Inside NCR
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  January 7, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Moral tax breaks vs. heroic faith

A significant portion of this issue is given over to what we call “Appreciations,” which are looks back at people who have died recently and who had significant public influence on our institutions and our lives, particularly when they affect the Catholic family.

Recent weeks have taken some giants -- well known and lesser known among them -- from our midst. It is coincidental that their stories all wind up in the same issue. But it is not coincidental that they shared a robust approach to life. They worshiped and challenged, created and questioned. Mostly, they gave themselves to others. Taken together, they represent a glimpse of the rich diversity of God’s people. Savor their stories; they can be an antidote to the skimpy god of narrow horizons too often preached today.

~ ~ ~

The year past was dominated by two subjects -- politics and religion -- that we are taught early on to avoid, especially in polite company.

They came out of the closet with a vengeance in ’04, tumbled around and mixed it up together and left us with some strange mutant called U.S. moral values as we enter ’05.

As far as I can figure, moral values end up having nothing to do with starting a war under false pretenses; or with countless thousands of dead Afghan and Iraqi citizens and more than a thousand U.S. servicemen and women; they have nothing to do with advocating the death penalty; or holding people in secret custody; or tolerating and even teaching torture. Moral values have nothing to do with worrying about jobs for people or health care; there’s no need to worry that grants for college are dwindling; or that more than $1 billion a day is spent the military. As far as I can tell, the only things we have to worry about are abortion and gays.

There are a couple of ways to look at this. One is to bemoan the fact that moral values have shrunk to two issues, neither of which the government has much to do with and neither of which is destined to change much in the near future.

Or, one could be relieved that the only things there are to worry about are abortion and gays. It’s kind of like getting off the moral hook the easy way.

The war and the weapons that the government requires you to pay for? Don’t worry your little head about it. The uninsured? Never mind. Your state’s got a batch of people heading for the death chamber this year? Ignore ’em. All those things? They aren’t covered by moral values.

So calm your conscience. Thank a bishop. Consider it all the equivalent of a heavenly tax break.

~ ~ ~

And then there are things that seem to happen out of nowhere that shake us out of our comfortable moral categories, that leave us breathless in awe and wonder, in anger and confusion, in a frightening understanding of how little we control. The news of the “Asian tsunami” doesn’t have a category. Our story about relief workers, prepared well ahead of the Christmas disaster in Asia, became all the more significant, of course, when the immensity of the tragedy (more than 116,000 dead as of this writing) began to emerge.

As the calendar page turns to a new year, there does seem to be a global agony pressing on us. Whether the killing is a deliberate act of the state or an extension of nature, the reasons for grieving seem to be especially abundant this year. And the reasons for hope? They lie in the understanding that in Sudan, in Iraq, amid the debris and death of a South Asian tsunami, and countless other places around an aching globe, the people of God live out heroic faith, in ways great and small. Here’s wishing you hope in the New Year.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, January 7, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: