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Catholics, Contraceptives, Conservatives, and the Constitution

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The heated exchange between the Catholic Church and the Health and Human Services ruling on health insurance coverage of birth control has nothing to do either with religious freedom or with birth control. It is all about run-of-the-mill conservative politics, and the Church's attempt to retain a shred or two of its moral authority.


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The Obama administration's ruling that required church-affiliated institutions to provide birth-control coverage for their employees provoked a furor from the leaders of the Catholic Church. This outrage was completely hypocritical, and had nothing whatsoever to do with religious freedom.

Church and State by unknown

Of course, to listen to Church leaders tell it, religious freedom was the only thing at stake. Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worchester, Massachusetts, issued a statement that was characteristic of the uproar. In ruling as it did, McManus said,

the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics and people of other faiths our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, the free exercise of religion. As a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so.

Some might say that members of the College of Bishops, which did nothing to stop clerical pedophilia for generations, are not very credible on matters of conscience.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a valid point here. The HHS ruling certainly created the potential for conflicts of conscience.

The press was quick to point out that the law does not force anyone to actually use the birth-control provisions of their insurance policies. Thus no Catholic would ever be forced to use contraception unwillingly.

This, however, may be the most egregious form of coercion, but it is not the only one. Catholics might also experience violation of conscience if they are forced to be involved at any point in a causal chain that might lead to someone else committing a sin. The ruling as originally proposed did nothing to obviate this sort of abuse. The Catholic administrator who had to approve a policy that might be used by an employee to commit the sin of contraception; the Catholic nurse who felt pressured to send a patient to a clinic that might in turn help the patient to commit the sin; the Catholic janitor who felt pressured by the general atmosphere of acceptance to respond obligingly to a request from a non-Catholic coworker about how to access birth-control services--these are only a few of innumerable compromising situations that would be a direct result of the ruling. Although these people would not experience a conflict of conscience in regard to their own behavior, their finely tuned consciences would be outraged by the government compulsion to play even an indirect role in enabling some one else to sin.

If the Church really had been making this argument, a fair-minded person might well have been inclined to take its side in the matter.

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Until, that is, one learned certain facts.

Like the fact that 98% of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. It seems that these women have already their conflicts of conscience. And since they are not conflicted about using birth-control themselves, they could hardly be conflicted about being an indirect cause of someone else using it.

Or like the fact that Catholic hospitals and colleges all over the country have been providing birth-control coverage along with their health insurance for years now. Obviously, everyone from the administrators down to the janitors have reconciled their consciences as well.

Or most telling of all, the fact that twenty-eight states already have mandates similar to the new federal ruling, or even more stringent. In Georgia, to mention just one, the mandate has been in effect since 1999, throughout ten years of entirely conservative rule in all branches of state government. And yet there has been no outcry against these state mandates. Obviously the Church, all its affiliated institutions in those states, all the conservative Catholics and Christians in those states, and the Church nationally as well, has found a way to reconcile their issues of conscience with these state mandates to provide birth-control coverage.

The Catholic Church had long ago entered into a sub rosa agreement between the clerics and the laypersons on birth control. The faithful allow the clergy to continue denouncing birth control from the pulpit, while the clergy allow the faithful to pay no attention. Within the context of this hypocrisy, the clergy could feel as though their authority were not being challenged, and the faithful could do as they pleased.

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This being the case, why did the Church leaders suddenly spring up in high dudgeon over the HHS ruling? Why did this particular mandate suddenly outrage the Church's conscience, while the mandates they had lived with for years never bothered them?

In order to understand this phenomenon, one has to put aside the posturing about religious freedom, and look at the obvious difference between the old mandates and the new one. The earlier laws--some of which, again, prescribed even stricter compliance than the new law--created state mandates. The new law created a federal mandate. Since the Church was only too willing to go along with the state laws, but roared with outrage at the federal law, the difference in its reaction must be due to the difference in jurisdiction.

