‘Global citizens’ and U.S. politics

A Canadian friend recently alerted me to an international petition being organized by Avaaz.org, a “community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today.” (According to the organization’s polyglots, “‘avaaz’…means ‘voice’ or ‘song’ in…Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Nepalese, Dari, Turkish, and Bosnian.”) The petition asks “global citizens” around the world to participate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election by signing a petition to the remaining American presidential candidates, urging them to repudiate recent American foreign policy, which has “devastated the world’s respect for the United States as a global leader.”

Truth to tell, casting the U.S. as the Evil Empire of the early 21st century (with George W. Bush as wicked Emperor Palpatine) has been made easier by American incompetence in public diplomacy: explaining what it is America is doing, and why, to people around the world who must otherwise depend on the distortions of the BBC and CNN for international news. This incompetence has had a cumulative effect since 9/11; the most lurid (and false) tales of American beastliness are now taken-as-read around the world, as are the most draconian analyses of American intentions. Yet the problem is not simply media-driven; it’s worse.

In December, I spent two days with German social democrats, discussing how assertive religious conviction shapes great world issues today. It soon became clear that my German colleagues and I were looking at the same thing but seeing something quite different. At the end, I felt obliged to tell my hosts a hard truth: “Everything you’ve deplored in this conference will be on the desk of the next president of the United States when he or she walks into the Oval Office for the first time in January 2009. That’s not a hangover from the Bush administration; that’s reality. History has put some unavoidable problems on the global agenda, whether we acknowledge them or not. And if we don’t acknowledge them, we’re in serious trouble.”

What problems?

The problem, for example, of jihadists who strap explosives onto women with Down syndrome and then, from a safe distance, create mass murder by detonating the explosives (and the women) in two Baghdad markets. Americans and Europeans who see the world through a post-Freudian fog imagine that people who perpetrate such atrocities have bizarre personality dysfunctions, exacerbated by American foreign policy. That instinctive reach for the psychiatric ignores the fact that, by their own testimony, jihadists do what they do because they believe God commands them to advance God’s cause by any means – even detonating retarded women. The marriage of a stringent, politicized Islam to a nihilistic cult of death poses a grave threat, both to Muslims with a different idea of their faith’s demands and to the rest of us. That fact (which I try to explain in Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism) isn’t going to change when the American presidency changes hands.

Classic Catholic thought on world politics was resolutely realistic: it asked statesmen to see things as they are, even as it insisted that things need not remain what they are. Indeed, a classic Catholic optic on world politics would insist that the only way to move the world in a more humane direction is to describe the obstacles to that progress accurately. The 20th century ought to have reinforced this basic truth of international public life; Nazism and communism, after all, were not defeated because some people hid behind the soothingly therapeutic notion that Hitler and Stalin could be appeased.

There is, I fear, a sad moral shallowness to Avaaz.org and similar enterprises: a politics of noble intentions detached from the politics of responsibility. Avowed commitments to peace and human rights, however heartfelt, give no one a pass from reality. And they certainly do not confer a claim to the moral high ground. In a world in which the wicked try to impose their will by terror and claim God’s blessing in doing so, naming threats correctly and understanding their origins is the beginning of wisdom, prudence, the defense of decency, and the pursuit of peace.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash