As the late Christopher Hitchens said, “Religion poisons everything.”
We see it firsthand with SCOTUS about to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a devastating turnaround that will impact people of color and marginal financial resources the most.
We see religion’s trespass behind the daily atrocities of fundamentalists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, India and Pakistan.
We have the witness of history in the Crusader wars waged against Muslims, the bloody conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, the Inquisition, Bartholomew massacre, witchcraft trials in my birthplace, Salem, MA, Al-Quaeda’s 911 attack, ISIS and Boko Haram.
Not on the same scale, religious despotism exists right now in America, its constituency supporters of Trump. They’ve become the virus that’s brought shame to the party of Lincoln and division to our nation.
SCOTUS needs a new look, not simply by adding people of color. Six of its nine members are Roman Catholics, four of them conservative: Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Thomas.
The two liberal Catholics are Roberts and Sotomeyer. Another, Gorsuch, a former Catholic and conservative, now attends Episcopal services. Three justices, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch, were appointed by Trump.
Catholicism isn’t really the issue. It’s when faith embraces an intolerant conservatism. Evangelicals, Hindu nationalists, Muslim fundamentalists and, yes, Israeli settlers, all bear responsibility for attempting to impose their agendas on others.
My family, French Canadian and Irish, was devoutly Catholic. When my maternal grandmother deserted the Catholic church, my other grandmother, the Irish one, cut off all communication. My father was buried with the rites of the Church.
I think we’ve made progress since the election of John Kennedy, our first Catholic president, and a good one. I remember the bigotry existing at the time, compelling Kennedy to pledge his independence of the Vatican. Religion thankfully didn’t raise its ugly head in the election of Joe Biden, a church-going Catholic, and just second Catholic in our nation’s history.
Unfortunately, he’s been pursued not by Protestants, but by conservative Catholic bishops, who want to deny him communion. Sadly, the Catholic church, despite liberal reform efforts, remains a medieval institution in need of reform. Hierarchical and dominated by elderly white males, it allows no female priests, opposes homosexuality, gay marriage and, of course, not only abortion, but contraception.
Thankfully, the vast majority of American Catholics, like Biden and Pelosi, don’t subscribe to its parochialism. They are not the enemy.
On the other hand, that four of our justices embrace Catholic conservative values troubles me. One in particular, Amy Coney Barrett, has long ties with People of Praise, a charismatic group in South Bend. It holds traditional beliefs about gender and sexuality and its officers are males. Meetings are gender segregated. She served as “handmaid.”
Barrett sent three of her children to its Trinity School campus in South Bend and sat on its board for nearly three years. It also has campuses in Falls Church, Virginia, and in Eagan, Minnesota.
In 2006, along with hundreds, she signed an anti-abortion letter that accompanied a January 2006 ad in the South Bend Tribune calling for “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade” (southbendtribune.com).
The danger lurks when both religion and politics converge into concerted imposition of their views upon the public. As the NPR has pointed out, “Conservative catholics are the new evangelicals” (npr.org, Apr 20, 2020): “‘It was the Catholic vote that won those states for Donald Trump,’ according to Tim Huelskamp, a former Republican congressman from Kansas now serving as an adviser to the Catholics for Trump movement” (NPR).
In 2016, Trump prevailed in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, traditionally Democrat bastions, where Catholics significantly outnumber Evangelicals, securing Trump’s victory, despite losing the popular vote nationally. In 2020, half of Catholics voters opted for Trump over Biden.
Recent polls indicate a majority of Catholics now favor Biden over Trump in a hypothetical matchup. Still, an activist conservative faction exists, sharing with Evangelicals a vehement opposition to abortion and gay rights.
Conservative Catholic media include EWTN News, the National Catholic Register and Church Militant, and CatholicVote.org.
Unfortunately, four conservative Catholic justices are on the supreme court, two of them nominated by Trump; the third, Gorsuch, is now Episcopalian, as I mentioned.
If SCOTUS enacts its reputed decision, it will have widened America’s cavernous divide, with states pitted against each other, something not seen since the Civil War.