Catholic Social Teaching
One of the difficult balances to achieve in the area of politics dealing with “social services”, and with bringing a proper Catholic understanding to how we as Christians should strive to shape such policies, is knowing how we should balance efficiency with proper concern for human dignity and human pride. I see this as being particularly the case when it comes to some of the large scale assistance programs which form part of our “social safety net” in the United States. Many of these are, it seems to me, essentially welfare of “assistance programs”, yet are cloaked in the form of all-encompassing “savings” or “insurance” programs.
For example, the purpose of Social Security was clearly to assure that the aged are not relegated to poverty once they are no longer able to work. In the past, this was done through private savings, the help of one’s children, and the help of one’s community. However, these mechanisms often fell through, and so people often found themselves in poverty in their old age. Thus was created the Social Security system, which collected money via a payroll tax and “saved” it to fund retirement payouts after age 65. Medicare, which is designed to assure that the elderly can afford medicare care is much the same.
Even before Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for Best Picture last weekend, the popular/artsy/Bollywood crossover flick had created a strange new tourist trade: People traveling to Mumbai to visit the vast slums which are home to 10 million people and the setting for the movie. I must admit, the idea strikes me as fulfilling every negative stereotype of self-indulgent Western patronization towards the world’s poor. “Oh, let’s go tour these slums and see how the little people of the world live! How caring of us to spend our vacation there, and then we’ll hit the beach afterward.” Still, I’m sure that everyone means well, and according to the article the tours are being conducted by some locals who insist on small groups, no cameras, and return 80% of the profits to help people in the slums.
Still, I was particularly struck by a passing reference near the end of the article, which struck me as showing exactly the sort of difficult balance that good intentioned Westerners seeking to regulate the third world for their own good often fail to take into account:
We have a very strong tendency to throw around certain Bible passages when we feel they suit our needs. First and foremost of these in dialogue about Catholic Social Teaching and the proper role of government in aiding the needy is Matthew 26:11, in which Jesus states: “The poor you will always have with you.” (NAB)
The most unfortunate tendency in using this quote is to justify doing very little to help the poor. In arguments, it is used to excoriate any governmental welfare program, noting that since the poor will always be with us, the governmental efforts will not succeed, and therefore that justifies doing nothing at all. We all know, of course, that Jesus never meant this statement to be an acknowledgement of futility, or an advocation of doing nothing. But certainly the context of the quote seems telling.
In response to a prior post in which I expressed some support for higher taxes and more wealth distribution, a commenter suggested that “no thinking Catholic can support socialistic solutions to the problems of our fallen world,” on the grounds that such solutions limit “authentic freedom.” Darwin has already ably addressed the comment as it pertains to freedom. The Catholic understanding of freedom (i.e. freedom to do the good), is very different than freedom understood as the absence of government interference with individual choice. The former describes the freedom to be virtuous; the latter the freedom to do as we wish with private property.
But I think the commenter was correct in noting that the Church recognizes a right to private property. And this suggests that there is a tension between socialism and Catholic thought.
To be honest, I feel inadequate to deal with the topic of homosexuality. Eric has a remarkable, stunning, and moving post on homosexuality in general, focused predominantly on the human aspect of those struggling with homosexuality. What I have to say—how homosexual acts fit in the pattern of pitting body against soul, the topic of my series on human sexuality—seems flat and insipid in comparison. Nevertheless, and at the risk of sounding like I’m endless repeating the same message, I intend to complete this series with a discussion of where homosexuality fits in our discussions thus far.
Before we proceed, we should clarify one matter, a necessary distinction. First, I am not condemning any person with homosexual tendencies. My focus is entirely on the action. Whether or not homosexuality is a matter of nature or nurture, same-sex attraction is not in and of itself sinful. I would certainly argue that at least some people train themselves (not deliberately, for the most part) into same-sex attraction, but that is neither here nor there. Every person, no matter how grave his sins be, no matter how unrepentant he is, deserves our love and prayers. As a corollary, every person with same-sex attraction still deserves charity and welcome. The sins we denounce, not because we despise the person, but exactly the opposite. Indeed, if we cared nothing for the person, we would simply say, “Go ahead and do whatever you want,” as though his eternal destination was of no importance to us.
The case against adultery seems clearly spelled out in the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Even if that does not prove sufficient, we can always quote Jesus Himself: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mt 5:27-28)” For Catholics, as for any who profess that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, this seems to rest the case. What more is there to say?
This is the third post in a series of four on sexuality, Catholic teaching—especially the theology of the body—and the pitting of body against soul and soul against body that sexual immorality naturally entails. I discussed general sexuality here and masturbation here. Now we turn our attention to fornication, especially premarital sex.
I mentioned before that masturbation is the primordial sexual sin, the precursor of most sexual sin, and in fact that most immoral sexual acts are just thinly disguised masturbation. As regards fornication, this is most obvious in the treatment of sex as just a recreation tool, and in the behavior of people who are just looking to “score” for one night. Perhaps the most offensive example of masturbation disguised as sex comes from the comparison between having premarital sex and test driving a car.
I can’t speak for any other guy out there, but if I ever suggested to my wife that I was treating her like a vehicle—something to be used while it works, and then traded it once it had exceeded its usefulness—I would have found myself in the ER hoping that the doctors could salvage a portion of the brain matter leaking out of my ears. Certainly I hope that anyone would receive such a wake-up call from whatever Chevy Nova or Toyota Corolla he happens to be dating at the time.
