Monday, March 09, 2009

Signs of the Times

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." (Mt 16:3)

It's been a while since I've hit the topic of politics. I've been trying to give our new administration the benefit of the doubt as they are getting settled. But the news yesterday moves me to post my thoughts and feelings. First up was President Obama's presidential order overturning former President Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. This is a divisive issue, even among Christians as this article notes. Despite your theological position on when life begins, this debate is senseless and frustrating. On the one hand it could be argued that the embryos would be destroyed anyway, while on the other hand one could point towards the many advances made without using embryonic stem cells (off the top of my head, I think of the case of growing a jaw bone and stem cells from skin that mimic embryonic cells). Moreso, you could express frustration that one of the pioneers in the field of embryonic stem cell research was a fraud, or that California passed a $3 billion bond for stem cell research helping to precipitate the financial crisis we presently find ourselves in. With those thoughts in mind, this recent move by the President seems nothing more than grandstanding.

Meanwhile, the President is also planning to rescind the previous administration's "conscience clause" which allows doctors, nurses or pharmacists to choose not to participate in procedures that violate their conscience. While this sounds reasonable, this clause has been used as a straw man for everything wrong with the "theocracy" of the Bush Administration. But it just reinforces existing law granting "reasonable accommodation" in the workplace. (This is the law that keeps you from firing someone practicing Islam, for taking breaks during the day to pray towards Mecca.) The intent however, was to solidify that protection with regards to medical procedures. An example of its impact would be a pro-life ultrasound technician being called to assist in an abortion. And it's not as if this would deny anyone the care they're seeking, just that that person would have to receive it from someone else. I don't buy the severity of the examples cited in the linked article above. You can always go to another pharmacy, and there's usually more than one doctor in a hospital. Again, this just appears to be the President playing to the extremes in his base.

I was hoping this president, who ran on the platform of "Change You can Believe In", who claimed to usher in a new era of politics in Washington, is playing politics as usual. There's a consequence, of course. Drawing battle lines on issues sure to divide people on the basis of their religious convictions is asking for trouble (and to be fair, the previous administration was guilty of this as well); it forces people to take a side and not seek a middle ground. That then, usually extends to churches and religious leaders who love to hear themselves talk about the eroding morals of our society. And the layperson is caught in the middle, politics or religion? And with the recent history of how well the Religious Right has fought these battles in recent years, many are turned off of religion all together.

So despite the state of the economy, it's not much of a surprise to see that fewer and fewer are considering themselves religious and that more and more prescribe to no faith in particular. What is sad is that the oft-quoted stat of 85% of Americans who call themselves Christians has dropped to 76%. Have that many turned away from Christ for the sake of politics? I pray not, but the possibility breaks my heart.

This news, this early in the new administration, doesn't fill me with hope. In fact, I don't see the next four years going particularly well for the faithful. It will be that much harder to practice our faith in public, and that much more offensive to proclaim that faith to the non believer.

***update***
I didn't read the fine print on the stats above. Apparently although the total number of Christians as a percentage as decreased, the numbers in fundamentalist and evangelical churches have increased. Which I think solidifies my point- this ongoing culture war is either driving a wedge between people and faith or is driving them to the extreme fringes within their faith.

*** update 2***
Here is a very good article from Slate that demonstrates how hard it is to maintain consistency in the pro-life debate. You may not agree with the premise of the argument, but it highlights the validity of the Catholic Church's 'Culture of Life' that is not limited to abortion, but extends to aging, the death penalty, and war.

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