A glimpse at mainstream conservative news sites would convince anyone that the Obama administration’s proposed contraception rule — which purports to require church-affiliated institutions and hospitals, but not places of worship themselves, to provide free contraception through their employee health plans — means the President stands to reap a whirlwind of fundamentalist backlash as the price of meddling in a divisive social issue. But polling suggests the contrary: that even as religious leaders talk of a new oppression, commensurate with the suffering of Christians under Roman or Islamic rule, Obama’s either lost nothing, or even struck a chord, with individual people of faith.
Conservatives question the sample selection, so to make it truly resonate, let’s adjust the conclusion: people of faith of an age with or younger than the generation currently leading the country universally view the use of contraception as either a private choice, or a regular incident of daily life. Arnold’s Sea of Faith has either receded, or adjusted to accommodate individuals more comfortable with their sexuality, while religious leadership lags well behind in similar social progress.
If we’re seeing an opening divide between a “protestant” population more willing to chart their own course within the loose confines of their faith, and a “catholic” clergy insistent on an increasingly irrelevant, outdated orthodoxy, the time to use the divide, to increase the liberty of the majority and push back bigotry, is precisely now.
When John F. Kennedy first ran for the presidency, he took the podium to explain to a curious nation how he, though Catholic, had moved well past 14th century sensibilities, and would not feel bound to follow the policy or moral advice of St. Peter’s heir. (This was an honestly-felt tenet of anti-Catholic sentiment at the time.) Fifty years later, modern fundamentalists scramble to show their adherence to the orthodoxy of the religious elites, paying tribute along the way to everyone from Jerry Falwell to the USCCB. Somewhere along the line, something went wrong — giving President Obama, and religious Democrats, a chance to make a compelling case for personal faith and personal religion, and a belief system that validates meaningful theology, rather than a medieval morality that no-one even followed in the first place.