Friday, September 24, 2004

Lagniappe: The Complexity of Archbishop Hughes and the Simplicity of Jesus Christ - Recently, New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes wrote a pastoral letter on Catholics and political life. Naturally, as one might expect, he starts his letter off with a New Testament scriptural reference. He relates the Gospel story of Jesus responding to the efforts of the "Pharisees and Herodians" to catch him in a bind by asking him if it were lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. You know, the whole "give to Ceaser what is Ceasar's, but give to God what is God's" dictum.

Then Archbishop Hughes launches into a lengthy missive on how good Catholics should act politically and what should be the moral stance of Catholics with regard to their public obligations as good citizens.

Again, as one might expect, Archbishop Hughes focuses on the primacy of the defense of life as the single most important concept that should guide Catholic civic life. Abortion is wrong, and should be opposed unequivocally, he says. So is euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research, etc. But when it comes to war and capital punishment, Hughes contends, he gives comfort to those Catholics who support the taking of life through war or capital punishment by painstakingly explaining the ethical wiggle room that the Catholic Church allows regarding these anti-life activities. Hughes uses some high-faluting rationalization he calls "human prudential judgment" to justify support for such anti-life activities.

What I find so ironic and sad is that Hughes is, essentially, acting just like those word-parsing and language game-playing Pharisees and Herodians he refers to in the opening lines of his letter. I've got one thing to say to Archbishop Hughes: Jesus's message concerning life was much simpler than his "human prudential judgment" cerebral parsing. When, on another occasion, these same pharisees, these tricky experts in Church doctrine and Church law, these experts in high-faluting theological rationalizations, tried to trip up Jesus with the same mental games regarding the identification of the greatest Commandment, Jesus' reply was simple: "The greatest commandment is this: love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself." Pretty damn simple and clear to me. If Archbishop Hughes wants to pretend to be more like the Jesus he supposedly represents, I don't see how he can claim that this simple mandate in any way, shape, or form, permits for the killing of one's neighbor in war or by capital punishment. If this is how Hughes interprets the mandate of "loving one's neighbor," then he's god one sick understanding of the meaning of love. And that's a shame, because we have the greatest example of love in the very Jesus Christ himself. What did Jesus do to show his love? He didn't kill, or support killing, or even try to rationalize killing under the special circumstances of "human prudential judgment." No, he just gave up his life. He let himself BE killed. That's the simplicity of the Christian example when it comes to the subject of LIFE. The theologically complex Archbishop Hughes ought to keep this more in mind.

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