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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. First

    Catholic Religion = Babylonian Religion. We're condemn to fire and brimstone through lack of knowledge. 1 Life, 1 Love, 1 King, Love is Love. Always.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  2. ScottCA

    Discussing different views on faith based relgion is the same as discusing different views of the emperors new clothes.
    you have no evidence to support either existing.

    The null hypothesis is that god does not exist. Without any evidence to support the existance of god, the null hypothesis holds as the logical position. To abandon this position is to delve into insanity.

    Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6 ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence, so is it insanity to believe in god without evidence.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      You hang in there Scott

      August 23, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • six foot tall green monster

      Scott
      I came out of the closet a long time ago...I now live under the bed

      August 23, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Logical Thoughts

      Well said, Scott. Don't let the condescension of the idiots above take away from your point. Christians have no way to substantiate much in a discussion like this, so they most often resort to passive aggressive name-calling. They believe that's "god's" will, despite the teachings of his wizardly son to the contrary. Dogma, it's what's for dinner.

      August 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Mark From Middle River

      >>>"I came out of the closet a long time ago...I now live under the bed"

      Wow .. that's funny.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • ViK100

      You don't see the evidence because this world has made you blind.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  3. Jack

    Greetings folks. Everyone is cordially invited to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    August 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  4. Bill Deacon

    A link for Catholic voters:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=D9vQt6IXXaM&hd

    August 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  5. daveyoung

    In my world, we don`t listen to no rope a dope soap on a rope pope.
    signed,
    Barry

    August 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • ViK100

      sinful word crashes and burns. good luck.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  6. Bibletruth

    To know about what Jesus thinks or would do about anything, read the ten commandments (Exodus 20). Read the whole commandment-all ten of them. Only those that are without spot or wrinkle regarding that standard (which is the transcript of the character of God...the mind of christ) shall be saved.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  7. TUVIA

    B"H

    PLEASE CLICK BELOW TO READ ARTICLE

    http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=282090

    ----------------------------–

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    --------------------------

    LET MY PEOPLE GO – FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW

    ----------------------------

    August 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  8. TUVIA

    B"H

    PLEASE CLICK BELOW TO READ ARTICLE

    http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=282090

    ----------------------------–

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    August 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  9. TUVIA

    B"H

    Barack Obama AND THE WORLD vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    ------------------------------------------------

    LET MY PEOPLE GO ----- FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW

    --------------------------------–

    August 21, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  10. TUVIA

    B"H

    Barack Obama AND THE WORLD vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    ------------------------------------------------

    LET MY PEOPLE GO --– FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW

    August 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  11. TUVIA

    B"H

    Barack Obama AND THE WORLD vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    ------------------------------------------------

    LET MY PEOPLE GO ---- FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW

    August 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  12. TUVIA

    B"H

    IT IS TIME FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO MAKE THEIR DECISION ON THIS SPEECH
    WAKE UP AMERICAN PEOPLE, TIME TO STOP SLEEPING

    CLICK ON LINK FOR VIDEO BELOWl

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    ---------------–

    B"H

    LET MY PEOPLE GO – FREE JONATHAN POLLARD NOW

    August 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Prophets R Us

    A catholic and mormon vs a clueless muslim and an idiot, I wonder who will win that battle?

    August 21, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  14. TUVIA

    I

    B"H

    IT IS TIME FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO MAKE THEIR DECISION ON THIS SPEECH
    WAKE UP AMERICAN PEOPLE, TIME TO STOP SLEEPING

    CLICK ON LINK FOR VIDEO BELOWl

    Barack Obama vs the People of Israel

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=947by3X6_RU

    --------------------------------------------------

    August 21, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • midwest rail

      Everyone sing along ! spam, spam, spam, spam....

      August 21, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  15. john willow

    "John 8:47 was speaking directly to Joe Biden, who unfortunately wasn`t listening because he was preparing his
    plantation story speech and getting his chains of false fear ready to beat people with. Way to go Joe."

    You are ridiculously out of touch, daveyoung. The working poor are a large segment of the population, and they need the benefits that Ryan wants to take away. Biden knows that this is no "false fear." Ryan uses the self-serving lie that he really wants to "help people out of poverty" by taking away what they need to make it through life. This is why the Catholic bishops would have none of Ryan's nonsense. Many so-called Christians in America don't in fact follow Jesus' teachings at all. Jesus never said that you as a Christian have any right to be judge and jury of others or their lives. He said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." End of story.

