New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum, wrote an article on May 30th entitled, “New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks.” In it he reminds us of a recurring theme among those charged with civil authority. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has taken one more big step into the domain of parental authority or what used to be considered personal responsibility. He is taking it upon himself to make sure that New York City residents do not drink too much soda.
Grynbaum reported the following: “New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.” He then went on to add, “The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.”
For Mr. Bloomberg, being the mayor of New York City is not enough. Evidently, he wants to be a “loving parent.” Regulating how much coke or soda New Yorkers drink is just the latest “compassionate” intervention. You see, the private sector is, according to his actions, incapable of governing itself; especially when it comes to eating and drinking. Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg demonstrated this on three previous occasions with the following regulations:
• Bans on smoking in restaurants and parks,
• A prohibition against artificial trans fat in restaurant food and
• A requirement for health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows.
Unfortunately, whenever I talked to friends, colleagues and acquaintances about the ban on smoking in private restaurants (public means government owned), I discovered that most were in favor of the ban. That is to say, several people I talked to were fine with the idea that a local municipality, county or state government could legally intrude with a privately owned business and prohibit a legal activity. What they could not get past was their dislike for cigarette smoke. Their ability to reason beyond that which was unpleasant to their senses was surprising to me. I too dislike, and very much so, cigarette smoke. But I knew if civil authority was boundary-deficient enough to prohibit the legal activity of smoking because of its unpleasant odor, it would arbitrarily regulate or mandate other activities outside of its domain.
Obviously, I do not believe that Bloomberg shares the genocidal tendencies of Hitler’s Third Reich. But an interesting comparison is in order here. According to the book, Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg noted the following: “A Hitler Youth manual proclaimed, Nutrition is not a private matter.” He further wrote that, “Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and an aggressive promoter of natural healing... Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies…” This is the language of dictators who promote the cult of the State. For them, nutritional and environmental matters were a public concern.
The point is that a substantive comparison can be made between secular-liberal politicians and autocrats who knew not their own limitations. Both types are boundary-deficient on the most essential issues. That is to say, neither the liberal nor the autocrat ruler recognizes moral or spiritual absolutes. And with the denial of moral or spiritual absolutes, there is a corresponding tendency to trespass lines which divide the political from the private sphere. If a mayor Bloomberg can regulate smoking or artificial trans fats in privately owned restaurants, then why can’t the Federal Health and Human Service Department mandate that religiously owned institutions provide birth control in their insurance coverage?
Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, once wrote, “Religious people are not always very clear-sighted in political matters and nothing is easier for them to mistake the real danger and waste their time attacking that form of secularism which happens to be the most unpopular in their own society, and consequently the least likely to succeed, while they close their eyes to the real source of danger.”
In our own day, the real source of political danger for the Catholic Church and for society at large is the pretext civil authority uses to expand its power. More often than not, the language of serving “the least among us” has effectively been used to tug at the heartstrings of Catholics; this, so that politicians can justify the acquisition of more power. Even if NYC Mayor Bloomberg has the sincerest of intentions of protecting citizens from obesity, the authorization and public approval to even try to resolve the problem has ushered in an era of an all-powerful State. In fact, if the State sees itself as the regulator of people’s diet, then it will, soon enough, anoint itself as the regulator of human rights.
Bottom line: As Christians, we really need to think beyond what is pleasant or unpleasant to us or even what appears to be an act of compassion by the government. To be ruled creates the illusion of security whereas freedom leaves wide open the possibility of risks and dangers. However, it is only with the latter that the right to life, religious liberty and self-determination can prosper.