It appears that for many, religion is an abstraction

A recent letter to Everybody’s Column incorrectly stated that Charles Carroll was a signer of the Constitution; it was his cousin Daniel Carroll and not Charles. However, Charles was a member of the Continental Congress and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence; in fact, he was the only Catholic who did so and the last surviving signatory.

But his moral compass was not as perfect as implied by the letter: it was stuck on the magnetic South of slavery. He and his family were wealthy plantation owners and slaveholders. He did try to move the needle. He decried slavery saying, “it is admitted by all to be a great evil.” But he did not free his slaves. He did advocate returning slaves to Africa to lead free lives, but he didn’t do it.

What could he have done? What did his religion tell him to do? A fair question: How should faith figure in on making real and important decisions rather than simply being an abstraction? Was religion for Carroll simply an abstraction? Is it so for most? I wonder.

A simple illustration: I had a conversation with a very religious friend of mine, who is a good and decent man. During the first Gulf War, I asked him how he could justify the war in light of his religion. He told me that he had had a lengthy conversation with his priest and they determined that the war was necessary. I said, “No, no. Not your priest. What would Jesus say?” His exact words were: “If we did everything he said, we wouldn’t get anywhere!” There’s a footnote for you.

Frederick W. Kiefer