The state mandates were tolerable to the Church within the context of the agreement between clergy and laity, because those mandates succeeding in extending the hypocritical understanding only marginally into the public sphere. As long as there were some states that did not challenge the Church along with those that did, it was amenable to both clergy and laity not to draw attention to the hypocrisy. And since no other groups really cared whether the Church was being internally hypocritical, there was virtually no one in society other than comedians who would even mention it.

But as soon as the federal government issued the mandate, the whole situation changed. The Church's hypocrisy itself was suddenly under attack as a front for committing an injustice against the members of society who did not ascribe to the Church's beliefs. For the Church to acquiesce to the mandate on the federal level would mean to admit the hypocrisy, and to submit to the moral judgment of the federal government. It would mean admitting that there is a higher moral power on earth than the Church itself, a power that can reprimand the Church and compel it to cease acting unjustly.

Did the HHS ruling provoke an irresolvable conflict between temporal and spiritual authority? Did it throw the nation headlong into a roiling controversy between religious freedom and government oppression? Hardly.

Opposition to federal mandates is just run-of-the-mill conservative politics. And so was most of the Church's ruckus. For the most part, the real motivation hiding behind the ecclesiastical robes was the habitual conservative opposition to federal mandates on individual citizens and groups of citizens within the states.

And why do conservatives hate federal mandates so much?

To listen to them tell it, federal power is tyranny itself. They claim that local government is more responsive to the people, more representative of them, more sympathetic to their concerns because of its proximity to their daily lives.


Here's an example of responsive, representative, sympathetic local government in the hand of conservatives: Just recently, a state court in Wisconsin demanded that the state Republican party hand over documents they were refusing to make public concerning the most recent round of redistricting in that state. The documents show unequivocally that the Republicans redrew the state's districts for pure partisan advantage and disenfranchised 300,000 voters in ways they had previously been prohibited from doing. The documents also show that all the participants involved were instructed to disregard any public input on these matters, and were also required to sign a non-disclosure agreement covering the meetings in which theses strategies were developed.

So much for conservative cant about the sanctity of local government. Conservatives champion local government because they believe that they can keep control of it more easily than they can control federal government. If they have control, they can do as they please, trample anyone's rights, rig all the works to their advantage. And they could actually get away with it--except for the authority of the federal government to protect the rights of each and every federal citizen, even against the power of the state in which they happen to live.

This is the true source of the conservative war on the federal government. This is why they rally around "state's rights," why they rail against "unelected judges," and why they fulminate against federal mandates. They cannot abide having any authority over them. They bend all their energies toward gaining as much power as possible, so that they can dictate terms to everyone else. For them, the world is set right only when they have the power to make all the rules. Theirs is the morality of power: might makes right.

Unfortunately, they live in the wrong county for that kind of attitude. Our nation was fashioned so that no individual, and no group of individuals can work their will without hindrance. The design was quite intentional, and was a self-conscious attempt to root out the morality of power. The father of the Constitution, James Madison, put it succinctly in The Federalist, No. 51 "Justice is the end of government." Between the morality of justice and the morality of power there is no middle ground. Madison and all those who ratified the Constitution were on the side of justice, not on the side of power. And they structured the nation so as to check the morality of power at every level.

In a great historical irony, modern conservatives use the very same defense of local government put forth by the original anti-federalists, who campaigned against adopting the Constitution that today's conservatives claim to revere. And just like their anti-federalist forbears, modern conservatives don't really have any issue with government mandates at any level--so long as those mandates coincide with what they see as their own interests.

They don't have a problem, for instance, with federal mandates under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, provided that the mandates facilitate business and commercial interests, which they regard as sacrosanct. But if a mandate under the same clause interferes with what they regard as their interest, then it is tyrannical. For instance, during the seemingly endless debate over the new health-care law, one Republican solution was to allow individuals and families in every state to buy health insurance from any other state. This clearly falls under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Clause, and would give Congress the right to issue all sorts of mandates regarding the proposed activity. Yet Republicans tried to maintain that any such mandates would be unconstitutional.

