Faster, Higher, Stronger… in Faith

Tuesday, September 8, AD 2009

Next month, the International Olympic Committee will decide whether the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, or Tokyo. The Windy City’s Olympic bid is believed by many to have a good chance of succeeding, although others predict Rio will get the nod in order to bring the Games to South America for the first time.

Supporters of Chicago’s bid (the most ardent among them being Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) say the Games will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase the city to the world, increase tourism, and promote economic development.

Those who don’t want the Games, however, argue that it will burden the city and the entire state of Illinois with years of additional taxes and debt, displace poor and vulnerable people from their homes and places of employment, leave behind crumbling “white elephant” venues, and promote exactly the kind of pay-to-play corruption that has made Chicago and Illinois infamous.

Whatever the outcome of the Olympic bid (which we will know on Oct. 2, when the IOC meets in Copenhagen), the competition for the Games has gotten me to thinking about another world-class event that has been proven to have lasting positive effects on the communities and countries that host it: World Youth Day.

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Lenin, Stalin, and the Secret War Against the Vatican

Sunday, August 30, AD 2009

Adolph Hitler’s evil twin in terror, Joseph Stalin, once remarked “How many divisions has the Pope?”.  This was done in response to the  future saint Pope Pius XII’s[1] disapproval of his policies.

Well it wasn’t a mocking tone nor was it a sarcastic remark in reference to the Vatican.  It was a serious concern to the ‘meddling’ of the Catholic Church in thwarting Communism’s attempt at world domination.  Stalin was well aware of the tremendous moral power that the Vatican wielded and Vladimir Lenin implemented the full power of the KGB and the eastern bloc spy agencies to monitor and undermine the mission of the Catholic Church.

A new non-fiction book by John Koehler titled, Spies in the Vatican, has recently come out that documents the final twenty years of the Cold War and how it played out as the Soviet Union and their allies infiltrated the Vatican.

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4 Responses to Lenin, Stalin, and the Secret War Against the Vatican

  • The French Revolution must have been a pretty long lasting catalyst, I guess, as the Romonov’s fell more than a half or full century later, depending on how you count such things, with the intervention of minor things like Napolean and WWI, again depending on how you count it.
    And although 70 years of “athiestic terror” may have occured, subsequetly, I can’t say that it was much worse than the centuries of very theistic terror that occurred under the rule of the Romanovs.

  • Lenin, Marx, and most Socialists and Communists have read up and were inspired by headless French intellectuals from the French Revolution.

    It’s an invention called the Gutenberg Press that has been able to facilitate the knowledge of evil.

    As for the Atheistic terror, more people died under Stalin and the Soviet Union in 70 years than all the previous centuries combined under the Romanovs.

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Pope John Paul II Doesn't Sound Like A Reaganite

Saturday, July 11, AD 2009

Here is a good portion of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis written in 1987 and is followed up by Pope Benedict’s most recent. It is a relevant passage because it deals directly with the subjects dealt with in the ongoing discussion on “Guatemala” et al, on the debated need for apology/examination of our American conscience for abuses- or some would argue not- by our American leadership and elite interests, in regard to other nations- particularly poorer, weaker ones. There seems to be the idea floating around in conservative political circles that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were cut from the same cloth. I do not believe the approach to foreign relations by those who praise the Reagan/Bush years, holds up to Catholic scrutiny. But here are the words of our previous Holy Father- and no I do not accept the argument that we can distinguish where the Peace and Justice crowd at the Vatican is speaking and where the Pope is- that sort of treatment of these official Encyclicals is beneath my contempt. I will offer commentary on the latest encyclical after I have time to digest it, I refuse to rush my judgment on such important Church offerings. :

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4 Responses to Pope John Paul II Doesn't Sound Like A Reaganite

  • A letter from a “sandalista” (a non-Nicaraguan supporter of the Sandinistas) on her reaction to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua in March 1983:

    “Katherine Hoyt
    National Co-Coordinator
    Nicaragua Network Education Fund

    Matagalpa
    March 16, 1983

    Dear Folks–

    Well, I promised to write about the Pope’s visit and so I guess I must even though I would rather not even think about it much less write about it! I feel that the visit to Central America as a whole has meant a return to a pre-1967 Church: before Paul VI’s encyclical “Popularum Progressio”–which specified the cases in which insurrection and rebellion would be justified–and the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference at Medellin, Colombia, which gave the big push to liberation theology.

    On this recent visit John Paul II spoke in words easily understood by the Right as support for its cause: You peasants live in unjust and inhuman conditions but don’t be tempted to rise up in arms against your oppressors; and Archbishop Romero was a martyr but we must not allow his memory to be manipulated politically, etc., etc. But this I’m sure you know. What you’d like to know is our experience of his visit here.

    Well, the government and the Church working together made a tremendous effort to mobilize all means of transportation available in the country so that 800,000 people, approximately 36% of the total population, saw the Pope, either in Leon or in Managua. (Older people, children under 12 and pregnant women were asked not to brave the heat.) Everyone who wanted to go had the chance.

    Victoria [my 13 year old daughter] and I went on the bus to Managua two days ahead. We saw on television his arrival at the airport with Daniel Ortega’s very appropriate (but, I hear, badly received by the U.S. press) quotation from a 1921 letter from Bishop Pereira of Leon to U.S. Cardinal Simpson protesting U.S. intervention in his country. The Pope was even then quite cool and we could see that he lectured Father Ernesto Cardenal, but his airport speech was pretty good. The service in Leon went off quite well. The only objectionable thing that he said in his homily was about the “strict right of believing parents” to not see their children submitted in the schools to “programs inspired in atheism,” something that has never been contemplated here.

    Well, after watching all this on TV, we ate lunch, I put on my sunscreen and we (Victoria and I) took off walking on the prescribed route to the Plaza [19 of July]. It took us almost an hour, from 1:40 to 2:30, to get there. (Access to the Plaza was completely open, by the way.) First we got behind some people who had brought ice chests and stools so because they stood on the stools and blocked our view, we moved over to the right among simpler folk. (It turned out that that first group was composed of Archbishop Obando supporters–there were maybe 40 or 50 thousand of them all together right up in front.) Most of the crowd where we were was composed of simple Christian revolutionaries, women of AMNLAE [the women’s association], peasants of the ATC [farmworkers association] who had had their hopes falsely raised by all sides, church and state, that the Pope was going to say some words of consolation to the families which daily lose loved ones to the counterrevolution, especially since just the day before 17 outstanding members of the Sandinista Youth Organization, killed in an ambush, had been buried after a memorial program in this very same plaza. Certainly if the head of a foreign state visits a country the day after a busload of teen-agers killed in an accident have been buried, he is expected to make SOME sympathetic remarks. However, the Pope studiously avoided making ANY sympathetic words either publicly or privately to the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs who gave him their petition for peace. He could have said a few words of sympathy and won over that crowd easily and satisfied the Sandinista leaders who weren’t expecting more than a crumb. Then it wouldn’t have mattered how strongly he spoke about Church unity under the bishops. Both sides would have been both satisfied and disappointed. But he was extremely careful not to give even a crumb to the revolution and I think no one expected this unrelieved bleakness.

    The Mass began at 5:00 and as the revolutionaries in the crowd began to get the idea of the way things were going, they began to demand “A prayer for our dead,” “We want peace,” and “We want a church on the side of the poor.”

    When that terrible sermon (which demanded that we abandon our “unacceptable ideological commitments” for the faith) was half over I began to feel sick as a result of two and one half hours standing in the sun in the crowd and extreme distress at the direction the Pope was taking. Victoria insisted that we move back to a place where the crowd was less dense and we could sit down and buy some water in plastic bags. By this time the sun had gone down, the horizon was red from so much dust raised on the outer edges of the Plaza, people were chanting “people power, people power” now, too, along with “We want peace,” and the Pope was having a hard time moving along with the Mass. At the silence between the consecration of the bread and that of the wine, a women broke in with a megaphone to say (in respectful tones, actually), “Holy Father, we beg you for a prayer for our loved ones who have been murdered,” or something very similar. The Lord’s Prayer somehow never got said and only a few people were given communion (one was the mother of Daniel and Humberto Ortega who was with the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, having lost another son, Camilo, in 1978). Finally at 8:00 p.m., the Pope gave the last blessing and was off while the vast majority of the crowd stayed at attention to hear the Sandinista Anthem.

    Daniel Ortega’s impromptu speech at the airport as the Pope left was enough to make one cry. He almost begged the Pope to make one solid proposal for peace in Nicaragua, to say one word, to give that one crumb that he was not willing to give. We heard only part of it as we were walking back to Toyita’s house, dirty exhausted and I, of course very distressed by the whole visit and certain we were headed for schism. One of the last slogans somebody had cried out as the Mass was ending was one of anguished defiance: “Because of Christ and His Gospels, we are revolutionaries.” That seemed to just about sum things up.

    While I showered, I turned the radio on to the BBC 9:00p.m. news. The British announcer, in typical understatement, said that the Pope had just finished saying the “most unusual Mass of his career in Managua, Nicaragua.”

    Of course it was a boost for the counter-revolutionaries and we are seeing an increase in the number of battles right now, some close to Matagalpa–near San Ramon and San Dionisio–and all anybody talks about is war. This has had serious repercussions in our Paulita who has developed a terrible fear of war and what might happen to us all. She starts crying when anyone talks about battles or civil defense measures in school.

    Write soon.

    Love, Kathy”

    http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/47/030.html

    John Paul II was a complicated man and he was often critical of the West, but in the confrontation between Democracy and Communism John Paul II was much closer to the position of Reagan than the Catholic Left of the time.

  • Here is a good portion of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis written in 1987 and is followed up by Pope Benedict’s most recent. It is a relevant passage because it deals directly with the subjects dealt with in the ongoing discussion on “Guatemala” et al, on the debated need for apology/examination of our American conscience for abuses- or some would argue not- by our American leadership and elite interests, in regard to other nations- particularly poorer, weaker ones.

    How does this stratospheric complaint about global political economy ca. 1987 have much to say about the parsing of responsibility between the U.S. Government and Guatemala’s political class?

    There seems to be the idea floating around in conservative political circles that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were cut from the same cloth. I do not believe the approach to foreign relations by those who praise the Reagan/Bush years, holds up to Catholic scrutiny.

    Just out of curiosity, what aspects of that ‘approach’ do not? While you answer that, consider what discontinuities existed between the Reagan Administration and its predecessor. Increased military expenditure, promotion of democracy abroad, modernization of nuclear arsenals, confrontation with foreign reds (in El Salvador, &c.), and subsidy and training of insurgencies challenging communist governments were all policies that had been adopted by his predecessor, albeit more tentatively, by 1980.

