Catholic Social Teaching
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.
A typical question, as a previous post here at American Catholic, with regard to worker’s cooperatives has been: if these firms are so great, why aren’t there more of them?
The short answer to that question is that there are more of them, in several countries, than there ever has been before. The trend towards worker ownership of businesses is on the increase, in the United States and elsewhere, and has been for sometime. Gar Aplerovitz, in America Beyond Capitalism, gives us an overview of cooperatives in the United States:
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.
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.