Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Thoughts on Catholic Social Teaching

By Dave Armstrong (3-13-09)

Brought on by various comments and questions on the CHNI board (in different colors below):

On the spectrum of socialism to capitalism, where would the teaching of the Catholic Church lie?

I think it is really a "third way," as I have argued in the past. It has the social conscience that Democrats have traditionally had: for the "little guy" etc. (except, of course, for the "littlest guys" of all -- in the womb: for whom they have zero concern), while it rejects the current obsession of Democrats with near-socialism and immoral personal practices (mostly in the sexual realm). It likes the local control (subsidiarity) and emphasis on traditional moral tenets that (conservative) Republicans stress, so it has elements of both parties or political persuasions, and adds further elements not stressed by either.

Classic capitalism or classic liberalism (Adam Smith, Jefferson et al) was as much a child of the Enlightenment as it was of Christianity: and much of the Christian influence was Protestant: and much of that was theologically liberal. So obviously, a Catholic has to modify that quite a bit to make it conform to our theological beliefs.

So, I can count my taxes now as part of my tithe? Are you saying it is moral to take from one person and give to another without their agreeing to such a transfer? Where is the "goodness" in that?

I don't think all compulsion is necessarily a bad thing. If one argues that part of the legitimate role of government is to provide some safety net for the poor, the elderly, the disabled (as I would), then the money has to come from somewhere. Granted, the government has not shown itself to be a very efficient or intelligent utilizer of monetary funds (to put it very mildly), but a case can be made that is quite consistent with Catholicism.

And it is apparently not a true statement of de Tocqueville's that "America is great because America is good." Or so I've heard.

America is good? Not anymore: not as a general statement. Many individual Americans are good, and many of our policies remain good, but overall, we are pushing many wicked things.

Where in our Constitution does it make it a government responsibility to assure everyone's success and well-being?

Good question. The general American tradition then and now was towards individual autonomy (which fits in excellently with Protestantism, secularism, and libertarianism alike: all hostile to varying degrees to Catholicism). But I think there are probably mentions here and there of a corporate responsibility.

I'm not tracking with this at all.... I would much prefer to keep my own money and give it to the people I choose to give it to. Government is far too inclined toward fraud, bad decisions, poor use of resources, and waste. Just read the news.

Indeed. But government has many legitimate functions. We just need to reform it. Putting the Democrats massively in power was the very last way that will be accomplished. So we'll have to learn the hard way again.

* * *

The question remains for me, "Whose responsibility is it to care for the poor and needy?" To whom has God given this requirement?

According to the Bible and the Church, all of us. But I wouldn't pit that against government altogether, as if it is utterly contradictory. I think government can possibly be an effective agent in the institutionalization of care for the poor and needy. It has done that in some ways (social security; medical care for the poor, where it is available; in the past: labor laws and so forth): in others it has done an atrocious job (Great Society, welfare, free access to abortion)

If The Church is not doing it, then She is in grave danger of judgment.........(already evidenced I believe............due to the overwhelming number of people who are now getting "free money").

I agree.

Didn't Jesus tell us that Our Father will give us everything we need? (Well....yes.... one must be in communion with Him and living a responsible and holy life).

Yes, but that can be taken to extremes, to justify irresponsibility.

Government doesn't require us to live a holy life or even be responsible for ourselves..........why would anyone want to live a holy life when one can get everything they need from the government without ever having to come under the authority of The Church?

Even Bill Clinton reformed welfare. He knew it had been a failure. Seems to me that any sane, conscious person would know that, if they looked at the statistics of what has been accomplished by it.

In my opinion, The Church is abandoning souls to Hell by giving over Her responsibilities to the government.........

I don't see it that starkly. I think there can be a very fruitful partnership if it is done right. But it won't happen under Democratic control, because the Democrats uphold too many immoral practices. It's unlikely in any event, given the rampant secularism and theological ignorance in our culture.

Ohhhhhh, but we say......." the Church isn't doing enough ........people aren't giving enough money, so we have to MAKE the people give their money by taking it away from them . The government will see that the money goes to the people who need it most, and we won't have to worry about it annnnnnnny.................more!"

In some ways, that is true. People don't give enough money unless they are either compelled or cajoled with some sort of strong persuasion. That's why tithing is so popular in Protestant circles, because it is a sort of compulsion and automatic figure that can be counted on. That makes it easy to promulgate and raise money, when in fact, the biblical view is (in my opinion far different:

"Biblical Evidence Against Tithing and in Favor of Progressive Giving According to Ability"

There comes a day when OH YES, we will have to worry on earth and come Judgment Day.................

We need to vote for people whose beliefs line up with traditional morality. That certainly didn't happen in 2008, so there will be a price to pay for it.

* * *

It's not Catholic to totally oppose our own government. We need to reform it and do all we can to make sure it makes moral law, but not totally oppose it. That is libertarianism or anarchism: quite foreign to Catholicism.