    But here are the words of our previous Holy Father- and no I do not accept the argument that we can distinguish where the Peace and Justice crowd at the Vatican is speaking and where the Pope is- that sort of treatment of these official Encyclicals is beneath my contempt. I will offer commentary on the latest encyclical after I have time to digest it, I refuse to rush my judgment on such important Church offerings. :

    You quote an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs which are drily descriptive, one which locates the antagonism of the West and the East bloc in their dissimilar political economy (though blocs and mutual antagonisms are the rule with or without such dissimilarity). The equivalence drawn between Western media and that of the Communist bloc is foolish. The succeeding paragraph (“International relations, in turn,…” is again uncontroversially descriptive. The next (“Although at the present time”) is not much more so.

    Then…

    two concepts of the development of individuals and peoples both concepts being imperfect and in need of radical correction. This opposition is transferred to the developing countries themselves, and thus helps to widen the gap already existing on the economic level between North and South and which results from the distance between the two worlds: the more developed one and the less developed one.

    This is one of the reasons why the Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism. For from the point of view of development the question naturally arises: in what way and to what extent are these two systems capable of changes and updatings such as to favor or promote a true and integral development of individuals and peoples in modern society? In fact, these changes and updatings are urgent and essential for the cause of a development common to all.

    Whether it be the Holy Father speaking or krill suspended in some Vatican dicastery, passages such as this do not provide even minimal guidance for the faithful policy-maker. What does ‘true and integral development’ mean? N.B. by 1987, ‘liberal capitalism’ was a fair description of the political economy of … Hong Kong. The occidental countries had with scant exception adopted some variation of what Paul Samuelson called the ‘mixed economy’, featuring considerable income redistribution, collective consumption, and ratios of public expenditure to domestic product north of a third.

    Countries which have recently achieved independence, and which are trying to establish a cultural and political identity of their own, and need effective and impartial aid from all the richer and more developed countries, find themselves involved in, and sometimes overwhelmed by, ideological conflicts, which inevitably create internal divisions, to the extent in some cases of provoking full civil war. This is also because investments and aid for development are often diverted from their proper purpose and used to sustain conflicts, apart from and in opposition to the interests of the countries which ought to benefit from them. Many of these countries are becoming more and more aware of the danger of falling victim to a form of neocolonialism and are trying to escape from it. It is this awareness which in spite of difficulties, uncertainties and at times contradictions gave rise to the International Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, which, in its positive aspect, would like to affirm in an effective way the right of every people to its own identity, independence and security, as well as the right to share, on a basis of equality and solidarity, in the goods intended for all.

    The first portion of this paragraph is again descriptive. The terminal portion, an endorsement of the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, actually was likely at a variance with the views of the Reagan Administration. It was incumbent upon the Holy Father to explain why he thought the Conference of Non-aligned Nations, that international gathering where Togo could weigh in on Timor, was significant to those not on the payroll of its secretariat. Now, if my memory serves me, one of the Conferences in this era (in 1983 or 1984) passed 11 separate resolutions attacking the United States and not a one attacking Soviet Russia, so it would not be surprising for anyone in American politics this side of Ron Dellums to find the Conference repellant. How does this jibe with the Holy Father’s carefully balanced complaints?

    22. In the light of these considerations, we easily arrive at a clearer picture of the last twenty years and a better understanding of the conflicts in the northern hemisphere, namely between East and West, as an important cause of the retardation or stagnation of the South.

    This is not a statement of discrete empirical fact, but it does presume a settled understanding of the dynamics of economic development that was not in fact the case in 1987 – or now.

    The developing countries, instead of becoming autonomous nations concerned with their own progress towards a just sharing in the goods and services meant for all, become parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel.

    The best sense that can be made out of this passage is that it is an endorsement of conceptions of the international economic order associated with characters like Immanual Wallerstein. That also would be at a variation with the Reagan Administration. It is also controversial quite apart from that; Efforts to empirically verify through statistical method the conceptions of this school of thought were not notably successful.

    This is often true also in the field of social communications, which, being run by centers mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up. They frequently impose a distorted vision of life and of man and thus fail to respond to the demands of true development.

    The referent here was contemporary efforts by UNESCO to erect a ‘New World Information Order’ incorporating controls on the Western press. The Reagan Administration withdrew from UNESCO at the close of 1984, in part for this reason and in part because the agency was internally mismanaged (“a third world kleptocracy” in the words of one critic). So, yes, this is at variation with the Reagan Administration, but with a great many others. Michael Kinsley had this to say about his colleagues in the press: “[UNESCO’s behavior] caused them to lose some of their cultural relativism, and their patience.”

    Each of the two blocs harbors in its own way a tendency towards imperialism, as it is usually called, or towards forms of new- colonialism: an easy temptation to which they frequently succumb, as history, including recent history, teaches.

    That is more Cyrus Vance than the Reagan Administration, ’tis true. It could use some elaboration.

    It is this abnormal situation, the result of a war and of an unacceptably exaggerated concern for security, which deadens the impulse towards united cooperation by all for the common good of the human race, to the detriment especially of peaceful peoples who are impeded from their rightful access to the goods meant for all.

    Bipolarity and the presence of weapons of mass destruction were certainly unusual, as was the ideological dimension of internationial conflict. We do need to ask the question as to whether ‘united cooperation by all for the common good of the human race’ really characterized previous historical era, as this comment seems to suggest.

    Seen in this way, the present division of the world is a direct obstacle to the real transformation of the conditions of underdevelopment in the developing and less advanced countries. However, peoples do not always resign themselves to their fate. Furthermore, the very needs of an economy stifled by military expenditure and by bureaucracy and intrinsic inefficiency now seem to favor processes which might mitigate the existing opposition and make it easier to begin a fruitful dialogue and genuine collaboration for peace.

    23. The statement in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio that the resources and investments devoted to arms production ought to be used to alleviate the misery of impoverished peoples41 makes more urgent the appeal to overcome the opposition between the two blocs.

    This is also at a variance with the Reagan Administration. The thing is, I doubt you will find many third world countries in 1987 who had a ratio of military expenditure to domestic product exceeding .03, bar those in the midst of internal insurrections or wars of national mobilization. IIRC statistics I was scanning at that time, such was particularly true in Latin America.

    Today, the reality is that these resources are used to enable each of the two blocs to overtake the other and thus guarantee its own security. Nations which historically, economically and politically have the possibility of playing a leadership role are prevented by this fundamentally flawed distortion from adequately fulfilling their duty of solidarity for the benefit of peoples which aspire to full development.

    It is timely to mention – and it is no exaggeration – the a leadership role among nations can only be justified by the possibility and willingness to contribute widely and generously to the common good.

    There are several problems with this statement. One, is there a well established means by which international transfers of public capital induce sustainable local development?; two, to what extent are such transfers inhibited by specifically military expenditures?; three, how is it that ‘global leadership’ can be said to be conferred by virtue rather than merely being the artifact of power politics – something that exists rather than something that is ‘justified’?

    If a nation were to succumb more or less deliberately to the temptation to close in upon itself and failed to meet the responsibilities following from its superior position in the community of nations, it would fall seriously short of its clear ethical duty. This is readily apparent in the circumstances of history, where believers discern the dispositions of Divine Providence, ready to make use of the nations for the realization of its plans, so as to render “vain the designs of the peoples” (cf. Ps 33[32]: 10).

    What exactly is its ‘clear ethical duty’ in the realm of international relation?

    24. If arms production is a serious disorder in the present world with regard to true human needs and the employment of the means capable of satisfying those needs, the arms trade is equally to blame. Indeed, with reference to the latter it must be added that the moral judgment is even more severe. As we all know, this is a trade without frontiers capable of crossing even the barriers of the blocs. It knows how to overcome the division between East and West, and above all the one between North and South, to the point – and this is more serious – of pushing its way into the different sections which make up the southern hemisphere. We are thus confronted with a strange phenomenon: while economic aid and development plans meet with the obstacle of insuperable ideological barriers, and with tariff and trade barriers, arms of whatever origin circulate with almost total freedom all over the world And as the recent document of the Pontifical Commission Iustitia et Pax on the international debt points out,42 everyone knows that in certain cases the capital lent by the developed world has been used in the underdeveloped world to buy weapons.

    See above on the ratio of military expenditure to domestic product. Here are some figures from 2004, courtesy Global Security. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm. I believe that global product is now about $60 tn, so the $1.1 tn devoted to military expenditure is less than 2% of the total.

    If to all this we add the tremendous and universally acknowledged danger represented by atomic weapons stockpiled on an incredible scale, the logical conclusion seems to be this: in today’s world, including the world of economics, the prevailing picture is one destined to lead us more quickly towards death rather than one of concern for true development which would lead all towards a “more human” life, as envisaged by the Encyclical Populorum Progressio.43

    Here we pose the question: in 1987, had median life expectancies been increasing, or decreasing? Was global food production per capita improving, or not?

    Tim, we have to regard the statements of our bishops on matters outside of faith and morals with the antecedent assumption that they understand of what they speak, and we should be taught by them. The thing of it is, they can and do adhere to conceptions of their social world the empirical reality of which is controversial and so for a reason so we are in conversation with them on these matters. That applies to the late Holy Father as well.

  • I don’t know if you are familiar with our site, the Catholic World Report, but we have a “Round-Table” wherein J. Brian Benestad, Francis J. Beckwith, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Richard Garnett, Thomas S. Hibbs, Paul Kengor, George Neumayr, Joseph Pearce, Tracey Rowland, Father James V. Schall, and Rev. Robert A. Sirico share their thoughts on Caritas in Veritate.

    It’s located at:
    (http://www.catholicworldreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121:cwr-round-table-caritas-in-veritate&catid=36:cwr2009&Itemid=53).

Exclusive Sneak Peek of Caritas in Veritate

Wednesday, July 1, AD 2009

Caritas in Veritate

[Updates at the bottom of this posting.]

The much anticipated new encyclical that Pope Benedict XVI recently signed, his third, on June 29th titled Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth, will be released soon by Ignatius Press (the English version) on July  6th or 7th of 2009 A.D.  In searching for information regarding this encyclical I found bits and pieces here and there but nothing exhaustive or concise that came close to satisfying my curiosity.  So I’ve gathered all of my information and have presented it the best way possible in this posting.  With tongue in cheek I labeled this preview of Caritas in Veritate as an ‘Exclusive Sneak Peek’*.

