"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Catholic social teaching needs to be lived and understood in the Church

Building on Tom's post from yesterday, here's a link to a call for a greater appreciation and integration of Catholic social teaching in the life of the Church, posted a good bit ago over at The Western Confucian: Inculturating Catholic Social Teaching. One of the problems with the way Catholic social teaching is commonly discussed is that it almost always gets simplified along the lines of standard statist interventionism in the economy.  Catholic social teaching is far more sophisticated than that, dealing with the interplay of both state action & private property within the context of the overarching values of solidarity between people, the need to pursue the common good, and the practice of subsidiarity within levels of government. This sophisticated approach to the Catholic way of thinking about political & legal questions, grounded deeply in Thomistic thought, gets lost too much of the time. That's a real shame.

As Br. Charles over at A Minor Friar has pointed out, there's another negative consequence to misunderstanding Catholic social thought: a separation between social justice and evangelization. Catholic social teaching is part of the Church's broader message about redemption and the reconciliation between God and man brought about through Jesus Christ. Br. Charles writes:
There is a sense that we have our faith, we celebrate it at the Eucharist, and then we are called to go out into the world and work for justice. This is true as far as it goes, but I think we sometimes forget that the love of God and the Eucharist are themselves the social program par excellence. Yes, goods like a living wage, honest work, and access to health care and education are all things we should work for on behalf of those who need them, but in the end the old cliche holds: Jesus is the answer. In other words, we are good at remembering that we are called to struggle against social injustice, but because the world tells us to keep our religion to ourselves, we conveniently forget that God himself is the remedy for the ills of society.
That's exactly right.  The struggle for proper order in society must involve the preaching of the Gospel, because ultimately the only deep answer to the problems of this earthly sojourn are found in God's revelation of himself through his Son Jesus Christ.  As Christians, our concern for others is rooted in the love of God that we have been shown through Jesus Christ.  As St. John tells us, "The command we have from Christ is blunt: loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both" (1 John 4:21, The Message translation).  The reason Christians love & care for people is because of the love they have for God, a love which is itself a gift from God manifested in the Gospel. To quote St. John once again, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19, New American Bible translation). Once that truth is obscured, work for justice becomes divorced from faith in Christ, and a meaningful commitment to Catholic social teaching becomes impossible.

A spiritual life in Christ is a necessary component to Catholic social teaching.  They are linked . And it is from the spiritual life, which comes from God and is oriented to him, that Catholic social teaching gains its power. As Bl. Oscar Romero put it:
When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise. He comes to free us from sin, and the church knows that sin’s consequences are all such injustices and abuses. The church knows it is saving the world when it undertakes to speak also of such things.
¡Bl. Oscar Romero, ruega por nosotros!


Tom Van Dyke said...

Without the constraints of natural law--that what is dictated by it isn't just Christian "love" but because it is good for man and concordant with his nature--a sentimental Catholic social science can reduce Christianity to a mere Beatitudism.

Further, if you're going to tie social policy to religious belief, they're going to rule it unconstitutional [except of course if it's congenial to the leftist agenda].

Which is pretty much the impression Pope Francis left behind: all body, no soul.

Mark DeForrest said...

I'm not arguing against natural law or prudential politics, Tom. I am simply stating the point that for social doctrine to be Catholic, it has to be grounded in the Gospel and the message of Jesus about the care we are to have for one another. The point of my post was how the Church should understand its social teaching from within its own borders, not how that social teaching is presented as part of a broader effort to influence policy in a pluralistic and officially non-establishmentarian federal republic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, we'd like our non-Catholic readers not to feel left out. ;-)

That said, these things can be discussed at arm's length, explaining Catholic social teaching without requiring belief in Christ. According to at least some natural law theory, the natural law is self-proving and works on all levels--in fact my favorite explication of it is by the atheist Murray Rothbard.


"Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil."--Grotius

Tim Kowal said...

Too often, Christianity's principal export is mere Beatitudism, a more marketable product than the gospel. This reduces Christianity to a crude (and, without the gospel, ineffective and mostly pointless) social welfare policy. I take that to be Mark's point.

Tom's is, I take it, that so long as we're exporting Beatitudism, Aquinas wrote the user's manual.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That and that if the social policy is congenial to Aquinas, it'll likely be a good one, and certainly a well thought out one. [Neither would I want to scare the skittish away by aligning it too close to religion. They hate when that happens, so much so that they'd rather have bad policy. Anything but religion!]