The disappointing thing surrounding the present debate on the RH bill (and there are actually many) is how easy it is for the pro-RH side, the so-called "free thinkers", to resort to lies, misleading statements, or even intellectual laziness in expressing their positions.
Case in point is the Pope's comments on condoms. Nowhere in his interview with Peter Seewald did he indicate a shift in Church position, impliedly agree to the lesser evil argument, impliedly agree to the "if you can't be good then be safe" position, or that condoms are permissible in relation to AIDS. And yet, the pro-RH advocates make it out as if there was a major shift in Church thinking. Or worse, they use it to declare that the Church is being inconsistent or confused. All this without even bothering to get the explanations of those really well-versed on the subject or, worse, without referring to the Pope's actual words (even going to the extent of inventing words he did not even say).
The Church is not inconsistent or confused; it is the pro-RH advocates who are. To anybody who actually read Light of the World (I did), far from the Pope showing inconsistency or confusion, he actually gave a vision full of hope and optimism, as well as a clear eyed view and understanding of the human condition. This is a Pope (and a Church) that understands. And this should encourage us, Christians, to have a better understanding as well.
This article is not about the Pope's comments (better explained in other articles by far better writers than I am) but rather as to how the nature of the debate on the RH bill, I believe, is to be conducted. None of what I am about to say is original. They have been culled from teachings stretching all the way from the most modern of saints to the early Church fathers to our lord Jesus Christ. Any error is mine and should not be attributed to the Church and its truthful doctrines. The important thing that I just hope to seek to emphasize is that for those (particularly Catholics) who are against the RH bill and are for a better, humane way of life is that they should always remember the correctness of our position ... and what, more importantly, that actually means.
Better right than popular
Listen to the pro-RH group and it is easy to spot the lack of logic, the inconsistencies, the shallowness of their arguments. Once in a while, they do come up with an argument that seems, on the surface, valid. But which, on closer examination, actually supports the argument against the RH bill and contraception even more.
On the other hand, the Catholic position in this regard is substantive, unified, logical, and cohesive. It is also incredibly rational: from the perspective of health, female and children's rights, labor, trade, the economy, social sciences, and the constitution, the position of the Church is solid. And this is without even reference to the religious doctrinal arguments at its disposal. No survey or popularity rating can or should distract us from this fact.
The arguments against the RH bill have been written extensively in other articles and by other writers and we need not repeat them here. What I am merely trying to stress at this point is the strength of our position, the truth that lies at the core of Church teachings.
And the pro-RH advocates (at least those smart enough to study on the matter) know this even though they won't admit it. That is why they repeatedly exhort and congratulate themselves on their supposed efficient use of public relations and marketing to advance their agenda, and why they mock the Church for it's supposed ineptness in the PR game. But even that betrays their fundamental lack of understanding, either of the consequences of what they are saying or of the Church and it's teachings.
By their heavy reliance on PR, they do not realize that they themselves are exhibiting acts of faith, albeit not faith in a god or higher being but faith in a shallower sense, faith in a very human, very transitory, practice or creation - public relations. And by their faith in the power of PR, they essentially destroy their own arguments in which they allegedly celebrate humanity and free will. By inadvertently framing the debate on who can make a more judicious, creative use of PR, they essentially view people as controlled and acting under mere compulsions and stimuli - that with a few choice words or pictures properly timed, any person can be made to decide in a certain way.
This is precisely what the Church is arguing against, the notion that people are slaves to compulsions and desires. Instead, it is the Church that believes that people have the free will to make a choice and that they have the ability to choose the right choice. And that is why, although it must be said that public relations, advertising, marketing, etc., are all honorable occupations, all of such are merely to be viewed as instruments for the truth. And when the instrument is overriding the very purpose for which it was created, then an imbalance of priorities is there, indicating that something wrong has gone in the process. The Church is staking its position on the correctness and truth of its teachings. Not on how cool, sexy, creative it is but on it simply being the truth, which by itself is powerful enough as it is. Perhaps the case would be different if there are competing truths on the matter, whether it be the better detergent, toothpaste, or politician. Then advertising matters as it does, spin would have the relevance it might have. But this is not the case in this regard. There is one truth and it is the Church that holds it.
Truth is as truth does
Of course, there will be the howls of protest about that last sentence. But indeed Catholics should not be ashamed of that fact. While other religions, denominations, etc., are free to believe what they believe and we respect them for that, we Catholics should not shirk from proclaiming that our faith possesses the complete and actual truth. Theologians can give a better explanation than I could but let me just put it this way: if we didn't have possession of that complete and actual truth, then why believe in the Catholic faith? We believe it, we fight for it, precisely because we believe our faith is true. Other faiths may possess portions of that truth (hence a good reason for us to respect and exercise tolerance for that) but our Church teaches us that the Catholic faith solely contains that perfect truth.
