For the last fifty years, Roman Catholic politicians have been talking “ChristianLite” when invoking God. That changed in the last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucus, when Marco Rubio boldly worshipped his “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.”
Most of us have not heard that kind of theology since the days when, as children, we had to memorize the answers to all those perplexing questions in the Baltimore Catechism. Little Marco obviously learned them well, and his pious proclamation on the floor of the debate should put tears of joy in the eyes of every American cardinal and bishop who have in him a candidate they can control.
We have had all sorts of Christian presidents, including one – Taft – who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. We have had a few who were disinterested in religion – Andrew Johnson, Hayes, Lincoln – and we have had exactly one Roman Catholic president - John F. Kennedy - who adored Marilyn more than Mary. In Rubio, we would get the real Catholic deal, and this should be frightening to any God-fearing American man or woman who is disinclined to bind the country under the yoke of the papacy.
The most startling aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation is his clear belief in the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. Rubio believes that the son of God existed somewhere in the universe (in heaven maybe?) before he “came down” to earth to fix the mess we have made. In Rubio’s belief, Jesus wasn’t just a twinkle in the eye of God but rather a real guy waiting in the wings, or on the bench, for his chance to be born and die. Like God the father, Jesus had been around for all eternity, killing time with his dad somewhere outside the boundaries of time itself, until he got the irresistible urge for his brief Middle Eastern saga.
When I was a child in Catholic grade school and menaced by the Sisters of Mercy, I did not cotton to this bit of theology. It seemed to me to be downright stupid for God to pre-arrange something like the passion, death and resurrection of his only son. The script of any episode of I Love Lucy made more sense to me, concurrently schooled as I was by early television, than did the idea that the life of Jesus Christ was, in literally excruciating detail, inevitable. I kept this heretical opinion to myself, and recited the words of the Creed just like all the other kids, figuring that they had not yet realized the nonsense of at all.
There is a second aspect of Rubio’s debate proclamation, the notion that Jesus had to come down here to take on our sins. As a child, I had serious problems with this. Why couldn’t God just snap his fingers to clean up our sins the way ladies on the television make their kitchen appliances sparkle with a quick swipe of something new? Why couldn’t he just clear the table in his workshop? Like every other kid in my hometown, I had an Etch A Sketch with which I could make any design I imagined and then simply flip the toy upside down to erase it and start over again. Surely God in his infinite brilliance could do even better than that.
Also, I never felt that I had been born bad, or that without redemption by Jesus I would go to hell. In second grade, I pestered Sister Josephine about the idea of baptism. “You mean we were born with sins already inside us?” When she nodded yes, I could see in her eyes that she knew I would be trouble. (She eventually left the convent, married and had her own kids. I wonder if she had them baptized.) The seven-year old heretic, I kept my reservations private while I made my first Confession and received my First Holy Communion, carefully keeping the host from touching my teeth because Jesus, who had been floating eternally in space and had then taken on human flesh, was now a piece of bread that I had to eat in order to get to heaven where all of this stuff would finally be explained.
How would we do with a president who energetically spouts his belief in the literal particulars of Roman Catholicism? Not well. He would have to dismantle same-sex marriage. He would have to say that it is okay to feel gay urges, but sinful to have gay sex of any kind. He would have to make sure that children are adopted only by couples consisting of one man and one woman. He would have to get LGBT teachers out of classrooms. He would have to insist that Americans keep every sex act open to the possibility of procreation. He would have to reverse Roe v. Wade and instruct all Americans that abortion is murder. Worst of all, he would appoint Supreme Court Justices guided by “Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins.” So many awful words to be added to the Pledge of Allegiance.