Pushback from the Religious Left

by Michael Sean Winters

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This past weekend, Ralph Reed, of Christian Coalition and Jack Abramoff fame, hosted a conference of conservative religious leaders here in Washington. They hope to energize conservative Christian voters to turn out at the polls en masse next year, although one wonders whether some GOP leaders will look up from their copies of "Atlas Shrugged" long enough to recognize the deep intellectual schizophrenia within the conservative political ranks today.

The progressive religious group Faith in Public Life organized an event at a nearby hotel to push back against the religious right's agenda. Among others, Father Clete Kiley of the Archdiocese of Chicago addressed the group. Here is the text of his speech as prepared for delivery:

Today we are gathered here to sound an alarm. The proposed federal budget developed by Chairman Paul Ryan, and being pushed by folks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition across the street, reflects a profound crisis for American working families and American values.

There was a time in this country when we all believed in something called the common good. And we believed that if we all put in our fair share, we would be a just country, a strong country, a nation at peace with itself.

There was a time in this country when we all believed it was right to take care of our elderly; to secure their retirement; to provide them with health care; to give them a dignity and quality of life.

There was a time in this country when we worked together to create jobs, to offer fair wages and safe work places for workers, all of which supported a strong middle class and strengthened our families.

There was a time in this country when we all believed that our children, and not just some of our children, were our future, and as a people, we would work together to ensure that they have a quality education, health care, healthy food, and safe environments.

These values defined and united us, but now politicians are neglecting the common good and pushing policies that benefit corporate special interests and harm working families and the least among us.

Like other citizens, we Catholics are concerned about the debt, about Medicare, about Social Security, about living wages, about jobs, about the human and financial costs of two wars. But we are also concerned about the inordinate concentration of wealth in the hands of the very richest Americans and the expansion of those living beneath the poverty level. And we are concerned by what we see as a growing ethic of selfishness and greed being promoted in our political life.

As a Catholic priest, I have to say the budget priorities being promoted do not reflect the principles articulated by our bishops.

Bishops Stephen Blaire and Howard Hubbard of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have pointed out in their letter to the House of Representatives: “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference reminded Chairman Ryan in a recent letter that “part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burdens upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people.”

Catholic Social teaching promotes subsidiarity, but it also promotes solidarity, with a preferential option for the poorest and most vulnerable. Catholic Social Teaching promotes the common good and it requires society to ensure adequate care for the vulnerable and an opportunity for families to flourish. Catholic Social teaching promotes life, and life in all its stages. Chairman Ryan’s budget does not adequately reflect the values of millions of Catholics and other people of faith.

To try to present the Ryan budget as conforming to Catholic Social teaching by misrepresenting the budget’s contents and selecting a few quotes from a single papal encyclical just doesn’t pass our test.

Perhaps what is most disturbing for us faith leaders is the cynical way in which those who have created this budget, and those who have come to town today to endorse it are trying to wrap it in the language of faith. This is no faith-based budget. This is the Ayn Rand budget. Let’s call it what it is. We have been watching conservative political leaders, and pundits all touting their love for Ayn Rand over the past year. This budget is completely faithful to her ethical vision, and what is that:
Ayn Rand says: “I don’t approve of religion”.
Ayn Rand says:” I have no faith at all”.
Ayn Rand says:” I am against God”.
Ayn Rand says:” Love only those who deserve it.”
Ayn Rand says: “There is no reason I should be my brother’s keeper”.
Ayn Rand says: “I promote an ethic of selfishness”.

Good God! How can political leaders and, more so, ministers of the Gospel and other faith leaders come here to endorse this?
Ayn Rand stands against everything we were ever taught or believed about God and our faith values.
Ayn Rand stand against everything we ever learned in civics class about the common good and the general welfare outlined in our Constitution.
Ayn Rand stands against everything we ever learned about basic compassion, human decency, and fair play.

Leaders in the House of Representatives have given us a budget inspired by Ayn Rand and now presidential primary contenders and even some faith leaders to our deepest chagrin are coming to town to endorse this. For us Catholics, the ethics of Ayn Rand and the Catholic Faith are completely incompatible.

We urge our political leaders to drop Ayn Rand’s books and pick up their sacred texts. Chairman Ryan has laid down a marker, but it is the wrong marker. We now urge Democrats to come up with a new budget proposal, but one that is moral and just. We need leaders today with a moral compass that promotes the common good and creates a better society- a better nation- for everyone.

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