Having said that, then it all becomes the more obvious how disappointing it is that fellow Catholics should be acting the way they did. While clearly it is understandable for people in certain situations to lose their temper or act in a manner less than becoming, we should perhaps reflect again on what it means to be Christian, to be Catholic, particularly in dealing with the issues that we are confronted with today.
For certainly, we are in for a fight: a fight against the RH bill, a fight against an unhealthy form of secularism, a fight against a relativism that holds no respect for values or morals. These certainly are fights worth fighting. But our faith requires us to fight these fights as Christians, as Catholics.
The way, the truth, and pro-life
It is definitely no accident that Jesus referred to his teachings as "the Way" and, in fact, the term "Christians" would only come much later after His death. This means that Jesus' teachings, the tenets of our faith, is not limited to mere church attendance on Sundays but rather for every day and every moment of our lives. The way we eat, sleep, relate to other people, dress up, study or work – these should all be guided by the points of our faith. Christianity is not a mere religion, it is a way of life. And that life is one that is bound to struggles. Jesus never promised a smooth sailing in our earthly lives but he did teach us how to give meaning to the struggles we face everyday, to give sanctification to whatever ups or downs we encounter in our daily existence. Ultimately, what Jesus taught us is a way of living a better life, not only in this Earth, but also of a way of reaching our final and true purpose: to be with God.
Translated in relation to the debate relating to the RH bill, it means that before we act or say anything, such should be done with the consideration that God is always (as it should be) in the equation. Thus, it would be of the utmost help that our instinctive first step before doing anything is to pray. Pray for guidance, to offer to Him whatever actions we will do, to pray that our actions are in line with His will, to pray for grace, in thanksgiving, and to pray that our own wretched sins be forgiven.
The last is quite important. We should have the humility to recognize that we are all sinners. That nothing much is separating us from the pro-RH advocates except for the grace granted to us by God and which we don't deserve were it not for His generosity. Having made that recognition, we should then take the time to make acts of mortification and atonement. This is vital as it opens us all the more to properly being closer to His will. It also enables us to strengthen our faith and temper our actions with humility.
After that (and only then) do we act. For we should be incredibly and utterly careful not to fall into the trap of being self-righteous, which is but another disguise for arrogance. It is simply not Christian to insult others (no matter how insulting those others may be) and definitely very un-Christian for us to wish harm on others (even if those others wish that upon us). It would be a huge waste indeed if instead of turning people towards right we instead turn them off because we ourselves turned wrong by not practicing what we preach. I confess that I myself have resorted to teasing and at times have gotten carried away with that teasing, particularly in the heat of an argument (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa …). But to call others as "Satanas" or to have hoped that "their mothers should have aborted them" is quite a bit over the edge. Albeit, it is quite understandable to lose one's temper in the midst of people who are apparently acting with malice and hypocrisy (pretending to join a pro-Life prayer meeting to "merely listen" while wearing shirts with slogans offensive to pro-lifers and distributing pro-RH pamphlets is not only rude but also not a very smart thing to do). And I mention this not to put undue reproach or blame. The past is past, and is only good to learn from but not to dwell in. The point here is this: we, specially from now on, when our struggle takes the point of being crucial, should always keep in mind who we are: Christians.
Yoda was right: not only is anger not good as it leads to hate (which leads to suffering), anger is also a manifestation of fear. We exhibit anger out of the fears we have. But a Christian should never have fear, should never fear anything. The reason is simple: we are God's children and God is our Father. The technical theological term for this is "Divine Filiation." But by however way you call it, in Christianity we have been called with Christ to share in his sonship and thus are able to call God as our Father. This should tell us one thing that should fill us with assurance: there's no way we can ever lose because our Father never loses because He is God.
In the context of the RH bill debate, this tells us that we should never let the fear or frustration that we might get beaten by the pro-RH people get to us because, simply put, they won't win. First of all, if the RH bill gets defeated, it did so not because of us but despite us. It was God working His will through us, His highly flawed instruments. Any victory attained was achieved by the Hand who wielded the instruments and not by the instruments themselves. If the RH bill gets passed it's because He allowed it, for reasons only He knows, but then we know that He allows things to happen because it will be to our good, because with God all is for the good, because God is good. If the RH bill is passed, let us not lose our peace because His will was done and to do His will is what we are here for. His will being done, let us be thankful, pray to understand His will better, and be happy. The point is, as children of God, we can never lose and this is our faith.