How are we, as American Catholics, to understand our Second Amendment rights? As the Constitution of the United States is a document made by man, it is subject to errors, and has contained notable ones in the past. Could it possibly be that the “right to bear arms” itself is a mistake? Certainly gun ownership has come under heavy fire in the past few decades, and while this issue hasn’t been as loud as others, it remains a divisive issue (especially since, once again, it is a polarized issue, with the loudest proponents on the Right, and the loudest opponents on the Left). Recently we on the Right celebrated what we viewed as a great victory in the battle for gun rights, as the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the ban on guns in Washington D.C. But should we, as Catholics, see this in the same way?
One of the big criticisms of free market economics is that markets are driven by greed. “Why would you want to allow markets to set the price of [health care, wages, basic housing, food, education, etc.],” the argument goes, “when that means subjecting a basic humanitarian necessity of the dictates of unfettered greed?” I think this represents a basic misunderstanding of how markets work, and I’m going to try to address that in this post — though I approach the attempt with some trepidation given the difficulties of the subject matter and the limits of the medium.
I’m going to start by conceding a point which those making the assertion I describe above may consider to prove their case: The economic view of market dynamics tends to view individual actors within a market as value maximizing agents. In other words, a market consists of a number of actors each trying to get the most possible value for the least possible expense.
Doesn’t this mean that markets are driven by greed? Don’t we need to encourage people to be something other than value maximizing agents?
Well, certainly, there is much more to life than what you can buy and sell,
Eric wrote what I think is a very good and heartfelt post about Catholic Social Teaching and Health Care Reform. Because this is exactly the sort of substantive discussion that American Catholic was intended to foster, I’d like to see if I can pick up some of the themes which he brought up and explore them specifically from a small government conservative and free market angle.
To start with, I’d like to make a distinction between levels of care, though such things are always slippery because medical science advances so rapidly in our modern world. First, there is basic health care. This includes most of the healthcare which goes on most of the time in the US — unless you’re well outside the norm it’s probably all that you’ve needed within the last year.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer misquoted and took out of context a lecture delivered by James Francis Cardinal Stafford at CUA several times when reporting on the good Cardinal’s critique of President-elect Obama’s abortion stance. Matthew Balan of NewsBusters reports the not-so-great journalism standards that Wolf Blitzer employs when “reporting” the news for CNN.
On Tuesday’s Situation Room, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer referred to a Catholic cardinal’s criticism of Barack Obama’s abortion position as a “scathing rant“ and a “diatribe.” A CNN graphic also used the “scathing rant” term, and Blitzer later referred to the cardinal’s words as a “blistering rant.“
This is the first part of a post of a (hopefully) accurate depiction of Catholic social teaching and the issue of just wages. Here we cover the nature of the problem, give a brief description of Catholic teaching on work and private property, and the duties of the employer and employee. Part II will come on Monday.
John Henry’s article A Coalition For Me, But Not For Thee was starting to get highjacked by the discussion of a just wage, mostly because of me, so I offer this now as a place to openly discuss what a just wage is. I don’t mean ideally in terms of a wage that provides for the family, leisure, and savings, but down and dirty numbers.
As Jim Lackey of the Catholic News Service says, “straight off the presses”. Cardinal George released a statement roughly around 1:00 pm Central Standard Time. I’ll put some commentary later this evening, in the time being here is the official statement by the USCCB concerning President-elect Obama and abortion [emphasis and commentary mine]:
STATEMENT of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.” (Psalm 127, vs. 1)
The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States welcome this moment of historic transition and look forward to working with President-elect Obama and the members of the new Congress for the common good of all [nice to see the bishops say ‘all’ to encompass the unborn children and encapsulate them within the common good]. Because of the Church’s history and the scope of her ministries in this country, we want to continue our work for economic justice and opportunity for all; our efforts to reform laws around immigration and the situation of the undocumented; our provision of better education and adequate health care for all, especially for women and children; our desire to safeguard religious freedom [this is important as it relates to FOCA later] and foster peace at home and abroad. The Church is intent on doing good and will continue to cooperate gladly with the government and all others working for these goods [excellent summary of the mission of the Church in America, from economic justice to reformation of immigration law, better education, adequate health care, and the fostering of peace here and abroad].
The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God and our parents. A good state protects the lives of all [amen]. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973. This was bad law [I would say “this is bad law”]. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation [here is where FOCA is alluded to] that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself.
Pop quiz: what is the difference between a) giving directly to the poor, b) donating to a charity, and c) surrendering taxes that go to help the needy?
While you ponder that, here’s another one.
Question: if you could receive, free of charge, a) generic drugs or b) name-brand drugs, which would you choose?
In many ways, I find that I wear the label “conservative” rather well, both by temperament and according to where the political and moral needs of our current time drive me. However one area in which I find myself at odds with much of the conservative movement is in immigration policy, though in this particular area I seem to be at odds with most people.
Being descended from Irish and Mexican immigrants who entered the country more than a hundred years ago, when there were no limits on immigration other than a basic health exam, I feel strongly that those trapped in socially, politically and economically backward countries should have the opportunity to come to the US and see if they can create a better life for themselves. So I have little to no sympathy with the “seal the borders and keep those damn foreigners out” approach. We were all foreigners once.