One of the derailing issues for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign was the diplomatically sensitive correspondence she sent from her personal account while Secretary of State. But there were also other emails brought to light allegedly by Russian hackers. This became an attack point for Democrats against Trump and drew the media’s focus to Russian interference in US politics. It worked for the Clinton campaign to the point that the actual content of the emails was lost in what was presented as the greater issue at stake, the interference of a hostile foreign power in US politics.
There was little or no media focus on the actual emails which addressed the challenge of securing public endorsement from faith communities, in particular Catholics, for the Democrats’ candidate. Specifically, they discussed a strategy of activating the support of liberals within the Catholic community.
Four years later we can see how that strategy has evolved into relative success for the Democratic Party. There have been easy pickings, to be sure. First name up is Fr James Martin SJ, who took issue on social media with some Catholics who questioned the Catholic bona fides of Joe Biden. ‘Joe Biden is a Catholic’, Fr Martin pronounced authoritatively. Not merely keyboard support from him however. He accepted an invitation to lead the Democratic Party’s Convention in prayer before the nomination process last August. Even prayer can be weaponised for political ends. One might have expected that Fr Martin would lead his intentions with issues that his congregation found particularly challenging but quite the contrary. He led with intentions that were clearly aimed at the perceived failings of Donald Trump, mentioning Black people, women, immigrants, the LGBT community in turn and in second last place, buffered by a concluding prayer for the inmate in death row, he mentioned the unborn child. The only vulnerable group in his list that his audience did not acknowledge. Since then, the Democrats have issued a photo of Joe Biden being warmly greeted by Pope Francis, with the message that Joe is a Catholic who keeps his faith private. Something of course which completely misses the point of the Christian mandate. A point almost certain to be lost among swathes of poorly catechised Catholics.
Joe is apparently the kind of nominal Catholic who is acceptable to the Democratic Party. A kind of Catholic that is not that rare in the US or anywhere else for that matter. ‘Catholics for Biden’, is a movement akin to ‘Catholics for Choice’, and its mobilisation shows the importance of the idea of faith in American culture. An idea of faith that has become distinct from practice, faith education and most crucially any ethical framework that could reasonably be called Christian. The push for religious endorsement of course extends beyond the Catholic Church but with less success it would appear. The Biden campaign lists a small number of people associated with evangelical Christianity who publicly support their candidate. These include the controversial Gene Robinson, described in the campaign publicity as ‘a former bishop of the Episcopal church’ and Jerushah Duford whose citation merely states she is a grand-daughter of Billy Graham. The Billy Graham namecheck is disingenuous to say the least. In his book ‘Storm Warning’, first published in 1992, the late, renowned evangelist wrote, after citing passages of Scripture ranging from Isaiah to the New Testament, ‘ (F)from these and other passages, I cannot escape the conclusion that the unborn child is worthy of our concern and protection just as a newborn infant or adult’. Even more trenchantly, he described ‘the unfettered practice of abortion on demand as yet another grim sign of the thundering hoof beats of the rider on the pale horse of our time’. One might question how much liberal Christians like Jerushah Duford are familiar with either the words of thoughtful pastors like her late grandfather or indeed the texts of Scripture itself. The US presidential election isn’t just about abortion of course but abortion is without doubt the most controversial and contested issue at this point.
Cultural Christians are the useful idiots of leftist liberalism. They can be characterised as the ‘moderates’ of the faith community, conveniently branding those who are orthodox as ‘far right’ or ‘extreme’. This branding has purchase among people of faith themselves and that includes ministers of every rank. The ruthlessness of the secular attack appears to be gaining in inverse proportion to the weakening of authentic witness especially from the Church’s leadership. But then there is nothing new in this as the pages of history show. Still it is amazing just how bold the aspiring secular supremacists have become. Despite the US’s prohibition of ‘a religious test’ for candidates for public office, including the judiciary, Kamala Harris felt free to demand that a nominee for a federal judicial appointment dissociate himself from the Knights of Columbus for what she characterised as their misogyny. In fact, the Knights of Columbus were doing no more than supporting well established Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life, marriage and family. It was an oblique application of the ’religious test’ by a senator who is now a candidate for Vice President of the US and only a heartbeat away from the country’s highest office. In more recent Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court candidates, Brett Kananaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, Harris returned unabashed to the ‘religious test’ behind proxy attacks on their stance on Roe v. Wade. She pointed out that neither would put their cards face up on the issue in the way the late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg was prepared to do when she told her confirmation hearing in 1993 that she believed abortion rights for women were based on the Constitution’s guarantees of equality and privacy.
Ginsberg was fond of quoting the celebrated American jurist, Oliver Wendall Holmes, who stated that personal convictions should not influence a judge’s deliberations on the Constitution. It is however impossible to separate our convictions from the way we think when faced with a legal provision that is plausibly open to different interpretations either because it is poorly drafted or because the intentions of its authors are open to dispute. There is also the complication of unforeseen changes in attitudes and behaviour requiring old laws to be retro-fitted, as it were, to new ideology. For example, the principle of equality in the US Constitution was broadened over time to encompass racial and gender equality. Today, more controversially in many jurisdictions, the same principle has been used to extend ‘marriage equality’ to same sex couples and to declare transgenderism as normative as what has come to be defined as cisgenderism. On the latter issue, religious and conservative voices are joined by others of usually liberal outlook who perceive that such ‘equality’ runs counter to a biological womens’ right to privacy and safety and to, quite literally, a level playing field in the area of sports. The same self-righteous, secular supremacists sweep down with even greater ferocity on former allies such as JK Rowling, Germaine Greer and Professor Selina Todd.
Daniel O’Connell who was famed as a resourceful and wily barrister once claimed he could ‘drive a coach and four through any law of the land’, notwithstanding that the land was ruled by a hostile power. How much easier when the guardians of the law are on your side ? If principles like ‘equality’ and ‘privacy’ can accommodate the placement of a homicidal trans-woman in a female prison and allow a baby delivered alive in a late stage abortion to die without medical or palliative care, it is not hard to guess the extent to which freedom of speech could be subverted under ‘hate’ legislation. The fact that such a nebulous term can even be considered with little or no protest in this country shows how tight the grip of liberal totalitarianism has already become here.
The signs are everywhere around us. On RTE radio’s ‘Faith and Politics’ programme last week, Ivana Bacik testily dismissed any suggestion that Catholics were ‘silenced’ in today’s Ireland. One might have thought that a Trinity College academic would be familiar with ‘cancel culture’ and the no-platforming of viewpoints typically supported by Catholic teaching. She ought to be aware as a leading campaigner for Repeal that the college’s pro-life activists were banned from campaigning on the college’s campus. Again, the very fact that she and others can make such provocative and easily refuted statements without fear of challenge is as much evidence as one needs to show the reach of secular power across mainstream media and the national broadcaster.
Yet, the forces determined to destroy the ethics of Christian teaching claim to follow an ethical framework of their own. An ethical framework that draws on various declarations of rights which themselves were influenced by the legacy of Christian thought. It is nevertheless subjective and contingent and as such is fast becoming the ‘ship that lurches to and fro’ that Pope Emeritus Benedict warned against in his 1997 talk, Salt of the Earth. Sadly the Church in large part is colluding by its passivity and sometimes its active co-operation in its own undermining. It is evident in America in this landmark election and it is evident here. For Pope Emeritus Benedict, the consequences of this ’tyranny of relativism’ is putting the very survival of humanity ‘in the greatest jeopardy’.