Catholic Social Teaching
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey attracted quite a bit of ire a few months back when he wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal in which he advocated that Obama and the congress consider an approach to health care reform similar to the health benefits which Whole Foods provides its employees (centered around high deductible coverage and health savings accounts.) Within days, several progressive sites were calling for boycotts of Whole Foods, seeing Mackey as giving aid to anti-Obama forces. Mackey himself is somewhat bemused by the firestorm his editorial caused.
“President Obama called for constructive suggestions for health-care reform,” he explains. “I took him at his word.” Mr. Mackey continues: “It just seems to me there are some fundamental reforms that we’ve adopted at Whole Foods that would make health care much more affordable for the uninsured.”
Though he’s not gunning to cause any more controversies, Mackey has an interesting weekend interview in the Journal where he talks, among other things, about his philosophy regarding capitalism and business, and how it’s changed over the years since he founded Whole Foods with $45,000 in friends and family-raised seed funding in 1978.
“Before I started my business, my political philosophy was that business is evil and government is good. I think I just breathed it in with the culture. Businesses, they’re selfish because they’re trying to make money.”
With the media participating in adulation of Ted Kennedy, Ross Douthat calls our attention to “a different kind of liberal”, the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver (New York Times August 30, 2009):
Liberalism’s most important legislator probably merited a more extended send-off than his sister. But there’s a sense in which his life’s work and Eunice’s deserve to be remembered together — for what their legacies had in common, and for what ultimately separated them.
What the siblings shared — in addition to the grace, rare among Kennedys, of a ripe old age and a peaceful death — was a passionate liberalism and an abiding Roman Catholic faith. These two commitments were intertwined: Ted Kennedy’s tireless efforts on issues like health care, education and immigration were explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching, and so was his sister’s lifelong labor on behalf of the physically and mentally impaired.
What separated them was abortion.
Read the rest. (HT: Alan Phipps).
To say that Sen. Kennedy was flawed is to say that he was a human being. To dismiss his career because of his stance on abortion is to be ignorant of the complicated way the issue of abortion manifested itself in the early 1970s: I think Kennedy got it wrong but I do not find it difficult to understand why and how he got it wrong. If the pro-life leaders would stop ranting for a second and study that history they might become more effective at advancing their cause. Besides, Ted Kennedy got many more things right than he got wrong.
Honestly, what does it mean to say that Kennedy “got many more things right than he got wrong”? I cannot tell that it means anything other than, “Kennedy is one of my political tribe, and so I find it easy to forgive his faults.” What, surely Winters does not propose something so trivializing as a weighted check list: “Kennedy was in favor of expanding welfare, and we’ll weight that at an 8. He was in favor of increased immigration, and we’ll give that a 10. Unfortunately, he was in favor of abortion, we’ll weight that at a 4. So far a +14 total, what next?”
We continue to work through the authoritative Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church on the topic of the Political Community. In this part we will look at what happens “When Government behaves badly”. From the Compendium paragraphs #383 and #383: Continue reading
I imagine all of us blogging heroes believe that our outpourings of information and wise counsel, is having at least a minor impact in changing the world for the better. And I do believe that promoting the social doctrine of the Church is part of the evangelizing mission of the Church. But there is something that we must keep in our hearts as we continue fighting the good fight with our mighty pens (or flashing fingers upon key boards). And I cannot put it better than Pope Benedict XVI- so I will quote him here- and recommend the web site BenedictEveryday.com, where you can sign up for daily bits of Pope Speak delivered to your email address. Here is something to ponder as we prayerfully continue our political activism:
I may have to turn in my Catholic Geek card for this admission, but I still haven’t finished reading Caritas in Veritate, I’m only about ten pages in. Though I’ve tried the usual background reading, Benedict’s prose (though more readable than some of his predecessor’s) is not really the sort of thing one can read one paragraph at a time in between working. And while I do usually have 30-60min between 11pm and midnight in which to read before falling asleep, I must confess I’ve mostly been devoting that time to finishing a spy novel rather than turning tired eyes to Catholic social thought.
However, if I may nonetheless take the liberty of addressing some of the general discussion of economics and morality which has been stirred up by the encyclical, there is what seems to me a familiar dynamic coming into play as people discuss whether the Church can or should teach on matters of economics. The situation strikes me as somewhat similar to the argument about whether the Church can teach on matters of science.
On science, I would like to think, the terrain if fairly well understood. The Church does not and cannot teach with any particular authority on scientific theories themselves: Is the universe six billion years old, or only 6000? Is string theory a load of rubbish? Does the Earth revolve around the Sun? Will the expansion since the “big bang” end in a “big crunch” or in the heat death of the universe?
Given that the Church offers no exacting technical program for getting the job of the common good accomplished in any given state or global community. But does offer a blueprint of values and insights into the necessity of applying the Gospel to our social conditions- to include economics- I offer this past guest column I wrote shortly after my run for Florida state house. It addresses some conditions particular to the state of Florida, but it contains an outline of general responsibilities that could be applied at any level of governance.
As a result of previous discussion on this blog, I invited one of our regular commentors, Anthony Chelette, who works as an advertising agency art director, to read the Pontifical Council on Social Communications document Ethics In Advertising and write his thoughts on it as a person working in the field. He was kind enough to do so, and thus results the following guest post.
I’d like to thank Anthony for taking the time to read the document and write this response over the last several weeks. I hope this will lead to fruitful discussion and greater understanding of the field and this response to it.
