Statistics released by Pew Research illustrate the extent to which the religious faith of President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, is a source of profound division between Democrats and Republicans.
To quote Pew: ‘Nearly nine in 10 Democrats (88 percent) says that Joe Biden is at least “somewhat” religious; just 36 percent of Republicans agree.’ On the face of it, the Democrats are right. This is a man who attends Mass every Sunday, and whose faith has helped him through the unthinkable tragedy of losing his young first wife and one-year-old daughter when their car was hit by a tractor in 1972.
Biden’s surviving son, Beau, was injured but survived; he died from a brain tumor, aged 46, in 2015. Biden mentions his Catholic faith often enough for the average Republican to know about it. So how do we explain that 63 percent of them think he’s either ‘not too religious’ or ‘not religious at all’?
Tal Kopan, Washington correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle, popped up on Twitter to say: ‘This is fascinating — Biden goes to church every week and is known to be a devout Catholic.’ The word ‘devout’ is the sticking point here. In media parlance, Catholics are devout and Protestants are staunch.
Since Biden took office, however, ‘devout Catholic’ has become a political shibboleth. For liberal media commentators, it’s a vocal genuflection to the President. But for many Republicans and traditional Catholics — and the overlap between the two is huge — it’s accompanied by eye-rolling or a snicker. Devout Joe Biden? Give me a break.
The truth is complicated and awkward. Biden may indeed be devout, depending on what you mean by the word. In 2015, shortly after his son died, the then-vice president appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, another Catholic, and quoted Kierkegaard: ‘Faith sees best in the dark.’
He said Catholicism gave him ‘an enormous sense of solace…I go to Mass and I’m able to be alone. I say the rosary. I find it be incredibly comforting.’ And then, as his host expressed sympathy, he gracefully turned the tables and reminded the audience that as, as a boy of 10, Stephen Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash.
I remember watching the interview at the time and thinking: this is not faked. And what a shame that Biden is too old to be president. I knew that he dissented from Catholic teaching on abortion, but it wasn’t hard to put that thought to the back of my mind.
So it was disturbing to realize, during the 2020 campaign, that Joe Biden didn’t just have the conventional liberal Catholic reservations about banning very early abortions, or those when the mother’s life is at stake. He now takes an extreme pro-choice position: abortion on demand, at any stage, for any reason whatsoever.
Not only that, but as president he intends to wipe out the First Amendment rights of pro-life Christians who refuse to participate in or cooperate with the provision of abortion. And other ‘conscience rights’ of religious believers are also threatened. This is the deal that Biden signed in order to get the nomination.
From an orthodox Catholic point of view, President Biden’s views on the sanctity of life are repellent. Moreover, conservative-leaning people of faith generally feel that his administration is coming after them with un-American zeal (though perhaps you can hear echoes of colonial New England in the Democrats’ passion for witch-hunting). These days, conventional churchgoers across the Catholic-Protestant divide tend to vote Republican, and many Republicans identify strongly with America’s Christian heritage, albeit often from the comfort of their beds on Sunday mornings.
Biden, for them, is the unlikely, grandfatherly figurehead for the cold-hearted secularism of his Vice President, Kamala Harris, and the campus thought police who lionize her. This conservative anger, tinged with confusion, is what’s showing up in these Pew statistics. If Biden is telling his rosary beads with one hand while signing away the conscience rights of Christians with the other, then they’re damned if they’re going to tell a pollster he’s religious.
Even if he is. Here’s the thing. You can hold devoutly to your personal faith. You can also be a Catholic, which Biden certainly is. But are you therefore a ‘devout Catholic’? Beware of false syllogisms. Last time I checked — and under this pontificate, you do have to keep checking — there were no devout Catholics who advocated abortion up to birth; only very bad ones.