And it's very biblical, too. Romans 13 makes it clear that government (generally speaking) is an agent for good, and "servant of God." We all know that doesn't always happen. But many times it does, and shows the possibilities. We can't just give all government to Satan, anymore than we should do that in any area of life. Rather, reform it and vote in the right people!: don't despair altogether, as if all government were the moral equivalent of Nero and Hannibal and Hitler and Stalin.

* * *

Would it have been correct to oppose Hitler or Stalin?

Absolutely. Catholics also are strong advocates of conscientious objection. They did that with Nero and Hitler and were slaughtered by the thousands as a result. The Catholic Church was in favor of Operation Rescue. I was a Protestant when I was involved that, and say next to archbishops at rallies. Meanwhile, Protestants like Norman Geisler opposed it. We believe that the evil government is to be opposed and reformed, not that all government is evil.

Were their governments agents for good?

No. But many governments are (for the most part), and the institution of government generally is. The Bible says so. It ain't just me sayin' it. You can't take the worst-case scenarios and then argue that all governments are inherently evil because there was a Hitler and a Stalin.

Perhaps as a lesson for posterity, but certainly not for the millions and millions of people they killed.

One thing I've learned in my conversion to the CC is that the verses I used to take 100% literally as a protestant were not always intended to be understood that way. Some governments must be opposed and I believe that the direction this one is going right now will destroy this country. To the extent I am able, I will speak out and oppose current policies. I guess it depends on what "oppose" means...

You can oppose any evil, and are not subject to it. But you're taking it too far by seeming to be almost totally "anti-government." That is the libertarian principle, not the Catholic outlook.

I do think compulsion by a government is a bad thing, or can be. It makes us all poorer. I don't think the govt's legitimate role is to provide a safety net. I truly believe that God gave us all those other entities I mentioned - family, neighbors, churches, and charities - to meet our needs.

Me too, but human beings being the sinners they are, and usually selfishly oriented, they usually don't. So the question becomes: "what do we do now?" There was incredible suffering during the real Depression in the 1930s, before there was any institutional safety net. I doubt that the churches could have alleviated all that even if they wanted to. Government never ended the Depression (WWII did that), but it did prevent many people from starving to death.

In our town, for example, there is a senior citizens mobile home park. It's a very nice park, nice trees, pool, clubhouse, etc. Due to the rising cost of keeping the park nice, the space rent is going up. The seniors are outraged! Perhaps it is difficult for them to come up with an additional $15 per month in rent. That may well be. But they're calling for rent control. Where are those seniors' families?? See, I think this is what happens when people begin to look to the government for their needs.

People tend to dichotomize and think in either/or terms. I want government and faith communities to work together. Democrats usually oppose that. Many Republicans are equally secularized, or libertarian. Libertarianism is the big trend today in both parties. So we need to vote folks like that out.

The family connection is totally broken. How many of you reading this would not find a way to give your parents $15 a month so that they could meet this rent increase? And if the renters work together, they could voluntarily help each other out.

It shouldn't be broken. I agree.

And if that still isn't enough, there are charities in this town who might - though in the current economic mess, less likely - be able to help, too. But rent control? If I were the landlord, you'd bet the pool would come out, the clubhouse would be closed, and the trees would never be trimmed.

You just can't MAKE people be good. At some point, they'll begin to resent it.

I agree again. But it is a social good to provide the needs of those who are in sad situations through no fault of their own. To do that, some compulsion or at least very strong persuasion is necessary.

I consider myself a generous person, but I HATE it when someone steals my wealth to give to others.
You think every tax known to man is "stealing"?

Come and talk to me; let your needs be known. I'll probably be very helpful to you. But to take it under threat of force is not right.

I'm sure you are generous. But fundraising of any sort generally doesn't work by simply announcing a need. People don't respond (and I know that also from much firsthand experience, which I won't go into). They have to be cajoled and bombarded with persuasive techniques: Madison Ave.-type stuff. That's a fact of life, and why we see those tactics so often whenever anyone needs to raise money. It's the crisis letter; the emotional appeal to the heartstrings. And that is because people don't voluntarily, cheerfully give, simply upon hearing of a need that they agree is important to meet.

My bottom line question is this: What of this is Church doctrine and something I must, as a good Catholic, believe in order to understand someday, and what of it is just politics?

I think in this thread many folks have shown the proper balance between our faith and government. As I said above, Catholic social teaching is a third way: very different from the platforms of either party in the US, but with similarities to some emphasized aspects of both.

If people insist on putting allegiance in either the Democrats or Republicans or America over against the Bible and the Church, they are free to do so. But they'll get nowhere fast. I'm as far from a political "liberal" as can be imagined. But I'm also far from a political conservative: which is precisely the overall point I am trying to make: that Catholic socio-political teaching is a third way, not so easily categorized according to the fashionable divisions today.

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