Two panelists addressed the Boston College community virtually on Tuesday to discuss the complex idea of faith and democracy as well as the multifaceted connection the two share.
Rabbi Michael Pollack, resident and important community member in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Father Nate Romano, professor at Boston College Law School, both entered religious life following their completion of law school. The two met via Zoom with moderator Ian Ramsey-North to dissect the many ways in which politics and religion interact.
Ramsey-North began the discussion by asking the panelists how their relationship with religion and politics has evolved over the years, both in terms of their connection with their faith as well as the ways in which they view their role in society at large.
Pollack began his answer by exploring the idea of vocation, telling listeners that he felt called to both a life of religion as well as a life in which he immersed himself in the community, actively working to make a difference.
“If you want to heal the sick, if you want to house the homeless, if you want to feed the hungry, you need to go through the political system. For better or for worse, the government has a hand to play in all of these big decisions that govern our lives,” he said.
Through his commitment to being an active member of society via politics, as well as his desire to be happy and be be surrounded by individuals who make him better and lead him in the proper direction, Pollack found that through his legal degree as well as his entrance into religious life, he was able to maximize his impact as well as lead a life in which he fulfills his calling.
Romano added that he was a “cradle Catholic,” basically stating he entered into his religion the moment he was born. He, like Pollack, found that priests and other people in religious life are traditionally very content with themselves and the people who surround them. Following his time at Marquette University as an undergraduate student as well as his time at the University of Wisconsin as a law student, he came to understand the injustices that plague this country and the world as a whole.
“Law in action -- the idea that law is the place where we are going to make changes for the better, not just for ourselves, but for the broader community,” stated Romano as he offers listeners insight into the reasons he pursued law alongside his priesthood.
Ramsey-North then shifted the conversation to the idea of responsibility, resulting in discussion of guilt, blame, and sacrifice.
Pollack shared an anecdote in which he was speaking to a woman in regards to the practices of her company. The woman said she was only responsible for her own behavior, and she is not disobeying the teachings of God, therefore she is not in the wrong.
He stated in response, “Rabbi Joshua Heshel summarized the entire Hebrew Bible with the phrase ‘Some are guilty, all are responsible.’ So thank you for not being guilty, but you’re definitely responsible for what your colleagues are doing because they are taking these gifts and they are being corrupted and they are causing suffering in Pennsylvania.”
This perfectly displays the ways in which Pollack sees the connection between faith and democracy, showing the ways in which teachings from religious texts bleed into the political and corporate climate of our nation.
Romano then went on to add his beliefs regarding the idea of responsibility, drawing on and emphasizing the importance of human connection and interpersonal relationships, given that is the groundwork of religion and an answer to the systemic oppression and division present in the United States as well as globally.
“There are these structures of sin, and it’s not really a question of who is responsible, as opposed to what do I owe to my sisters and my brothers?” said Romano. “If you have enough and your friend, your brother, your enemy, does not, you have nothing to do other than give it to them. If you don’t give it to them, you are committing a sin, because we are obligated to bring everyone up with us, to the extent that we can.”
In closing, the panelists offered listeners ideas and prompts, pushing them to begin to bridge the gaps between individuals with different ideologies. At the end of the day, we are all human beings and all have a responsibility to care and love one another.
“What can I do?” asked Romano. “Even if it’s ‘I’m going to sit down with my friend who voted the other way and have a conversation or say a prayer for them…’ People are worth more than corporations, everybody has a right to be at the table and have these conversations.”