Friday, June 12, 2015

The False Dichotomy Between 'Social Justice' and Catholic Purity

Last November, Michael Voris, Catholic traditionalist media agitator (as many would say) produced this feature on the topic of social justice:

And Voris is not alone in this "thinking" among traditionalist, conservative, and orthodox counterculture Catholics in America today. According to Anthony Annett, who wrote in the Catholic left-of-center journal, Commonweal:
...I would contend that few American Catholics in the modern era have surrendered more to the spirit of the age—the age of Reagan and the resurgence of free-market liberalism and aggressive militarism—than George Weigel.

For decades now, Weigel has been a thorn in the side of authentic Catholic social teaching, seeking to baptize economic liberalism and American exceptionalism with the waters of the Catholic faith. Alongside fellow travelers like Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak, he has been peddling the idea that Centesimus Annus—John Paul II’s landmark social encyclical from 1991—represented a decisive break with the past, a significant development of doctrine that saw the Church fully embrace capitalism and free market economics. A simple reading of the encyclical itself exposes the hollowness of such a claim. Yet Weigel et al actually produced an abridged version of the encyclical, which managed to remove the passages that went against their radical reading. Not exactly the height of honesty.

...Weigel sprung back into action with the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate in 2009, which was a profound reflection on the maladies of the modern global economy. This time, Weigel found it too difficult to expunge the offending elements, so he invented his own “encyclical exegesis”—calling on readers to distinguish the authentic “gold pen” of the pope and the false “red pen” of the leftists associated with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

...To add insult to injury, Weigel’s prudential analysis has so often been profoundly wrong. He fails to make the connection between the “liberationist” economic policies he espouses and the consequent breakdown in trust, social capital, and community bonds—to say nothing of financial instability and collapse. He fails to understand that the European financial crisis has little to do with the “welfare state”, and that the countries in northern Europe with the strongest social protections are also the healthiest economically. He fails to appreciate the gravity of the environmental crisis, and his free market zealotry and his nationalism preclude him from accepting that the government and the international community have vital roles to play. (emphasis mine)

...Nowhere has he been more wrong than with the Iraq war. This marks the true nadir of Weigel’s career. Completely ignoring his beloved John Paul II, Weigel engaged in mental gymnastics with the just war teaching, twisting and contorting it to defend the indefensible—the unprovoked “preventive” invasion and occupation of Iraq...This set in motion a catastrophic train of events, including the utter annihilation of the ancient Christian community in Iraq. Not only did Weigel once again provide cheap intellectual cover for his political overlords, but he has never taken any personal responsibility whatsoever for the evil consequences that flowed from his dreadful advice. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be big on personal responsibility? (emphasis mine)

...He also doesn’t shy away from getting nasty and personal. I’ve already mentioned his mockery of Cardinal’s Turkson’s office in the context of Caritas in Veritate. He did the same thing when Justice and Peace issued its financial reform document in 2011, opining that it came from the “lower echelons of the Roman Curia”. And in the context of the recent symposium on climate change, he refers to the distinguished chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/ Social Sciences as “a third-tier Vatican official with a taste for gauchiste politics and self-promotion”.

This is offensive stuff, and it’s time to draw the line. It’s time to stop taking George Weigel seriously, because his analysis is profoundly unserious. He is a relic of an undistinguished time, a leading instigator of a terrible ecclesial experiment. It’s time to change direction, and chart a new—but actually more traditional—course.
Some strong words, both ways. But where does the Official Church stand on the much-maligned matter of social justice? Writing in the New Oxford Review, a conservative/traditional Catholic magazine, Thomas Storck provides this perspective:
One area in which such confusion has been created during these years is that of the Church’s social doctrine. There are many reasons for this, one being that the doctrine was not well known or well received in some quarters even before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Another reason is that, as American society has become more politically polarized since the 1970s, in the minds of some Catholics anything that seems to call into question the fundamental justice of the American capitalist system is suspect. Take, for example, the term “social justice.” Pope Pius XI introduced this term into Catholic teaching in his encyclical Studiorum Ducem (1923). He later made extensive use of it in two landmark encyclicals, Quadragesimo Anno (1931) and Divini Redemptoris (1937). Subsequent popes have used it on a regular basis. But for some Catholics this term has the sound of an innovation, even a departure from Catholic doctrine. Of course, this is silly, for social justice is a legitimate development of the doctrine of the virtues dating back to Aristotle and is nowhere near being a new teaching. It is simply a new name given to a certain aspect of what was once known as “legal justice.” But for many who are not aware of the Aristotelian and Thomistic distinctions between the various forms of justice, “social justice” has a strange, foreign-sounding, socialist ring to it. Where did it come from, they might wonder. Unfortunately, there are too few around who can explain its origin or that it is simply a logical extension of age-old Catholic teaching on justice. Even among those who claim to champion social justice there are not many who could define it according to the mind of the Church

...Take another phrase, “preferential option for the poor.” Admittedly, this term does not have the pedigree of the earlier one, for it originated in 1968 and was coined by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, not by a pope. St. John Paul II, however, employed the phrase in his encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991), wherein he explained that the concept “is not limited to material poverty, since it is well known that there are many other forms of poverty, especially in modern society — not only economic but cultural and spiritual poverty as well. The Church’s love for the poor, which is essential for her and a part of her constant tradition, impels her to give attention to a world in which poverty is threatening to assume massive proportions” (no. 57).