Caritas in Veritate will be a social encyclical examining some of the social changes that have occurred since Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio, particularly globalization.  The encyclical will have Pope Benedict XVI articulating the need to bolster humanism that brings together the social and economic development of humans and to reduce the disproportionate gap between poor and rich.  One other major theme of this encyclical will be that of global justice.

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Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

Monday, June 29, AD 2009

I am going to provide everyone with a nice blast from the past- everyone I know respects Pope John Paul II- most orthodox Catholics refer to him as John Paul the Great. So I think what he thought officially as Pope on the question of Capital/Labor/State as part of the tradition deriving from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum- is incredibly interesting and relevant. Here is Chapter One of Centesimus Annus with no personal commentary- let the “man” speak without any interference from me:

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7 Responses to Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

  • The very existence of Rerum Novarum puts to shame the thesis that industrial capitalism, all on its own, either did or would have addressed the problem of poverty.

    I have seen this argument, from Tom Woods Jr., Robert Novak, especially when they critique Distributism, that critiques of capitalism are entirely baseless. They take it as an unquestioned article of faith that any life under industrial capitalism is better than any life in a non industrial capitalist society, that prior to capitalism only one word could sum up the human condition: poverty, and perhaps another: oppression.

    In this particular case criticisms of modern conservatism as nothing but the guardian of Enlightenment liberalism ring true. To make this argument, one has to essentially say at the same time that Rerum Novarum was unnecessary, that workers movements in general were unnecessary. It is the same logic that the neo-Confederates make: slavery would have been abolished on its own, so there was no need for a civil war. Capitalism would have cleaned up its act, so there was no need for a labor movement, government intervention, or the moral condemnation of the excesses of the system by the Popes.

    The problem is that neither of these claims is substantiated by the historical record. They are made with a sort of “faith” in what could have been. Here and there you have a General Lee or a Teddy Roosevelt who argue against the worst aspects of the system, and this is dubiously stretched out as an argument that the system would have reformed itself without any outside interventions.

    Counter-factuals aside, the reality is that the Papacy believed that the problems of industrial capitalism were not “self corrective”, that the workers had every right to organize and make economic and political demands, and that the duties of businessmen were not just to meet the economic demands made by consumers but the moral demands made by society and those who worked for them. Time and time again the Popes implored Catholics and society at large to find ways to increase the share of ownership of the workers in businesses.

    So, we can all thank capitalism for technical progress. Even Marxists do that. But moral progress was the domain of thinkers and activists well outside the capitalist class, people who did not share its goals, and often opposed them in certain respects. It is easy to take for granted the rights of workers today but a read through of Rerum Novarum shows us that they were in some question 120 years ago. In many places, they are in question even today.

    In the 21st century I hope we can move beyond the words “capitalism” and “socialism”. They are outdated and useless. The kind of economy I want to see is one in which there are still markets, but in which wealth and decision making power are not excessively concentrated, which is unambiguously subordinated to a moral hierarchy of values oriented towards the common good, and generally accountable to the direct will of the people (the eventual pressure of market forces is not and never will be enough).

  • Does Modern Conservatism actually make all those arguments.

    I mean Does modern Conservatism and I am talking the mainstream actually want to abolish Unions? I mean they talk about the problems with Unions and their excesses and are against things like Card Check but I rarely here modern Conservatism wishing to abolish Unions.

    GOvernemnt Intervention? I don’t here modern Conservatism want to abolish in the Food and Drug administration and the testing of meat? Besides for some tweeking I don’t here many modern conservatives want to abolish all child labor laws. Most Conservatives think having common sense Govt regualtion is a good thing.

    I often think that Modern Conservatism or Movement Conservatism is being confused with some Libertarian economic viewpoint.

    It is true that the modern conservatives think Govt is better if its lesser but I would contend that those conservatives that want no Govt intervention is very very small

  • JH,

    The problem is that both sides are reactionary. Conservatives may be fine with some government intervention but set against liberals who want more, they end up sounding as if they want none.

    It is hard to avoid this. I can’t always avoid it myself on issues important to me. But we must always try.

  • Joe I think you have a point. I think the problem is the internet draws lets say the extremes. I am on several boards I meet people that call themselves Conservatives and ranting about how the GOP is not really conservative. Of course when you examine their post they are far beyond conservative and rant about getting the Govt out of public education and almost toeing the Club for Growth line

    They are are same folks that call McCain a “liberal”. Or as we saw incrdibily go on a huge campaign against Huckabee and call him a Christian Socialist. Yet despite the internet astroturfing, the massive emails sent to everyone it turns out the average GOP and conservative voter liked Huckabee and McCain despite the gnashing of teeth from groups that have their monetary self interest in organziations direct mail and caging companies

  • I read the excerpt from RN almost with dread; I feared perhaps I would be reading something which, startlingly, would shake my confidence in my conservative outlook on the role of government. Much to my surprise, that didn’t happen!

    I think you absolutely *destroyed* the straw man set up in the firat comment: those rascally Conservatives would have to Repudiate The Pope Himself in order to deny the obvious truths set forth in RN! And JPG only echoed and reinforced RN, spo there!

    The problem I see with that statement is this: there are few, if any, conservatives who advocate totally unregulated economic activity. You see…being *against* the federal government taking a controlling interest in GM, for example, does NOT equal being *in favor* of eliminating unions, child labor laws, and OSHA.

    There is a proper role of government (which, in my view, involves the use of force against malefactors inside and outside of the country, and facilitating commerce among its people, to include appropriate regulation of said commerce). The problem many conservatives have with Governmentalists (to coin a phrase) is that the Governmentalist looks to Government and the solution to ALL ills. And it just doesn’t work!

    JPG’s and Pius XI’s calls in their writings are for *appropriate* government intervention, in those areas suited to government intervention.this paragraph grabbed me in particular:

    “This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them.37”

    This is ther precise concern of the conservative: thatGovernment *never seems to know its legitimate limits*. Consequently, the potential *harm* from *too much* government intervention (all together now: “stimulus bill, GM takeover, Cap-and-Trade, Hah!). Government that *thinks* it knows better than the free market usually ends up trampling its people under the weight of bureaucratic poppycock.

    The government can lay the groundwork for a just functioning society; it cannot (and *should* not!) be in the business of trying to redistribute wealth! It will fail. Miserably! And all the while, we will create a set of conditions that stifle innovation (say, Soviet Union) and allow people to settle for far far less than that of which they would otherwise achieve for themselves and their companies.

  • Here’s the thing.

    I am not setting up strawmen. I understand full well that there ARE conservatives who DON’T oppose government regulations and interventions. You know how I know? I consider myself one. At the least I would call myself a social conservative.

    Pointing out that there ARE ALSO people who DO make these arguments, however, is not making a strawman. I am differentiating between different kinds of conservative. Tim and I and others have heard enough talk radio and engaged in enough discussions to know that there are plenty of conservatives and even Catholics out there who do hold extreme anti-government, anti-regulatory views.

    I cited Novak and Woods because they specifically seek to absolve early capitalism of practically any and all wrongdoing – not only that, they seek to give it the sole credit for whatever prosperity we enjoy today. You WOULD have to repudiate Rerum Novarum to hold onto THAT argument.

  • Right Joe- I base my own reaction to “liberals” and “conservatives” on the way the politicians/media figures/and some real average folks I know, and in fact ran into quite often when I ran for public office- they just don’t talk about issues like the popes- they don’t talk about common good, they talk about freedom from taxes (rarely pointing out that taxes are not all bad or even a good thing- the impression they give directly or indirectly is that tax = theft by government, or they talk about freedom to choose- choose what- well for liberals it’s ususally about abortion or gay marriage- not all but many-

    Again it isn’t everyone who claims the title liberal or conservative, but it seems that the politicians running for office and the media talking heads and the many very outspoken citizens at meetings- they are the ones who speak out very forcefully and polemically, and they don’t sound to me like the social doctrine and popes to my ear- I try to use the language of morality and balance- it’s hard- I’m not the Magisterium- but I definitely try to base my argumentation and beliefs on my studies of the official teachings and documents, along with my life experiences and intuitions- and I find it difficult to see how one would embrace any ideology too narrowly- be it liberal, conservative, whatever- I do believe it necessary to be part of a political party- but we should be very critical members of such, because no party really is based upon our Catholic social doctrine, and as such is clearly deficient- either in theory or practice. When asked if one is liberal or conservative, I think it is better just to say I’m Catholic- straight-up- that’s my goal anyway

Pope Benedict XVI & John Paul II on America's founding

Monday, June 29, AD 2009

My friend & colleague Donald McClarey has proposed that we celebrate the 4th of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence — a custom I also share, and which I think every citizen of the United States should cultivate.

And to those scornful cranks so quick to dismiss such an appreciation of the principles of our founding as “worshipping at the temple of Enlightenment liberalism,” I would remind them of the example set by none other than Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II:

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7 Responses to Pope Benedict XVI & John Paul II on America's founding

  • As always, a balanced approach is appreciated. There can be no denying the anti-Catholic sentiments of some of the founding fathers, or some of the polemicists of the revolution (think Thomas Paine). Ever since Machiavelli blamed the Church for Italy’s problems and argued for the formation of a civil religion, a dose of anti-Catholicism was part of the standard litany of the “Atlantic Republican” tradition – never mind the influence of liberalism.

    But, I think the Holy Fathers are right to want to move on as well, and acknowledge what is universally good about the American revolution, as opposed to dwelling on what was wrong. Why would the leaders of the Church seek to create discord by resurrecting old wounds?

    We certainly shouldn’t worship liberalism – Lord knows, I reject most of the versions of economic liberalism I have come across – but the Bill of Rights was a major step forward in history, crystallizing a process that had been underway since the signing of the Magna Carta. I only wish we took the right to food as seriously as we did the right to counsel and due process.

  • Incidentally, as regards the charge of American exceptionalism, it strikes me that it is much in keeping that those in different countries take a patriotic pride in their countries — to the extent that those countries deserve it.

    In the US, that pride is often most centered around specific expressions of American political and philosophical ideals such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Gettysburg Address, etc.

    In other countries, pride might to taken in analogous or different attributes: The English in their history and common law, the French in their aesthetic and intellectual heritage, the Polish in their religious and historical roots, etc.

    I think on of the reasons Americans tend to take pride particularly in expressions of ideal such as the Declaration of Independence is that we do not in fact have much of a “national” identity in the way that most nation-states in the precise meaning of the term do. There is a history of “American” people and what they’ve done, and a shared language, but there is not a shared racial background or a culture in the fuller sense of the term, and many of our ancestors actually showed up here after much of the historical heritage of the country had actually taken place. Yet none of this serves to make people less American.

