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My Take: Paul Ryan will provoke a debate on Catholic politics
Mitt Romney's VP pick, Paul Ryan, means there will be Catholics on both party tickets. Vice President Joe Biden is also a Catholic.
August 14th, 2012
10:41 AM ET

My Take: Paul Ryan will provoke a debate on Catholic politics

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A lot has been written about the “Mormon moment” in American politics. But the election of 2012 is starting to shape up as a “Catholic moment,” too.

Now that Mitt Romney has tapped the former altar boy (and Rep.) Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, there will be a Catholic on both major party tickets for the first time in U.S. history.

So as Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden articulate their views, we will be tuning into an intra-Catholic conversation pitting “social justice” Christians on the left versus “family values” Christians on the right.

Because this election will doubtless focus on the economy, and because Ryan is known primarily as the author of a budget passed this year in the Republican-controlled House, this debate will not focus primarily on social questions such as abortion and same-sex marriage but on economic concerns such as tax policy and the safety net. What would Jesus do about our debt and the deficit?

In a preview of the debates to come, Catholic bishops wrote four letters to Congress in April attacking the Ryan budget as unjust and calling for “a circle of protection ... around essential programs that serve poor and vulnerable people.”

These letters, signed by leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, articulated general principles of Catholic social teaching. “A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25),” wrote Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California. “The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.”

Another letter, co-signed by Blaire and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, argued that “the needs of those who are hungry, poor and vulnerable should come before assistance to those who are relatively well off and powerful” and spoke of drawing a “circle of protection” around the “poor and vulnerable.”

But America's bishops also took aim at specific policy proposals, including cuts to affordable housing programs, cuts in food stamps and changes to the Child Tax Credit.

Blaire insisted that “just solutions” to our budget problems “must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs,” before concluding that the Ryan budget “fails to meet these moral criteria.”

To his credit, Ryan responded to these letters not just with canned talking points but with a fairly detailed defense of his understanding of Catholic social thought.

In an April interview with David Brody, Ryan admitted that the “preferential option for the poor” was “one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching.” But he insisted this idea “means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life; help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.”

A year earlier, in a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Ryan said his budget was informed by the Catholic principle of "subsidiarity,” which he equated with “federalism,” and more particularly with the practice of addressing social problems with local rather than national solutions.

Lots of things changed when Romney tapped Ryan as his vice-presidential pick. Among those things is the religious dynamic of the 2012 election. We have in Romney/Ryan what is arguably the first non-Protestant ticket in U.S. history.

And in the vice-presidential tussle between Ryan and Biden we have the promise of a civil and informed debate about Christian values and economic policy.

For far too long, politicians have been able to name check God or point vaguely to the Bible to gain the imprimatur of heaven for their particular policies or their political party. That sort of "God on our side" politics has been bad for both our religious and our public life.

But substantive debates about Christianity and politics are potentially healthy for both.

A century and a half ago, Americans engaged in a collective conversation about the Bible and slavery that was both civil and informed. Is it too much to hope that an intelligent debate about Christianity and the economy is now in the offing? If so, we will likely have Ryan (and Romney) to thank.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church and state • Economy • Joe Biden • Mitt Romney • Politics • Poverty • United States

soundoff (1,003 Responses)
  1. John20v31

    No one can say "Jesus is Lord" apart from the Holy Spirit. Faith in the Word of God who is the incarnate Christ – the image of the Invisible God – is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Mankind has been rejecting God's gift of faith since Cain. This is to say that mankind has been rejecting God's Truth since the beginning. Mankind even rejected God in the flesh – face to face and hung Him on a tree – even His resurrection, appearances and miracles and promises have been rejected. To unbelievers it is foolishness to believe in Jesus as the Risen Lord and Creator, but to those in faith it is the sweet Truth of eternal salvation!

    August 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  2. Socal Reggae

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF_EmZh5ohk&w=640&h=390]

    August 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things .

    August 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example; Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine–year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      August 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • fred

      error ccu studies are not valid and are discredited

      August 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Jesus

      "error ccu studies are not valid and are discredited"

      no there not.

