Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The JFK Speech Fifty Years Later

Abp. Chaput of Denver spoke at a Houston conference of Baptists on the role of religion in public life.

And he wasn't too kind to JFK.

Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He had one purpose. He needed to convince 300 uneasy Protestant ministers, and the country at large, that a Catholic like himself could serve loyally as our nation’s chief executive. Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected. And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.

Here's the reasoning:

Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy – the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don't really believe. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, “I doubt it.”

In other words, an actual Christian conscience is not necessarily congruent with one's own conscience (see, e.g., David Obey.) And, by the way, a well-formed Christian conscience (or well-formed Jewish conscience) is the best guide for governing a country.

A bit more:

He also warned that he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.” But in its effect, the Houston speech did exactly that. It began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties. And it set “the national interest” over and against “outside religious pressures or dictates.

Of course, the 'national interest' is not necessarily opposed to 'religious' thought or formation, and using terms like 'outside........pressures......dictates' is to use inflammatory rhetoric.

John XXIII was not particularly interested in annexing the USA, nor in imposing Canon Law here.

1 comment:

GOR said...

Yes Dad, excellent address by Ab. Chaput. It's too bad that someone hadn't taken JFK to task on this 50 years ago (Cdl. Cushing, for example...).

And the other Kennedy and Democrat enablers since then (Frs. Drinan, Fuchs, McCormick, Curran etc.) who crafted the "personally opposed, but..." doctrine which allowed Catholic Democrats to support abortion, have much to answer for also.

Without them, would so many formerly anti-abortion Democrats have defected to the pro-abortion camp - Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden etc.?