Paul Ryan, the USCCB and the Poor
A fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by economist Antony Davies and Catholic theologian Kristina Antolin:
Someone is twisting the Catholic Church’s teachings on caring for the poor, but it isn’t Paul Ryan. His controversial budgetary ideas demonstrate that he has a better grasp of Catholic social thought than do many of the American Catholic bishops.
The culmination of centuries of theological and philosophical thought, the church’s teachings cannot simply be satisfied by a government edict to “feed the poor.” Commanding “Let there be light!” works fine for God, but for mortal beings, edicts don’t carry the same punch.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long supported government interference in the economy as a means to help the poor. But we suspect the bishops haven’t fully thought this through: If God really did favor a top-down approach to poverty reduction, why wouldn’t He establish a government with the power to wipe away poverty on demand instead of leaving things to chance and the possibility that someone like Mr. Ryan would come along and mess up His plans?
Perhaps we dehumanize the poor when we treat them as nothing more than problems to be solved, and we dehumanize the rich when we treat them as wallets to be picked.
Wealth and poverty are catalysts for bringing the rich and the poor together in community, and community is the hallmark of the church’s mission on Earth. Government is not community. Government is one of community’s tools, a coercive one we use when it is necessary to force people to behave in ways they would not otherwise behave voluntarily.
Go here to read the rest. Ever since the New Deal, the Church in America has gotten way too comfortable looking to government as a solution to the problem of poverty. This flies in the face of the traditional Catholic emphasis that helping the poor is an individual duty imposed upon all of us by God, with the Church through her charitable activivties taking the lead. Christ said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the unto God the things that are God’s.” Looking to Caesar to help the poor shifts the duty from us onto the State, a duty which the State routinely performs poorly, often trapping the poor into lives of dependence upon the State for a meager living. Some people in our society, through no fault of their own, cannot work due to mental or physical impairment. Those should always receive assistance from the State for a basic standard of living. For all others, we should recall the admonition of Saint Paul:  Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing, but in labour and in toil we worked night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you.  Not as if we had not power: but that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you, to imitate us. For also when we were with you, this we declared to you: that, if any man will not work, neither let him eat.
 For we have heard there are some among you who walk disorderly, working not at all, but curiously meddling.  Now we charge them that are such, and beseech them by the Lord Jesus Christ, that, working with silence, they would eat their own bread. Our charitable efforts should always be geared to teaching those who are unemployed to find work and become self-supporting. Many of the disorders in our society are attributable to our fostering a culture of dependence upon government and subsidizing sloth. To most Catholics of earlier generations this would have seemed common sense. That it may strike many Catholics as radical today is a testament to how far off the beam we have gotten as a society.