To cite the Madisonian “wall of separation between Church and State” as an argument to dismiss or exempt people of faith from political responsibility is at best anachronistic, at worst disingenuous. We no longer live in an era of Jeffersonian democracy, where the role of the state is limited mostly to the protection of fundamental liberties and defense against foreign aggressors. When over 50% of federal spending goes to entitlements or social services and the total tax burden is rising to the highest level in history, we are confronted with a situation in which the role of the state reaches so deeply into the everyday lives of citizens that it is affecting our ability even to support our religious institutions.
Witness the absence now of any Catholic hospital in our diocese, the closure and consolidation of so many of our schools and the number of parishes forced to delay or curtail their works of evangelization, charity and social outreach just so that they can balance a budget.
Society itself has become so permeated with a tangle of political alliances and mutual dependencies that, whatever the original ideal, we cannot exercise our religious freedoms without engaging in the political arena. Unless, of course, one is willing to accept the revisionist definition of the exercise of religious freedom which shoehorns its expression into the territorial confines of a church building — an ideology that the current HHS regulations controversy has exposed for all to see.
An incarnational faith such as ours does not accept a separation of true spirituality from the the demands of charity, social justice and full participation in community life. To do that meaningfully, every member of the faithful must posses the economic freedom to be able to make conscientious, responsible decisions about income allocation for such things as the support of a parish or mission, school tuition, the Annual Catholic Appeal, capital campaigns and the numerous charities that operate only on the generosity of the faithful. Personal income is eroded through taxation, therefore freedom to practice one’s religion is also limited.
The Scriptures, especially those we read throughout the first three weeks of Lent, are unambiguous about the priority of almsgiving and its essential connection with the salvation of every soul. It is not enough, in an incarnational faith, to be content with living in a “society” where wealth gets distributed by an “invisible hand” — be it the market, the state or some combination thereof. Each individual person must have sufficient economic freedom to be able to give in some way for the needs of others, especially their own children and their neighbor.
Thus the federal budget and tax policy in particular is very much the concern of Catholic citizens inasmuch as it bears directly on the free exercise of our faith. It is difficult to see how one could deny it is a moral duty to become as informed as possible about the economic proposals and ideas of presidential and congressional candidates. For a start, we would recommend a visit to the highly informative website of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org) at which the 2011 Budget Chart Book — essentially, the federal budget in pictures — can be found.
Not only is the taxation of personal income relevant, but also corporate tax policy. Ultimately, what corporations — and which corporations — are taxed, profoundly affects not only the market in terms of consumer prices and the availability of goods and services, but also the employment rate and the kind of jobs that will be available.
The more such freedom is eroded, the less personal the exercise of our faith becomes and the more likely it is to be confined to churches where empty rituals of praise to God have no bearing on the lives of our neighbor and, consequently, our own salvation. In effect, it is a rejection of the central doctrine itself of our Catholic faith: the Incarnation.