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Is it OK to disagree with the church?

Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia
Bill O’Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia

I read an op-ed piece yesterday by Bill O’Reilly in which he criticizes Caroline Kennedy for her speech at the Democratic National Convention. Kennedy identifies as both Catholic and pro-choice (something that, in my experience at a Catholic university, the typical Catholic would not say out loud — much less in the national spotlight). O’Reilly states, “Caroline Kennedy has to know that the Catholic Church condemns abortion. It is a mortal sin in the eyes of the institution. There is no debate on that. So for Ms. Kennedy to describe herself as a Catholic woman in the context of promoting ‘reproductive rights’ is a direct insult to her religion.”  O’Reilly is himself Roman Catholic and appears to take Kennedy’s stance very personally.

Now I am not writing to debate abortion or the “war on women” that is so readily in the spotlight in this election season. Rather, I am interested in the idea that O’Reilly’s complaint is that Kennedy does not follow her church’s teaching on this particular issue and, as a result, one who would damn the belief of her church. From my standpoint, O’Reilly’s remarks are ignorant and irresponsible. He indicates that one who participates in a particular faith tradition should blindly toe the line of whatever stance that tradition takes. I imagine this is reflective of O’Reilly’s belief that politicians, too, should toe their party line.

The simple truth is that dissent from a particular teaching creates the opportunity for conversation and, eventually, opportunity for change. Mary Ward, for example, was a 17th Century nun who did not believe that nuns should be required to wear the habit and should be allowed to leave convent grounds for ministry work. The magisterium disagreed. But her movement continued and, after her death, the official policy changed. From then on, nuns have been allowed to integrate with society doing ministry in “street clothes.” I imagine most people today have no issue with nuns in street clothes, but it was a big deal in the 17th Century!

Clearly, Kennedy’s remarks are different because there is biblical evidence against her position, but it is our privilege to have free will and choice in determining how we will stand on particular issues. So, while I respect O’Reilly’s right to criticize Kennedy’s stance because he disagrees with it, I think he is overstepping his bounds in criticizing her faith based on her stance of this particular issue.

As I have mentioned in previous articles and comments, I believe that our experience of living must be a combination of faith and reason. It is irresponsible to blindly accept everything a church says — we were given minds with a purpose. And, subsequently, it is irresponsible (and I would argue disrespectful) to expect others to blindly accept particular teachings. Further, attacking one’s faith (or perceived lack thereof) is ignorant and immature — stick to the issue at hand and leave personal feelings aside. To do otherwise is solely a reflection of self and one’s inability to reason.

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5 comments

  1. Try that at a Planned Parenthood convention and see how much openness, dialogue and support you will find if you seek to challenge the pro-choice position of that institution.

    It’s common sense to know that if you publically and nationally challenge the core convictions of an institution such as the catholic church, your going to be called out. I’m not catholic but I share the frustration with people freaking out about anyone who dares hold to absolutes. A nuns habit and the life of the unborn are incomparable examples. That’s like challenging the gays on the legitimacy of thier position on equal rights, it ain’t going to change and for someone to insert themselves as some type of iconoclast is questionable to me.

    Defacing tradition sounds noble until you seek for the history of a people and discover some “more enlightened” group ground it to powder in the name of progress.

    I don’t buy it.

  2. What are you saying? I cannot distinguish what you are arguing.

    Are you saying that a pro-choice activist, with views not entirely aligned with planned parenthood, would be a heretic, or somehow be treated as a pariah? Please…

    Holding absolutist opinions screams primary morality; take the time to consider the gravity, the reality, and the consequences of absolutism and the dogmatic traditions that require one to think that way.

    I for one, am glad certain traditions, institutions, and archaic ways of thinking have been “ground to dust” and personally hold that many more ought to be as they prove time and time again to be a hinderance to enlightened thought, bastions of corruption, and a roadblock to scientific advancement.

    Thomas Paine puts it most eloquently, “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”

  3. My example of a prolife person trying to change the pillars of prochoice positions, is what I was getting at, it just would be a joke to try to do it and the response would be similar.

    As for all the other stuff you said, I don’t know really what to say to that, your free to hold at opinion.

    If you took away all that faith based folk did in this country from hospitals, to education, to social services, and a myriad of other community supporting activities and then asked the American tax payer to foot the bill for replacement services…you’d see just how important those traditions and practices are to Ameican communities.

    Faith’s good works in our cities, neighborhoods and nation, speak for themselves and to say differently is to speak from ignorance or animosity.

  4. I would like to remind everyone that my comments are not about the abortion issue but rather about personal attacks based on one’s faith (or, as mentioned before, perceived non-faith).

  5. Kyle,
    Thank you for the article.
    In some faith traditions, the voices of those who raise questions about the status quo are considered prophetic. Raising the issue from with in the faith is more faithful than those who step outside of the community and then harangue the institution to change. Kennedy has skin in this, just as O’Reilly. They are both free to challenge or defend the stance of the church, but never to question each other’s faith, for if properly placed, faith is not in the institution but rather in God.

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