This does not mean that we do not give our best in defeating the RH bill. We should do our best for the simple reason that our acts are opportunities to be closer to God and we therefore offer our works (actually everything: our joys, sorrows, thoughts, words, etc.) to him, to praise Him, honor Him, and to give thanks to Him, and to bring, through our works, the world closer to oneness with God. We thus give our best because one simply does not offer mediocrity to God. In the same way we offer the best gifts we can give to the best of our abilities to our loved ones, then we offer the best to our ultimate love and that is God.
This means that in our efforts to combat the RH bill, it behooves us that we don't do it sloppily or half-heartedly. St. Peter tells us that we should always be ready to defend our faith. So we study well the theological and scriptural reasons why the Church teaches as it does, we study how we deliver that message, and we exhibit discipline in forwarding that message. It means that we be organized and methodical in our approach, that our arguments arise from deliberate study and research (and not mere religious motherhood statements or illogical appeals to emotions), and that we be very conscious and intelligent in the manner that we deliver and expound on our arguments. It also leads us to proceeding with perseverance, caring not who gets the credit, and that we always act with confidence. There is no reason for us to give up or be insecure for the reason that we believe that God, our Father, is guiding us and caring for us. Finally, it also means that we regularly and with great discipline read the Bible, particularly the New Testament, preferably on a daily basis. As St. Augustine said, "when we read, God talks to us." So we do this, even for short bursts during the day, regularly and with discipline, asking the Lord for the grace to appreciate His words better.
You bet your life
But the best way to fight against the RH bill is to live our faith. One of the interesting things when one reads the early accounts by pagan writers (e.g., Josephus, the Letter to Diognetus, etc.) on the first Christians is how impressed they were on the way the Christians lived their lives. For at that time, the behavior of the early Christians was quite unique: they were quite joyful and treated each other with the utmost charity and love. Joy, the ability to be cheerful even in the face of difficulties, is what truly set the Christian apart. Almost every other passage in the New Testament, from the Gospels to the Epistles to Revelations, encourages us to live our faith with joy. We are talking here not of the psychological joy brought about by hormones or drugs but the supernatural joy that comes – again, you guessed it – from the fact that we are indeed the children of God. We should be cheerful in our daily lives, in the way we treat each other, relate to each other, in how we do our work or study. We should be joyful because that is what it means to be Christian.
The other aspect is that we live the life of charity, that we demonstrate our love, to those who are our friends and to those who are not yet our friends. We should not fight this fight like others do; we should not fight this fight by being like them: we should not resort to hating, to spite, to bitterness, to anger, to pride. Because again all that betrays a fear that should not be present in a Christian who should be filled with the confidence of one who is a child of God. We should fight the good fight as who we are; we should fight the good fight as Christians.
In fact, for practical and historical reasons alone, we should not be quick to judge and dismiss those who do not share our faith, even to those who appear to us to be immoral. Remember St. Augustine. We should lament their state, strive to correct them gently, but never hate. We should also note that the pro-RH people aren’t even trying to kill us (or at least I think so). So think about this and remember St. Paul (who earlier on tried to kill the first Christians and see how that turned out for him). With God's grace anything is possible. And for every ferocious opponent we meet now could be that most staunch and effective ally tomorrow.
So we treat the other side (and each other) with charity, with cheerfulness, love, provide understanding in response to their refusal or inability (so far) to understand the wonderful teachings of our faith. We do this because that is what Christians do.
Defense, our way
William Perkins once wrote, "God does not look at the excellence of the accomplishment but at the heart of the worker." In all the heat and passions involved in the debate relating to the RH bill, we Catholics should take the time to reflect on what it means to live our lives within the Christian faith. The fight against the RH bill has nothing to do with our intelligence, talents, ego, education, or credentials. We give our best but the outcome has nothing to do with winning or losing. The outcome we pray for is that God's will be done. And with that we know we cannot lose. But what this debate does give us is an opportunity to demonstrate to all the others what our faith truly means. The "free thinkers" believe that they know how to lead the sophisticated, creative, vibrant life. They have no idea what they're talking about. We know we have the better way, the "way" taught to us by Jesus. Right is on our side. That should give us the security, confidence, cheerfulness, and charity in dealing with others and with this RH debate. Definitely, as St. Peter tells us, we should always be ready to defend our faith. But with the caveat that St. Peter also provided: such defense must always be done with "respect and gentleness" (1 Pet. 3:15).