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The Two Kingdoms: Whom to Serve?

February 10, 2012

Catholic leaders are understandably angry about the Administration’s decision to mandate that Catholic schools and hospitals provide abortion-related services and birth control as part of their employee health insurance coverage, even to the point of military chaplains opposing the order from their pulpits.  While this writer is not a Catholic and never has been, the dilemma that Catholics face – to serve Caesar or God – is one that ought to evoke the sympathy of all, regardless of religious affiliation.

In thinking about how to deal with this, it is, ironically, a concept that Martin Luther used – ‘the Two Kingdoms’ – that comes first to mind.  ‘The Kingdom of the Left’ is the State, instituted by God to administer the earthly matters of justice and public administration, while ‘the Kingdom of the Right’ deals with affairs of a higher order.  When the two clash, as they may, our allegiance must be to the commands of God and not to contradictory ones emanating from our fellow men.  While we are to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,”‘ we are to “render unto God the things which are God’s.”  Our dollar bills bear the image and name of Washington; one could suppose that, in the context of America, that we ought to render unto Washington that which is Washington’s, but what has not changed is the latter part of Christ’s injunction about obedience to the King of Heaven.

The history of non-violent resistance to injustice is a long and noble one.  The anniversary of the martyrdom of the ‘White Rose‘ movement’s leaders is nearly upon us; this is as good a time as any to reflect upon what it means to act on conscience in defiance of the will of one’s temporal rulers.  In terms of church-state relations, two examples of the battle between the spirit and the sword have been memorialized in classic movies:  ‘Becket,’ with Richard Burton in the title role, depicting the refusal of the King’s friend and boon companion to, when once elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury, be the King’s loyal poodle.  Becket filled his office, ex-libertine that he was, with more courage and conviction than many a holy man could have mustered, and he paid for it with his life.  A successor of his was also martyred by another English King:  Thomas More paid for his refusal to acquiesce in an act he considered immoral – a divorce for Henry VIII – that the latter had his murdered.  His story is beautifully told in ‘A Man for All Seasons., starring Paul Scofield’  These are worth checking out of the library and watching, and may the watching engender meditation upon the subject of non-violent civil disobedience to intrinsically immoral dictates from temporal governments, and on our duty to forego the easy path for the one demanded by the ‘still, small voice of peace’ which ought to inform our conscience, especially in time of trouble.

Postscript: It appears that the mandate, odious as it is to Catholics, is to be softened somewhat; it is unknown if this is enough to satisfy the consciences of those who are offended, nor is it known if the promised relief will materialize after the election season is over and the prospect of the aggrieved expressing their displeasure at the polls removed.  Nonetheless, this is an important point to ponder – when we are confronted with an immoral law, how will we respond?

  1. DEIDRE ITO permalink

    I have arguments for against such a policy as this is a highly complicated issue, and full of extremes on both sides.
    It is a known fact that most religious organizations build their own schools, hospitals, and many other establishments in an effort to allow their believers to enjoy a quality of life where the ‘spirit’ of their belief is present. The Catholic Church does not believe in abortion and most contraceptives. Its teachings are that they conflict with biblical mandates on preserving life. I do not believe the Catholic Church should be forced to provide services that go against its core beliefs, values and morals. However, they do receive funding from the government which is where the issue becomes complicated. Due to the fact that church and state are two separate entities, it is not fair to refuse services to a law-abiding taxpayer in order to support a religious belief, regardless of which religion is in question. So if the Catholics do not want this law imposed, they should refuse to be federally funded, and rely on their own funding by virtue of various charities, and other means.
    On the other hand, it is not as if the Catholic church is forcing its belief on employees i.e. requiring all employees to attend mass or participate in other Catholic functions. They are simply refusing to perform services that go against their belief. In most cases, a large percentage of staff (Doctor’s surgeons) performing medical services at the hospitals are of the Catholic faith. So, it becomes a borderline ethical and violation of rights issue when they are forced to perform abortions against their will. My opinion is that in many ways both sides are too extreme. To totally cut out all forms of contraception would be insane to say the least. Abortions are by far the most controversial of all contraceptives due to the nature of the procedure; and Catholic hospitals should not be forced to perform such procedures.
    Final added thoughts: I don’t believe tax dollars should cover the cost of abortions in any establishment due to the potential for the ‘privilege’ of doing so to be abused. Also if the government imposes this requirement on Catholics, the same restrictions should apply to Muslim, as well as other religious institutions who do not believe in contraceptives.

    • Your recommendation is basically what Hillsdale College and Grove City College have chosen to do – completely disentangle from Federal funding. It may be more complex for a hospital, and it would be harder to do, relative to how enmeshed one is in Federal funding, but your idea has merit. Thanks for pointing this out.

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