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God Among the Delegates Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Editor’s Note: Today is the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. About three thousand people died that day and we must never forget them or grow weary of combating the religious perversion that made such mayhem possible. But we should also remember that about the same number of Christians are martyred in various places around the world every week. And right here in the United States, we kill that many children in the womb every day. Our friend Hadley Arkes traces here some of the main attitudes that have led to normalizing that slaughter of the innocents. At The Catholic Thing, we are committed to defending all human life from the womb to the furthest reaches of the planet. Along with allies in other organizations, we have been slowly moving the American people to regard themselves as pro-life. If you think this battle and the many others we are engaged with are crucial to the future of the Church and the nation, please make your tax-deductible donation of $40, $70, $100, or more to The Catholic Thing today. – Robert Royal

The story is recounted from the years when the redoubtable Robert Maynard Hutchins was president of my University of Chicago: Two professors of philosophy were in the bathroom of the Quadrangle Club, and one asked the other, “Are you still working on [the problem of] God.  The voice of the president came over one of the stalls:  “He should let God work on him.”

But that advice would have been even more urgent for Hutchins’s old party, the Democrats, during their national convention last week. In the filmed records, we will now have a lasting image of delegates, on their feet, shouting their high outrage as the managers sought to insert at least one reference to God in the Democratic platform. 

The outrage was fueled by disbelief, for it was clear to anyone with normal hearing that the voice-vote did not come even close to the two-thirds vote required to amend the platform. But the managers were compelled to call for a voice-vote: They could not possibly want a roll call, with a record jarringly precise of the number of delegates who were willing to vote against even a passing mention of God.

But it wasn’t simply a matter of adding a word to the platform. The issue ran far deeper than that. It ran back to the beginning of the American regime in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration appealed first to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” as the very ground of our natural rights.  

The drafters declared that “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal,” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” George Bush was not embarrassed to insist that these are “God given rights” – not rights that we had merely given to ourselves.  For if we had given them to ourselves, we could as readily take them back or remove them.   

And there was the heart of the question. If we could take surveys of the delegates to the two political conventions, the delegates would no doubt divide sharply. My own guess is that about 80 per cent of the Republican delegates would regard it as a settled truth that we were “endowed by [our] Creator” with certain rights, and that roughly the same portion of the Democratic delegates would find the notion laughable.


     The Democratic National Convention: where God was booed

One task for the managers was to keep that laughter of ridicule from being overheard by the public outside the hall.

The mention of God came in a conventional sentiment, offered in passing, about a country in which each person can realize his “God-given potential.” That sentiment may be discounted, though, by the awareness that most of the delegates also think that babies in the womb are themselves only “potential” human beings. 

And so we may wonder: when do human beings acquire that “God-given potential”? If we all have it, from the beginning, then the platform should record a pious commitment to “God-given potential, unless it is necessary to snuff out what God has given.”

Actually, some of the speakers came close to that language, for the need to defend the indefensible will drive that tendency, strongly working in politics, to generate euphemisms. George Orwell noted the dynamic in his famous essay on “Politics and the English Language”: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.”  

The equivalent – or worse – was provided by Tim Kaine, the former Governor of Virginia and candidate now for the U.S. Senate.  Speaking of the Republicans at their convention, he said, “Last week, they passed a platform demanding privacy for Super PACs and denying privacy to women making health care decisions.” 

“Health care decisions” are rather like “reproductive medicine,” i.e., not “reproduction,” but killing, the denial of reproduction. And here, the euphemism covers the novelty in the law never made explicit: that the courts have crafted nothing less than a right to kill for one’s own, most “private” interests.

With his own large nature, and the reach of his Church, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was willing to encompass both political conventions with a closing prayer at each. The prayers were essentially the same. But with the Democrats, his plea for the protection of children in the womb and the institution of marriage stood in stark opposition to the doctrines that claimed the devotion of the delegates. 

Some of our friends have taken that confrontation as the ground to approve and savor the Cardinal’s moment at the convention. But I doubt that the delegates paid much attention. They were free to regard him as rather like the balloons that float down on cue – just another part of the color and rituals at the convention, with a meaning the delegates were free to ignore. 

