The votes from Republican Senators Susan Collins, John McCain and Lisa Murkowski to stop their party’s repeal-Obamacare juggernaut were demonstrations of genuine courage.
The appearance of this virtue in a dark time is not necessarily miraculous, but I couldn’t help noticing the striking intervention in this debate by seven thousand one hundred and fifty American nuns who called the Senate GOP’s core proposal “the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes.”
In a letter organized by the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, the nuns cited Pope Francis— “health is not a consumer good, but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege”— and noted matter-of-factly: “To cut Medicaid and take health care from millions of people is not a pro-life stance.”
Their plea was a reminder, particularly to more secular liberals, that religious witness in politics is not confined to the political right, that Christianity has long had a lot to say about economic and social inequities, and that pushing prophets inspired by faith out of the public square would be harmful to progressives as well as conservatives.
In speaking out as they did, the socially minded nuns—who do the work of justice and mercy every day in hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters and schools—made clear that depriving millions of Americans of health coverage truly is a moral outrage. But while the most conservative among the faithful might not appreciate it, the sisters also did a service to believers of all stripes by demolishing stereotypes about what it means to be religious.
This is important because religion and the political standing of believers are badly harmed by the reality that so many Americans associate faith exclusively with the conservative movement. Large numbers of young people are abandoning organized religion (and particularly Christianity) altogether. A key reason: They see it as deeply hostile to causes they embrace, notably the rights of gays and lesbians.
Harvard University’s Robert Putnam and Notre Dame’s David Campbell, the authors of “American Grace,” their definitive 2010 study of data on American religious attitudes, concluded that young Americans “have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.” A PRRI survey in 2014 found that among millennials who no longer identify with their childhood religion, nearly a third said that “negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people” were either somewhat or very important to their disaffiliation.
It’s true that some, particularly but not exclusively on the left, criticize religion and those devoted to it on principle. They believe, devoutly you might say, that faith in God is irrational and destructive. They see religion as promoting passivity, conformity and, in extreme cases, violence. The popularity of the late Christopher Hitchens’ book “god is not great”—Hitchens did not capitalize “God” on purpose—speaks to the strength of this view among a sizable group of Americans.