But they also have always complied with the most compulsive federal mandate of all. When this country used to fight wars of national survival instead of wars of choice, the federal government would issue the ultimate individual mandate--the draft. under this mandate, each and every able-bodied man in every state was required to lay down his life for the sake of his fellow citizens.

There was nary a whimper from conservatives concerning these wartime drafts. Perhaps the threat of possible immolation made them understand that the welfare of all Americans coincides with their own welfare. Or perhaps an innate preference for militarism caused them to overlook these particular acts of federal tyranny. Whatever the reason, it is certain that there were no general cries of outrage from conservatives about the federal authority to institute a draft.

This alone shows that conservatives have no principled opposition to federal mandates. When they consider them advantageous, they approve of them. When they don't, they try to thwart them. If there is a principle in operation here it certainly isn't states' rights or individual freedom. It's pure self-interest, undiluted by a single droplet of enlightenment.

The combination of pure self-interest with the morality of power is completely at odds with the spirit of our federal constitution, which is animated by enlightened self-interest and the morality of justice. In justice morality, self-interest is seen as inherently biased. The self interest of individuals and associations is far too narrow to coincide with the self interest of the whole people, whose welfare is the responsibility of the federal government.

The federal system achieves justice, when it does, by weighing the claims of competing self-interested parties, judging the validity of the various claims, and deciding how far each party can go in its pursuit of its own self-interest without harming others. This process is necessarily rational: judging requires thought, deliberation, and reasoning.

Justice morality also recognizes that power is too intoxicating for most human beings to resist, and so it grants absolute, unchecked power to no one. Our entire federal system is designed along these lines. It has unlimited authority to censure and punish those who abuse power in pursuit of their self-interest. Because of this, the federal government is the highest moral authority in American civic life. As the defender of justice for each American citizen in every state, the federal government gets to decide what actions are just and unjust, and no citizen, no association, no member state can override its judgment.

Conservatives resist justice morality at almost every turn. For them, self-interest is unquestionably just, as is the pursuit of power in service of self-interest. If a conservative admits to a higher moral authority at all, it must be one of his own choosing, so that its judgments over him are a sort of reflection of his own agency, even if it tells him something with which he disagrees. But for the most part, conservatives align their choice of moral authority with organizations whose edicts will be acceptable to them. Thus they justify their self-interest on the basis of their traditions, their culture, and their religion.

In justice morality, however, no tradition, no culture, no religion can make unjust self-interests acceptable. Every tradition, culture, and religion in America must submit its claims to the federal government whenever a serious question arises about the justice of its self-interest. And if the claims are found wanting with regard to justice, those making the claims must accept the censure of the federal judgment and bring their behavior in line with the federal standard. If any citizen or group of citizens is exempt from this power, the entire system is threatened.

Conservatives, however, because they cannot abide an authority over them, have always tried to carve out exceptions for themselves. The long, brutal history of slavery and African-American rights in America provides plenty of evidence for this. Choose an issue of justice in American history--slavery and civil rights, women's suffrage, workers rights, the ongoing struggles for women's rights and gay rights. In every case opposition to greater justice was and is led by conservatives trying to forestall justice on the basis of their tradition, culture, or religion. They would rather hide behind these supposedly inviolate higher authorities than stand on their own two feet and make their own best rational case for the injustice they want to perpetuate. And the reason is clear: since they are trying to defend injustice, any rational case they can cobble together is going to be weak, full of inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and self-serving sophistry. (Which, unfortunately, does not mean that a sympathetic judge or federal administrator cannot be found to agree with them.)

But when it comes to injustice against its citizens, the federal government cannot allow such appeals to inviolate higher powers to stand. Once recognized, an injustice to American citizens anywhere in the nation must not be allowed to continue any longer than is necessary to eradicate it, nor can any tradition, culture, or religion be allowed to harbor it.

