Monday, March 5, 2012

Whose Crusade? [Jay]

I am not Catholic, nor do I share all of the concerns or beliefs of the Catholic Church as it pertains to contraceptives.

I wanted to get that out of the way lest anyone mistake what I am writing as towing the party line. The ridiculous rhetoric decrying a supposed Catholic war against contraceptives is out of control. I reached my limit reading this in a Washington Post article by Lisa Miller:

And now, with their crusade against birth control, the Catholic bishops are helping to articulate and elevate that unspoken and archaic value in public.

The unspoken and archaic value referenced is Lisa Miller's interpretation of Catholic teaching on contraceptives as meaning “women should put their fertility first – before their brains, before their ability to earn a living, before their independence – because that is what God wants.” Never mind that the teaching on contraceptives is part of a larger ethical worldview that shows a great deal more sophistication than Ms. Miller articulates. Whether she is aware of this or just jumping at shadows out of ignorance is not the point of this post. My focus is that the charge from her and others that the Catholic Church is crusading against birth control – presumably an intentionally inflammatory use of phrasing – is an outrageous distortion of the facts.

The Catholic Church did not launch an attack on contraceptives in the United States. The United States government launched an attack on the Catholic Church and the bishops had the audacity to defend themselves and resist the moral dictates of our current administration. The Catholic Church was doing as they ever do; providing health care, placing children in adoption, helping people in need, and so on. They contribute so much to the cause of good that they employ people as permanent staff in too many professions to list in order to serve a broader mission of benevolence motivated by their beliefs.

Do they accept government grants to do that work? Yes they do, but here is a little known fact about why the government gives grants to charitable organizations. They are given because what these organizations do is deemed a public good. The government recognizes that local grass roots organizations are capable of efficiency and productivity that a disconnected and larger bureaucracy cannot match, so they give financial support to encourage the continuing service to the community. In order to use those funds the charitable organizations agree not to directly proselytize to the beneficiaries of their charity while pursuing their mission. If you operate a food bank for the homeless and accept government funds, you must separate sharing the gospel from feeding those in need. You can still do both, but you cannot do them at the same time because the government aid is given to feed the homeless and not to spread your religion. You also give up some freedom of association in that you must not religiously discriminate in hiring people to pursue the mission that is supported by the government funds. This is important because people talk about charities like the government is doing them a favor in allowing them to exist when – in fact – legitimate charitable organizations are doing our community a favor by serving their missions and accomplishing goals that the government couldn't duplicate.

What the government does not do is force you to take financial support from them or demand that you violate the institutional conscience that inspired your work in the first place. That is until now. Now we are being compelled to join a government healthcare system and within that system Catholics have been informed that they must behave in a manner contrary to their beliefs. President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius crafted a legal requirement for all employers to provide insurance plans with free contraception for their employees without exception for those religiously opposed. The effect of this law is that Catholics were told you can believe whatever you want, but when it comes to what you do you must behave like secular institutions regardless of your privately held beliefs. They can think like Catholics, but they can't function like Catholics if they want to employ anyone.

The administration offered a compromise that amounts to an insulting slight of hand. If your conscience forbids you to pay, the federal government will force the insurance companies to foot the bill. Putting aside that there may be such a thing as a Catholic insurance company or that this still forces the Catholic Church to act as an agent in a transaction they believe to be sinful, the supreme idiocy of the compromise should be obvious. How do insurance providers deal with additional costs? They raise their rates. Who will pay the higher premiums to cover the added expense to the insurance companies? That's right, the employer – or in this case the Catholic Church.

And here is where we get to the Catholic crusade against contraception. It takes place in the form of the Catholic Bishops rejecting the concept that the government of the United States has the right to dictate to them the limits of their conscience.

This is not about access to contraception. Isn't the wonderful and benevolent Planned Parenthood taking care of all of the healthcare needs of women? And forgetting the seemingly endless number of places to receive free contraception including some clothing stores in New York City (see here), one could always take the radical step of – I don't know – getting a job with an organization that would be happy to foot the bill for your birth control needs. This is about our beloved federal government helping us to see how much better the world they would craft for us is than the one in which we currently reside. We would get free healthcare and free contraceptives. We would have toxic light bulbs that last forever by employing the simple trick of not actually providing sufficient light. Our gas prices would be so high we would be forced to purchase Volts and waste money in propping up alternative fuel models that go bankrupt anyway. If only we understood how silly our consciences were and how they hold us back from a world where everyone is happy except those simpletons that define happiness differently than the powers that be. So don't you dare tell the federal government that they can't force you to act against the teachings of your faith or else you will be a rotten, nasty, woman hating crusader, too.

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