    This is, I think, why documents and speeches play a larger than usual role in American national identity — and in that sense it underlines how odd it is to charge the US of being “nationalistic”, in that in many ways the US is not a “nation state” in the way that many other modern countries are. It would be like accusing a member of the Hapsburg Empire of being “nationalist”.

  • Thank you Christopher.

    We also have this from Pope Leo XIII:

    “Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed.”
    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/02/22/pope-leo-xiii-on-america-and-george-washington/

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  • Popes, bah. Their words are irrelevant except where they can be cherrypicked to coincide with 20th-century European statism.

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25 Responses to Obama and Notre Dame – a Belated Follow-Up

  • Agreed 150% on the PWSA as a good common-ground measure. Heck, it’s good legislation regardless of whether it brings folks together or not.

    But, if you google around a bit, you’ll find that there is a lot of resistance in left-wing circles to the Act, coming from the mindset of the “reducing pregnancies, not number of abortions” crowd. The PWSA forthrightly (and rightly) presumes that abortions are bad and discourages them, which is a no-no in those circles.

    Given that the President appears to share that mindset, I think the odds of him putting his clout behind the PWSA are vanishingly small at this point in time. If/when he needs pro-life Democrats to get something he truly cares about passed, then you might see the horse trading.

    Sadly enough, I think we’re much more likely to see Rep. Slaughter’s “Prevention First Act” than the PWSA. And, make no mistake, Slaughter is in the hard-core choicer camp.

  • Father Jenkins- surprise still in his job- received his 15 minutes of fame. Dear Leader received another day of adulation. Both care about the unborn about as much as the crumb sitting on my desk. By me. Lovely rhetoric about Dialogue and such. But no other significant issue- and this is as significant as it gets- is more polarizing. Designed to be no other way. Tim notes those rare creatures known as pro-life Democrats- endangered species who should receive legal protection. Perhaps Dear Leader will open up TARP money for Planned Parenthood and non-franchise clinics. Might have the same beneficial effect as to Ford and Chrysler. Oh, just to note before posting- Tiller The Killer’s big time abort business is shutting its doors. What a shame. Maybe it could have qualified for TARP funding.

  • (1) Scalia does not really believ ein Original Intent

    (2) I don’t know what you mean by the “American Right” wanting to wash it hands of abortion by sending it to the States. First many on the right are for the Human Rights Amendment. ALso the “AMerican Right” would be working in their respective State legislatures to prohbit abortion. Activity does not stop just because it does not happen in the District of Columbia

    (3) Archbishop Chaput said recently there was no “Catholic way” to the interpret the Const. I think he is right.

    (4) what you refer to as States Rights is more commonly know as Federalism that has not been abolished. I think if you are proposing that getting this issue back to the States is against Catholic SOcial Doctrine you need to flesh that out some.

    (5)THere are Natural Law folks on the right such as Arkes and Robert George etc etc that are trying to influence the Court and polticy

    (6) There is nothing to probhibit Legislators from legilsating based on the Natural law

  • Let me add the whole Subsidarity , Federalism, abortion issue was fleshed out in some detail in response to Kmiec.

    See this entry at America magazine

    http://americaelection2008.blogspot.com/2008/10/different-take-on-kmiecs-book.html

  • Yeah, I would say that States Rights is quite consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. Subsidiarity and all. That is a principle you know.

  • I will grant that labels like American Political Left and Right are very general- but I think that those who feel comfortable self-labeling themselves liberal or conservative, will fit those larger categories. I reject these labels for myself because I believe like Archbishop Chaput- I use his great book “Render..” in my classes- that there isn’t going to be a Catholic political party- as the Compendium states we are always to be critical members of any political party- that implies that there is always going to be an incompleteness in any purely political party.

    I don’t mean to take a cheap shot on those who take the Federalist position, that abortion can only be resolved at the state level because that’s how our Constitution was written- but I advise all Catholics to read Notre Dame prof. Rice’s book on Natural Law. He describes Justice Thomas as pretty much putting the idea of natural law reasoning to death, when he backtracked during his confirmation hearings on previous positive assertions on the role of such reasoning in juridical decision making. I do view Scalia and Thomas quite negatively for the way they come across in interviews when they seem proud to assert that their Catholicism has absolutely nothing to do with their work as Justices- I don’t think anyone in any position should say that- the natural law is everyone’s responsibility- especially those with juridical and political power- this is an intellectual dodge- even if it is an honest one- to come across as some kind of progressive, non-partisan in contrast with those who do use reasoning beyond the deciphering of the original intent of the Constitutional framers.

    Professor Rice says that on abortion we don’t even have to pull out the natural law trump card- it would be rare to have to do that given that much of positive law in the Constitution is already rooted in natural law reasoning- if we apply the 5th and 14th Amendments to the unborn, we would be good to go- but this is not on the radar in the Scalia/Thomas circles as far as I know- and I would say that these Justices are very well regarded in general by conservatives/ American Political Right.

    I am offering a critique that isn’t designed to play well to liberals or conservatives, I don’t think Jesus played to such narrow audiences, and I don’t find the complete social doctrine of the Church to be in conformity with any ideology that I’ve encountered thus far- so I work in both liberal and conservative circles depending on the issue- but sometimes neither camp seems to get it right- like on abortion- the liberal juridical approach is ice cold, while I grant the Scalia et al approach is luke warm- not sure I can get on board with lukewarm even if it offers a legislative endgame in every state. I want the unborn to be safe in every state, all over the world- the Law should reflect this- the Law must reflect this, and then all other aspects of society will need to reform to adjust to this reality- economically, culturally- all of it needs to upgrade to deal with the children we will be welcoming into the world instead of terminating.

  • Subsidiarity is not to be viewed apart from the universal common good and solidarity- it also isn’t a replacement for the natural law requirements for all people- Catholic or not. This emphasis on natural law is found throughout the social doctrine and papal encyclicals

  • Thank you for a thoughtful diary. Another bill that I hope starts gathering support is the “Newborn Child and Mother Act”. Approximately 1500 mothers die in childbirth across Africa EVERY DAY. I gather most of their babies die, too.

  • TIm

    Let me say I am not saying that Natural Law Jurisprudence is forbidden. As Arkes says where in the Const does it forbit it? I am just saying that if lets say a Catholic Judge does that think that was part of the Document then I think he can in a valid way interpret it otherwise. I mean in the end his Power and authority come from the Document or the “Pact” as it were. So when Scalia looks at the text he does not that think he has the power to change it

    It is in a sense similar to the situation of the Federal Judges that lets say were anti Slavery. They might have been anti Slavery but because their power and authrotiy came from an agreement that made an compromise with this evil they very well could not just ban it nationwide.

    Again as to Natural Law and the Social Compendium what should Catholic Judges do. I can’t imagine that they would start citing the Comepndium of SOcial Justice. In fact what authority would they have to base Opinion on that at all.

    I am not sure Scalia or THomas for that matter have an agenda to end abortion nationwide. I think they probally think that is not their job but the job of the legislator. I strongly suspect that Scalia thinks Gay marriage is wrong. However I doubt he would think he ahd any authority to “ban” it in lets say Iowa.

    TO quote Chaput in Full
    “CHAPUT: The Supreme Court doesn’t make law, as we know. It interprets the law. I think it’s much easier from a moral perspective to be a justice – a judge – than it is to be a legislator. Legislators are the ones who make laws and change laws. But to interpret the law in its fidelity to the Constitution is a much less morally compromising kind of position to have, I think.

    I’d rather be a justice than a politician, in terms of dealing with my conscience, because if we write bad laws in this country that are constitutional, then the judges – the justices – have to interpret the laws as allowed by the Constitution, even if they don’t like them, even if they would think they’re not good for the country, it seems to me, even if they think they’re not moral. That’s what justices do. So I had the impression that Wendy thinks that the Supreme Court writes the law. Certainly that’s not my impression. I know it can’t write the law. In terms of not wanting all the justices to be Catholics, I agree with you, Michael. That would not be a good idea in the United States”.

    http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=213

    Now I think Judical attitudes matter that is for sure. The attitude of the Iowa Supreme Courts Justices was frightening as they basically shot down arguments because they thought they could smell religous intent.

    I just think from a Natural Law standpoint that the key is if one wishes to adovcate that is to start in the legilatures. That is where the action is.

    As Chaput stated

  • “Subsidiarity is not to be viewed apart from the universal common good and solidarity- it also isn’t a replacement for the natural law requirements for all people- Catholic or not. This emphasis on natural law is found throughout the social doctrine and papal encyclicals”

    Well Tim I don’t think Federalsim gets rid of that. I mean what is changed or what is at issue is what branches of the Governements have the responsibility, power , and authority to act as to the common good or solidarity.. As to the abortion question is it the States or the Federal Govt or a combination of the two.

  • What other aspects of the natural law should the Justices be concerned with? Should a Catholic-based interpretation mandate that all homosexual acts be outlawed? Should a natural law view of the Constitution mean a ban of contraceptives? How far do we take this? And what do we do when we have a majority of Justices whose interpretation of the natural law leads to conclusions quite the opposite of our own?

  • Tim

    I think my other post did not go through for some reason

    Let me clear I am not saying that Natural law Juridprudence cannot be had. As Arkes says where in the COnst is it forbidden.

    I just think that if you really want Natural Law and to have it part of our system one needs to start with the legislature where the real action is at. THat is not to ignore the Judiciary. We should recall that Iowa Supreme Court mandated Gay marraige and in that argument they shot down opponets of it because they say said they could smell religious reasoning. That is a problem

    I am not sure at all that THomas and Scalia have a “plan” to end abortion. I suspect they don’t think that is their job but that of the legislature. Just Like how I think that Scalia is against gay marraige but I could never seem him overturning a state law allowing it because it goes against the natural law or because he does not like it.

    I suppose if we are going to get natural law more in the discussion first the Catholic schools nned to be teaching it more.Then we are going to have to have an discussion with our neighbors about it.

    Political parties are not going to be able to do that. In fact in GOP circles where such an approach has fans in some segments there would have to be some on the evangelical side that would have to embrace it. SOme are open others are wary.

    So as to Natural law principles I think there is a lot of work to be done before we can expect polticos to start using it. In fact we might need to breed a whole new generation of polticos that understand it.

    When I talk to Catholic about the natural law it sometimes seems like they look at me like I am from Mars. That has nothing to do with left, right, or center but just horrid Catholic education in the Puplit, in CCD , and in the schools.

    As to Catholic social justice concerns and principles I think there will be porgress till each “side” that is engaging this start talking to each other instead of yelling at each other.

