Catholic Social Teaching
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.
Part I. A Catholic Vision of Health Care
by Eric Brown & DarwinCatholic
The rich body of Catholic social teaching provides the faithful with moral principles to guide their thoughts and actions in political life. All too often, however, discussion of the Church’s social teaching is hijacked by a partisan political agenda — with the elements that seem to agree with one’s own party emphasized and all else ignored in order to give the stamp of Church approval to one’s party of choice. This deprives American Catholics of a meaningful analysis and reflection over the wisdom of the Church. This could not be more true on any subject than on health care.
The American bishops in Faithful Citizenship remind Catholics that “affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right. With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage, it is also an urgent national priority. Reform of the nation’s health care system needs to be rooted in values that respect human dignity, protect human life, and meet the needs of the poor and uninsured, especially born and unborn children, pregnant women, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.” The Bishops also state that “religious groups should be able to provide health care without compromising their religious convictions.”
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.
Somehow, I picked up the idea from a long exchange over torture on one of the Catholic websites I frequent that the Vatican has not issued a clear statement on torture. I repeated that ‘meme’ as if it were true, and it was a mistake on my part, at least partially.
Why? Because there is a pretty definitive collection of statements on torture, even modern torture in the context of information gathering in the ‘War on Terror’, from Catholic clergy going up to Pope Benedict, Catholic authors and thinkers, etc.
It is called “Torture Is a Moral Issue: A Catholic Study Guide”, put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or the USCCB.
Here is the highlight of the entire document, as far as I am concerned. The document quotes Pope Benedict in a talk he gave in 2007:
“Means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners” must be eschewed by public authorities, he said. Immediately he added the following statement, which incorporates a quote taken from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: “The prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances’” (No. 404).
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.
I’ve noticed some of the com-boxers talking about morality and obligation recently, and I think it deserves a closer look.
There are many atheists, agnostics, deists, pantheists, etc. who reject the idea of a God that creates moral standards, and then judges us according to those standards because to them the idea is simply reprehensible, incompatible with the moral wisdom humanity has supposedly attained since the Enlightenment.
Christopher Hitchens and others have compared God to Stalin and Hitler, a mad and petty dictator who demands complete and unconditional obedience and worship on pain of eternal suffering. Such a monstrous tyranny is incompatible with any sensible notion of good. Even if God did exist, one gets the idea that these folks would consider it the highest moral duty to follow in Satan’s footsteps and declare, “I shall not serve”.
I’ve noticed a few posts dealing with the problems of taxation and government spending. With the social teaching of our Church clearly warns against the dangers of burdensome taxation, it nonetheless remains that tax rates have been cut dramatically in the last 30 years, even as government spending has increased. The losses of tax revenue were offset by a massive accumulation of debt, because a society such as ours requires a great deal of wealth to continue functioning.
I will be the one to point out, then, that far more perilous to the position of the working American family is the stagnation and overall decline of real wages – wages adjusted for inflation – during that same stretch of time. Both global pressures as well as corporate and government offensives against the social position of the American worker have contributed to a decline in real wages and have caused a build up of consumer debt that rivals the government’s debt.
We were told by endless propaganda no different in its shrillness and anxiousness that cutting taxes on the incomes of the wealthy, on dividends and capital gains, on estates and every other business venture, would create jobs and prosperity for all.
A lot of people might think that this title has something to do with homosexuality. Let me be clear from the outset; it has nothing to do with homosexuality. It has to do with the real reason God destroyed the city of Sodom, as proclaimed in Ezekiel 16:49-50:
“Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her, and of her daughters: and they did not put forth their hand to the needy, and to the poor. And they were lifted up, and committed abominations before me: and I took them away as thou hast seen.”
In the midst of our economic crisis, I can’t help but wonder if it is in truth a collective punishment visited upon us by God for our failure to put forth our own hands to the needy and poor (in addition to the extreme obscenity of our popular culture, but that is a different matter). I don’t mean to say that God directly intervened and played around with the Dow and the NASDAQ, or created the housing bubble, but that He allowed us to fall into this pit as a severe warning to a greedy and selfish generation that holds the reigns of power.
(Originally published at InsideCatholic.com)
It might surprise some to learn that the basic idea behind the “welfare state” did not originate with either Marxist revolutionaries or bleeding-heart liberals, but rather with a head of state usually identified with conservatism: Otto von Bismarck. Faced with a growing threat from the German socialist movement, in the 1880s Bismarck established four programs that were essentially the minimum of the socialist program: health insurance, accident insurance (or workmen’s compensation), disability insurance, and a retirement fund for the elderly. By implementing these programs, the German leader hoped to steal some of the thunder from the socialists and prevent a revolutionary uprising.
In the United States, a similar motivation guided the architects of the New Deal, Social Security, and other programs now grouped under the broad heading “welfare state.” One might never know, based on today’s heated political rhetoric, that the idea behind the welfare state was to prevent, not bring about, socialism. Yet since the 2008 campaign, welfare, along with regulation and redistribution, have become synonymous with “socialism” in America.
Catholics have been as divided over these issues as the nation at large, with nearly everyone interested in the political debate combing the social doctrines of the Church to support one theory at the expense of another. So where precisely does the Church stand on the issue of welfare?
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:
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:
In the American election cycles 2004 and following, there has been an increased visibility of Catholic influence in the political process and a public debate amongst Catholic voters. It is a great gift to the American people that the Catholic Church may offer the clarity of moral truth to the country’s political discourse.
However, this participation on the part of Catholics presents a variety of challenges. How is the teaching found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to be expressed within the American political tradition? The answer is not so clear-cut and is inevitably the subject of much debate. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a document before every election called Faithful Citizenship, which presents “Catholic Social Teaching” to the laity, in summary form, an authentic Catholic view of the natural moral law grounded in the inherent dignity of each human person and how it can and should be lived out within the political process.
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.