Far more likely, I fear, was the reassurance to many Catholics still wanting to hang on in their old party: that the dramatic opposition to the mandates on contraception, the peremptory dismissal of religious freedom, the full-bore support for same-sex marriage and abortion – that all of this was high drama that finally made no political difference. 

Once again, they could infer, one could support all of these things and still be a good Catholic. I adore Cardinal Dolan, in his conviction and warmth and that large nature.  But I wish he had gone to a ball game that night.


Hadley Arkes
is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and the Director of the Claremont Center for the Jurisprudence of Natural Law in Washington. D.C. His most recent book is
Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, September 11, 2012
"But I wish he had gone to a ball game that night." It was very important for Cdl Dolan to be at the DNC, for his appearance gave cover to "catholics", and others, to vote for Obama. In the March 26/April 2, 2012 Newsweek magazine (p. 34) it states that in 1984, "That is how Barack Obama,operating out of an office at the Holy Rosary Church on the South Side, began his career as a community organizer." This relationship between the Church and Obama and fellow thinkers has existed for decades.
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written by Grump, September 11, 2012
"Do not be yoked with unbelievers." Dolan would do well to delouse after hobnobbing with the dems.
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written by Jack,CT, September 11, 2012
To be critical of the Cardinal for a prayer in any venue
is over the line ,besides did you here the content, THEY
WERE ALL CATHOLIC VALUES.So i respectfully disagre....cut
a very Holy man some slack!
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written by debby, September 11, 2012
Dear Prof. Arkes,
"I adore Cardinal Dolan, in his conviction and warmth and that large nature. But I wish he had gone to a ball game that night."
SO DO I.
Although of late my "adoring" him is waning.
The Cardinal confuses me- I personally find him more than affable; he is contagious! But in the last several months I find myself repeatedly questioning if his "joy of the Lord" is truly virtue to be emulated or just a charismatic personality trait. I had looked to him initially as a loving father figure, but have found him sending dysfunctional double messages by his speech and behavior. Our Church needs the voice of Clarity! Truth! Plain Speech! "Yes be Yes and No be No" and that is enough!
I find this disconcerting and scary. I hear echoes of cries of the masses and right hands being raised in salute. I believe that guy was pretty awe-inspiring as well! (not that i am saying Dolan is demonic - my point being, i can be fooled by a leader's appeal and appearances.)Dear God! why is it so impossible to find a Man of God like St. John the Baptist? Could you imagine the great Saint being called to Herod's table to "give the blessing" and then just go your way? Or worse, INVITING Herod to dinner?
It's not that complicated. Virtue is found in Simplicity. I don't get him. Now, I don't trust him. And that grieves me.

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written by DS, September 11, 2012
I'm glad that Cardinal Dolan did not go to a ballgame. And he certainly did not need to delouse. He was faithfully doing his job as a priest and pastor.

His offering of prayer to Almighty God was not done for managing impressions among the delegates or instructing the Catholic electorate on how to vote. It was an honest and open prayer of thanksgiving and petition. I think the Cardinal understands that Internet columns and platform planks won't stop abortion. Changing hearts will, and that is utterly impossible without prayer.

So Cardinal Dolan followed our good Lord's example. He met people where they were...amidst sin and corruption in their lives. And he prayed with them.