  • Tim,

    Of course subsidiarity is to be seen in the context of the common good and solidarity. Just as solidarity is to be seen in the context of the common good and subsidiarity. The claim of solidarity does not rule out allowing more basic units of society tend to the common good. Catholic Social teaching never says this. In fact higher units of society are to take over only when lower units cannot meet a common need. States rights fits perfectly in this framework.
    When to allow higher units to take over from lower is a prudential judgement in many cases and you will not find such a criteria in the Compendium.

  • My impression from reading the social doctrine is that the common good is the only real reason for having governing authority in the first place- when this focus is lost then that authority can soon run amuck- I do not dispute or ignore the principle of subsidiarity but we are talking about abortion here, and that is something that cannot be left to even a popular vote- it smacks of the whole scene with Jesus being condemned by popular vote, and Pilate standing by, washing his hands of the affair, even as he seemed to side with Jesus on the level of basic justice- Pope John Paul II even used this comparison with abortion and Christ with over-reliance on democratic outcomes in determining all important matters- now Pilate has not gone down in history as a heroic figure- and I don’t think that a State’s Rights approach to abortion is going to be seen as the best we could do at the level of civil authority.

    We have a problem with subsidiarity as a primary principle to view abortion or the global economy through right now- with the power of multinational corporations usurping even the power of national governments- read Bailouts- it would seem that the local government powers have not kept up with the times- and Free Trade Pacts have taken economic decisions far afield from local control. With abortion, we simply have to have everyone doing what they can with whatever power they have to establish the legal and moral sense that an unborn child is worthy of our human rights. Natural Law reasoning does not have to be overused to the point where we have an effective theocracy- but we ignore the Natural Law to our own peril as a nation, as a people.

    Again- I cannot go into the detail here on this as Professor Rice did in his book- 50 Questions on the Natural Law- if anyone has read that book and has any comments I would love to hear of your thoughts. I think he represents the most orthodox Catholic position on the importance of Natural Law, and how we can promote it without having to force the nation to convert to Catholicism wholesale. There is something religious behind the Natural Law, and the Catholic social doctrine is a necessary guide- but the Natural Law is something reasonable and can be argued with non-believers and believers alike. We cannot continue to cede everything to the secularists- at some point we have to fight for more than merely symbolic gestures like Nativity Scenes on government property- we need Catholics willing to stand behind Natural Law reasoning and Catholic social doctrine- the Natural Law reasoning is all we need to use in public debates, and all the Justices need to make certain that Justice prevails when opportunity comes for them to render decisions that obviously offer life and death for many. Imagine if genocide came up for a vote? Abortion is a genocide of unborn, unwanted children- millions of them- if this doesn’t call forth a universal decision on the part of our Supreme Court- then they may as well pack it in, and leave our Capital empty of Justices and Justice.

  • Tim

    So a vote on the Supreme Court is legitimate but a vote in the Staer Houses is not. Also one can amend State Const a heck of a lot more easier than you can the U.S. COnst to show these natural law principles

    Again it is not a principle of “State Rights” but Federalism. I am not saying fight for a Human Rights AMendment. In fact I suspect that a HUman Ruights amendments would gain steam when it returned to the States.

    You know we can’t just blame nameless polticos in D.C. for not getting the pro-life cause done. It is suddennly much more in our faces where we must convince our neighbors

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  • Tim,

    Its not a problem of seeing subsidiarity as a primary priciple for in fact it is. As are the principles of the common good and solidarity. They are an organic unity. The problem becomes how do we apply these primary priciples to concrete situations. You have your problems with multi-nationals. I have a problem with strong (an ever increasingly stronger) national and international governments. The Compendium does not have a policy to address these. Catholics in good conscience apply the primary principles. At times Catholics in good conscience disagree, sometimes strongly. That’s life in the secualar for the Christian.

  • Honestly, Tim, I think your argument sets up a couple of straw men that you then proceed to effectively slaughter; I disagree with a couple of your premises, and must, therefore, disagree with your conclusions.

    First, I believe you fall victim to the same illogic that drives most who claim to not be “right-wing” Catholics: namely, you choose to lump all Catholic Social Teachings, and abortion, into the same mass and call it legitimately Catholic. I disagree for a couple of reasons:

    1. You mentioned that you would have invited neither PResident Obama nor President Bush to speak at Notre Dame, given the authority to make such a decision. You cite both men’s lack of conformity to basic principles of Catholic Social Doctrine as your reason.

    This comparison sufers for at least two reasons. first, abortion, and , say, the death penalty are not equivalent issues. The authority to make the decision to mete out a penalty of death rests with duly elected civil authorities. SOLELY with them. And while the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching may decry the occasional necessity to mete out such a sentnece, and while it may state that the circumstances which should require such a penalty are so rarae as to be almost nonexistent, in the end, the judgment of the circumstances lies SOLEY with those duly elected to exercise such authority.

    Similarly with the exercise of war powers. The Church rightly decries the use of military force in *any* circumstance; however, it recognizes the right of governments to enter into armed conflict against those nations or entities which pose a credible threat, and which cannot be subdued by other means. That right flows from the national leader’s responsibility to provide for legitimate defense of its territory and citizens. And the authority to make such a decision rest, again, SOLELY with the likes of President Bush and President Obama.

    Man, this is brain-wracking. I will amend my opening statement to include the thought that I can only respond to one at a time.

    But i fwe are goin gto use Catholic Teaching to justify our positions, it wold seem prudent…to use ALL of it, not jsut the parts that nicely fit our preconceived schema.

    God bless.

  • Totally apart from the extremely interesting issues and discussions in this thread, it occurred to me [somewhat belatedly] that Father Jenkins was greatly disingenuous in the reasons he gave for inviting Mr. Obama to speak at the Commencement exercises.

    Commencements they are meant to be – but commencements to the world wider than the campus in South Bend.

    Now if the graduating students had not pretty well covered the subject – personally and intellectually – in four years’ attendance at the school, what is the purpose of a dialogue about it just as they are about to leave? Surely their teachers must have discussed [dialogued?] the issues during the campaign a year previously.

    I said disingenuous; I repeat disingenuous.

  • And the authority to make such a decision rest, again, SOLELY with the likes of President Bush and President Obama.

    But it does not end there. The authority to pass judgment on the decision made by presidents lies with the Church and SOLELY with the Church.

  • Tim,
    I would go further in this line of consistent criticism of the American political Left and Right. I don’t believe that the state’s rights approach to abortion rights is truly consistent with Catholic social doctrine. The juridical philosophy called “Originalism”, which is championed by many Catholics supportive of the American political Right, is not one that is rooted in Natural Law.

    Conservative Catholics hold to the belief that the laws of the land should be rooted in Natural Law. They belief that the way to change those laws is through democratic processes which are established in the United States constitution and the constitutions of the several states which it comprises. There is nothing in Natural Law which states that a judiciary should act in contravention of the laws which are established.

    Professor Rice says that on abortion we don’t even have to pull out the natural law trump card- it would be rare to have to do that given that much of positive law in the Constitution is already rooted in natural law reasoning- if we apply the 5th and 14th Amendments to the unborn, we would be good to go

    I agree completely.

    but this is not on the radar in the Scalia/Thomas circles as far as I know- and I would say that these Justices are very well regarded in general by conservatives/ American Political Right.

    I’m not so sure, have they ruled that way? If a case came before them which way would they rule? I think you’re mistaken. Those justices have consistently ruled in a way that would allow us to infer they do in fact believe that the unborn are human persons and are protected. Their Catholic faith (and basic empbryology) teaches them that, and there is no contradiction with the Constitution which would preclude them as “originists” in ruling that way.

    we simply have to have everyone doing what they can with whatever power they have to establish the legal and moral sense that an unborn child is worthy of our human rights. Natural Law reasoning does not have to be overused to the point where we have an effective theocracy- but we ignore the Natural Law to our own peril as a nation, as a people.

    Absolutely, but I think there is limits to what a Catholic is compelled to do given the restrictions of his office, especially if he has taken an oath to be bound by those restrictions. Now, no Catholic is permitted to commit an immoral act regardless of his office, but that doesn’t mean he is obliged to use their office illegally in their actions.

    Michael J. Iafrate,

    But it does not end there. The authority to pass judgment on the decision made by presidents lies with the Church and SOLELY with the Church.

    No. Wrong. While the Church has the authority to pass judgments when a public act is in objective violation of Church teaching, she does not make such judgements on purely subjective reasoning (sound thought it might be), nor does the Church pass judgement where she does not possess all of the relevent facts that the civic authority does. She may and often does issue opinions based on what is known and the preponderance of evidence, but that is not the same thing. Ultimately the judgement falls to the Lord God Almighty.

    Jh,

    I just think that if you really want Natural Law and to have it part of our system one needs to start with the legislature where the real action is at.

    exactly!

    Deacon,

    awesome! You nailed it.

  • No. Wrong. While the Church has the authority to pass judgments when a public act is in objective violation of Church teaching, she does not make such judgements on purely subjective reasoning (sound thought it might be), nor does the Church pass judgement where she does not possess all of the relevent facts that the civic authority does. She may and often does issue opinions based on what is known and the preponderance of evidence, but that is not the same thing.

    No, YOU are wrong. The Church has the right to make judgments on wars. Period. That it does not do so regularly with unambiguous force does not mean it does not possess this authority.

    Your mistaken view is precisely one of the results of buying into the americanist separation of secular and sacred authority. Too many Catholics (usually so-called “patriotic” ones) fall for it. What you do not realize is that you are contributing to the marginalization of the Church by promoting such nonsense.

  • “There is nothing in Natural Law which states that a judiciary should act in contravention of the laws which are established.”

    Because the Natural Law, i.e. the Law of Human Nature has no conception of “judiciaries.” However, the moral principles to which we’re oriented would suggest that laws that are not in accord with true justice–thus, not actually being laws should be contravened. Simple establishment makes no case in itself for not contravening it. Now you’ll argue that’s the role of the legislatior; I’m establishing that the Natural Law is not silent about the matter.

    “I think there is limits to what a Catholic is compelled to do given the restrictions of his office, especially if he has taken an oath to be bound by those restrictions. Now, no Catholic is permitted to commit an immoral act regardless of his office, but that doesn’t mean he is obliged to use their office illegally in their actions.”

    Well, I see your point. But this is again my problem with Scalia’s philosophy. I talked about it in a different thread. Effectively, I think the American conception of “justice” and “law,” at least in terms of judicial philosophy is based largely on positive law philosophy and Western Enlightenment philosophy rather than natural law thinking, and therefore, a proper notion of justice and law. Therefore, I think the “originalism and textualist” position might do-the-least-harm, it remains fatally flawed.

