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Travis Rowley: Politics & the Pope

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Posted this week on RIFuture.org – a local progressive blog – was a commentary written by Steve Ahlquist, an atheist agitator from Cranston. Ahlquist’s post comes highly recommended by this writer, as it typifies and encapsulates the Left’s employment of political double-standards, Biblical ignorance, and garbling of the First Amendment.

In response to Bishop Tobin’s disappointment with Rep. Jim Langevin’s (D) recent abandonment of pro-life values, Ahlquist took issue with the Bishop’s “tendency to very publicly take Catholic politicians to task for their stand on reproductive rights” and his “bold assertion[s] of clerical power to control the votes of Catholic legislators on issues of importance to Catholic theology.”

What amounted to a warning to Church leaders, Ahlquist’s post describes the Bishop’s political involvement as “religious bullying” and “religious extortion.” While Ahlquist explains that “Tobin has every right to publicly cajole or privately persuade legislators to vote as Tobin interprets God’s will,” he also believes that “the harder the Providence Diocese pushes Catholic legislators to forgo a multicultural and secular perspective in favor of Catholic theology, the more likely it is that voters will find themselves unable to be sure that Catholics can be trusted to hold public office.”

And here we discover it once again: Liberals praising freedom of speech, but still somehow finding cause for conservatives to keep quiet.

Pro-Choice is Pro-Life?

In regards to the abortion issue, Ahlquist writes, “What is clear from the disagreement between [Langevin] and the bishop is that the ‘pro-life’ position is not in any way the opposite of the ‘pro-choice’ position. In fact, the reality is that everyone, on either side of the reproductive rights issue, is pro-life. The only real disagreement is how we express our point of view through our political actions. Tobin and others who wear the pro-life label with pride love to tarnish those who believe in reproductive health care as being pro-death.”

It must be so nice to be a liberal politician. Even when you’re pro-choice, you’re pro-life. Even when you vote to authorize the slaughter of millions of unborn babies, your friends in the progressive media are somehow able to interpret you differently. You are simply someone who doesn’t express his pro-life “point of view through [his] political actions.”

No wonder progressives become so annoyed with the Church. Catholics have earned a reputation for confronting such self-delusion and equivocations.

Progressive Inconsistency

Ahlquist’s primary error concerns his leftist prejudice over what constitutes a religion – still not grasping that religion is simply a worldview, often accompanied by a philosophy and set of moral beliefs that instruct a society’s culture.

In this sense, isn’t liberalism – “a multicultural and secular perspective” – a religion? Hasn’t liberalism grounded itself in moral precepts, constantly obsessing over the evils of racism, sexism, and homophobia? Oh yeah. And capitalism?

Isn’t liberalism planted in the assumption that the world is divided into two groups, victors and victims? Doesn’t liberalism regard collectivism as an issue of morality and justice? Doesn’t President Obama speak often about being your “brother’s keeper” (Book of Genesis)? When asked if he was “calling for the redistribution of wealth in society,” Obama’s spiritual advisor Jim Wallis responded, “Absolutely, without any hesitation. That’s what the gospel is all about.” For some reason, however, the Left considers all of this to represent acceptable occasions of the state being influenced by religion.

The same inconsistency occurred when liberals found Obama’s longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, to be preaching anti-American Marxism from his Chicago pulpit: “No, no, no! Not God bless America! Goddam America! That’s in the Bible! For killing innocent people! Goddam America!”

And I don’t recall seeing Ahlquist’s scathing rebuke of the RI Council of Churches – a local socialist front-group – when Reverend Harry Rix was attempting to convince Rhode Islanders last year that Jesus Christ would have been standing tall with Occupy Providence.

Demonstrating the hopelessness of separating religion from government, Ahlquist himself accidentally invoked the New Testament in order to influence public policy. He did this with a complete misinterpretation of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees who asked Him, “Tell us, therefore, what dost thou think: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” Jesus famously responded, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites?...Render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22)

Ahlquist embarrassingly concludes, “In other words, separate church and state.”

