Prudent: capable of exercising sound judgment in practical matters, esp. as concerns one's own interests. (Webster's New World Dictionary).
One word makes a world of difference in the volatile mix of religion and politics, according to the Rev. Thomas Reese.
Speaking Tuesday evening to more than 300 people at Toledo's Corpus Christi University Parish, the nationally prominent Jesuit priest reviewed the controversial combination of religion and politics, urging Catholics to make responsible political decisions by using reason along with their faith.
In sum, be prudent.
"Catholics must realize that appealing to Christian theology and religious authority will not be persuasive to everyone in the political arena," Father Reese said. "Where there is pluralism of religious views, political arguments must also be persuasive to non-Christians, non-Catholics, and even nonbelievers. Any political position based on faith alone will find little traction outside the church and, in fact, I believe will be counterproductive."
Father Reese, the director of the religion and public policy program at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said that despite some people's assertions, it is virtually impossible to separate politics from religion.
Politics is about choices -- should taxes be raised, should a road be built, should a law be declared -- and any question containing the word "should" is an ethical question, Father Reese said.
"Much of the positive values we Westerners inherit in our culture, from our disdain for injustice to our celebration of self-sacrifice, comes from a residual Christian culture," Father Reese said.
He acknowledged that religion and politics together are not only controversial, but complicated and not well-suited for sound bites.
Some who contend that religion should be banned from the political arena cite "a whole laundry list of historical examples of where religion corrupted politics and politics corrupted religion," he said.
Nations have gone to war over religion, and religious factions within nations have shed much blood, from Protestants and Catholics in Europe in the past to Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq today, Father Reese said.
But those cases are countered by the many examples of religiously motivated people playing a positive role in politics, including the abolition of slavery, the U.S. civil rights movement, and fostering care for the poor, sick, and disadvantaged.
Also, he said, "History shows that many of the worst tyrants through the ages have been men who had no respect for the laws of God," citing Hitler and Stalin as recent examples.
Prudence brings reason and faith together in the political sphere to form a partnership that benefits the common good, Father Reese said.