The struggle for gay marriage is a case in point. The injustice has now been recognized. The majority of the population is in favor of eliminating it. Conservatives are hiding behind tradition, culture, and religion in an attempt to delay the antidote. Ultimately, the federal government will declare it an official injustice, conservatives will have to fall in line with government directives, and someday there will be no one left who supports the injustice at all--just as there is no one left who defends slavery, denying suffrage to women, segregation, or Jim Crow laws. At best, conservative resistance to justice morality creates a drag on progress, together with increasing public ire at the continuation of the injustice being preserved. Ultimately, the federal system established by the Constitution, in combination with the public's increased awareness, will remove the drag, force conservatives into compliance, and eventually eliminate the injustice altogether.

This brings us back to the Catholic Church. As we said, most of the Church's rage was really motivated by standard conservative politics. That is why conservative politicians were so quick to jump on the bandwagon. The Church shares the hypocrisy of conservative politicians in regard to government mandates. And since that hypocrisy is based on pure self-interest, the Church also shares the view of conservative politicians that self-interest is an incontrovertible good. On top of that, as we shall see shortly, the Church also shares the power morality of conservative politicians.

But there is one significant difference between conservative politicians and the Church that has an important bearing on the Church's response to the original HHS ruling. Unlike conservative politicians (with only occasional exceptions), the Church lays claim to being the highest moral authority on earth. So although no conservative wants to admit the existence of a moral power greater than himself or his self-selected authority, the Church found itself engaged in a much more existential confrontation. To submit to federal moral authority would mean relinquishing its claim to supreme moral authority. It was over this challenge that the battle roar of the bishops rang out.

The press was quick to pick up on a strategy that seemed to provide a way to quell the incipient combat. What if the government could exempt Church-affiliated organizations from having to pay for birth-control coverage? In the minds of many people, this seemed to provide a balm for Catholic consciences that might make a deal possible. Indeed, was and continues to be general agreement among all the chattering heads in the media that being exempted from having to pay for birth-control coverage removes the conflicts of conscience in the situation.

This solution seems to be rooted in a typically American and strangely pecuniary notion of conscience. If you believe that birth-control is per se immoral, and if government mandates that you provide coverage for it, and if you have a problem of conscience with even indirectly being part of the chain of causes that terminates in someone actually committing the sin of using birth control--how could it possibly make any difference to you whether you must pay for it or not? It is immoral if you pay for it, and it is immoral if you don't pay for it. In either case, you are being forced to get involved in a chain of causes that may will issue in someone committing a sin.

One member of the commentariat opined the Church leaders thought that if they had to pay for the coverage, they could no longer denounce birth control. If that is what they think, they are only partly right. Presumably the inference is that paying for the coverage indicates a willingness to compromise their principle. And that is true. But it is just as true that allowing it at all also indicates a willingness to compromise their principle. Even if the government agreed to subsidize the entire cost of the program, the mere fact of approving the program would implicate the administrators in any eventual sin that issued from access to the program. (And this doesn't even take into account the fact that all taxpayers, and therefore some Catholics, would be implicated in the sin by virtue of paying taxes.) Who pays is irrelevant. Exemption from payment does nothing at all to prevent the actual conflicts of conscience the Church ought to be fighting against.

But as we saw, the Church does not care about those conflicts of conscience. What it really cares about is protecting the hypocritical agreement it has with its adherents, and beating back the challenge of the federal government to it claim of supreme moral authority. In the middle of last week, the Church leaders were beginning to realize that it would soon become impossible to maintain the pretense that their objections concerned issues of conscience. In order to do so, they would have to refuse flatly to follow the law, and for the sake of consistency they would be forced to retract their earlier acceptance of the state mandates. A move was made toward the first part of this prescription when the Bishop of Baltimore announced that his diocese would simply refuse to follow the law.