Or we could listen to actual Biblical scholars who understand that Jesus, “knowing [the Pharisees’ wickedness,” sidestepped their trap by forcing them to consider what precisely doesn’t belong to God – and then to decide for themselves how to deal with the oppressive Roman government.

The main point here has little to do with Ahlquist’s Biblical illiteracy. The point is this: Considering the Left’s proposed absolutism when it comes to the “separation between church and state,” how could Ahlquist possibly consider anything that Jesus Christ ever had to say to be of any political importance?

The First Amendment

Ahlquist goes on to ask, “Under the conditions Tobin wants to impose on Catholic office holders, how could anyone who disagrees with Catholic theology concerning marriage equality or birth control reasonably vote for any Catholic?”

Good point, Steve. But how could anyone who disagrees with liberalism concerning abortion reasonably vote for any liberal Democrat? Don’t pro-abortion groups make a habit of informing the voters as to how politicians vote on pro-choice legislation? Don’t a multitude of issue-oriented organizations undergo such political ratifications? Aren’t pro-life Democrats often held accountable during Democratic primaries?

Why is this not considered to be “religious extortion?” Why must political endorsements be reserved for those associations that ignore the issue of God? Because the First Amendment tells us that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion?” That’s it?

Wouldn’t it be entertaining to send modern liberals back in time, and watch them try to tell abolitionists and civil rights leaders that they weren’t allowed to invoke the Bible or Christian teachings in order to justify their positions, because that would somehow establish a national religion?

Clearing the Battlefield

Behind the Left’s pop-culture impression of religion – that it represents mindless superstition and a rejection of science – is the reality that, if God was removed from its study, the Catholic Church could easily be mistaken for a remarkable 2000 year-old think-tank, one that tracks down sociological truth more impressively than any secular institution.

So why is the Church being considered for forced political irrelevance? Because it also has informed opinions on the nature of God?

Ahlquist warns that Langevin’s Catholicism could “eventually cause him to compromise his duty as an elected official,” and he defended voters who may reject Catholic politicians based on the fact that they may not “act in the best interests of our country and our citizens, but only for what is in the theological interests of the Catholic Church.”

But isn’t it an elected official’s “duty” to do what is right and just? Why does Ahlquist assume that Catholicism fails to measure up? Because it’s a “religion?”

Why must Bishop Tobin’s opinions be mocked as one man’s mere interpretation of “God’s will,” while self-righteous liberals escape such ridicule? Why must the teachings of the Catholic Church be referred to as “theological interests” rather than “well-conceived values and principles”?

And shouldn’t Ahlquist formulate some sort of argument against “Catholic doctrine,” rather than assume its inherent inconsistency with “the best interests of our country?”

Ahlquist’s commentary on the Bishop’s political activity is not only demonstrative of the Left’s confusion and vacillation over the “separation of church and state,” but it can also be boiled down to a classic progressive attempt to clear the battlefield of ideas. Rather than having to debate the Church, Ahlquist prefers to have it silenced and disqualified as a legitimate political voice.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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You nailed it again this morning, Mr. Rowley. The Church of Atheism is like a pre-school when put up against the Roman Catholic Church.

Comment #1 by William Suffik on 2012 09 15

Exactly, William....atheism IS a religion.

