Category: Christian Social Thought

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEPope Francis needs distributism, argues Arthur W. Hunt III in the latest issue of The American Conservative. Hunt says that Americans and popes alike can embrace a humane alternative to modern capitalism:

In the midst of their scramble to claim the new Pope, many on the left missed what the Pontiff said was a nonsolution. The problems of the poor, he said, could not be solved by a “simple welfare mentality.” Well, by what then? The document is clear: “a better distribution of income.” And how might this be achieved? Through the “right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good,” to exercise some control against an “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

The Pope called for a kinder and gentler capitalism. Admittedly, he did not provide many policy details other than, “We can no longer trust the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market … it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income.” It is that phrase, “distribution of income,” that struck fear into Palin and Limbaugh, and perhaps even Reno. It smacks of socialism—what Reno called the only and obvious alternative to capitalism. Reno briskly passed over any notion of a third solution, one many sons and daughters of Rome have rallied to for over a century.

The word distributism does not appear in the treatise, and nowhere does Francis fall back on his predecessors or Catholic intellectuals who have supported a third way of economic ordering. Nevertheless, policies that allow for the flourishing of smaller economic units while at the same time valuing work and broader property ownership are consistent with Catholic social teaching.

Despite not being Catholic myself, I found almost nothing in Hunt’s article all that objectionable. The only point of true disagreement is the claim that distributism is an alternative to either capitalism or socialism. Distributism is not an alternative at all, for distributism doesn’t actually exist.

Over the past hundred years there have been numerous explanations for why distributism is unrealistic and unworkable as a “third-way” alternative. Here are four that should suffice to point out why no one — whether a pope or plumber — needs distributism:
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buddiesThere is a lot of talk about “closing the gap” and overcoming “income inequality.” Some of it is pure socialism: Redistribute! Redistribute! Others look for ways to create jobs and help people create new financial opportunities for themselves.

But what about the simple gift of friendship?

At The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead suggests that friendship can bridge income gaps, and creates safety nets for people in ways government and even private agencies cannot. We all have close friends and family we know we can count on, but Olmstead (quoting Richard Beck) says “weak ties” must not be overlooked. “Weak ties” would be that sorority sister you actually haven’t laid eyes on in 12 years, but talk to daily on Facebook, or that second cousin you only see at family weddings and funerals.

Weak ties—distant relatives, acquaintances from our neighborhood or past—are usually more diverse in their background, tastes, and employment. This wider “social web” gives us philanthropic ammunition: when you see someone in need, you don’t just bring your own talents and gifts to the table. You bring everyone you’ve ever met—”Bluntly, you might not be able to help this person in a particular situation but you might know someone else who can. In sacramental friendships you are bringing the gift of your weak ties.”

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TaxCollectorDuring the 20th century, the option for the poor or the preferential option for the poor was articulated as one of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. For example, in Octogesima Adveniens (1971), Pope Paul VI writes:

In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.

Yet while all Christians — not just Catholics — should express a kinship for the less fortunate, Nathan Duffy reminds us that Jesus also expressed a “special, unique concern for wealthy tax collectors.”
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In this short talk, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, offers some general observations about this week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican, and reflects on the differences in philosophy that make a Presidential/Papal alliance such as what occurred during the time of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II unlikely.

AGIOS-LOYKASAt Patheos, Joel J. Miller discusses how God uses work to fashion our souls:

Not long ago I looked at an icon of Archbishop Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, a recent Orthodox saint who lived from 1877 to 1961. Following the fashion, the image was timeless. It could have been painted a thousand years ago. But there in the icon — to my surprise — were surgical implements!

The archbishop worked as a surgeon and scientist. He was well known for his prowess with a scalpel and the quality of his research work, captured in his many articles and papers.

“I help people as a physician,” he once said, “and I help them as a servant of the Church. . . .”

It’s common in icons to see holy objects: scrolls, books, crosses, prayer ropes. But here were tools of a trade. Of course, in the rights hands, for the right service, those tools are seen by the church as holy objects too.

Read more . . .

In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

dv1693021Modern rhetoric of income inequality is driven by covetous envy, says Russell Nieli. Caritas, humility, gratitude, and goodwill toward others are a healthy society’s answer to the ancient curses of envy and pride:

The problem of the chronically poor is that they are chronically poor, not that some people make a lot more money than other people and bring about “inequality.” The fact that some fail to earn enough to live at a decent level is a genuine social problem. The fact that those who are not poor are widely dispersed in terms of how much they earn is not.

Under the rhetoric of “inequality,” covetous envy—including that of the upper-middle-class for the truly affluent—has reared its ugly head. Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to fund universal pre-kindergarten education by an income tax increase solely on the income of the highest income earners making more than $500,000 a year, who already pay city income taxes at the highest graduated rate, is an iconic example of this newer tendency to combine genuine anti-poverty concerns with envy-driven, soak-the-rich taxation policies. It is perhaps no accident that New York’s upper middle class (those making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually) voted for de Blasio in greater proportion than many New Yorkers in lower income brackets.

Read more . . .

“Social Justice” is a term you hear almost every day. But did you ever hear anybody define what it actually means? In the latest video for Prager University, Jonah Goldberg says that if you ask ten liberals to define social justice you’ll get ten different responses.

Goldberg, referencing Frederick Hayek, says that underlying the term “social justice” is a pernicious philosophical claim that freedom must be sacrificed in order to redistribute income. A few years ago on his radio program, Glenn Beck made similar claims and encouraged listeners to leave their church if it proclaims a concern for social justice:
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This past Saturday, I attended the Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship (APTE) 2014 summit. APTE is a student group at OSU in Columbus, OH, and they put together a wonderful cast of ten speakers on the subject of the future of social entrepreneurship. With seven pages of notes (front and back), I unfortunately cannot cover every detail of the conference, but instead I will briefly focus on a theme that recurred throughout the afternoon: private, often for-profit, solutions to public service problems facing the poor.

APTE brought together an impressive lineup of speakers for two rounds of individual presenters, followed by a Twitter Q&A, with a panel discussion on the city of Detroit in between the two groups: (more…)

Forgotten FaithToday at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.

With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,

… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:

Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.

He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life.  He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.

This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. (more…)