Faith & Government

What Religion Demands & Pluralism Requires

I have been asked to reflect upon the experience of elected officials who try to reconcile personal religious convictions while serving a pluralistic American constituency. In discussing the matter I don’t pretend to be a theologian or philosopher. I speak only as a former elected official and as a Catholic baptized and raised in the pre–Vatican II church, attached to that church first by birth, then by choice.

I speak mindful that time and space constraints threaten to make my attempt at simplifying this complex subject an exercise in simplistics. It’s a slippery slope, but I’ll do my best.

Catholicism is a religion of the head as well as the heart, and to be a Catholic is to commit to dogmas that distinguish our faith from others. Like most religions, it also requires a lifelong struggle to practice that faith day to day. The practice can be difficult. Today’s America is a consumer-driven society filled with endless distractions and temptations for people struggling to live by spiritual as well as material impulses.

Catholics who also happen to hold political office in this pluralistic democracy—and therefore commit to serve Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Protestants, as well as Catholics—undertake an additional responsibility. They must try to create conditions under which all citizens can live with a reasonable degree of freedom to practice their own...

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About the Author

Mario M. Cuomo is a former governor of New York.