Comment #2 by Gip H. on 2012 09 15

Another great column, Mr. Rowley. Whether we look at atheism as a "religion" or simply see the use of separation of church and state as a red herring, the inconsistency of the left in citing religious teachings while insisting that Bishop Tobin and other religious leaders have no right to express political opinions is clear. What we can read into this is that the left will use any argument, no matter how foolish it makes them appear, in the attempt to disqualify and invalidate cogent opposition to their radical points of view.
And your point that they should focus on the policy positions themselves rather than simply offer the infantile "consider the source" argument is nicely made. Insistence that opposition to abortion, for example, is based solely in religious beliefs is ridiculous. That's no more true than it is true that laws against murder and robbery are based in religious beliefs.
Likewise, the discussion of the importance of traditional marriage in our culture should be pursued based on the harm the destruction of traditional families has done to our inner-city poor, mostly minority populations. Religion is an important source of the tradition, but you need not yield to religious doctrine to accept the obvious value of this element of our culture. Social scientists have ample statistics to make the case that married, two-parent families are best by a wide margin at giving their offspring a chance to succeed in life.

Comment #3 by Kenneth Amylon on 2012 09 15

Another well constructed essay Travis. Thank you

Comment #4 by peter hewett on 2012 09 15

Actually, atheism IS the absence of religion. It is a world view, but is not a religion.

Comment #5 by Jonathan Flynn on 2012 09 15

Jonathan, atheism is the disbelief in divine beings. It is not the absence of religion, as you propose. I see Rowley's take on "religion" as spot-on.

"Ahlquist’s primary error concerns his leftist prejudice over what constitutes a religion – still not grasping that religion is simply a worldview, often accompanied by a philosophy and set of moral beliefs that instruct a society’s culture."

Comment #6 by Gip H. on 2012 09 15

Mr. Trowley's comment about freedom of speech is disingenous. Nobody is calling for conservatives to be silent. Mr. Ahlquist is simply pointing out the fact that politicians work for their constituents and not for the Church. If they continue to cater to their religious leaders, they can expect to lose votes. It's a logical consequence.

Mr. Trowley asks, "Why does Ahlquist assume that Catholicism fails to measure up? Because it’s a 'religion?'" Doubtful. I suspect he believes it fails to measure up because it's a system based on fear, greed, dishonesty, and oppression. It's corrupt even without the superstitious element, and our citizens deserve better. Instead of tearing down Mr. Ahlquist with ad hominems, how about outlining what the Catholic church and its minions will do for the people of Rhode Island. You know, besides ban birth control.

Comment #7 by Tangie Miner on 2012 09 16

Also, I would like for someone to define the set of beliefs and practices that make atheism a religion. There is no worship, faith, or ritual in atheism. There is no institutionalized set of attitudes in atheism. To borrow words from Mr. Ahlquist, declaring that atheism is a religion "....Doesn’t make it so any more than declaring a cat is now a cow allows one to milk it."

Comment #8 by Tangie Miner on 2012 09 16

Tangie, you accuse Rowley of ad hominem attacks (which this article is not an example of) and then you go on to call the Catholic Church "a system based on fear, greed, dishonesty, and oppression." Pot. Kettle. Black.

Why outline what the Church will do for RIers? Doesn't everyone know what the role of the Church is, and has been for 2000 years? That there is no other institution more responsible for establishing all of Western Civilization? Don't people understand the great works and charity it performs, and the great message it continues to spread?

And the Church is not trying to ban birth control. It simply objects to being forced to pay for YOUR birth control. But thanks for spreading the left's latest distortion of the truth.

Comment #9 by Gip H. on 2012 09 16

Tangie's just upset because Travis just embarrassed someone she clearly admires, exposing Ahlquist's "Biblical ignorance" along with other flawed logic. Atheists think they're smarter than everyone else. They use "reason." They don't like being shown up. Especially by Catholics.

Nice work, Travis.

Comment #10 by Chris O. on 2012 09 16

What do atheists believe? What is the foundation for their determining the difference between good and evil? What is the foundation for teaching their children to "do good and avoid evil"?
Is the position of an atheist not "void" of belief?
And apparently, any atheist who must ask the question what good has religion ever done for mankind, well, belief in God is not the only void they have to deal with.

Comment #11 by peter hewett on 2012 09 16

And, Tangie, if you don't like the fact that people consider atheism to be a religion, then maybe you should take your gripe up with the Supreme Court.