This step, as Thoreau pointed out, is the only truly self-consistent action that can be taken by someone who has a real issue of conscience with a government mandate. If the government passes a law that requires you to do something you consider to be immoral, you simply refuse, and take whatever consequences follow. It may be inconvenient or worse for you in many ways, but your conscience remains inviolate.

On the other hand, no Church leader had yet taken the step of trying to put the genie back into the bottle on the state mandates. And with good reason: doing so would bring into the clear light of day the entire depth and breadth of the Church's hypocrisy on the issue of birth control. The Church would have to force all the institutions that had been compromising in the past to stop immediately. But that would be a public admission that the Church had been cheating on its principles all this time. Since Church leaders were not going to take that step in a hurry, their sudden feint at refusing to compromise was an empty gesture. That move, like everything else the Church had done up to that point, was completely unrelated to religious freedom. It was nothing but political posturing and public relations.

At this point in the story, President Obama stepped in last Friday and offered the federal government's "compromise." The rule would be modified so that the religiously affiliated organizations would not have to pay for the birth-control coverage. The costs would be borne by the insurers rather than they policy holders. In this way, President Obama explained, the conflicts of conscience that were so upsetting to the Church would be obviated.

But we just saw that this solution will not remove the difficulties. So this offer is hypocritical. On the other hand, the Church was never interested in conflicts of conscience, so their outrage was hypocritical in the first place. President Obama has produced an offer that is precisely calibrated to match hypocrisy with hypocrisy--no small feat of negotiation.

This week, however, some Catholic talking heads are beginning to discover that they are concerned about indirect conflicts of conscience. Perhaps some Catholics will come forward belatedly claiming that they have really been outraged all these years by the state mandates, though they never got around to mentioning it before. If the Church should become emboldened by such claims to refuse the government's compromise, they would be making a serious mistake--one that will be devastating to the Church's claim of absolute moral authority. This is because the Supreme Court has already decided that conflicts of conscience cannot exempt church-affiliated institutions from government mandates. And even more dismaying for conservatives, the judgment was written by every conservative's favorite Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. In the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia said that

Congress and the courts have been sensitive to the needs flowing from the Free Exercise Clause [i.e., the Constitution's guarantee of the free exercise of religion], but every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs. When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.

In other words, church-affiliated institutions cannot expect to impose their religious scruples of conscience on their fellow citizens, or to interfere with the government's attempts to protects the rights and welfare of their fellow citizens. To do so is unjust, and churches may not engage in such unjust practices.

Employment Division v. Smith passes judgment on religious claims of conscience, finds them unjust when they affect the rights of other citizens or the prerogatives of government, and requires religious organizations to obey the law. It turns out that there is indeed--at least in America--a higher moral authority on earth than the Church, whether or not the Church wants to admit that fact.

By offering its hypocritical face-saving gesture to the Church, the federal government is saying, in effect, "We're sorry for shining a spotlight on your hypocritical arrangement with your followers. We were intensely focused on protecting the rights of all our citizens, which apparently does not concern you as much as we thought it would. We should have taken more account of your sensitivities. So here: if you accept the mandate to cover all your employees, you can have the fig leaf of not paying for birth-control coverage directly (which does nothing to mitigate the real scruples of conscience that ought to bother you), and you can return to the hypocritical agreement you have worked out between your clergy and your congregants. Sorry we hurt your feelings by exposing your hypocrisy for all to see."

If this dramatic monologue sounds patronizing, that's because it is. The federal government, speaking now as the superior moral power, has devised a face-saving measure for the Church. If it will acquiesce to the law, it can return to its pretense of having moral authority over its followers. If not, then the matter will certainly end up in court, where the Church will in all probability lose, since Supreme Court precedent is already established against its claims. And even if it were to win against all odds, a prolonged court case will make it publicly apparent that the Church had long ago ceased to be the highest moral authority even for its own faithful on the issue of birth control--and thus has ceased to be that authority entirely, because one exception to a claim of universality vitiates the claim.

