By Ted Furlow
I have long been interested in the body politic that governs our communities and our nation. It is Lincoln’s “government by the people,” but unfortunately it seems at every level we are losing our grip on how to do it.
I am concerned over the recklessness, viciousness and tenor of today’s political street theater, and I am greatly concerned for my fellow Catholics who are indulging themselves in the muddy stuff of propaganda politics.
Our Catholic citizenship calls us to a civil dialogue, a reasoned participation, and a fidelity to the gospel, not this wave of vitriol, mudslinging, and intolerance in which we find ourselves. Daily, it seems that outright lies have become the currency of politics, and they are told and believed by people who should know better. In today’s political climate, those who shout the longest and the loudest, those who make the most outrageous allegations, and those who make things up and then call them facts, seem to be on the winning side. Across the social spectrum, Internet trolls, populists, and self-styled messiahs, deliver a deluge of “fake news.” It is delivered under the cynical cover that they report or comment, and the reader or listener gets to decide what is true. We risk becoming addicted to our darker self if we fixate on this flow of information that is more provocative entertainment than fact. Whatever happened to “He serves best who serves the truth”?
This social/political phenomenon can have a chilling effect on people of faith. It manifests itself in a ready willingness to rationalize uninformed excessiveness as a response to religious beliefs. We have seen it in the recent silencing of voices with whom this new militant, media based world disagrees. For example, Father James Martin, S.J.,was disinvited from a speech at Catholic University simply because he has written a new book inviting dialogue with the LGBT community. I haven’t read the book, and I am guessing that those who protested haven’t read it either, but that didn’t stop the avalanche of threats, provocative accusations, and school yard name calling that drove the School of Theology to cave in on having Martin appear. Are these Catholics so anti-gay, so fear filled, so simplistic, and so manipulated by faux truths, to be this bigoted and irresponsibly repressive? Is this the better self that we are called to in the gospel? I am Jesuit educated from high school through a master’s degree, so I may be a bit prejudiced, but Martin is a brilliant writer, sound theologian and credible thinker, and I find the volume and purpose of this shunning not only irresponsible, but morally and theologically tone deaf to the words of Jesus.
The players in this dangerous drama, responding out of what they thought was the certainty of their religious belief, should reconsider. To lead with hate and bias based on an individual interpretation of the will of God, is biblical and theological illiteracy.
So, consider this, when God gave Moses the foundations of Mosaic Law, he did so with the Decalogue, 10 simple commands. God significantly chose as the second one that they should not take His name in vain. This means more than calling out God when we hit our thumb with a hammer. When we use religion as a weapon against someone with whom we disagree, we use the name of God in vain. When we ignore the heart of the Good News of the Kingdom, we use the name of God in vain. When we show no mercy, love, or compassion to our fellow man, we use the name of God in vain. So, when we use God in in this manner of extreme verbal violence, we are in effect cursing and swearing.
Is that not blasphemy?
Ted Furlow is a retired former Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of San Bernardino and continues in marriage preparation ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.