I suggest that we join the Cardinal in prayer.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., September 11, 2012
That scene of the anti-God gang having their voice vote overridden by the chair was more dramtic and telling than any movei director could have concoted. The True Nonbelievers had no real reason to feel betrayed. They had no illsuions about the Presdient being a Christian, having accepted that their fellow atheist and Great Leader's charade was but a necessary ruse to get the support of foolish believers. But the undemocratic naure of the proceedings should be telling to sall, esepcially to true Liberals and blievers in freedom, and democracy. How telling also that the Vice Presdient often calims that nhis boss ahs a backbone of steel. Who was the other chap that took the alias Man of Steel?
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written by Sue, September 11, 2012
You go pray with the closet Communists, you come out looking like you gave a benediction ("blessing") to the closet Communists.
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written by Other Joe, September 11, 2012
When the president appeared at Notre Dame, he required that the crucifix be covered. He, of course, had the option of not appearing at a Catholic university, but he did. He wanted the political goodies. He made sure we all knew that his sensibilities trumped those of the venerable university. He wanted the principle symbol of the religion covered, and here is the breathtaking part - it was! The message is inescapable. His sensibility reigns supreme. That was the real point of the entire exercise. It was a shameful accommodation. Recently, it has been reported, he responded to the question, "How do you define sin?" by saying (and this sums it up perfectly) - "Not being aligned to my values." His statement may be interpreted in various ways, but none of them are good. At some point the church must say no and must stand up for Catholic sensibilities, which reflect a reverence for God, an even higher power than the president. A generation from now, this will all be embarrassingly obvious. Meanwhile men of affairs are playing at cleverness while the spirit of the anti-Christ prowls in the shadows. Debby and Grump have it right.
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written by Seanachie, September 11, 2012
Excellent observations/article, Hadley. What I found most disconcerting about the God and Jerusalem exclusion issues from the Demo platform was that Obama, according to reports, knew about the exclusions well in advance. How shameful for a U.S. president and his party! But, it does explain much of the policy and many of the programs (pogroms) emanating from the Obama administration. How can any American who enjoys his/her God-given and Constitutionally acknowledged rights even consider re-electing this bunch?
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., September 11, 2012
Dear Seanachie: My sentiments and convcitons are identical to yours. But the answer to your question is quite clear to me. Let us just look at the Catholics. Many self-identified Catholics, particularly and scandalously graduates of Catholic colleges, believe that Mr. O's "social programs" will feed the hungry and thereby reduce abortions. Some of them actually believe that the true Catholic postion is to suppport homoseuxal marriage. Many believe that opening the borders to all want who to enter the US compsensates for the damage done by his very real War on the Catholic Chruch. When Mr. O's clear and deep cannection with Marxism is pointed out they say that ever since Vatican II the Catholic Church no longer opposes communism. I've heard that from priests, not stoned-on-pot teens! Sorry, folks, but I think that those of us whose friends are mostly orthodox in thier beliefs might not know what is going on in Guitar Mass Land where they say that EWTN means Elderly Women Talking Nonsense.
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written by Dave, September 11, 2012
What would Cardinal O'Connor have done?
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written by G.K. Thursday, September 11, 2012
Cardinal Dolan has made a tough choice: eat with the sinners/Pharisees, yet confront them about their sin, or simply pronounce woe on them and be done with it. Which is the right choice? Jesus certainly used both tactics in his ministry, so it is possible to comment recommending either of the two.

I can only reflect on the circumstances of the Cardinal's choice. What was he aiming to achieve by praying at both conventions? It can't have been to "cover all the bases", so what was he doing in those prayers? I think he was trying to use the prayer time at each convention to slip in a small homily about Roman Catholic teaching. if he had not spoken, would that have been better?

Certainly there are some venues that it would not be appropriate for the Cardinal to appear at, no matter what the opportunity to preach might be. To me this year's Democratic convention was so entirely morally offensive that I could not in good conscience have gone. But then I probably wouldn't have eaten with all the people that Jesus did either.

Either Cardinal Dolan is doing something very holy or very foolish. It's not clear to me which it is right now. I do know that I wouldn't do what he's doing. But I can't judge his ministry as a bishop of Christ's Church simply by my own predilections. That would be a sin.
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written by Jack,CT, September 12, 2012
Some people complain "Just cause they can..lol"
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written by Jack,CT, September 12, 2012
Mr Coleman,
attacking a 90 year old Nun?, Really....you
proud of yourself, your in my prayers sir.
Jack
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written by Sue, September 12, 2012
Cardinal Dolan has built up an inordinate focus on his role as USCCB head, considering both the history and the lack of canonical authority USCCB has. All of this USCCB publicity has had the unfortunate effect of undermining each individual bishop's authority and motivation to tend to the gardens in their own diocese.
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written by Chris in Maryland, September 13, 2012
Sue - I emphatically agree - Cdl Dolan is very high on the USCCB - and that organization is used to undermine the moral witness of individual Bishops. I appreciate Bishop Bruskewitz, one of the bishops who has criticized USCCB.
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written by Jack,CT, September 14, 2012
Dear "DS", Great remarks totally agree!
Jack

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