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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pope Giuliani

In recent days, "Catholic" Republican Rudolph Giuliani has taken on religion in public life. Here he declares what is religion:

"That's what religion is all about — it's something that's between you and your conscience and God and then whoever your spiritual advisers are..."

Likewise, another gem:
"I don't get into debates with the Pope," Giuliani told reporters. "Issues like that for me are between me and my confessor. ... I'm a Catholic and that's the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately."

There is much here to address. First of all, a legitimate question might be "whence the lack of philosophical acumen and theological sophistication?" For a person who thinks himself qualified to speak on the great issues of the day, his statements demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of basic terms and principles. It is one thing to clearly and honestly state that one rejects the Catholic faith, but it is quite another to attempt to sell oneself as a contradiction in terms.

Let us address Mr. Giuliani's statements. His first statement is in the indicative, i.e., he is making an objective statement (not unlike "Grass is green."). Unfortunately, his definition of religion is inaccurate. Religio in Latin literally means, "supernatural constraint," "worship," or "obligation." The noun may also etymologically come from the Latin verb ligare which means "to bind." The various English words used as translations of the Latin imply a certain attachment to something higher. Indeed, etymologically, it seems to be proper conduct in accord with the directives of a divine superior. The definition of "religion" in its simplest terms is thus: The moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service He deserves. In other words, the proper conduct owed to God by virtue of one's binding himself to Him. This is much different than the theological articulation provided by Mr. Giuliani. First of all, it seems that Mr. Giuliani cannot articulate the true nature of religion and therefore merely relegates it as "something" between one and one's "conscience" and one's "spiritual advisers." Note the Clintonian rhetoric. Use words that resonate to Catholic ears--"conscience," "spiritual advisers," "confessors" and "God." But notice that he doesn't define what religion actually is and rather serves up an entree of seemingly innocent language that appeals to Americans' appetite not to offend.

Likewise, Giuliani doesn't know the meaning of "conscience." Conscience is the judgement of the practical reason to a particular circumstance based upon principles known to the intellect either through the light of natural reason or through faith responding to divine revelation. Given the context of the statement made by Giuliani and the similar statements made in the past by politicians under similar circumstances, it seems that these folks understand conscience as an exercise of the will to choose a particular course of action; or perhaps one's particular feeling without recognition of the first principles that should guide the judgment of the intellect. At bottom, a confusion between intellect and will.

In his desire to assert that religion is a private matter, he contradicts himself by including other persons--namely God, spiritual advisers and confessors. How can religion be private if these others are included? Further, Giuliani identifies himself as a Catholic. Is he not identifing himself as a member of a larger group, i.e., the Church? And if so, how can he exclude the Pope or his significance to that larger group from the equation? Finally, and most obviously, as soon as he opened his mouth to talk about religion, Guiliani admits that it is not a private matter--he is discussing it with the American people! By his own words, Guiliani cannot claim that religion is private.

I need not get into the theological inaccuracies of Mr. Giuliani's position. He has shown himself to be, at best, woefully ignorant of basic terms and principles; or, at worst, a liar. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. I don't know what motivates Giuliani, I cannot see into his soul nor do I presume to know. Likewise, he is a human person endowed with freedom to choose what position he wishes. But legitimate questions should arise: Is this indicative of his governing style? Will Giuliani govern in accord with right reason or will he rule by sheer force of his will? Can we trust him to make sound decisions or is this another case of empty rhetoric?

Cicero once commented that "knowledge of the principles of right living is what makes men better." I am not confident that Giuliani has that knowledge.