  • Eric,

    so how do you propose a “natural law” based judiciary should act? Do we need a legislature at all, just for administrative types of laws? Why not just a system of judges who base their rulings on their understanding of natural law? What reference documents for natural law would be used as a basis?

    I reject this idea because it is akin to anarchy. Each judge applying his own understanding of a very broadly contentious set of rather non-specific rules.

    I believe self-governance is in accord with natural law, and so the people guided by conscience establish the system of laws, the judges do not overturn them they simply apply them.

    There may be certain cases where heroic violation of laws will not cause more harm than good, that any moral person should stand up against them, this can not be the general case.

  • Matt,

    Well, I am no constitutional law scholar. However, I do think that the “originalist” and “textualist” position contradict, to some degree, my understanding of both law and justice because of the inherent lack of consideration of natural law principles. This, I think, is a built-in recipe for disaster. Granted, while the philosophy itself might be, relative to other theories, the “lesser of evils” because of its do-no-harm mantra, it still can create quite a few ethical problems for Catholics.

    I earlier used the example of pre-Civil War slavery. Hypothetically speaking, if there were a case regarding slavery before the United States Supreme Court, tied 4-4, and I’m a Catholic sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, I certainly would not rule to uphold slavery as the law—and with no apology. It seems that the American notion of “justice” is not whether or not a law is in conformity with the natural law, reflecting the eternal law of God. No, rather, “justice” means having laws conform immediately to the written letter of the U.S. Constitution strictly and legal precedence. While this is not immediately a problem (I’m not saying that the U.S. Constitution should be irrelevant), while it is not in and of itself wrong—it does give rise to ethical issues.

    From the originalist viewpoint regarding slavery, a Justice would have to rule in favor of an unjust law which contradicts the very essence of their title: Justice. An unjust law is not a law according to the scheme of the natural law. However, to an originalist, that point is irrelevant. If law is not meant to be in conformity with the natural law, which reflects perfect justice, then our inherent goal is not to uphold real laws at all but human decrees with no consideration or concern of objective conformity with the laws written into Nature. This, to me, seems to be clearly antithetical to Plato’s The Laws, Cicero’s On The Law, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Law which are four of the most important works in the natural law tradition. There is a fundamental disagreement then about the nature of law itself, about the nature of justice, and therefore, the likeliness to reach just conclusions, while not impossible certainly, is more difficult.

    Alexander Hamilton put it this way: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Even the more secular-minded Thomas Jefferson agreed: The “only firm basis” of freedom, he wrote, is “a conviction in the minds of people that their liberties are the gift of God.”

    These words are clearly a natural law commitment (and I’m not suggesting they are advocating it be used by the U.S. Supreme Court). Yet contemporary judicial philosophy is based largely on the Enlightenment-borne philosophy of legal positivism—that is, there is no inherent or necessary connection between the law and ethics, but rather laws are rules made by human beings entered into a social contract with no regard for moral objectivity because the contract is inherently relative.

    If you consider such broad phrases such as “cruel and unusual” or “unreasonable searches and seizures,” it seems to me that the Founders presuppose that you would reference some sort of objective moral criteria that exists outside of the text of the Constitution to know what constitutes such activity. What is cruel? What is unusual? What is unreasonable? Unless there is some objective, unchanging standards that it is presupposed, that is known and can be known because of a common human nature with an unchanging law—the natural law—then it seems that the “concepts” of these things evolve and change with society; thus, this lends itself to the argument for a “living Constitution” that should be read in light of the relative values of the contemporary people. Yet the “originalists” pore scrupulously over the text for some criteria, the Founders (in a world yet to have fully abandon the natural law) may have presumed to be self-evident, or they commit to some legal precedence judged to be in conformity with their judicial philosophy versus what it may be the Founders actually intended. Again, to what do you reference as the criteria to define such “concepts” (cruel, unusual, unreasonable)? Their time period? Our time period? And barring natural law ethics, it becomes inherently relative, which requires one to inject their “personal values” into the constitutional text.

    Simply put, I cannot fully embrace this judicial philosophy and am rather interested in projects to rethink, reasonably, how to interpret the Constitution and develop an American legal system that is more harmonious with the ongoing project of Catholic legal theory. Though, I will add that originalism does guarantee some sort of consistency in judiciary judgments and protects Americans from arbitrary changes in constitutional interpretation. Moreover, to fully reject originalism there needs to be a ready, clearly articulated criterion for interpreting the Constitution, otherwise the matter of law will be solely at the discretion of political inclinations of sitting Justices. Perhaps, at best, originalism constrains the worse temptation of Justices to overreach.

    But it still remains that originalism isn’t perfect. It faces hermeneutic difficulties to which Justice Scalia admits, when he said, “It’s not always easy to figure out what the provision meant when it was adopted…I do not say originalism is perfect. I just say it’s better than anything else.” That is, anything else so far. So while I am not in favor of a hasty departure from originalism to an anything-goes Court, I’m not going to back the theory.

    I still think that it poses quite an ethical dilemma and I’m weary of the Catholic support it gets despite the fact that its philosophical underpinnings, i.e. legal positivism, are fundamentally contradictory to Catholic moral and social thought. While I am sympathetic to the intellectual commitment to protect the integrity of the legal system and the constitutional order, I don’t think that requires an immediate advocacy of originalism over attempting to find some other way to interpret the Constitution. I am not convinced it’s all or nothing—either originalism or the “living Constitution” theory.

    As Edmund Randolph set out at the Constitutional Convention, the goal was to “insert essential principles only; lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable, which ought to be accommodated to times and events.” Now, this quote, granted, can be misconstrued and interpreted as advocacy of an “evolving” doctrine in regard to constitutional interpretation. However, it seems to me, that the U.S. Constitution seeks to create a government that recognizes and respects the natural, inalienable rights that are self-evident in the natural moral law which are enshrined within the text of the Constitution. While the “essential principles,” which are moral, cannot change—as the moral law does not change; positive laws, however can. Different situations, different circumstances, different cultural values may have a need for different positive laws to best accommodate and promote human flourishing and the protection of human rights. (I’m not saying these laws come from or should come from the Court.) Now how such a view could reasonably and practically be played out in terms of judicial philosophy is quite a debate.

    Nevertheless, originalism strikes me as too keen on preservation of the status quo, that is, order rather than on actual Justice, ifthe circumstances puts the two in contradiction. It brings to mind Machiavellian principles (which I think is the actual beginning of modern philosophy) specifically the re-definition of prudence as a purely pragmatist virtue oriented more toward some end, judging and weighing consequences, i.e. consequentialist and utilitarian ethics that masquerade as natural law thinking when it really is not. It seems the concern is not necessarily on what is moral, but to what works (pragmatist). Therefore, one of the Cardinal Virtues is employed in such a way that its immediate and direct concern is not necessarily intertwined with its sister virtue of Justice, real justice. And the divorce of the two, characteristic of modern thinking, is precisely what I am arguing against.

    Again, I’m not constitutional law scholar, but I do find it curious that the framers of the Constitution did not indicate, in the text itself, how the Constitution should be read. I have no idea why. Perhaps they could not agree on a method themselves, as we cannot.

    Though, I do wonder if one is arguing “original intent” or “original meaning,” does this include taking into account the fact that the words (diction), come from other common law traditions based largely around natural law thinking? Do you seek to understand the words in those light as to get a greater understanding of the words in light of the historical situation? This might be comparable to using the historical-critical method as a tool for scriptural exegesis. In other words, one would read the U.S. Constitution in light of the Declaration of Independence and the natural law tradition? Or, does one read the text strictly, isolated from such references?

    My question arises because of this: The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. The Bill of Rights establishes natural human rights. Yet in the U.S. Constitution there is legalized slavery. A natural law thinker would see that as a blatant contradiction. If such a matter were before a Catholic on the Supreme Court, should the Catholic uphold the unjust law as a matter of originalist intent even if contradicts the natural law and say, the majority of the United States citizens refused to conform with natural justice and outlaw it legislatively. For instance, what if abortion was a right written verbatim into the U.S. Constitution. Would I have to be complicit with an intrinsic evil until such a time that society changed its mind? I know I certainly wouldn’t. I am not sure if any oath or commitment can exempt you from stopping an objective moral evil. Consequences aside, as judging whether or not to end slavery or abortion based on how the populace will respond is judging the rightness or wrongness of the act based on the consequences–which again, is consequentialism and not natural law morality. The problem again persists.

    This is the challenge and difficulty of natural law jurisprudence, of which, I am profoundly interested in. Perhaps, I should send Prof. Robert George, a proponent of the “New Natural Law Theory”, another email and ask him a few questions about the matter; he usually replies rather quickly.

The Culture of Death and Consumerism

Monday, May 18, AD 2009

Contributor Joe Hargrave posted a link to an interesting new essay of his today on the topic of the Culture of Death and its connections to consumerism. It’s an interesting essay, and I encourage people to read it. I do not pretend to similar length or erudition in this piece, but in formulating some thought about Joe’s essay I realized that it would be very long for a comment, so I’m writing it up as a post here instead.

There are a lot of things I found interesting and wanted to discuss (or dispute) in your essay — perhaps in part because I get the impression that our areas of historical knowledge are somewhat non-overlapping (I know most about 3000 BC to 400 AD, you seem to be most expert on the last two centuries), and the person who imagines himself an expert in anything invariably has all sorts of quibbles with what the “outsider” writes. However, I’m going to try to stick to what I think is my most central critique.

Joe finds at the root of the culture of death the materialistic and individualistic phenomenon of modern consumerism, and about consumerism he says the following, beginning with a quote from Pope John Paul II:

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7 Responses to The Culture of Death and Consumerism

  • Darwin,

    Thanks for taking an interest in my article. I appreciate the time you took to respond to it. Here I will address some statements regarding my positions.

    You write,

    Joe seems to see the evil of consumerism as being that of reducing the human person to its exchangeable value.

    It would be more correct to say that I see that as one of the evils. The very passage you quoted before making this observation shows what I think is perhaps more crucial; consumerism consistently appeals to our ‘lower nature’, to what is base and selfish within us, whether in the form of commercials, entertainment, eating, public events, etc. Our lower natures are easy to ensnare and enslave to addiction, ensuring repeat business. Our higher natures take years of patient guidance to cultivate properly.

    After describing some rather mundane pettiness in modern society, you go on to to say,

    Yet this is not, I think, merely a product of a cash economy or a capitalist society. Rather, it is a sinful tendency which is much deeper in our fallen natures.

