Looking at women's lives worldwide, Hillary Clinton is convinced that faith offers strength and hope to many, while "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases" continue to oppress others.
The Democratic presidential candidate cited her own Methodist heritage as an example of positive faith during the recent Women in the World Summit in New York City. But religion's dark side, she said, is easily seen when doctrines limit access to "reproductive health care" and cause discrimination against gays and the transgendered.
In the future, she stressed, politicians will need to force religious leaders to change these ancient teachings to fit modern laws.
"Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health," said Clinton, focusing on issues she emphasized as secretary of state.
"All the laws that we've passed don't count for much if they're not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."
The Kennedy Center crowd responded with cheers and applause.
Religious dogma doesn't just cause trouble in "far-away countries," she added. Referring to ongoing debates about religious liberty, Clinton said, "America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby."
No one was surprised that Clinton -- a faithful defender of abortion rights -- renewed her support for Planned Parenthood and the sexual revolution, noted William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The shock in this speech was her commitment to using political power to force changes in pulpits, pews and religious hierarchies.
"It's time for Hillary to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge," he said, in an online commentary. "Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and all those who value life from conception to natural death."
Candidate Clinton's commitment to First World solutions to problems faced by women worldwide also represent the mirror image of off-the-cuff remarks earlier this year by Pope Francis. Speaking to Catholics leaders gathered in Manila, he urged them not to compromise when threatened by global forces representing a new "ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family."
This pressure to change traditions and culture, he said, "comes from outside and that's why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past 'No' to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say 'No' to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family."
In addition to natural disasters and economic challenges caused by globalization, Pope Francis warned that the traditional family is "also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life."
Demographic changes will almost certainly pour fuel on these same cultural fires, according to recent surveys by the Pew Research Center. While secularists, the vaguely spiritual and "nones" -- people claiming no religious tradition -- are on the rise in America, Japan and parts of Europe, the percentage of religious believers is growing in the rest of the world.
It will be impossible to avoid a collision between these two radically different approaches to life, said commentator Kathy Schiffer of Ave Maria Radio.
"There are powerful people -- like Hillary Clinton -- who have a very specific ideology when it comes to solving the world's problems, a set of solutions that she is totally sure is in the best interests of women everywhere," said Schiffer. "If you go into a country facing poverty and hunger and disease, then the first thing you need to do is take them birth control and start talking about abortion. …
"This is exactly what the pope is talking about when he warns against a new kind of colonization that tries to force people to change their religious beliefs when it comes to marriage and family and children."