer Palmieri, who is now communications director of the Clinton campaign, and John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think-tank. He wrote scathingly that “the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic” and reflected that “they must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.” She responded that Catholicism “is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion…their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” The leaked emails also contain a caustic reference to the fact that Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul, arranged for his children to be baptised as Catholics in the River Jordan. Ms Palmieri said she “did not recognise” the emails.

In her response to the way religion is instrumentalised in American politics, Ms Alvaré has made a reasonable point. One of the striking features of America’s ideological landscape is the fact that the liberal-conservative divide transcends everything else, including deep theological or metaphysical differences. In one camp, liberal Christians, Jews and atheists make common cause, while dismissing any spiritual differences between them as trivial; in the opposite camp conservatives, ranging from evangelical or Catholic theocons to hard-boiled secularists, stand shoulder to shoulder. It follows that a liberal Catholic (like Mr Halpin, for example) feels absolutely no spiritual commonality with conservative Catholics; if anything the common religion makes the antipathy even stronger.

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SOURCE: The Economist

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