    August 20, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Bibletruth

      The bible says you are not to judge people (that is, their motives) but you are commanded to judge ideas.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Patrick Beck

      well said.

      August 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  16. daveyoung

    "If you give a man a fish, he will eat today......If you teach a man to fish, he will become a Republican.
    Did I say "fish" ? I meant foodstamp.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  17. Jesus is the most powerful figure known to mankind (Fact)

    John 8:47-"He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

    John 3:18-"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

    John 8:44-"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

    It is very simple atheist, you do not belong to GOD, but indeed you are of the devil. That is why it is impossible for you to believe because GOD is not in you nor does He know you. Lets read what Jesus said He will say to those who does not belong to Him on judgement day.

    Matthew 25:41-"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

    August 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • PAUL

      Paul Ryan's Vision!!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWkS7pf9hKE

      August 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • daveyoung

      John 8:47 was speaking directly to Joe Biden, who unfortunately wasn`t listening because he was preparing his
      plantation story speech and getting his chains of false fear ready to beat people with. Way to go Joe.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Old Soldier

      Oh I have seen the light through you quoting scripture.....What BS

      August 21, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • max3333444555

      I love rants by mental patients

      August 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • old golfer

      And even the devil can quote scripture to suit his own purposes.

      August 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  18. was blind but now I see

    "...I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan."

    – Rev 2:9

    "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you."

    – Rev 3:9

    "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."

    -Jude 1:3-4

    "You shall know them by their fruits."

    – Matthew 7:16

    For example, how can you claim to be a Christian, but support abortion or gay marriage or.....

    August 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      It is impossible to be a Christian and support anything that is at varience with the ten commandments of God.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Baloney.

      August 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • jim

      None of your quotes talk about abortion or gay marriage? Was that perhaps on the tablet Moses broke?
      11. Tho shall not commit abortion
      12. tho shall not be gay
      etc...
      Kind of too bad he couldn't make an unbreakable tablet... Why would he even give it to Moses in the first place? You'd think he would have known that it would just get broken anyways.

      August 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  19. martin

    Religion happened when the first con man met the first sucker -Mark Twain
    I don't understand how any person of consicence could be a Catholic today

    August 17, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • max3333444555

      go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company – mark twain

      August 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Patrick Beck

      14 million people around the world would disagree.

      August 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  20. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion e.g. Stevie P or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • PrimeNumber

      When mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples, and synagogues are gone, your view will be unobstructed. Then, you will be able to see the prisons, addiction recovery centers, mediocre public schools, bawdy houses, drug dens, safe houses, divorce courts, and other such places produced by your secular society. You might also notice that real violence occurs in places where violence is celebrated (a movie theater in Colorado). But maybe you think s*x traffiking is preferable to prayer.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Mad Sam

      Prime Number, our society is full of subhuman trash now and always will be unless we engage in an extermination campaign targeting criminals. Religion does not prevent the rise of the filth. There are already drug dens, mediocre public schools, ugly houses and other eyesores, and addiction recovery centers. Has religion been able to prevent that? No! Your religious fiction is amazing. A true secular society would allow for the growth of reason and compassion, unlike the abusive mythology of your excessive, animal-slaughtering, kid-touching, power-hoarding, greedy "religion." All religions are fake. They were invented by people who were – and still are – afraid of the dark. Prove me wrong.

      Oh, wait. You can't.

      August 17, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • was blind but now I see

      @MadSam

      Nobody can prove you wrong because you have already closed your mind to accepting anything different from what you have been indoctrinated with. Too bad. Maybe you wouldn't be so MAD all the time if you would let your Father in???

      August 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Blind.. closed minded... I do not think so...Any atheist would tell you we are willing to review real evidence that your god exists, if he does i would accept that... the amputee trick would do it for me..at least prove there isa being capable of doing it...but so far there is none..belief and feelings are not evidence. You most likely do not accept evolution despite the overwhelming evidence for it, what would cause you to change your mind that god is not real? anything? or are you so indoctrinated in your faith that it is all you see?

      August 18, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Actually Mad Sam reflects the truth in the difference between secularism and religion. Secularism ultimately requires the state to rid itself of persons who impede the vision and progress of the state. Religion typically provides a path to redemption.

      August 22, 2012 at 9:09 am |
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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.