Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., may never live down her infamous words from a 2017 hearing to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Challenging Coney Barrett’s Catholic faith, Feinstein asked, “Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that, you know, dogma and law are two different things…” Then, looking at Coney Barrett squarely, she said that in reading her speeches, “…the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you…” and that this is concerning when it comes to “big issues that large numbers of people have fought for in this country.”
Hearing this, the dogma within me stirred, and loudly. What big issues exactly? And was Feinstein disparaging Coney Barrett for her faith? It certainly seemed more of an attack than a helpful question to me.
My own faith guides me to regard every human as made in the image and likeness of God and with inherent dignity. Further, a just society cannot exist without morality. Had Feinstein missed that the reason law exists is because we are moral creatures?
Three years later, we’re reviewing her words in light of Coney Barrett’s nomination by President Donald Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Let’s start with a simple definition. A “dogma” is a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. If the authority is God, and dogma, truth, what does Feinstein fear?
Many of us “on the other side” actually seek to live a lively, loud dogma because that very dogma upholds life – including that of those with whom we disagree. Shouldn’t any dogma that uplifts the human person and benefits the common good be loudly proclaimed within?
Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?” as he grappled over whether to put Jesus to death. Does objective truth exist? If so, what is its source? The question leads us to consider a good God who is Truth itself, and, as such, can only promote good – including for those who reject God.
Feinstein’s ironically chosen words revealed to all that she, too, holds a dogma within her – as does every human being. Having a dogma that is lively shouldn’t excuse anyone from public discourse and fair judgment, not if the source of that dogma is solid. If Feinstein had been more honest, she’d have said, “We’re nervous because your dogma clashes with our dogma.”
The dogma that comes from an authentic source of truth and goodness, if heeded, will foster liberty and justice for all, for the one true authority created the very ground rules for an orderly world that offers true freedom.
Soon after Feinstein made that unfortunate and revealing pronouncement, a friend sent me a T-shirt that bore her words. I pray I can be worthy of them, living my dogma loudly – and lovingly – to my last breath, with the one true God as my help and shield.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 5, 2020.]