Someone told me recently, in a tone of shock and disbelief, “Did you know the Catholic Church is even more to the right than republicans?” I tried to explain that the Church might be to the right on some issues, or to the left on others, but certainly cannot be reduced to “right” or “left” or to any political party. It might even be true that the Church is more to the right on most issues (against abortion, etc.), but the Church is not a primarily political institution. God’s plan for us and His revelation that is passed down through the Church certainly touches on all human aspects of life, including politics, but is not a simple “left” or “right”.
A couple of months back, this came to light for me in a special way when I did a birth preparation course with a doula. A doula is a woman who helps other women in childbirth and although they can have many different ideologies, and there are even Christian doulas, they are usually pretty “crunchy”. Crunchy is defined by the online urban dictionary as an adjective “used to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc.” People that are “crunchy” in parenting usually are in favor of non-medicated or even homebirth, breastfeeding instead of bottle, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, etc.
In this doula course I was attending there were no other Catholics. The doula made her own soap and cleaning supplies to avoid harsh chemicals (in a typical crunchy manner) and the other attendees included a worker for the communist party and vegetarian musicians. There didn’t seem to be many similarities between us and them.
However, throughout the course some interesting similarities did pop up. Mainly, the doula explained that she uses “natural contraception” by which she meant natural family planning. She explained how she tracks her fertility signs and abstains during fertile periods, because “it really isn’t that long” she said. She also mentioned how much she is enjoying teaching this method to her adolescent daughter, because it is counter-cultural and teaches her how to respect herself and her body, unlike the animalistic ideology she is taught at school. Another completely non-Catholic couple in the course was also using natural methods and another couple was interested. The doula told them where she had learned these methods and said many courses were given by “religious” people. I immediately jumped in and clarified that it wasn’t all religions that endorsed natural methods, no. It was the Catholic Church!
It was amazing for my husband and I to have common ground with such “crunchy” people, in natural family planning, in sexual education (kind of) and in more topics such as respecting the woman’s body in childbearing. It felt great to proclaim in the middle of the course that it wasn’t just any religion that was right about contraception being harmful, it was the Catholic Church. All other religions have backed down about this topic throughout the years.
The Catholic Church has common ground with people to the “right” ideologically, but also with crunchy people. With Pope Francis’s Laudato Si and attention to ecological topics, even more so now. I have already written that Pope Francis seems to use environmental issues to build bridges to more intimate issues such as spousal love, the domination of our bodies by human power and natural law:
“Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).”
Laudato Si, and the entire tradition of social and economic Catholic teaching, also leads us to not buy into the consumerist culture, do our part and encourage others to live simply, respect natural resources, and think about a more humane culture when building cities and technologies.
“It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” Laudato Si, n. 217
So it’s true, the Catholic Church might be to the “right” on many topics, but it’s also very crunchy. The word “Catholic” means universal, and it is truly beautiful to discover God’s view and original design of every aspect of human life.