Catholic Social Teaching
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.
The production and consumption of energy is a fundamental human practice. Energy is the cornerstone of industrialized civilization. Energy powers everything—machinery in factories, transportation, communications, utilities systems, as well as things that provide the comforts of daily living from television, air conditioning, kitchen appliances, etc. The whole of the economy is contingent on the production of energy; hardly any good or service would be available—at least not as it is now—without the energy put forth toward its production or energy necessary in stores (especially megastores) that enable commerce. It even takes energy to move goods from one place to another.
America has become so accustomed to the conveniences provided by abundant and seemingly unlimited energy that we have taken them for granted. No matter how many air conditions are plugged in on a given day, the local electric company could supply enough energy to run them all. No matter how many cars are on the road, there will be enough gasoline to fuel them all. The American economy in recent decades boomed on energy. From coal to oil, Americans exploited these resources and without really noticing became energy gluttons. Accounting for less than 10% of the global population, the United States consumes about one third of all energy consumed globally. Continue reading
No set of issues reflects the heart of Catholic Social Teaching than the “life issues.” Over twenty years ago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin coined the consistent life ethic using the New Testament image of a seamless garment to describe the cloaking of the image of God in humanity from conception to natural death — in criminals, in the unborn, in the marginalized and forgotten, and even our very enemies. This comprehensive ethical system seeks to link many different issues together by focusing attention on the basic value of life.
Today, talk of a consistent life ethic is practically a joke—arguably this is especially true among pro-life Democratic voters. Nevertheless, no one would argue against the assertion that neither side of the political spectrum fully embraces a comprehensive Culture of Life. The predominant liberalism of the Democratic Party and conservatism of the Republican Party reject the Catholic view on key “life issues”, while embracing it on others. This leaves faithful Catholics in two positions: we feel politically homeless and we cast our ballots with some sort of hesitation, reflecting our desire for better candidates. As if matters could be any worse, the “life issues” are used by political strategists and Catholics who are strong partisans for one party or the other as grounds to vehemently and divisively attack each other for political gain. They all quote from the same Catholic documents emphasizing different aspects of church teaching and appealing to certain basic Christian ethics while slyly or blatantly, but always conveniently, ignoring others; the latter incredibly undermines Catholic witness in the American political sphere.
The debate within the church over the past two elections has been this very issue and while one might agree wholeheartedly with one side or the other, the heated emotions embedded in our dialogue with the other side has damaged attempts toward real debate. Perhaps, at times, Catholics on both sides of the argument forget how much we all have in common. In John 17, we are given a beautiful image of the Lord praying to His Father for Christian unity for his disciples and all those that would come to believe through them. Thus, when our passions and partisanship allows division to win out, the only real victor is the devil. This is not even to suggest that the only solution is a “middle road” option of compromise, but perhaps there is a correct way, or better yet, a Christian way to be right in regard to a controversial matter and a charitable way of addressing the matter without brushing aside counter concerns or being “divisive” in the process.
As a new year approaches, as well as a new presidential administration with a significant party control in Congress, it appears to be as an appropriate time as any to ask the question: can we rediscover the seamless garment of life? I think we can and I think it’s necessary. Despite its terrible misuse, the seamless garment challenges us every day. 1) It encourages consistency in our approach to a great variety of issues that affect human life and dignity. 2) It challenges us to reflect on our basic values and convictions which give direction to our lives. 3) Most importantly, it challenges us to express our commitment to the sanctity of life in civil debate and public policy toward the ends of peace and justice.
There remains a host of challenges for the Culture of Life movement. The “life issues” for many minds refers simply to bioethical issues of abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, embryo-destructive medical research, and other such evils condoned as necessary medical care. Others argue for the inclusion of age-old scourges like war, capital punishment, genocide, torture, poverty and hunger, disease, violent crime, a lack of quality health care, and working toward a just economy, i.e. a more adequate distribution of domestic and global resources. All of these as well are “life issues” according to this view. No attack on human life and dignity in the fabric of human activity is an isolated incidence—they all are fundamentally related.
Catholic social doctrine embraces all of these issues as Christian concerns; whereas there is little debate over the former, there is now much heated debate over the priority each issue should have. There are two temptations that seem to exist: to emphasize certain issues and downplay, or even ignore, the importance of others, or to simply equalize them all across the board. Both have severe flaws. No Catholic, or anyone for that matter, has the luxury of attending only to one or two challenges. It is a clear misapplication of humanitarian principles. On the other hand, while modern threats to the sanctity of life are many, it still remains that the scope and gravity of some issues reflect a greater lacking of good, i.e. a greater injustice and thus, not all issues are on the same moral plane—prioritizing cannot be relative. This is ever more difficult to address when these two temptations are manifest on either side of the political spectrum with one side emphasizing opposition to abortion and “family values” and the other side seeking to find “common ground” on abortion behind pro-choice rhetoric and emphasizing Christian influence on all the “other issues.”
