What’s more unlike Catholicism? Using contraception? Or being an ardent atheist?
If you answered “Well that’s clearly an incoherent rhetorical question designed to give the author an opportunity to make some sort of point,” DING DING DING! You win the chocolate muffin and the hug from Alan Rickman. (Psych. If I had access to either of those, internet, I’d keep them for myself. I’m human.)
My point is, the two can’t really be compared meaningfully. Using contraception is a particular action that is forbidden by Catholic social teaching. To be sure, it reflects a worldview that’s at odds with much of the Catholic tradition, but it’s not the same thing as the worldview. Ardent atheism, by contrast, is a much more spacious and encompassing reality. It diverges from Catholicism, sure—but as an ultimate explanation for how things are and what that means, not as a discrete act that violates a set of teachings.
Which is useful to keep in mind if you find yourself looking at the Family Research Council’s 2012 Catholic Vice Presidential Voter Guide tonight as you watch the Vice Presidential debate. First the guide lists a bunch of “intrinsic evils”—related to legislation about abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and gay couples adopting kids—and lo and behold Joe Biden comes out looking a lot less Catholic than Paul Ryan. Then the guide lists a bunch of “prudential judgments”—death penalty, amnesty, personal donations to charity, the child tax credit, and the border fence—and the differences between the two are just that Joe Biden gave less to charity, and Paul Ryan opposes amnesty.
It’s true that Catholic social teaching is forcefully against contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. But it’s also true that the big, spacious quantity called “modern libertarian individualism,” which doesn’t so neatly lend itself to a chart like this, is deeply at odds with Catholic thought as well.
Ryan is not an atheist, obviously, but by his own admission he’s an admirer of Ayn Rand. He has advocated, based on his apparently deep philosophical convictions, for deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps. And that puts him at odds with Catholic social teaching, according to the group of Catholic theologians, academics, and ministers behind “On All of Our Shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good.” I am fortunate enough to know a number of the signers (theology’s a pretty small world) and many of them are very much opposed to abortion.
So this is a long way of suggesting that FRC’s Catholic VP voter guide is a bit incomplete. And anyway, a recent poll of Catholics suggests that jobs, education, and terrorism are the issues Catholic voters care more about.