      August 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Tina

      fred, does your Jesus wear a thong?

      August 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • yoyo

      Hey Jesus what about your own miracle? The eucaristic miracle at Lanciano? Didn't you forget or is this just some flawed human on th epost here who's just trying to berate you?

      August 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  4. MashaSobaka

    I am very much looking forward to the day when religion has no place in political discussion WHATSOEVER. In a perfect world, the moment a politician showed sign of his/her faith influencing his/her policy decisions would be the moment he/she was banned from office for life.

    August 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      So you propose a religious litmus test?

      August 22, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  5. Pt8685

    The left/Obama camp is very worried about Ryan, and worried about Christian votes in general. But instead of changing their policy positions to appeal to such voters, or engaging the debate on the merits, they will simply try their best to paint Ryan as a 'pretend catholic' or even an athiest in hopes of sowing doubt, and creating confusion.

    It's sad really. Ryan's nomination is an opportunity for our nations political leaders to have substantive discussions about faith, values, and morals on both social and economic issues. Instead, the campaign handlers and media elite will have us all arguing over which VP is more 'catholic' or whether Romney or Obama are real Christians.

    I weep for America.

    August 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Actually, they'll probably be going after that absurd economic "plan" of his which will do nothing whatsoever to help the economy. Trust me...if "Christian values" comes up in this election, it'll be thanks to the GOP.

      August 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  6. No Truth, Just Claims

    Bibletruth,

    Your Argument goes like this...

    The bible is 100% true

    "Why"

    Because god says so

    "Where does he say that?"

    In the bible

    "How do you know the bible is true?"

    The bible says so.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      In a nutshell, thats exactly right. Expanding a bit, God says you will know I am God because I will tell you what will happen before it happens. You see, God has utilized an avenue that no one can deny to prove that he is God (obviously one can reject, but not deny). And He does this so you may believe and be saved. It generally goes under the heading of prophecy. I will tell you something now I hope you never forget or be conned into believing is not true (which can only happen if you do not honestly check it out for yourself): There is no writing that has ever been, is now, or will ever be that has actual prophecy in it except the old/new testament scriptures, commonly known as the bible. It is by the prophetic word that the true God puts himself on test status with humanity and shuts all the mouths of the false gods, human philosophies, etc. and is why Jesus could say that a person is lost in only one way ..because they do not have a love for the truth. A person who does not have a love for the truth will always be a continuous sinner...which means a breaker of the ten commandments. Hope this helps and encourages the reader to get into the holy scriptures.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • @U

      I know the bible is true because God did what he said he would do to me ...in many instances even up to this day.. even everyday nearly... so those who search the bible for truth will find it and be saved... :) :) :)

      August 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • No Truth, Just Claims

      In a nutshell it is circular reasoning, the very defininition of it actually.

      Also I can prove you don't believe the bible is 100% literal. Jesus said "literally" he would return for the second coming before the generation at the time had all died.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Fat chance of that biblefalse.
      You have one part of a book...the OT...dragged kicking and screaming..into conforming with parts of the second part of a book...the NT....written by men who knew al about the first part and deliberately crafted supposed prophesy to mythologize their new hero Jesus. Depictions of events and words spoken by characters in the OT are impossible to confirm or verify as are events or words spoken by persons in the NT. And this you hold up as proof of your argument? How very sad. A book that predicts an event in the same book is not credible evidence of prophesy.
      For example....Matthew referrs to a passage by Isaiah 7:14 as an prophesy of the virgin birth of Jesus. But Isaiah wasn't talking about a person who would be born 600 years later by a woman he would never meet. It was about a woman alive at the same time as him. Further he didn't say "virgin"...he said "young maiden". Matthew deliberately lied to promote his Jesus legend. (note Matthew didn't write anything....it is merely attributed to him...the actual author is unknown and the earliest known copy dates to over 20 years after Jesus was dead.) Your source of info stretches credibility beyond imagination.
      Or perhaps you would like to discuss Israel. The bible predicts that the Jews would form a nation in the Holy Land. This is an example of a self-fullfilling prophesy. It was the singular goal of the Zionist Jews to work toward that goal. And even though it took nearly 2000 years to realize their efforts are hardly prophetic. Because if they hadn't done it by now they would still be working toward it. As it turns out Christians were more than willing to help as it also suited their purpose to herald the end times when Jesus would return. Needless to say that ain't gonna happen either.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  7. man air max 93

    I am looking for blogging which use fantastic information on what is considered in mode and even what are the very best caps is.. man air max 93

    August 16, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  8. Nietodarwin

    GOT SCIENCE? At least there are many many catholics today, (like Jesuits) who don't go around denying the validity of Darwin's work. It's the TALIBANGELICALS who are dragging our country down, keeping our test scores low. Ryan is their boy, whether he's catholic or atheist or whatever. As long as he waves that Tea Party flag, they won't care. (What a lie to name it the Tea Party, they are a group that wants taxation without representation, very very UNAMERICAN.)

    August 16, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Bibletruth

      The creation account in the bible is 100% the truth. Any philosophy, belief system (whether one wants to add or include the word "science" with it or not) that changes that, denies that, etc., is false. This is every believers (100%) belief. One can hardly call oneself a believer in the God of the bible and not believe the bible's creation account for the bible in various places, old and new testament,clearly states that God is God because He is the Creator.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Denise

      'Bibletruth', what's it like to live like you do, with your fingers in your ears, your eyes closed, and your mind turned off?

      Please, do the world a favor and stop pushing bible nonsense as 'truth'.

      Or did you forget a 'sarcasm' preface to your post?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Bibletruth

      To Denise...LOL...believe it or not, I am exceedingly happy, content, and at peace in believing the Bible-all of it. This is why I am enthuiastic to promote it.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • @U

      @bibletruth you need only to prove it to those who don't believe. now How do you do that? By creating an argument which you cannot prove? :)
      Why bring the account of creation from the bible into this argument there is a place for that , but here it is a distraction.. you have no foundation to prove your position... I am my own argument against unbelief... I am in Christ... I am the evidence ...a new creature... we who love Jesus for his life are his best examples of the bible being true... or we can be the worse love in Christ :) :)

      August 16, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  9. Nietodarwin

    Biden is like Kennedy, a Vice President first, a catholic 2nd. Ryan is catholic-trample your human rights first, fan of atheist Ayn Rand 2nd, (because her beliefs fit in well with his "stomp on the poor and stomp on the elderly " beliefs. If the USA messes this election up, it won't matter anymore. The GOP is already succeeding in getting rid of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 in Penn. They won't have to care about your religion if they get back in power. GW BUSH talked of "faith based" things. "Faith based" is a way of getting power, and this time if they get it, we won't get it back. Atheist/Catholic for Obama/Biden

    August 16, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  10. Nietodarwin

    I'm an atheist, raised catholic. Obama/Biden get my vote, not the atheist/catholic Ryan. Stomping on old people, making war on women's health, shoving dogma at people, is just NOT GOOD, whether one believes in a god, or Ayn Rand, or anything. Let's run those numbers Mr. Ryan.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  11. proethicsdiscussion

    I think the more fundamental debate should not be between Catholicism and politics, but between Christianity and libertarianism. Ryan's infatuation with Ayn Rand (or at least her libertarian economic views) presents a problem for his Christianity. As I have argue elsewhere (http://markvopat.posterous.com/libertarian-christian) assuming that some social goods can only come about by the coordinated action of government, you can't consistently hold to both Christian and libertarian principles.

    August 16, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • Arvoasitis

      A fully meaningful discussion should include three perspectives: the libertarian, the utilitarian and intuitionist (with an additional cynical perspective being delivered from the peanut gallery). The discussion then morphs into a Freudian negotiation rather than a debate; that is, while a debate ends up with a winner and loser, a negotiation involves trying to find a mutually acceptable (therefore balanced) solution. The Christian (and other religious) perspective would be primarily the intuitionist one, trying to ensure the least harm for everyone, bar none, consistent with universal moral principles and values.

