Friday, May 13, 2005

Bumper Sticker Religion

During the last election, the onslaught of bumper stickers was amusing. The lines got a little blurred, and I was a lot less amused, when I found a bumper sticker hanging in the “Pro-life” section of our church’s hallway bulletin board. The bumper sticker I refer to is the “You can’t be Catholic AND Pro-Abortion,” which no doubt you’ve seen on the bumpers of several vehicles around you. (Just today I saw it in the Target parking lot.)

I take issue with that bumper sticker on many levels. Without getting too far into it, I think it’s worthy to note the separation of church and state issue is defendable by all means, and I could argue that the political bumper sticker didn’t really belong on the bulletin board in the first place. However, during the last election I was hungry for our own parish leaders to step up and speak more forthrightly about how each leader fell into the church’s teachings, so I have to say in all honesty, the fact that the bumper sticker was political isn’t want bothered me.

What does bother me? Where do I begin? First and perhaps most obviously, I don’t think anyone out there is running around chanting “Kill the fetus! Kill the fetus!” That is about the only “pro-abortion” sentiment I can imagine, and well, I can’t imagine it. My point is, I don’t think people are ever pro-abortion. But that’s just semantics. The bigger point is the bumper sticker was antagonistic, and I don’t think antagonism belongs in a church hallway.

On a higher, more important level, I don’t like the bumper sticker because it implies that if I voted for a “pro-choice” candidate then I was less Catholic than my Republican counterparts. And that would be wrong.

That implication of course had a lot of support, unfortunately, from our new Pope, who as a cardinal authored the comments that it was okay for priests to deny communion to pro-choice candidates. I lost a lot of hope for the Catholic faith, the same faith in which I find so much powerful good, when I heard that. Hearing that in the last election a larger percentage of Catholics voted Republican than ever before worried me. Here we had the chance to put a rosary-praying man into the Oval Office. Imagine the power of the rosary in that room! Just imagine. Instead, we allowed ourselves to be put into an over-simplified category of “anti-abortion,” and co-opted by the more effective marketing of the Republican Party controlled by Christian fundamentalists, many of whom look down upon Catholicism.

Here’s the thing. I, too, am anti-abortion. I too, believe that a fetus is indeed a life; a life that God created. My greater goal is to lessen the number of abortions. In that way, I am very much pro-life. And I truly believe that the Democratic platform not only makes abortion more rare, but also more fully encompasses a pro-life stance. (For a very reasoned, well-said article from Tikkun magazine on the subject of “Pro Life Democrats” please take some time to follow this link: Pro-life Democrats: We’re here. We’re sincere. Get used to it.) Recent research indicates that the number of abortions under officially pro-choice president Clinton decreased by 17.4 percent. The abortion rate has INCREASED 14.6 percent under our current officially pro-life President. Tim Russert pointed out in a “Meet the Press” episode several weeks ago that the abortion rate in “Red States” is actually higher than in “Blue States.”

If I were supporting antagonism in the church hallway, I would have made a bumper sticker that said, “You can’t be Catholic and Pro-WAR” and hung it up. (I didn’t notice any priests denying communion to politicians who voted for the war, which Pope John Paul II spoke strongly against.) Instead, I mentioned it to the right people and the offending bumper sticker was removed.

So, my friends, my fear is that by buying into the antagonistic slogan-brandishing politics of pro-life versus pro-choice, we lost a beautiful opportunity to enrich the heritage of the Catholic tradition of social justice (one that encompasses both medical care and health insurance for the masses, as well as quality education for everyone, two things we Catholics can claim as causes we have contributed much to society for) and support a Catholic into office. Food for thought.


At 5/19/2005 8:47 AM, Anonymous Steph Mineart said...

It's good to hear people articulate thoughtful and reasonable responses about the abortion issue, because there are so many extreme and unreasonable opinions out there. I don't talk about the abortion issue much because it has too much personal resonance for me, but in essence I agree with you; I'd like to see far less abortions occurring, and I think that as a society we should be doing more to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to give women *good* options other than abortion when they are pregnant.

At the same time, having once been pregnant as the result of a rape, I feel strongly that the choice of what to do with an unwanted pregnancy should always and solely lie with the mother, and that abortion, although it's an undesireable option, should be still be among the choices.

I think that if society took a good look at where unwanted pregnancies are coming from, we'd learn a lot of difficult things about ourselves.


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