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.
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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.
Catholics are some of the stupidest people on the planet to believe in that garbage, I should know because I went to Catholic school for 12 years.
In this country we don't denigrate the faith of others. You may disagree with them, but calling them stupid is just mean and wrong. I never see anyone calling Islam stupid (and I don't advocate that). In fact, our state department has made a clear statement about how wrong it is to make a film that ridicules Islam. I never saw any statement like that when "art" ridiculing Christian values is presented. In fact, it was publically-funded.
You do not have the right in this country to not have your feelings hurt.
I don't Jesus would care about the deficit, nor would he care too much about the US as a country. "No" you say? Read Saint Augustine's "City of God"
Debate on Catholic politics:
"Get over your conscience"
I did 'scan' through all of these comments and one thing that is glaring to me as an Orthodox Catholic from a European heritage is – American Catholics play 'very fast and loose' with the core Catholic thinking, even the Society of Jesus.
Perhaps I'm from a generation that is less forward thinking, but I find Paul Ryan's beliefs (taken from his public statements) to be in contradiction with my view of Orthodox Catholicism.
Actually, American Catholicism seems more like the Anglican Church IMHO – and I should not have to point out LSD thinking is not Christian – their many unusual views aside – they are certainly heretics – just on the lack of an orthodox view of the Trinity...we should not mention the end of days in Missouri 🙂 The Nicene Creed is also a problem for them – this is not Christianity – it's not even Gnostic.
It's sad how far we've fallen.
If social justice isn't one of your catholic "family values" then you need to reread your doctrine. Jesus didn't come to save the wealthy, to heal the healthy, or to give comfort to the comfortable. He consorted with the sick, the poor, sinners and their ilk. So when you leave church this weekend in your suit and tie and go home and castigate those who differ from you, remember that as you are measured by doctrinal criteria for participating in an afterlife, you wont make the cut.
First of all nobody know who makes the cut. The Catholic Church has never said who goes to hell, not even Judas. Jesus didn't come save the poor from poverty, he came for the salvation of all. He said that the poor would be first because the rich many times would put earthly things before God.
Presidential elections are coming up, and what does everyone want to talk about? Which VP is a better Catholic. Who cares! Yeah I get it; your religious affiliation might tell someone about what decisions you'll make. Or it might not; it depends on the person. So let's cut away the screen and talk about the issues.
But, they are too closely connected to do this.
There are few things funnier in these comments sections than Christians telling each other that they're not real Christians.
Funny? I think that it is sad. Here are people who clearly do not comprehend what it is that makes someone a Christian. They have no idea what the definition actually is.
Jesus did not advocate social justice or political activism. He preached and taught repentance from sin, a change of mind and heart. That is how society is permanently changed for the better: one heart at a time. It may be interesting to follow the Catholic debate between Biden and Ryan, but it will not provide any lasting insights into solving our problems unless it forces people to change their minds.
Jesus also stated that we all are lost, blind, sick, crippled, deaf, dumb, and lame, in a spiritual sense. We all need to be healed by God in order to become what we were originally intended to be. Jesus said to give to Caesar what was Caesar's and give to God what was God's. That means people need to be working and earning an honest living in order to give to the government what it is owed. Depending upon the government for all of one's living expenses does not lead to pride in self. It does not lead to a betterment of oneself. It merely puts people into a caste system in which they are captives with no options available to them. Jesus was all about enabling people to live life abundantly while being free indeed. Christian activism has lost sight of Christ's basic teaching points and prefers to cherry pick what they wish to emphasize in their agenda.
Those who claim that abortion is the end-all be-all of Catholic belief is wholly incorrect. The Church never objected to it for about seventeen centuries, even when it was common practice in the Byzantine Empire. The Church's priorities should be o social justice, but of course that won't come about within our lifetime when it took them until 1917 to change their stance on usury.
@ Bill Deacon- "Catholics don't teach that Jim." Perhaps not all do, but the Bible certainly does. Are you going to tell me that you pick and choose which commandments and divine mandates you wish to observe? Isn't that what they call "cherry picking'? Bill, you should know that the burning of witches and suspected heretics was justified by the church with Biblical justification. The only reason it is not still practiced (though casting out demons is still recognized as legitimate by the RCC) is because of secular politics and the clash with modernity. Religion has a funny way of amending their prior ideas (flat earth, sun revolving around the earth, creation in 6 days) with what science learns and observes. Religion is becoming more and more emasculated because we KNOW more now than we did a few hundred years ago. If you don't stone gays it's because it's morally and ethically wrong-NOT because the Bible prohibits the practice. Learn your religion before you call yourself a member. Peace.
It also took them about 400 years to admit error in the whole Galileo affair.
Where do you source your information?