      August 16, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  12. James

    There should be separation of church and state. We now have six Catholic Justices on the Supreme Court and three Jewish ones. We are now listening to Bishops for our domestic policies? I am deeply disturbed by this. This is the takeover of American government by the Catholic Church. Time to fight for independence again, folks.

    August 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Joe

      The take over by Catholics... are you kidding? So we should only have atheists as SC Justices??? you make no snese whatsoever considering Catholics are still the only target that can be discriminated against by the media with no fear of retribution.

      August 16, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      Of course we should have atheist judges. All government offices should be listed as held by atheists, (that means NO RELIGION) no matter what the judge,congressman, or executive believes. That is when our government will function.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  13. Mike C

    It's Charles Atlas versus Eddie Munster. I can't wait for the veepstakes debate!

    August 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  14. niknak

    My take:
    It won't provoke any kind of debate about catholics at all.
    It will only provoke debate about medicare.

    August 15, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • niknak

      How many time do we have to tell you, prayer changes NOTHING!

      August 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • truth be told

      @niknak
      You can lie until you are blue in the face. YOU will change nothing, never have never will

      August 16, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • Tina

      HeavenSentUnhealthyUntruthSayin, does your Jesus wear a thong?

      August 16, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Tina

      Answer up. You've claimed to know Jesus intimately.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example; Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      August 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      truth be told wrote:
      "@niknak You can lie until you are blue in the face. YOU will change nothing, never have never will"

      well that is quite enlightening... lol

      August 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • jim

      Prayer doesn't change things because I've been praying every night for you to stop posting that prayer changes things and it hasn't worked!

      August 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  16. CSX

    If Catholics voted as Christians we would be a great nation. They have sold their souls and are worldly.
    They allowed abortion and Demcrats to flourish. Only during hard times do they feel their wallet.

    August 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • niknak

      CSX- They have sold their souls and are worldly

      What the hell does that mean?!?
      Do all you fundies talk like the verses in the bible? Meaning jibberish?
      It does not make you sound profound, it only makes you see even more creepy, which is hard to do as you all are very creepy.
      Religion, the best scam ever invented.

      August 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      LOL...yeah...like "look within yourself and see what is written in your heart." What does that baloney mean? Theists resort to flowery poetic nonsense because their arguments are not rational.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Perhaps it is because in reality, there is no argument. Theists simply employ a manner of perceiving reality and a language that is incomprehensible to atheists. The atheist then makes and argument demanding proof to which the theist replies with a suggestion to comprehend what is readily accessible to the theist. The atheist responds that the theist is spouting jibberish. Simply because a spiritual experience is beyond your grasp does not mean it is jibberish.

      August 22, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  17. Reality

    More for Stevie P to address before he is allowed to prepare any more commentaries:-------->

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    prob•a•bly

    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  18. sharon

    why don't these candidates (and voters) remember there is a separation of church and state? When someone running for office thrusts his religion in my face i vote for the other guy. The other guy is generally more honest and better to his fellow man. The catholic church keeps begging for money while the pope lives in splendor. Both Romney and Ryan are nuts,

    August 15, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Lee

      Lives in splendor? Have you personally been to his modest apartment? I'll bet the white house and the president's living quarters are more splendid than the pope's. Owe, and he doesn't own it, we the church do. None of it is his and has been passed down through the centuries. Give your tired anti catholic rhetoric a rest. You should've thrown in something about pedophilia too, so we could truly see your bigoted views.

      August 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • jim

      I'm much to old to be let into the pope's chambers. I heard the cut-toff was 12.

      August 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      jim rejoins with the dead horse

      August 22, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  19. delos

    You and the canidates can take your religions all of them and shove them where the sun does not shine

    August 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  20. SHAIARRA a

    HE'S PUSHING A RELIGIOUS AGENDA, NOT A US CITIZEN AGENDA

    August 15, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.