The other day, I got into my head that this week, I’d write a column about the new federal health care guidelines that would require employers to cover birth control without any extra fees as part of plans.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had a problem with this and said it was an infringement of their religious freedoms, and then it became a great big huge national issue you’ve probably heard at least a little something about.
I was going to write, “I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. I remember when I worked for the Christian Science Monitor, their company health care plan was very generous. It just didn’t cover doctors, hospitals, dentists or conventional medicine.”
But after that it sort of fell apart into cracks at celibate clergy giving advice on reproductive health, questioning the moral force that Conference still has after decades organizing the hiding of the actions of non-contraceptive-needing priests by paying families hush money and moving the guilty fellows off to a new place, and of course wondering how many Africans have died of AIDS because official Catholic doctrine still finds it more moral to nobly contract HIV than let bodily fluids be sealed away in latex.
It would have gotten mean quickly, and no one wants that.
Fundamentally, of course, the whole matter comes down to two things: religious freedom and the public sphere. That’s why not just Catholic clergy are incensed and why Republican presidential candidates are wise, even cynically, to make this a campaign issue for as long as they’re able.
The thing is, if you’re against government-mandated health care, you’re against it. There are many valid reasons for opposition; this changes nothing. But if the argument against it — or just this part of it — is “God says this is wrong,” well, that’s not enough.
We exist in a multicultural society, and by that I mean, we have lots and lots of people who come from different backgrounds and therefore believe in different things.
Even when we’re all going about our lives, and more or less able to witness the same stuff with these senses five, we arrive at different conclusions constantly. And when you add the religious element, you’re saying that people now have a sixth sense, a private one, that no one else can witness or understand. You’re going to believe it because you hear it. But if you expect anyone else to, now we’ve a problem.
A very good, and therefore not original, example is Abraham. When God told him to kill his son Isaac, Abraham went about going through with it. We’re told this was a good thing, and God stopped him at the last moment.
But if you were to see some fellow tie up his son, hold a knife over the boy and say, “I’m killing you because a voice only I hear commanded me,” you’d darn well better tackle the dad the with the knife and call for help to get the boy out of there.
If bishops had their way, as they used to in Europe and Latin America, let’s not forget, no one would be able to purchase contraceptives anywhere, including the almost universal majority of their flock that has used them at some time in the past and healthy majority that does regularly. No one, including Protestants, non-Christians and atheists, would be allowed to immorally prevent pregnancy in any other way but gaming women’s biorhythms. So my sympathy on the matter of their abridged freedom is minimal.
But the Catholic Church will also say that pregnancy should not be seen as a disease, nor children a burden. And while celibate men are not the best messengers for this, the message is good, necessary and welcome. It is an argument informed by private, revealed knowledge but acting on public reason. The Church is right to make it.
And if they have to indirectly support some things they disagree with, well, we all do. We give money to organizations and governments that do stuff we don’t like. So be it.
They can always submit to rulers and masters and just pay the fine.