    My response is that I would not try to isolate one cause, but to show which cause exerts the most influence at a given time. Our sinful, fallen nature is a constant throughout history. On this you and I will agree. The question is, how will it express itself? Humans have always had selfish tendencies, but in previous forms of society, and in non-Western forms of society, these tendencies have consequences that people want to avoid. Part of the problem of consumerism is that it not only removes consequences for selfishness, but encourages it. That makes a pretty big difference, I’d say.

    The next point I would address is this:

    For instance, modern capitalist society is much less violent, on a daily basis, than many previous societies. Not that wrath itself is necessarily less, but that wrath is less often expressed in physical violence.

    I suppose, in times of relative peace, this is generally true within such societies – though I don’t recall any previous society where school children took a sword to school one day and started slaughtering classmates in a fit of existential angst.

    That said, modern capitalist society is most certainly sustained through violence – in other parts of the world. We’ve been down this road before; cheap third world labor is brutally exploited to make modern capitalist society a reality. Workers are denied their rights to organize, to political protest, to form unions and parties that will advance their interests. Repression means cheap labor which the West has not only taken advantage of but sought to preserve through policy.

    The sanitized world many of us inhabit is an illusion propped up by blood and dirt and violence of every sort. So I do reject this notion of a more peaceful society.

    This is perhaps the more important point to address:

    I don’t necessarily see that people working for a collectively owned firm would be less inclined to treat others as objects than those working for a publicly traded corporation — just as I don’t necessarily see that those who belong to a credit union would be less likely to use their money to buy porn than those who use for-profit banks.

    I don’t think cooperative economics is going to necessarily cause people to stop looking at others as objects. That is more of an end goal to be reached after generations of living and thinking differently. What I do believe, however, is that we have to start somewhere. What cooperative enterprises do is take the individual, isolated atoms and links them together, at first only materially. For it to succeed, everyone must be concerned with everyone else’s performance and well-being. One person’s problem quickly becomes everyone’s problem.

    Over time, these enterprises must cooperate with one another as the people within each one cooperate amongst themselves. And then, these enterprises cooperate with all of the other institutions in the community. A material sub-structure of cooperation is created, and our daily habits have undergone a transformation. A corresponding transformation of thinking and perceiving develops. Combined with a Catholic moral philosophy, ever-present in the life of the community, a new respect for others is developed.

    My main point is that consumerism is as much a complex of unconscious social programming as it is conscious reflection and activity. Our daily routines take on an ideological life of their own and influence the way we think about everything. Our Christian values can serve as a strong buffer against evil influences but values can only go so far. A rearrangement of the daily routine is also required so that our physical brains are in sync with what the mind and heart want.

    I probably should have said all that in the essay. If I decide to include it, I will credit you for it!

  • Original sin.

  • Joe,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and irenic response to my response. As I was writing, and as usual finding myself to run long, I was hoping that I wouldn’t come off as brash or aggressive. I hope I didn’t — but if I did I’m thankful that you took it in your stride.

    Hoping to continue in this vein:

    consumerism consistently appeals to our ‘lower nature’, to what is base and selfish within us, whether in the form of commercials, entertainment, eating, public events, etc. Our lower natures are easy to ensnare and enslave to addiction, ensuring repeat business.

    I agree that in the modern world the satisfaction of our baser instincts becomes a major temptation — specifically that emphasis on consuming which provides the illusion which we can satisfy our deeper human needs by owning or consuming some material thing.

    However, I’m not clear that this is the result of a capitalist economy so much as the natural reaction of our fallen nature to a wealthy society. Throughout history, we see those in a given society who are wealthy acting in much this way. The lure of consumption seems to be a constant in any society with enough material wealth to consume, regardless of its economic system. In this sense, I’m not sure that anything other than becoming significantly more poor would “solve” the problem, and then only via lack of opportunity.

    By this I don’t mean to ignore those teachings which have to do with moral behavior in the business realm, but rather to argue that this doesn’t represent a “move to his economic model and this will fix everying” prescription but rather an attempt by our popes in the last 140 years to provide us with a moving target idea of how to treat our brothers and sisters with the human dignity they deserve in whatever economic conditions we happen to find ourselves in at this time.

    Humans have always had selfish tendencies, but in previous forms of society, and in non-Western forms of society, these tendencies have consequences that people want to avoid. Part of the problem of consumerism is that it not only removes consequences for selfishness, but encourages it. That makes a pretty big difference, I’d say.

    Here I would disagree with you on two points:

    1) I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize previous and non-Western societies as having provided greater negative consequences to prevent selfishness than our modern society — except to the extent that these societies were poorer and lacked welfare and charitable institutions such that one had a greater incentive not to offend those in one’s community enough that they wouldn’t help you in need. However, even just looking at the Bible (parable of Dives and Lazarus, parable of the talents, parable of the treasure in the field, etc.) it seems to me pretty clear that people exercised selfishness to the maximum that they believed they could get away with.

    2) The characterization of our modern economy as encouraging selfishness strikes me as taking a somewhat self-defining view of what free exchange is. One can say that the principle of free exchange means that everyone will be best off if everyone has the maximum of selfishness, but one can just as well (and I would actually argue more accurately) describe the principle of free exchange as meaning that one many not expect to take any benefit from another person without providing that person with a benefit of equal value. In that it’s called “mutually beneficial” exchange, one might as well characterize it as consisting of making sure you always give as much as you get, as making sure that you get as much as you give.

    That said, modern capitalist society is most certainly sustained through violence – in other parts of the world. We’ve been down this road before; cheap third world labor is brutally exploited to make modern capitalist society a reality. Workers are denied their rights to organize, to political protest, to form unions and parties that will advance their interests. Repression means cheap labor which the West has not only taken advantage of but sought to preserve through policy.

    To the extent that this is true (I tend to think that you over-emphasize this element a bit, taking the worst excesses of developing world abuse and extrapolating them as if this was the universal experience of the deloping world), is that necessarily different from other societies. Within the medieval European world that I know a fair amount about, there was a long history of incredibly bloody peasant revolts. And even during “normal” times, the social order was maintained through what we would see as very repressive laws.

    For all that developing world industrial workers are kept from unionizing, feudal serfs could be flogged or worse simply for the offense of trying to leave their land and seek a better living somewhere else. (And never mind the slaves who formed the analogous workforce in much of the ancient world.) And for all that pay is often low in the developing world, serfs often lived on landed estates where not only was the amount of food left for them after the lord to his share small, but if they dared to “steal” the wild fish and game that could be caught on the land, the punishment was anywhere from flogging to hanging.

    Indeed, it seems to me that the primary exit from this kind of societal violence and repression is when a society becomes sufficiently developed that there is plenty of material wealth to go around.

    What cooperative enterprises do is take the individual, isolated atoms and links them together, at first only materially. For it to succeed, everyone must be concerned with everyone else’s performance and well-being. One person’s problem quickly becomes everyone’s problem.

    Over time, these enterprises must cooperate with one another as the people within each one cooperate amongst themselves. And then, these enterprises cooperate with all of the other institutions in the community. A material sub-structure of cooperation is created, and our daily habits have undergone a transformation.

    I know this is something we’ve bumped up against a number of times in the past, but I remain skeptical of this development path because my experience of the business world is that it already requires this kind of cooperation — and while I would certainly say it is possible to follow a path towards holiness in the modern capitalist economy, it doesn’t do the work of guiding us there for us. But I certainly cannot succeed in the absence of my coworkers and those who work for me doing so. Nor can a company succeed without helping those other companies it works with to prosper. It’s good, and pleasant, and that interconnectedness is one of the things that I enjoy about the business world, but I certainly don’t see it as necessarily guiding people towards a personal transformation away from consumerism.

    It strikes me as harder and easier than that — more work for us personally as we seek holiness and right-orderedness, yet less work in that these things do not require a re-ordering of economic institutions from the ground up.

    Not that I object to the employee owned enterprises that you admire (though I do suspect that they must end up running more top down than you imagine on a daily basis — or else they would have to be based on very non-complex business models) it’s just that I don’t necessarily see them as solving the problem that we’re discussing.

  • Darwin,

    Thanks again for responding.

    You write,

    However, I’m not clear that this is the result of a capitalist economy so much as the natural reaction of our fallen nature to a wealthy society.

    I think we should dispose of the phrase ‘capitalist economy’. I don’t think I once used the word ‘capitalism’ in my entire essay, or in my response to you. To me the major conflict in economics is between democracy and oligarchy. Democratic, cooperative firms based upon private property and marketplace competition would by most definitions be called ‘capitalist’.

    Next,

    this doesn’t represent a “move to his economic model and this will fix everying” prescription but rather an attempt by our popes in the last 140 years to provide us with a moving target idea of how to treat our brothers and sisters with the human dignity they deserve in whatever economic conditions we happen to find ourselves in at this time.

    I must say, neither of these are correct. No one is suggesting that ‘everything will be fixed’ – it is not a fair representation of what I believe.

    More importantly, however, the Popes have passed clear moral judgments on both economic liberalism and communism, and more recently on consumerism. Catholic social teaching is not, and cannot be made into, a guide for individuals to cope with unjust social structures. It is a guide for Catholics who do, or seek to, play a role in shaping society in various ways. I truly mean no offense, but I honestly cannot see how one can read a social encyclical or the Compendium and interpret them in the way that you do. Pius XI did not say, ‘when you find yourself in a society gone mad with individualism do a b and c, and when you find yourself in a communist dictatorship, do x, y, z” – he sharply condemned both ideologies, declared that they were unacceptable for Catholics, that they were in error, immoral, out of control.

    Regarding the dispute over past and present societies, it is clear to me that consumerism is a new breed of selfishness. Without disputing the basic idea that people have always been selfish, the point here is that they are now expected and encouraged to be. We are not expected to marry, bear children, participate in civic life, or any number of things that were expected of a person before. These things are now simply one among many choices at the great buffet of life. And now we see with fertility treatments, genetic manipulation, and transhumanism, attempts to reduce every aspect of the reproductive process itself to a consumer act. A nearly 70 year old woman even 100 years ago could not indulge a selfish desire to bear a child, but today she can – it is suicidal madness and a gross injustice if a being can even be born to a woman so old, but they will try because the technology is here.

    As you say people will push the limits, and the deal is that the limits have been pushed, further and further. Technology has made it possible remove natural restrictions on selfishness.

    We will agree to disagree I suppose on the amount of violence it takes to sustain the ‘American way of life’. 1.5 million dead babies a year through abortion is violence enough.

    As for the work situation, I don’t know exactly what kind of work you do, but I do know that the typical American business is not a ‘community of solidarity’ in any meaningful sense of the term. Workers are often interchangible parts in a money-making machine. Unless you are particularly skilled, you are expendable. 80% of Americans work for a wage.