Comment #12 by Chris O. on 2012 09 16

i find it comforting that whenever i confront a liberal with facts, they look at me with a dumbfounded and confused look..

Comment #13 by jon paycheck on 2012 09 16

Chris, why do you assume I am upset? Are you unable to have a discussion with someone of a different opinion without losing control of your emotions? If so, please don't project your hot-headedness onto me.

Yes, it's unfortunate that atheism was lumped in with religion under the legal system. It was necessary, however, to protect atheists from discrimination by fearful and bigoted religionists. I'm still waiting, however, for one of you to describe *how* atheism is a religion.

Gip, the Church is not a person. One cannot make a personal attack on something that isn't a person. If the Church is going to be involved in business, it needs to follow the laws for business owners. Hopefully they will also be paying their fair share of taxes someday.

I doubt that Steve Ahlquist is embarrassed in the least by Travis Rowley's writings. There seem to be several keyboard macho-men here, spewing hate and ignorance while fearing to use their real names. You are the ones who should be embarrassed by your own level of cowardice.

Mr. Hewett, there is a World Wide Web available to you through which your questions can be answered, if they are actually legitimate questions and not simply rhetoric. The library section at Infidels.org has a good FAQ.

Try "reason" some time. It's not as awful as you think.

Comment #14 by Tangie Miner on 2012 09 16

I called you upset because you're clearly upset. Your rhetoric is revealing (the Church and its "minions"...the church is a "system based on fear, greed, dishonesty, and oppression").

Atheism is a religion because it is a worldview. And based on faith by the way. Yes, faith...The belief in the non-existence of a supreme being requires leaps of Faith… “The more I study science, the more I believe in God.” – Albert Einstein

You seem to be under the impression that for something to be considered a religion that it must be an organized religion (worship, rituals, etc). Just not true. For all intents and purposes when it comes to politics, atheism is a religion.

The Church is not a person? Here we go again, just like Travis pointed out -- you liberals and your "equivocations." The Church is comprised of PEOPLE. Even you derogatorily referred to them as "minions"...Who is "greedy" and "dishonest" other than people?? Your comment was a bigoted and ignorant attack on PEOPLE, no matter how you try to slither out of that reality.

My last name is Orion. Now can you get back to actually arguing, rather than trying to, once again, discredit people and their ideas simply because you don't know their last names? What a joke.

How's that for reason?

Comment #15 by Chris O. on 2012 09 16

Religion is a pox on humanity
I prefer to avoid the ponzi scheme that promises eternal life for 10% of my gross income
The more you know about religion........ the less likely you are to believe in it

Comment #16 by Roger Lachance on 2012 09 16

I agree, Roger. The more you know about atheism....the less likely you are to believe in it.

Comment #17 by Chris O. on 2012 09 17

Why do all of these atheists and other secularists continue to bash the Catholic Church? If they don't believe in it, why do they fight so hard to demean it? If it is all a fairy tale, they should just ignore us and laugh to themselves. Our beliefe doesn't affect them. But their beliefs affect us by making us pay for birth control and abortions for others in direct violation of our consciences. Unbelievable. By the way, anyone who has faced death knows there are no real atheists. None in a combat zone.

Comment #18 by Dave Barry on 2012 09 17

Reminded me of another liberal who apparently had a "garbled" sense of the First Amendment and of the role of religion in politics...

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813

Comment #19 by Russ C on 2012 09 17

exactly, Russ. That's why CHRISTIAN founders approved of the 1st amendment. Non-establishment. Free exercise. It was the Christian population that said no American would be forced to be a Christian. The fear of a Christian theocracy is another liberal straw-man.

Find me the quote where TJ says clergy should bow out of political debate. You will not find one. But you will find scores of founders emphasizing the importance of Biblical doctrine being essential to a free society.

Comment #20 by Chris O. on 2012 09 17

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