The Government Is Not Our Father

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Living in Europe (and more specifically, Portugal) has been tough in terms of politics lately. I would venture to say even tougher than in America, even with this thorny election. Today is another day in many recently when Portugal is on strike or protesting in the streets. Today is a “general strike” when all are called to skip work and protest against the government, which is supposedly robbing us of money and any hope of happiness. Because of this, I don’t have public transportation to my job, which I depend on.

At the root of all these protests seems to be a certain ideology: the government needs to take care of us and our well-being depends on its policies. The Portuguese don’t want the government to increase taxes, which seems logical enough, but they also don’t want any cuts in the “social obligations of the State”. It was an outrage when they tried to cut on university funding and non-profit organizations (yes, they’re government-funded). In stark contrast to the Catholic uproar about the HHS mandate, we’ve been paying taxes for everyone’s contraception and abortion in Portugal for years. It’s the government’s fault the country is so backwards and there are so many poor. Yet the majority do not pay their taxes, tithing is unheard of (except for 50 cents every Sunday) and the iPhone5 sold out in an hour with people lining up outside .

Of the five main political parties in Portugal, two have “socialist” in their names and one has “communist”. Although I think most Portuguese people wouldn’t identify themselves with communism, some of these ideas taken to their extreme would perhaps end up there. Everything becomes the government’s responsibility. The government is not just a human institution made up of corrupt people in power, it’s a father figure.

“A paternalistic government, where the subjects, as minors, cannot decide what is truly beneficial or detrimental to them, but are obliged to wait passively for the head of state to judge how they ought to be happy…would be the greatest conceivable despotism” (Kant)

“’[If] . . . a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.’ [Henry David Thoreau in Walden] The issues raised by paternalism are important ones, with implications for many of our public and private practices. They call on us to recognize the fine line between care and concern for the well-being of others and respect for persons as people of their own choosing and creators of their own destinies.” (source)

“Reagan and John Paul shared a conviction that communism was a moral evil, not just a bad economic system.” A recent statue in Poland. (Source)

For this reason I cringe when I hear Obama complimenting some European government policies. Also for this reason, I was so impressed when I heard Mitt Romney say in this interview here that “religion needs government and government needs religion”. Religion needs government to protect freedom to worship and to protect its faithful, and government needs religion to remember that rights come from God, not from government.  The government is there to protect God-given rights, not to hand out or hold back on people’s rights however they choose. Perhaps this is why the Church has spoken out against communism, which takes God out of the picture. Perhaps this explains why modern forms of government are not so much better than oppressive forms of government in the past and the fact of “the twentieth century’s being the greatest age of Christian martyrs since the early Church” (The Compact History of the Catholic Church by Alan Schreck, p. 116).

We have to be open to God’s teaching and receive our values and guidance from God. We are responsible for our children’s education. We have to take care of our neighbors. We have to help the poor around us. A government that forces you to help your neighbor is making love impossible… love is only possible when it’s not coerced.

This is not in any way to say that the situation is hopeless or worse now than it has been in the past. To each century its evils and to each century its antidotes, especially where politics and Church are concerned. Although our role as Catholics is also to be heard in the public square, we know our main strength lies in prayer, sacrifice and the hidden victory. “The message of Fatima was that the only way communism would ultimately be defeated was through the prayer of Christians, not by military might” (The Compact History of the Catholic Church by Alan Schreck p. 122).

May Our Lady of Fatima guide us all in her “little” way.

Julie Machado

Julie Machado

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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