...I can hear someone object, but almsgiving is voluntary, and that means one can give when one wants and however much (or little) one wants. No one can compel others to give, especially not the government. Too often, say these critics, present-day crusaders for social justice and a preferential option for the poor want to compel such aid, which surely is an act of theft.

As in the case of social justice, we must gently tell such critics that they are mistaken. Although voluntary almsgiving will certainly always be a necessary part of a Christian’s duty, both the duty and the justice of state aid to the poor have deep roots in Catholic history and doctrine, and have been expressly taught at least since Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), and even more clearly by Pius XI and later popes. One of the reasons the state’s duty of aiding the poor was not set forth in the same manner in earlier times was that the notion of the state as something separate from the monarch’s personal household was not fully articulated. Christian kings and nobles always gave alms, and no one questioned whether the funds they used belonged to them personally or to the government or to the commonwealth as a whole, as there was no clear distinction between these. The notion that money raised by the king through taxation could not be used for the poor would have been seen as preposterous to our Catholic ancestors.

...Today one can find Catholics with a zeal for social justice and for the poor who ignore most of the rest of Catholic teaching on faith and morals; similarly, one can find Catholics with a zeal for correct doctrine and good personal morals who ignore the Church’s heritage of care for the poor and her zeal for justice. Both camps might learn from each other, for to be an authentic and orthodox Catholic absolutely requires adherence to all that the Church sets forth for us to believe and do. The Catholic who ignores or belittles social justice is as much a cafeteria Catholic as is he who ignores or belittles teachings on sexual morality. When, one wonders, will the majority of Catholics finally learn that we cannot pick and choose among the Church’s teachings, and that the political divisions of the world have no place in the household of God?
Worth noting is Storck's reply to a letter to the editor further criticizing social justice in the July-August 2014 edition:
...Charity toward the poor and an apostolate for social justice are two distinct things, but the Church has generally been distinguished in both of these areas. With regard to the latter, from at least the 1930s on, Catholics maintained a robust apostolate of social justice, featuring labor priests (priests assigned to minister to the labor movement who in some cases actively aided unions in strikes), the beginnings of the Catholic Worker movement, and above all, the encyclicals of popes such as Pius XI, who were not afraid of harshly criticizing the capitalist economic system. How I’d love to see a return to those days! Today, on the other hand, many Catholics seem to think that we must choose between “religious exercises and devotions” or social justice, but our fathers in the faith knew better, knew indeed that they are intimately connected. The first without the second is a false and empty religion; the second without the first is mere social work or political activity...Mr. Borger [the letter writer] appears to have an incomplete understanding of Catholic social doctrine. It is not a matter of a “European preference for a planned, centrally controlled economy,” as he suggests... But unfortunately I fear that Mr. Borger’s difficulty goes beyond a simple misunderstanding. He seems determined to cling to his economic ideas, even if they can be shown to differ from those of the Church. He goes on to say that conservative Catholics believe that the U.S. has “done very well with economic freedom, and they oppose any scheme, even if it comes from the Vatican, that compromises that freedom. If that makes conservative Catholics like me who subscribe to this viewpoint ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ as Storck charges, then so be it.”

Well, at least Mr. Borger is honest. He makes no bones about his willingness to be a dissenting Catholic. Need more be said? For myself, I make no apologies for adhering to all the teachings of the Church. But for Mr. Borger, America, and not the Church, seems to be his primary loyalty. All I can add is that I hope Mr. Borger will not be too surprised when he is joined in his dissent from Catholic teaching by others — proponents of abortion and same-sex “marriage,” for example — who also delight in American freedom and who, like Mr. Borger, find their deepest identity as Americans, not Catholics...
The rise of 20th century atheist Communism prioritized the focus on free markets for many religious people in the U.S. But even John Paul II was able to stay grounded as Communists had advanced, but were ultimately defeated in his native Eastern Europe. Before Communism was (Protestant) Calvinism, which ultimately flourished in the states by the 18th century. People were free, but were on their own to make their own way. The need for alms meant lack of work ethic, which was among the worst vices. This became part of the American spirit's DNA, and is prime to the libertarians and current G.O.P., thus, what's popularly "conservative." So in the "logic" of guys like Voris, Weigel, the letter writer above, and even certain younger "traditional" priests I've known, the suppression of social justice -- which is indeed more in line with today's Democrats (but also many European right-of-center groups) -- both in the Church and in society, will actually help restore the Church to her former glory. As Voris thunders, it's all about "saving souls," nothing else. But how do you save souls -- starting with your own -- if as a spokesman for TRUE Catholic teaching, you rip apart well-established Papal teaching -- that preceded Vatican II?? Truly thinking with the Church would be a start.

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