Pope Francis visit to Washington was a sensation. A century ago much of this country was paranoid about the Vatican including our home state of Florida. A half century ago discrimination against Catholics was still rampant. Today, in 2015 we live in a far more secular and tolerant society than in the past. Still though, religion plays an important role in American life and policy making. But interpretation of religion has often created political cracks in our society even being used as a justification for slavery and segregation by Democratic politicians of yesteryear here in Florida. Anti-Catholicism 99 years ago fueled Sidney Catts to victory in the 1916 Florida Governor’s Race.
The Pope brought several important points up in Thursday’s address to Congress that must be discussed in this country. Of most importance to Florida the Pope brought up the issues including the Death Penalty which for some reason in many American states is popular though in most western nations it is considered both barbaric and cruel and unusual punishment – and that is not simply a left wing view in those place. He also continued his campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues and climate change. Issues of protecting our environment were once upon a time a bipartisan concern in our state – unfortunately now almost all Republicans and many Democrats seem to simply give these issues lip service. The Pontiff’s discussion of a more compassionate society that finds a home and value for all represent the types of themes that should guide our political and policy discussions – but sadly do not.
On Immigration, Pope Francis was straightforward and to the point. His words rung true even for the most conservative members of Congress and his address hopefully will move the discussion to more practical and elevated ground. On so many different fronts, Francis made intelligent and elevated points that should serve as a clear example of how we should conduct or discussions on issues.
Unfortunately in recent years a resentment of religion has seeped into the views of the left in this country. But religious leaders have a responsible role to play in our national discussion. Of course we cannot go the way of Republicans – many of whom would create a theocracy similar to those nations of the Middle East who don’t share our values and enslave women and others in society. But we cannot shut out religion or the voices of religious leaders. We must regain our moral footing in the progressive movement and religion has a role to play in that.
It is important for those of us on the left that we realize the secularism we embrace does not mean we shut all religious voices – we must as a multicultural and tolerant society respect religion and a diversity of viewpoints. All too often I have found even as a progressive that many on the left don’t respect divergent points of view and apply the same sort of rigid standard that conservatives do on certain things. For example, simply because Conservative Christians and Neoconservatives complain about “Radical Islam,” does not mean that the oppressive theocracies of the Middle East and the religious zeal they propagate is not a massive threat to our way of life and to common decency in the lands they rule. Simply because the Tea Party rails against some government excess doesn’t mean we reflexively on left have to defend the program or policy under attack.
Often times those of us on the left of the political spectrum take reactionary stands that are as outlandish as the statements or policies we are trying to push back again. “Every action causes an equal of greater opposite reaction,” has become the norm of American politics on the right and the left. But historically, the American left was far more practical and responsible than the right in this country – and we need to regain that footing. Cable news channels do not need to be the gold standard for political opinion – we can elevate the debate in more reasoned and responsible fashion.
The Pontiff taught us today that religious leaders have a role to play much like they did in the Civil Rights Movement for creating progressive change and a more inclusive society. We on the left should use this speech and Pope Francis’s visit as a jumping off point to reestablish our moral credibility without the influence of pressure groups or reactionary elements that might make us less palatable or credible than we should be.