–Brendan Hodge (DarwinCatholic)
Certain ideas are intrinsically a part of being American. Liberty. Individualism. Capitalism. But often another ‘ism’— consumerism— is associated with the American experience. Catholics appropriately abhor what consumerism is — an insatiable search for happiness through material gratification— and some point a finger at advertising as a pusher for ‘unneeded’ products of questionable value. Such opinion holds advertisers partially responsible for behavior that distracts from moral progress and discourages the ordering of economies.
The Church has always had a keen eye on how the desire for material satisfaction erects walls between the human person and his true destiny in Heaven. Jesus himself recognized that love for possessions easily make men willing slaves. Suddenly, man is more obedient to besting his Guitar Hero score than Christ’s teachings.
It is oft observed that we have a consumption problem. Various people come at this from various angles. Health experts warn that we have an obesity epidemic. Religious leaders warn that consumerism can be a threat to one’s real moral priorities. Environmentalists warn that we are consuming the earth’s resources at an unsustainable pace.
All of these are true to one extent or another. The fact of the matter is, the human animal is not well set up to deal with situations of long term abundance. In nature, lack almost invariably follows abundance in the natural cycle, and so our evolutionary heritage tends to tell us, in the presence of obvious plenty, “Eat up now, there may be nothing later.” For animals this is likely to be the case. The plants which are in season now will not be later, and the predator who has made a kill one day may well not another.
To continue with the building up of a genuine Catholic worldview regarding the nature and purpose of the Political Community- we move on with the authoritative teachings from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church Chapter 8.
There is one major area of Catholic social doctrine concern, that is consistently overlooked in all the liberal v.conservative American arguments. The proper nature and responsibility of the “Political Community”. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church lays out a comprehensive set of teachings and a blueprint for such interests. I am going to start the process of slowly offering the official Compendium quotations- not just proof-texting a sentence here or there. I believe that a real and profound commitment to these teachings will leave both liberals and conservatives something to seriously consider, and may help to form a unique Catholic worldview, which is something mainstream American politics so desperately needs right now.
My comments regarding the importance of basing our civil society upon bedrock natural law principles, rather than positivist/originalist theories, drew some fire. I respond here with a fresh entry with relevant quotes from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church regarding the natural law’s role in building up our legal system.
Although the subject of President Obama being honored by Notre Dame has quickly cooled in the fast-paced blogging universe- I wanted to weigh in with some comments because I think it is important to hold the President to account on some of the promises he made in his speech, and to offer some ideas for how Catholic universities should approach such political intersections in the future.
“Abortion rights activists” are in a tizzy because of President Obama’s appointment of an “anti-abortion pro-Obama Catholic” Alexia Kelley to the senior position of Health and Human Services Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Suspicion was aroused because Kelley is co-founder of the Soros-funded organization Catholics in Alliance for the common Good.
It is often have pointed out — in response to suggestions that such matters be funded via charity or other non-governmental organizations — that if there is not a single, government run, consistent program to provide benefits such as unemployment insurance and health care to those who need them, there is no guarantee that people will receive the benefits that they need.
This does not surprise me. One of the reasons why we set up bureaucratic social programs is because we don’t want to accept the level of inconsistency and unfairness that can result from organically developed community systems of mutual obligation.
Some have, however, taken this argument farther and suggested that it is simply impossible for needs such as health care, unemployment, etc. to be provided through any system other than a large government run one, which spreads the risk across millions of people (and allows nearly unlimited deficit spending.) It’s all very well to want personal mutual obligation to take care of things, I’m told, but you simply can’t deal with some issues that way.
I disagree. It is possible to take care of all of these things at the community level through mutual obligation. And there is a test case which we can look at to see how that looks. The Amish applied to congress to receive an exemption from social security.
In honor of my son’s first birthday this week:
Becoming a father has brought clarity to my soul- one could say spiritually and in other significant ways which relate back to the state of my eternal soul. I have always been political, but now I believe I really get what that means. Politics is treated like a game, a sport, a business; it is even viewed as a necessary evil by many. Politics and sex are similarly abused by many, and cheaply regarded by way too many. They aren’t games, or sports, they are about loving others, taking care for the next generation. Politics and sex are holy, even if we do our best to undermine them and rob them of their inherent godly potential for good.
Consider the alternative to political organization- anarchy. Who benefits from that? The strong, the uncaring, the ‘might makes right’ crowd; certainly not the child, not the honest man looking for a stable situation to raise a family up in peace.
When looking at the economic crater which is the US auto industry, liberals have a tendency to blame “big business” while conservatives tend to blame the UAW’s stranglehold on the big three. Both are right to an extent. Detroit’s current straights are the result of bad strategic decisions, bad design, bad regulation and the immense financial drag of pension and health benefit promises made to its workers back in the 60s and 70s when the US auto industry reigned supreme in the world, and promising future payouts seemed no object. In this last regard, the unions had quite a hand in planting the seeds of their own fall. And although they’re striven to be more flexible in recent years, union work rules still provide major obstacles to change in union plants.
The problem, he argues, is not just the high level of benefits that the United Auto Workers has secured for its members but the work rules—some 5,000 pages of them—it has imposed on the automakers. As Kaus points out, unionism as established by the Wagner Act is inherently adversarial. The union once certified as bargaining agent has a duty not only to negotiate wages and fringe benefits but also to negotiate work rules and to represent workers in constant disputes about work procedures.
The plight of the Detroit Three auto companies raises the question of why people ever thought this was a good idea.
The answer to that question which he provides is interesting, and I think illustrative for those seeking a proper understanding of the dignity of work in its relationship to unionism and good business practices: