(Author’s Note: this article is an updated and expanded version of my previous posting, “Where I Stand”)
“For my own part, I consider myself neither conservative nor an extreme progressive. I would like to think I am what Pope John[XXIII] was—a progressive with a deep respect and love for tradition—in other words, a progressive who wants to preserve a very clear and marked continuity with the past and not make silly and idealistic compromises with the present—yet to be completely open to the modern world while retaining the clearly defined, traditionally Catholic position.”
—Thomas Merton, ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’
For many years, I have walked a tightrope of my own creation by holding views that are considered libertarian, liberal, conservative, Catholic, and humanist—all at once.
I freely admit to being liberal/libertarian on most social issues with the exception of abortion(against it on demand with rare exceptions of rape, incest, and the health of the mother), drug use legalization, and the death penalty(for it—see below)and conservative on fiscal issues. I love the idea of limited government. It would be great to have a real discussion in society about what are the duties of it at all levels(national, state and local) while recognizing the need for the social safety net which has developed in our country over the past 100 years.
I know that my support of the right of same sex couples to marry puts me at odds with my Catholic faith. I dance on the head of a pin with this one—I bow as a loyal son of the Church to its position on the issue but plead that in good conscience I cannot see Jesus condemning homosexuals (remember he hung out with lepers, rebels, prostitutes, and tax collectors). I must also defer to our government’s obligation to apply laws equally to all its citizens, not having the right to discriminate based on the sexual orientation of the individual.
I know that my support of the death penalty also puts at odds with many of my fellow Catholics as does my belief that there is such a thing as a ‘just’ war. As much as I hope and believe that humanity is basically good, I have to acknowledge that there are individuals who commit acts of violence which calls for the ultimate in human judgment as a price for those acts after receiving the full benefits of our legal system. I believe that each of us is called to account for our lives at the time of death, but there is a place for judgement on the human level for one’s actions, too.
As much as I work and hope and pray for peace, I have to acknowledge that there are times that going to war is necessary in the defense of freedom and to protect human life. Fighting to preserve the Union and end slavery here in the United States; fighting to end the dark years of fascism and genocide in Europe; the failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s, the Armenian genocide in the mid 1910s and the Killing Fields of Cambodia are examples of ‘just war’scenairos.
The decisions in each of these categories should be reached on an individual basis after full and honest weighing of the facts, beliefs, and other options.
One of the most contentious issues for me is that of “illegal immigration” and the “undocumented”. It is an issue where my views of necessity and compassion as a human being meets my support of the right of enforcement of existing law. It has been hard for me to find the right balance on this issue given my membership in the League of United Latin American Citizens, my marriage to a Mexican-American woman who was born here in the United States but whose parents(my in-laws) were here with an “undocumented” status for many years prior to my late wife’s birth and which wasn’t changed until she was about 8 years old, and my political identification as a Republican/conservative. My hope is that wisdom on the issue shown on all sides will lead to a solution which balances the best of American ideals—ideals of ‘the melting pot’ and also the respect of the rule of law.
I fervently pray that the worser side of American history—the Know Nothings, the nativists, the Occupiers, the Black Lives Matter crowd, the KKK, the Donald Trumps of the land—will not be the final voices heard on this issue or any issue.
While others seek the black and white of situations and events, I have always been stuck in the gray. I see things in the world not as extremes and clear-cut cases, but as nuance and shadow. The world is rarely clean and orderly in what it hands out. It is always full of gradation. It is perfectly summed up in the symbol for ying and yang. The white has a spot of black in it; the black has a spot of white in it. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Or as my dearest and sweetest friend says to me often, “We are perfect in our imperfection.”
I have searched for a simple way to explain what the mixture of my views and beliefs can be summarized as. It was only recently by chance that I came across the quote(see the beginning of this article) from a work by the Catholic monk/writer Thomas Merton from one of his many books and articles. It is the closest thing to a description of my worldview that I have ever come across. It is truly a God-sent gift for me. I will rely on it now to share with my fellow humanity and on the day of my death when I face my assessment in heaven. I pray that both Man and God, especially you, my Heavenly Father, find it and me worthy. Amen, Amen, Amen!