What's All This Then?

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Monday, February 20, 2012

The madness of religious influence over the lives of billions around the world continues wit the current American contribution being a continuing battle over how women may get birth control services from their employee health plans without co-pays. Despite the offer of a "compromise" allowing women to get needed contraceptives directly from their health plan’s insurance company rather than from their Catholic associated employers, which is more window dressing than compromise - someone still has to pay premiums to the insurance companies - Catholic Bishops are having none of it. They vow to battle this intrusion on their right to provide medical coverage to employees of Catholic institution based on their religious beliefs. And of course they are getting support from right wing politicians, columnists and assorted pundits.

We know what is at the heart of the administration’s policy in this matter and supported, if not vocally at least tacitly by most women, including Catholic women who use birth control - and that is the right of all women to have access to contraception as part of their employer’s insurance plans and the right to be able to exercise some measure of control over their bodies. But what is at the heart of the objections to the policy? For the politicians and pundits, it’s simply because it is an Obama proposal - and we all know that anything Obama proposes is bad. After all, he is an avowed Muslim born in Kenya whose plan is to lead the world into universal socialism before he reveals himself as the anti-Christ. But what about the Catholic Priests and Bishops and the Pope? Are their objections merely religious objections or is there something more basic at play?

Think about the nature of religion and why most people are religious or at the very least believe in a deity. They don’t look at the world around then when they reach the age of reason and make decisions about what to believe - what is fact and what is fantasy - what is and what isn’t supported by reason and logic. They are told at a very early age that there is a God and that they are members of a particular religion. And depending on the religion involved, they are also told that there is a Heaven and Hell and an after life and countless other mythological concepts. And as they grow, these concepts are reinforced to the point where they are believed as a matter of absolute truth. They - we - are brainwashed into believing in a deity and in the correctness of a particular religion with all of its creative descriptions, rules and regulations. And most of us never question any of it - or if we do, it’s some trimming that we think is too much trouble to deal with - but not the basic premise of the religion. And in the case of the Catholic Church, that’s fine, because it allows it to continue to exercise control over the lives of Catholics - and that’s what this battle is about - control.

I may have mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Many years ago, I had an office in downtown Chicago and had a phone number that was one digit removed from that of a Catholic church. From time to tine I would get a call that was meant for the church and because much of the time I was the only one in the office, I was the one answering phone calls. The church callers obviously didn’t listen carefully to my salutation because, hearing a man’s voice, they assumed they had reached a priest and immediately launched into the reason for their call - and often it was to ask if something they wanted to do was O.K. I remember answering more than one call from church members asking if it was O.K. to read a particular book. I don’t remember what the book was but I do remember how I answered the question. I didn’t tell them they had reached a wrong number . I told them it was not just O.K. to read the book - it was a good idea - a book well worth reading. I don’t think I condemned those callers to an eternity in Hell - but it’s likely that’s what they would have believed had they discovered that they had read something not approved by their church and without the permission of a priest.

The Catholic church hierarchy knows only too well that Catholic women use contraceptives at the same rate as non Catholics, but to publicly acknowledge or accept it would mean surrendering some of the power they wield over their flocks - the same power they wield by scaring their members to death , describing what will happen to them if they die other than in a state of grace. Just as Muslim jihadists believe they are going to paradise when they kill themselves in the act of murdering infidels - so do Catholics have beliefs drummed into them that makes them fear - excuse the expression - a "fate worse than death" if they violate the rules of their church.

This is a battle from which the Obama administration should not retreat. There is no way that the requirement on contraception violates the first amendment. Religious organizations are allowed all the freedoms of the constitution including things that are not in that document - such as enjoying all the protections paid for by taxes without having to contribute to them. That should be enough. If we start exempting religious organizations from obeying laws simply because they say they conflict with their religious beliefs, we will have opened a Pandora’s box, the contents of which will be that of a reverse Cornucopia - there will be no end to the exemptions that believers will demand.

The first amendment to the constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It doesn’t say that government or the laws of the land can be made subservient to religious practices and beliefs. For most of our history, religion has been given something close to a free ride. It’s way past time for some quid pro quo from churches and synagogues and mosques by way of acknowledging that "prohibiting the free exercise thereof" doesn’t establish a right for these institutions to ignore any legislation that the rest of us live under just because it conflicts with their particular religious beliefs.