It is clear that these challenges are deeply entrenched in contemporary culture; this is especially true in American culture and the evident fruit of the sexual revolution. All of these matters require daily commitment, particularly in family relations which is the broken institution at the heart of all these moral crises. The mission of the Catholic laity is to build a “Culture of Life” by living a good moral life, promoting family values, living out one’s personal vocation in the service of the common good, engaging the political sphere, performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and dialoguing with people of other religious and political perspectives. As Pope John Paul II so rightfully declared:
“It is your task to reveal the true meaning of life where hatred, neglect or selfishness threaten to take over the world. Faced with today’s problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility. Escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. I propose to you the option of love, which is opposite of escape.”
The more I personally engage my non-Catholic neighbors, the more I notice the profound philosophical differences that exist between us. I made note of this in an earlier post on the state of the pro-life movement on the political left—where all issues are morally equal and the cultural acceptance of moral relativism hindered more substantial progress. This philosophic difference has been hammered by Ryan Harkins in his analysis of American cultural perspective on sexuality in comparison to Catholic anthropology and sexual morality in his latest posts. “As long no one gets hurts” is a prevalent attitude that is irreconcilable with Christianity. There is yet another disturbing mentality in America that asserts that a life that would require greater acceptance, love, and care is considered useless, or seen as an intolerable burden that is rejected in one way or another. This is truly manifest in the acceptance of killing to solve social problems is increasingly characteristic of American society and our public policy—from the unborn, to criminals, or someone of ill health or old age.
We forget that our policies are shaped by our culture and that ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are terms in need of redemption. We live in a culture that in many ways lacks God. There is neither justice nor hope without God. The world needs God. Pope Benedict XVI so beautifully put the Catholic understanding of this God:
“‘He will come with vengeance’ (Isaiah 35:4). We can easily suppose how the people imagined that vengeance. But the prophet himself goes on to reveal what it really is: the healing goodness of God. The definitive explanation of the prophet’s word is to be found in the one who died on the cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate. His ‘vengeance’ is the cross: a ‘no’ to violence and a ‘love to the end.’ This is the God we need.”
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?
My Theology professor — Dr. Randall Smith — asked that I share this.
“Catholics are Being Lied To About the Permissibility of Voting for Pro-Abortion Candidates”
There is a famous scene at the beginning of the movie “High Noon” when town marshall Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, goes to the local church to ask for help against a group of gunmen who are coming to kill him. The arguments go back and forth, with some, mostly women, expressing disbelief that the men in the town should even be considering not standing up for the marshall in his time of need, while others, mostly men, complain about being put in a difficult position and having to make a difficult choice.
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.
In Matthew 25, Jesus paints an image of His return in glory. On the Day of Judgment, Christ will separate His sheep from the goats. The sheep are those that cared for “the least” of Jesus’ brothers: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, those sick, and those in prison. The goats didn’t remember “the least” among them and as Christ foretold, “in all truth,” they have “received their reward,” in this life and will not in the next. Jesus’ teaching is unavoidable.
This message is especially relevant to the injustice of the American healthcare system. To call American healthcare—as a system—immoral makes no judgment on healthcare professionals or hospitals, but rather on the design itself. Many have advocated for universal healthcare in our country and have been rejected for proposing so-called “socialized medicine.” I am personally a proponent of a universal healthcare system. We have the medical care, the financial resources, but we seem to lack the moral will to acknowledge that we are our brother’s keeper.
Earlier this week, Donald McClarey introduced us to “Joe the Plumber”, referenced by McCain in the third presidential debate.
The website Family Security Matters carries a exclusive online interview with Joe Wurzelbacher. Some excerpts:
See, I believe in working for what I get. I don’t want to say it’s a handout, but essentially that’s what it comes down to. You’re going to tax someone else more that’s been working hard to fulfill the American Dream and you’re gonna give it to other people who – I’m not saying they don’t work as hard, but I’m sure some of them don’t – and I don’t think it’s right just to give it to them or reduce taxes on their part and hike it up on my part like a teeter totter to bring it back even. So no, that wouldn’t – well, let me rephrase that. It would appeal to me because back then I was struggling. That kind of thing appeals to me – anybody wants to cut my taxes, I look at it very seriously, it’s like, it sounds great. But you gotta see what the other hand is doing too. […]