During a recent post about the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, I used the term "cafeteria Catholic" and then -- with great haste -- emphasized that this condition exists on the right side of the political fence, as well. I also personalized the issue, a bit, leading to this exchange with a loyal liberal GetReligion reader:
... [A]s a Democrat I am well aware that there are politically conservative Republican Catholics who choose to eat in their own doctrinal cafeteria.
I just want to make sure I understand: You say you're a Democrat?
-- Mithras, August 29, 2009, at 3:47 pm
Well, I just don't say that I am a Democrat, I am actually registered as one. If you ever walk into my office, look for the large framed portrait of that noted right-winger Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and my well-worn copy of "Fighting for Life," by the late Gov. Robert Casey).
In response to the comment by Mithras, which echoes similar comments I have heard through the years, I posted the following snippet of commentary:
As I have stated many times, I am a pro-life Democrat. I used to be a very standard issue left-wing Democrat, as many folks are in graduate school, but swung back to a pro-life position after reading the famous Sojourners issue on life issues -- especially the Jesse Jackson essay on legalized abortion as a form of institutionalized racism -- back in 1980. That was a turning point. My family's journey into the ancient Eastern Orthodox faith has left me in position where I am highly critical of many positions taken by both of the major parties. It's not an easy era in which to be a consistently pro-life voter.
Now, I post this information again simply to note that I believe that it is possible to be both a traditional Christian in an ancient church and a struggling Democrat. By the way, I also believe that it's possible to be a struggling Republican, while embracing the moral and social teachings of historic Christianity. Like I said, this is not an age for easy choices.
However, Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a striking column on this subject, which I pass along as a point of personal privilege even though GetReligion rarely if every comments on editorials of this kind.
You see, I got really tired of the old "Edward Kennedy was the man the right-wing wackos loved to hate" theme that ran through much of the coverage of the senator's death and his funeral rites. It is, of course, true that many right-wing leaders could not stand the man. However, it's important to remember that not all pro-lifers are conservatives. I would argue that many pro-life progressives -- especially Catholics -- felt a unique and highly painful sense of disappointment through most of Kennedy's political career.
Thus, it's hard for pro-life Democrats not to reflect on the deaths of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her more famous brother.
Thus, Douthat wrote:
What the siblings shared -- in addition to the grace, rare among Kennedys, of a ripe old age and a peaceful death -- was a passionate liberalism and an abiding Roman Catholic faith. These two commitments were intertwined: Ted Kennedy's tireless efforts on issues like health care, education and immigration were explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching, and so was his sister's lifelong labor on behalf of the physically and mentally impaired.
What separated them was abortion.
Along with her husband, Sargent Shriver, Eunice belonged to America's dwindling population of outspoken pro-life liberals. Like her church, she saw a continuity, rather than a contradiction, between championing the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed and protecting unborn human life.
Her brother took a different path.
There were, of course, other issues on which they differed, but it's safe to say that many or most of those issues were linked to matters of Catholic faith and doctrine, as well.
So was Eunice Kennedy Shriver (don't forget her husband, Sargent, too) a liberal Democrat in the Religious Right, or was she a pro-lifer in the Religious Left (perhaps a soul sister to some in the Sojourners orbit)? Or is it safe to say that the press needs to rethink how some of these labels are used?
Of course I take this issue personally. I admit that right up front. But do we really live in an age in which people on the left cannot conceive of a doctrinally traditional Christian being a Democrat? You see, I thought it was the nasty Republicans on the right who were supposed to make those kinds of attacks.
You can also see that this might affect news coverage of some of these sanctity-of-life issues, beginning with abortion and continuing through natural death.
Is it really that hard for journalists to believe that a few pro-life liberals still exist? How about conservative or moderate Democrats who are still pro-life? Might they help President Barack Obama pass a health-care package?