T-max since the article is about a debate on Catholic philosophy, I won't address others' use of the Bible, I merely am pointing out that Jim misconstrued and misstated Catholic doctrine. Your are free to argue against any extreme version of theology you wish but if you are going to argue about Catholisism then stick to the facts.
Ed – The Galileo affair as you put it deserves a little more study on your part. The Church did not find fault with Galileo's science as you seem to impute, erroneously. The fact is that Galileo made political and methodological blunders which put him in an untenable position with a Cardinal who could have been his benefactor except for Galileo's miscalculation on public relations. It is in accurate to portray the Church as anti-science based on the Galileo affair. But you knew that didn't you?
Respect of life is not more important than social justice? Really? Core belief ought to remain based upon Christ's message of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Repent, for the time is short! Accept Jesus and live! Social justice issues will resolve themselves as more and more people become reconciled with God, not through legislation that can be lieft unenforced.
I am a catholic. Love thy neighbour..With these words Jesus summed up virtually all his teachings because if you love your neighbour then you will follow all the commandments and avoid the deadly sins. Leave the judging to God.
Yes, love your neighbor, unless he's gay then your suppose to stone him to death, right?
Catholics don't teach that Jim. If a debate is truly to begin, at least oppose the other side for what they stand for not what you misconstrue they stand for. Hopefully a dialogue can begin on the catechism of the Church which may enlighten people.
Whether or not they teach it, it's in the bible.
It may be in the Bible, but why continue to pluck it out of context and bludgeon people with it? It is in the Old Testament, given to the Hebrews for a specific reason. Why do you insist upon applying it to Christianity? You are showing your lack of understanding.
This is What Jesus Says About Ryan & Romney!
speaking as a Catholic, neither ticket supports a Catholic worldview. So it comes down to if selecting Ryan/Romney then you remove social nets in addition to having legal abortions and capital punishment and a shift to corporate welfare–this is as anti-Catholic a worldview as you can get. Ryan also defends his budget on some self-reasoned view that the Church is okay with not wanting someone to become a ward of the state-but in Ryan's plan, he seem to feel that by cutting off funding and forcing a ward to starve will be good lesson for them - exactly what Catholic theologian would support that?
No catholic theologian would support letting the poor starve.
What most people forget though, is that the Republican party has had 'ban abortion' as a party plank since 1976. And have done very little to implement it. People who are using the 'ban abortion' as their only issue of meaning with which to choose whom to vote fore need to thinka bout that. 36 years, and we have a ban on late term abortion, except in the cases of non viability or life of the mother. Basically, NOTHING achieved on a ban of abortion.
Pro lifers need to think about what kind of carrot that party pank really is.
God made man in His own image, what about woman?
When better women are made, Catholic men will make them.
Biden is far from a catholic....You cant be a catholic and be pro abortion and pro gay marriage...He should be ex communicated.
RYAN AKIN SITTING ON A TREE........
Paul Ryan is not a Catholic: he preaches against social justice and the most vulnerable segments of our population. He lies every step of the way. He has never really worked, he has lived on the tax payers bounty all his adult life. He is pro death penalty, what is this pro-life hypocrisy? Let them come to the world so we can kill them, even if they are innocent? Paul Ryan's world view was shaped by misanthrope Ayn Rand, an atheistic, anti-Christian demagogue. Paul Rayan is not a Catholic, only a gifted liar.
"A century and a half ago, Americans engaged in a collective conversation about the Bible and slavery that was both civil and informed. "
Are you kidding??????
That collective conversation was four years of bloody Civil War.
Agreed, a weird comment by the author of this piece.
Agreed. Exceptionally strange comment, not only because of the Civil War but the (at least) two decades of increasingly hot debates and violence leading up to it.
Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are NOMINAL Catholics. They do NOT practice the Catholic Faith. You CANNOT be a Catholic AND support abortion.
I missed the news story on their excommunication.
Not true! Questioning is a part of the Catholic faith, and Catholics are not required to violate their consciences. The Church teaches, it does not thought control.
Theala – You are confusing your will with conscience. The Church calls for our consciences to be formed by Catholic teaching, not to apply our ill formed conscience if in conflict with the teachings. when we are in disobedience of those teachings, that is a question of will, not conscience.
Good comment about the two R's. The republican symbol shoud be an elephant with two rectums. It should have a rectum on each end because of all the crap in the middle. Two R's (rectum and rectum jr.) are a good indication of your party.
Perhaps that is part of the basic problem. Instead of being formed by Catholic teaching, people ought to be formed by the Holy Spirit's teaching, as Jesus said it would happen once he sent the Comforter to be with us. Our minds are to be washed and renewed daily by the Word of God, not the catechism, not by Sacred Tradition, not by the Pope's decrees. The traditions of the rabbis were rejected by Christ, what makes anyone think that Sacred Tradition will be treated any differently by God?
what i want to know, is GOD a republican or a demacrat? Aso does GOD love one party more then amother?