    It should be clear that what I am talking about goes far beyond what passes for cooperation in America today. The culture of death finds a powerful impetus in social atomization – in the belief that one is essentially to be left alone to deal with one’s problems. In yet another contrast with the pre-modern world, this is something new. With the breakdown of family even that refuge is gone. JP II recognizes all of this in Evangelium Vitae – it is not only a tragedy but a moral indictment of this entire civilization.

    We do not see ourselves as our brother’s and sister’s keepers. We see them most of the time as competition. Maybe this has, again, always been true – but never before has it been a cherished and widely accepted dogma, promoted by official propaganda.

    So what the cooperative does is link our fates and fortunes together in a way that necessitates closer cooperation, the Christian ideal of civic friendship. It is not a quick solution to all problems, it is only intended to be the first step in breaking the cycle of consumerism, atomization, demoralization, and mass murder.

  • Joe,

    I must say, neither of these are correct. No one is suggesting that ‘everything will be fixed’ – it is not a fair representation of what I believe.

    More importantly, however, the Popes have passed clear moral judgments on both economic liberalism and communism, and more recently on consumerism. Catholic social teaching is not, and cannot be made into, a guide for individuals to cope with unjust social structures. It is a guide for Catholics who do, or seek to, play a role in shaping society in various ways. I truly mean no offense, but I honestly cannot see how one can read a social encyclical or the Compendium and interpret them in the way that you do.

    Well, I’ll be honest: I’ve never read Quadragesimo Anno. I read Rerum Novarum some years back, and I’ve read a number of John Paul II’s encyclicals as well as Benedict XVI’s two thus far, but that’s about it.

    I have read a number of sections of the Compendium of Social Doctrine, and to be honest (braces for possible condemnations from all sides) it really annoys me as a document. I can see what is being attempted, but when one dives into the footnotes it quickly becomes clear that a lot of observations and comments being made by the pope (mostly John Paul II, of course, his output having been so high) in various addresses, greetings and travels. However, these are served up in a format that strikes me as purposefully similar to the Catechism, thus often giving the impression that observations or judgements regarding a particular time and place (and not necessarily beyond question or with long track records in Christian doctrine) are given the impression of being absolute doctrines of the Church. This strikes me as symptomatic of a particular modern form of political ultramontanism which will pick out a papal statement on a given topic, however passing or predicated on assumptions which may or may not be correct, and pass that statement off as “the Church’s teaching on X”.

    Thus, I’ve been told at various points that, “The Church teaches that global warming is one of the greatest threats in our modern age.” Or “The Church teaches that greed is the primary cause of the financial crisis.”

    But I digress…

    How’s this for a good faith offer: I’ll commit to reading and systematically blogging through Quadragesimo Anno this summer — though because of existing writing commitments it may not be till around July — and blogging through it as I go. If you’d be interested and have time, we could even do it as a series of co-written posts. If nothing else, I’m sure that I’ll learn something.

    We will agree to disagree I suppose on the amount of violence it takes to sustain the ‘American way of life’. 1.5 million dead babies a year through abortion is violence enough.

    As a toss out thought: I would very much question whether a complete elimination of abortion (and the resulting million plus extra births each year) would actually decrease the US standard of living at all. Indeed, in the long run it might well increase it.

    As for the work situation, I don’t know exactly what kind of work you do, but I do know that the typical American business is not a ‘community of solidarity’ in any meaningful sense of the term. Workers are often interchangible parts in a money-making machine. Unless you are particularly skilled, you are expendable. 80% of Americans work for a wage.

    I certainly wouldn’t consider the massive corporation I work for right now as being a “community of solidarity”, but then, I’m not sure that any organization of much more than a dozen people can have tight solidarity — and by the time you’re in the hundreds it seems quite impossible. And I do work for a wage, though not an hourly one. (Like many skilled US workers, I’m classified as “exempt” which means that so long as I get my allotted work done my employer is not legally able to fuss to much about whether I do it in 45 of 55 hours, and pays me the same regardless.)

    I would, however, describe my team as having a strong sense of solidarity. The one I’ve been on for the last two years consists of ten people. We work together on a daily basis, help each other as needed, know each other personally, and cover for each other when we’re out. Our manager is very open with us in all decision making, and has an open policy that he doesn’t keep track of vacation and sick time so long as we give him a couple days notice and don’t abuse the privilage. (So for instance, two members of the team who have had significant health problems over the last year were both simply covered for rather than having to go on disability.)

    I would see this as being pretty much how things ought to work. And although I recognize that most people are not so lucky in their current situations as I, in many ways I don’t think it’s at all unattainable in our existing economy.

    I do, however, want to see small enterprise grow much larger. Currently there are 20 million small businesses in the US that have no payroll — which means they are one or two person enterprises where all the income goes straight to the owners. They accounted for $970 Billion in sales in 2006, an average of 46k per company. There are another 5 million companies with twenty employees or less, employing 21 million Americans. There’s certainly been a major growth in this small business over the last few decades, but seeing more would of course be better.

  • Ok, quick reply:

    1) On the Church’s social teaching – having read most if not all of the encyclicals that the Compendium references, I think it is a faithful representation of a consistent line of thought, developed in each new historical era by the popes. What some guy tells you is one thing; what the teaching actually says is another. Usually, I don’t reference the Compendium, or if I do, only once – the rest of the time, I go to the source.

    2) Your proposal: I like it – I would only suggest that we then read Mater et Magistra and Laborem Exercens. It can be an ongoing study, however long it takes.

    3) It doesn’t matter. That abortion is an essential requisite for the social mobility of women is an article of faith among feminists and most leftists in America, not to mention the millions of women who get the abortions and the men who also participate. You know you can’t even win the statistic wars when it comes to currently existing phenomenon – forget about it when it comes to projections into the future.

    On the rest: I’ll save it for Laborem Exercens.

  • Even quicker:

    On the Church’s social teaching – having read most if not all of the encyclicals that the Compendium references, I think it is a faithful representation of a consistent line of thought, developed in each new historical era by the popes.

    I’m sure it is accurate on the encyclicals. My beef with it (and maybe this was the particular sections which I read, which as I recall involved living wage, unemployment benefits, welfare and environmental restrictions) was that the footnotes for the concrete policies which I had criticisms of all sourced minor talks and addresses, not encyclicals. I didn’t like that these fairly minor venues were being used to back up very definite policy prescriptions as if they were required by Catholic doctrine. I’d certainly agree they’re compatible with Catholic doctrine, but I don’t think they’re the only policy prescriptions which Catholics can support.

April Is Abortion Recovery Awareness Month

Friday, April 24, AD 2009

jindal-family-being-blessed

Hattip to Opinionated CatholicAbortion Recovery International, a group dedicated to helping women heal from the trauma of abortion has proclaimed April as Abortion Recovery Awareness Month.  Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, has issued a proclamation, as has Governor Rick Perry of Texas.  Bravo to the Governors!  Hey Jenkins, if Notre Dame really needs to honor a politician, you need look no farther than Catholic convert Bobby Jindal!

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Abortion Pride Movement

Tuesday, April 14, AD 2009

18-week-unborn-child

I am not easily shocked after participating in the struggle against abortion since 1973, but this article did shock me.  Taking pride in the deaths of millions of innocents each year?    Jesus wept.  The fight against abortion is the preeminent moral struggle of our time, first to save the lives of the most innocent among us, but second because of the damage that legal abortion does to our moral sense.  If we take pride in abortion, is there any crime that we cannot, and will not, take pride in?

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3 Responses to Abortion Pride Movement

  • But Donald! Donald! How can this be? I’ve been repeatedly assured that no one is pro-abortion!

    And Barack Obama wouldn’t lie about thing like that, would he?

  • Not surprised at all. Pro-abort movement is spectacularly shameless. But they show their coldness. Their addiction to the quick buck. Tough to make a legitimate argument beyond It’s My Body And I’ll Cry If I Want To (Lesley Gore 1964, produced by Quincy Jones.) The time is growing for a severe and fundamental revulsion against this ghastly practice. With or without support of Official Political or Chattering Classes- note their laffs over April 15 Tea Parties. No matter. Rachel will bewail her children.

  • “Like Appel, describing abortion as safe, legal, and rare” has always deeply offended me…the rare part, that is. Should women be rare? Should our sexuality and sexual expression be rare?”

    See what it always comes down to?

    Here is what I think, though – if even Obama is talking about “safe legal and rare”, about “abortion reduction”, the abortion movement loses moral ground. He and others like him have no choice. To promote abortion as a “good” thing would end up hurting abortion – but to promote it as a thing that ought to be “rare” doesn’t really help it either. I think we can thank those in the pro-life movement who have forced millions to see the graphic and brutal nature of abortion for this. All you have to do is tell the truth about abortion for people to reject it.

    On another note, I thought it was really interesting that at Rev. Walter Hoye’s arraignment (he was arrested for sidewalk counseling outside the “free speech zone), his supporters were young, multi-racial, equally composed of men and women.

    The supporters of the abortion clinic, by contrast, were old white people. And this was in San Francisco.

    And this article is written by another old white boomer, or maybe closer to gen X, its hard to tell from the picture.

Pope John Paul II On The "American Experiment"

Tuesday, October 7, AD 2008

As Zach indicates, the title of this blog itself is something of a quandary: what does it mean to be a Catholic in America? To participate in this great “American experiment” in ordered liberty? — these are questions which I’ll admit preoccupied me for some time now.

On December 16, 1997, Pope John Paul II welcomed the Honorable Lindy Boggs as Ambassador to the Holy See with the following words to her and the American people:

You represent a nation that plays a crucial role in world events today. The United States carries a weighty and far-reaching responsibility, not only for the well-being of its own people, but for the development and destiny of peoples throughout the world. With a deep sense of participation in the joys and hopes, the sorrows, anxieties, and aspirations of the entire human family, the Holy See is a willing partner in every effort to build a world of genuine peace and justice for all. …

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2 Responses to Pope John Paul II On The "American Experiment"

  • This gets me thinking about how a proper understanding of the American founding recognizes both the contractual aspect and, more importantly, the natural law aspect.

    Some critics of the American experiment overemphasize the contractual aspect and either totally neglect or ignore the natural law aspect involved in the American Founding, and because of this they have a very hard time appreciating what is significant about America.

    Liberalism, at least of the American variety, is not really value-neutral or totally utilitarian.

  • “But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic.”

    Great quote from Pope John Paul II.

    I agree with Zach here that we have dropped the ball on the passing down of these “moral truths”. To many of us have taken it for granted of the moral underpinnings embedded in America’s success.

    Hopefully we few Catholics can be the mustard seed to reinvigorate America once again.