If the Church wants to hold on to its pretenses, it would be well advised to take President Obama's deal. The federal government is being exceedingly generous. It doesn't have to offer this face-saving gesture. As of this writing, however, the Church is still dawdling.

* * * * *

This latest tempest between the Church and the government has revealed clearly the outlines of the world's current social and political dilemma. The religious and the conservative world view both belong to the era of power morality. The world no longer needs that morality. It has found a better morality, one that tends increasingly toward justice as generation succeeds generation.

Most of the world, including most of America, does not yet understand the historical significance of the U. S. Constitution. It was the world's first, and is still its finest, rational solution to the problem of justice--a problem that none of the world's kings, philosophers, or religions had previously managed to solve. By creating a two-tiered system of government with checks for power at every level, coupled with a judicial system that removes ultimate judgment from the hands of parochial and easily corrupted local governments, the Framers brought into existence the moral arc so movingly evoked by Rev. Martin Luther King in his 1965 Montgomery speech, and at the same time they crooked that arc in the direction of justice.

Before the adoption of the American Constitution, the moral direction of humanity swerved sporadically between a little justice and much injustice, depending on the character of the governing individuals, groups, governments, institutions, and religious societies. The U. S. Constitution, however, institutionalized justice. Once in place, our federal system automatically began to move our society toward greater justice. The system itself began to isolate injustice and to make justice binding on all individuals, associations, and states in the nation.

The system is slow, and once it had to be rescued by armed conflict. Injustices may continue for generations before correction begin. But the system, if left to itself, automatically roots out injustices, adjudicates them, and eventually puts a stop to them. To cite a current example: The recent reversal of California's Proposition 8, a popular referendum that banned gay marriage in the state, is the federal ninth circuit court's determination that the people of the state had erred in curtailing gay marriages. Knowingly or not, by passing that proposition the people had inflicted an injustice on their fellow citizens. The federal court decision is just one event in the system's automatic process of ultimately curtailing that injustice. (The people, like everyone else, can be wrong. They may not understand the Constitution, or they may not see how their choices violate the Constitution, or they may quite simply intend to be unjust. But the Constitution provides us with checks even against the power of the people.)

There may be more setbacks ahead for marriage rights. Other federal courts with conservative views may contradict the ninth circuit. And if the issue ascends to the top of the ladder of appeals, there may not be enough justices on the Supreme Court at that moment who can comprehend the injustice of denying some fellow citizens the right to marry. The court may decide to rule that the Constitution does not protect that right. If this should happen, the injustice will continue--for a time. The seventy or so percent of the population that now clearly sees the nature of the injustice will grow, as will their indignation with the unjust laws that have been erroneously allowed to stand. New laws can be written, constitutional amendments can be devised, new justices on the Supreme Court can reverse the earlier opinion. Eventually the injustice will be righted. This is the genius of the system. It moves in the right direction, sometimes lagging the people, sometimes leading them. But it moves automatically, and ultimately, in the right direction.

There was nothing like this on earth before our Constitution. If a just king happened to arise, that was good for the people. If he successor was unjust, that was bad for the people. If a merciful religious regime happened to exist, that was good for the people. If a harsh religious regime sprang up, that was bad for the people. In governments of men, justice is a random outcome. But in our government of laws, it is a certain, if sometimes painfully slow, outcome.

The world has been moving in the direction established by the Framers for 225 years. And it will continue to do so, because the solution is so much better than the status quo ante that not to do so is reckless and foolhardy. Business itself needs the world to move in that direction so that it can carry on trade securely, knowing that contracts will be justly upheld. Nations need the world to move in that direction, so that non-state actors can be subject to a uniform system of justice wherever on earth they may be. The solution has been in existence for some time; it only needs development, refinement, and application for us to leave power morality behind.

Since humanity long ago solved the problem of justice, is there no role left for religion in human affairs?