I am a socialist.
almost every picture I see of Ryan is a perfect example of someone 'looking down their nose at you'.
Is this intentional, or does the guy always have that smug "i'm better than you' look on his face?
All of the above.
I couldn't care less if he was a Quasimodo look alike, he's MY choice as Romney's running mate. The 2 Rs have FORGOTTEN more about finances and the economy, than Obama ever KNEW ! – Thye're great!
Everytime I see Ryan, I see a man who loves his country and does not want it to go off a financial cliff. Why don;t you listen to him, you may learn something. He is one of the most intelligent people in congress. Plus he smiles a lot, and has a compassionate heart. He is very well liked and respected by both parties.
If you are NOT a cafeteria Catholic and believe as the Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception, then the Democrats are the baby killing party. The Church teaches that we help those who cannot help themselves, and who is more helpless than a baby inside its mother's womb. Take a picture of an aborted fetus, that doesn't look like a glob of tissue to me.
the catholic church has often been wrong on scientific matters and the bible says nothing about abortion, even though it was practiced at the time of christ
Who are you to judge other Catholics and their beliefs? Let me see...a Catholic republican never had an abortion? Just Dems according to you...
Take a picture of a monkey fetus or any mammal fetus and they all basically look the same so does that mean they are all the same? No. So what something looks like has nothing to do with your point. So to me that a non-answer. Also depending when it was abortied it does early on look like a glob. I really do believe in life at conception but this is a country of seperation of church and state and you can't really prove a soul scientifically.
Life is not the issue. It's personhood and the rights that come with that. It is also about bodily autonomy.
Bob, the problem gets complicated when you consider that you are then supporting a party which cheers for capital punishment. Not very catholic, is it?
Bob, you are a gob of gob tissue.
To be more precise, I think you should call him a gob of Bob tissue.
Exodus – Keep far from false charge, and do not kill the INNOCENT and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked
Jeremiah – Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.
Proverbs – The Lord despises hands that shed innocent blood
Psalm 127:3 – Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward
Genesis – Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall HIS blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.
John – You did not choose me , I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit [children] and your fruit should ABIDE
Matthew – See that you do not despise one of these LITTLE ONES. For I tell you that in Heaven THEIR angels always see the face of My Father, who is in Heaven.
So then why not promote the use of condoms and prevent the conception in the first place... Why does god want children to die of aids?
Your church also teaches:
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from a rib, which means we are all inbred from 2 people.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in the "father, son, holy ghost" base of your so called religion.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life like a zombie, and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian. ....
Al – So what you are saying is that because we cannot prove that a human being has a soul using scientific means, than human life has absolutely no value. That kind of thought will certainly lead the world to be a much darker place. In my view, the fact that human beings have a soul (God's life within us) is precisely what gives us our dignity. That what it means to be created in His image.
Bob- the fact is that most Americans will believe in whatever they want to believe in and proof, science, logic , reason , theology, philosophy are just things to be picked through to support their beliefs. That applies as much to atheists as it does to religious people. Most Americans don't know enough science to explain how a light bulb works, they don't know enough theology to understand that the Bible was not dictated to some man in a trance by God, they don't know enough philosophy to reliably distinguish their ass from their elbow and they can't use enough logic or reason to tell the difference anyway. personally I think we really need to see if we can push the next stage of evolution forward a bit.
Ron- I agree they're really stupid. When are they going to get it into their heads that theyre really just made of eleven dimensional strings existing in an infinite number of universes popping randomly in and out of existence as mere probabilistic quantum bubbles in a finite expanding framework of space and time originating from a single point which was actually an infinite number of single points. And how stupid can they be getting this idea that somehow there might be something in this Universe that is beyond our minds ability to comprehend fully. I mean when we look at every other species in existence on this planet its just a total accident that they all have an incomplete, partial perception of the their universe. Isn't it obvious that we had a couple of extra mutations in our brain cells and that made ALL the difference, going from having a partial, limited understanding of the universe to seeing it all. Boy, that was some mutation, I have to admit.
Or maybe it really is just more rational to recognize that we are just limited creatures in a virtualy infinte universe that is far beyond anything that our brains can comprehend and the stupid chaotic inconsistent concept of God that we talk about is really just a symptom of a finite being living in a virtually limitless universe.... whatever that means.
As a Catholic, Ryan's views are more in line with my beliefs. This is the first time I will be voting Republican.
That's OK. Before too long, support for your religion will soon have decayed so much that it will be irrelevant. And the Repubs are on their way down down down.
Don't count on it Mik
Define Catholic – Nicene Creed – Transubstantiation, Papal Infallibility – I'd guess the last one you will have a problem with as many modern American Catholics do... including the Priesthood... 🙂