Le blog de la Bergerie                         Sharing the faith . . . in English . . . et en français!
As a French emigrant, settled in California for thirty years,
I am often puzzled by the subtleties of the American political system, with
its primaries and conventions, and I am recently saddened by the increasingly
bitter political fight between the Democrats and the Republicans.
But even more than my French background, it is my Catholicism (I am a returning Catholic) that defines me, and gives me a unique perspective from which to add my voice to the clamor surrounding this year’s election. My voice is that of an assenting Catholic, sometimes to my own surprise.
From where I stand, I see something unfolding and I wonder what God wants us to do with it, and why it is happening now... I see a bottom line being drawn in the sand, with the war in Iraq on one side and abortion on the other. Each side is appalled at what they see tolerated by the other side, the one thing they abhor. Each side offers a cohesive worldview, but with one large, blind spot. And in the end, we will all suffer, unless we are able to take the beam out of our own eyes first.
One camp (the Democratic worldview) holds the war in Iraq to be wrong. They feel deep sorrow for every report of casualties; they cringe inside at the very thought of all the troubles and sufferings in Iraq. They want peace here and abroad, and Bush is held accountable for going into Iraq (against the Pope’s wish and against the wish of many Western countries). The Democratic camp fears: “What else is he going to get us into?”
As soon as they hear this, I can see the eyes of my Republican friends going blank. Each death in Iraq does not resonate with them, because they see the whole affair as something very unpleasant and difficult, but something that had to be done. They have hardened themselves against any mention of the gruesomeness of war. Their goal is also peace here and abroad, and they believe this war will help bring it closer.
Now the other camp (the Republican worldview) holds that life, every innocent life, is a gift from God and should be treasured; the 2,000 daily abortions in the US bring them great sorrow. They cringe at the thought of the sufferings for all involved, not only the little lives snuffed out, but also the mothers wounded and the fathers ignored. The Republican camp trusts that Bush shares their worldview on “life issues” and fears that Kerry has given so many wrong signals, that they ask, “What else is he going to get us into?”
As soon as I start talking about the “life issue,” the eyes of my Democratic friends start going blank. It doesn't resonate with them; they think that, of course, “life” in general is precious, but people can define it for themselves. My Democratic friends don’t cringe at the mention of the sufferings and troubles involved in abortion, because it is off their radar. Abortion is something they will not do themselves, it is unpleasant and wrong. But in their favoring of individual freedom, they have hardened their hearts against the gruesomeness of abortion.
Grosso modo, that is how I see the two camps, who have more similarities than they realize. More importantly, they are both American, they are all of us.
Instead of entrenching ourselves deeper into opposing sides and blaming the other one for every wrong, I wonder if our faith could be the agent that promotes bridge building and better understanding. I'm pretty sure that is what Jesus meant when He told us (repeatedly) to love one another. Each side of the political divide needs to pray for discernment, for insight beyond their own limited view, and for God’s mercy.
War and abortion are, in themselves and of themselves, different faces of evil. Pray to see the evil which is not obvious to you. And then actively listen rather than dismissing the others as crazed and heartless. We still have six weeks to go, a short window of opportunity to stop looking only at what's in our neighbor's eye, and examine the beam in our own.
I often test my theories on my friends: to pro-lifers, I say they need to articulate their case for life with joy and patience, humility and compassion, with the acknowledgement that the stand they take can scare people off. Pro-lifers need to promote life with one hand and always offer forgiveness and understanding with the other hand. One of the major temptations of pro-lifers is self-righteousness, which has never converted anyone to anything. Try to have compassion for those whom the life issues are not clear. A key question for the pro-life side to ponder is: “Would you rather have abortions made illegal tomorrow with abortions going underground, or stay legal but have the numbers dropped by half right now?”
To my pro-peace friends, I say that they need to examine their hatred of George Bush and their knee-jerk reaction against what they label the Christian Right and traditional Catholics. They need to acknowledge that their scream for peace seems to be addressed only to certain groups (Iraqis or minorities), while they appear dismissive and full of contempt toward their own American neighbor, if that person holds more traditional values. They need to meditate on the fact that abortion is war on the next generation. One of their temptations is also self-righteousness, always asking others to change, but not considering changing themselves. A key question to ponder for them is: “Do you really want peace in Iraq or would you rather just have Bush out of office? ”
Surprisingly, I still have many friends, which has more to do with the Grace of God than with my own qualities.
This is such an amazing country that I hate to see it so divided. It is the place where I experienced my return to the faith—in San Francisco, of all places! I am so grateful for everything that has brought me here and now, I actually see this corner of the earth as a terrific place to be Catholic, and this moment as a very exciting time to exercise my faith. (I take the word “abundantly” literally).
Although every election is important, I don't have to vote today. But what I elect to do today is decisive for my salvation. It is a test! To grow in love and compassion, to draw serenity from faith, trust from the wisdom of the Church and hope in the mercy of God. I offer this reflection as a call to restrain, an effort toward unity, so we can all work toward the common good, which, in my own worldview, is a pro-life culture in a pro-peace nation.
Copyright ©2004 Michèle Szekely