On the contrary, there is still an vital role for churches to play in the new era of justice morality. It is the role they were originally created to play--helping people to shape and mold their inner character, so that they can meet life with courage, fortitude, and faith; so they can live their lives in a way that has the best chance, all things considered, of making themselves and their fellows happy, both in this life and, possibly, in the next.

The most important function of that role is to promote personal spiritual development. We all begin our lives under the spell of power morality, which is an expression of will in the form of demanding our own self-interest. (Any parent can testify that this is exactly where all children begin their moral development.) In order to grow beyond this stage, we all need to unlearn power morality and replace it with justice morality, in which we strive to discover the reasons why we should or should not do anything, and make ourselves behave as the answers dictate.

Another way to express this in a short formula would be: We must first learn to become hard on ourselves and easy on others. This is difficult to learn, because we start from power morality, in which we are easy on ourselves (we presume that our self interest is always right and we should always attain it) and hard on others (we presume them to be wicked when they will not accede to our self interested aims). The great German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller once called this attitude toward the world the most despicable sort of human character.

Then, once we have mastered the switch from power morality to justice morality, we must change again. We must finally become easy both on others and on ourselves. This is universal love, which combines compassion for the weaknesses and inner struggles of others with compassion for our own weaknesses and inner struggles--but in such a way that we can exhort both ourselves and others to progressively better behavior without falling into the trap of being authoritarian, censorious, and cruel.

No human institution has ever been more successful in attaining this sort of inner conversion than religion. All the founders of the great religious traditions directed themselves to inner transformation. But during the era of power morality, the inability to solve the problem of justice was so oppressive, that almost every human institution was given authority at one time or another to try to establish justice. So religions were drawn into the world's incessant and impossible pursuit of justice within the unjust atmosphere of power morality. They assumed the role of enforcing behavior in addition to the role of promoting inner growth, that is, they adopted the function of government in addition to their own proper function. Over time, the behavioral function came to dominate.

It is now past time for society to release religion from the burdens of government, so that it can return to its original purpose: training people to develop their inner lives to focus on faith, hope, and charity. For nothing is more certain than the fact that, if all human beings focused on their inner vision and dropped their demands to have their own self-interest worshipped by others, the world would be a much happier, more joyful, and more productive place in which to live out the days allotted to us.

No doubt it will be difficult, after millennia of alignment with power morality and conservative politics, for the churches to shift their perspective. And they will experience much temptation from secular conservatism as well. The world is still full people who do not recognize that the power morality has been superseded. They continue to interpret the events of life according to power morality, and they will keep calling on the churches to help them oppose the change that has already begun. Religion must resist this temptation, must recover its focus on the inner life, and must assist those stuck in the morality of power to begin the process of self-transformation.

Little by little, as the churches recover their original purpose, and as conservative clinging to the now superfluous power morality begins to disappear, humanity can finally begin to look forward to a future of mutual good will and cooperation, in which we all help and support one another in dealing with the trials and tribulations of human existence--which are challenging enough without superimposing the unnecessary burdens of unquestioned self interest and the power morality.

In devising the U. S. Constitution, the Framers created not only a new nation, but also a new vision. By solving the problem of justice, they brought into the world for the first time a finely tuned political organism that generates increasing justice, though its working is slow and fitful. Without doubt it is imperfect. No human invention is perfect. But it is immeasurably more perfect than what preceded it. And it made an epoch in human history: It marked the arrival of justice morality as an effective force in human development.

There are still many who continue to stand against justice morality, and no doubt such people will be with us for some time to come. Fundamental transformation takes many generations. But as each new generation comes into its own, we can hope for the balance to shift gradually away from power morality and toward justice morality. We can hope for the return of the churches to their original purpose. We can hope for less destructive and less numerous conservatives in society dedicated to sustaining the already dying carcass of power morality. And we can look forward to the day when the morality of power shall perish forever from the earth.


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William Pastille is a writer, a student of politics, and a long-time college educator.
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

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