Posts tagged with: Catholic social doctrine

Both the religious right and left have weighed in during the heated federal budget battle as Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget has seen its fair share of support and criticism from many religious leaders.

In a recent article appearing in Our Sunday Visitor Congressman Ryan explains how he used Catholic social doctrine to help draft his proposed budget opening up with his views on it should be utilized by politicians:

Catholic social doctrine is indispensable for officeholders, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to understand it. The wrong way is to treat it like a party platform or a utopian plan to solve all of society’s problems. Social teaching is not the monopoly of one political party, nor is it a moral command that confuses the preferential option for the poor with a preferential option for bigger government.

[…]

Policymakers apply timeless principles to policies that are necessarily limited by changing circumstances. The judgments of equally well-intentioned citizens may differ. Usually, there isn’t just one morally valid policy. Instead, there are better and worse ones calling for respectful dialogue and thoughtful judgment. The moral principles are dogmatic; the political responses are prudential.

Throughout the article Congressman Ryan defends his proposed budget by articulating how the poor and vulnerable will benefit, how it preserves human dignity, that it creates budgetary discipline (which according to the Congressman is a moral imperative), and abides by the principle of subsidiarity.

Furthermore, Congressman Ryan argues the U.S. government cannot keep the principles promoted by Catholic social doctrine if the country defaults stating: “Preferences for the poor, solidarity, subsidiarity, the common good and human dignity are disregarded when governments default and bankrupt economies stop producing. Economic well-being is a foundation stone of an enduring ‘civilization of love.’”

Here at the Acton Institute we also understand the importance of passing a federal budget that is morally sound. We wrote our Principles for Budget Reform where readers can find articles, videos, and blog posts in support of four vital principles.

To read the full article click here.

Click here to read the Acton Institute’s Principles for Budget Reform.

Back in 1983, economist Thomas Sowell wrote The Economics and Politics of Race, an in-depth look at how different ethnic and immigrant groups fared in different countries throughout human history. He noted that some groups, like the overseas Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, tended to thrive economically no matter where they went, bringing new skills to the countries that they arrived in and often achieving social acceptance even after facing considerable hatred and violence. Other groups, like the Irish and the Africans, tended to lag economically and found it difficult to become prosperous.

Sowell explained many of these differences by looking at the cultures both of the immigrant groups and of the dominant powers in the countries that they moved to. The Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, for example, valued work. They often arrived in countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, but they worked long and hard hours in menial labor and saved money scrupulously to make life better for their children. Even if they lacked social acceptance, they were allowed the freedom to develop their talents and contribute to the economic life of their new homes.

Irish and African cultures were never offered these opportunities. Ireland’s feuding lords had prevented hard work from being rewarded in Ireland, a situation that only got worse with British occupation. Sowell shows how Africans were similarly discouraged from working hard because slavery and the Jim Crow Era made it impossible for skills and effort to pay off in better standards of living. So long as hard work never paid off, there was no incentive for Irish or African cultures to emphasize entrepreneurship, and the members of these ethnic groups suffered from poverty rates much higher than those of other populations in the places they lived.

Fast forward to 2009. With many of the institutional barriers to the advancement of ethnic minorities gone from most countries, historically disadvantaged groups are catching up with the general population in economic terms. Pope Benedict revisited the theme of economics and culture in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, coming to similar conclusions as Sowell does about the role that culture plays in the development of the human person. (more…)

One of Pope Benedict XVI’s great emphases in his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is the idea of gift. A gift is something that we have received without earning. As the Pope wisely notes, “The human being is made for gift,” even though man is often “wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society.”

The truth is that we are not the authors of our own lives. We did not earn or create the conditions that make our lives what they are. We did not merit our genetic code, and we are not worthy of the parents that we had growing up. Neither do we have ourselves to thank for our societies and the opportunities that they hold. To some degree, hard work, creativity, and self-cultivation can enable us to better ourselves and our lives. That this is even the case is not because of our own efforts, though. We are not the reason that merit can lead to success.

We live lives gifted to us in a world gifted to us by God. God is not random, and He has reasons for giving each of us the gifts that He has. We do not by any means know what those reasons are much of the time, but we can use our reason to search for them. Reason shows us that we as humans are social beings, meant to live in coexistence with one another and to seek the common good and the wellbeing of everyone. The gift of our lives and our own particular gifts are meant to benefit the whole of humanity and not just ourselves. As Caritas in Veritate puts it, gift “takes first place in our souls as a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us.” Gift, then, is the basis for duty. We have not earned what we have and are or the world in which we live; therefore, we do not have license or entitlement over our gifts. We have duties to use them for the common good.

What, then, is the best way to organize society such that the gifts given to each are used for the benefit of all? One possibility is to empower a central authority to identify the gifts of each person, then to have that authority determine how we are to use our gifts. This is the totalitarian tendency, the desire for an authority to have total control over the resources gifted to persons and to all people. (more…)

A number of journalists and some pundits on the religious left are aiming to own Caritas in Veritate, the new papal encyclical on economics. To them, the encyclical is a polemic against globalization and even the free market itself.

Jacqueline Salmon over at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” page, quotes Vincent Miller, a professor who characterizes the encyclical as a “trenchant critique of capitalism,” before she claims that Caritas in Veritate “places the usually conservative pontiff on the left as to economic issues.” Certainly, the Pope decried immoral profits and a lack of transparency in the business world. In making her point, though, Salmon conveniently ignored the sections of the encyclical that praised trade’s role in lifting “billions of people out of misery,” called globalization a “possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale,” and warned about the dangers of the “all-encompassing welfare state.”

Matthew Boudway at “dotCommonweal,” the blog of Commonweal, similarly concludes that the Pope wants a more leftist approach to economics: “Justice through redistribution is a properly political concern… The market ‘needs to be directed.’” Boudway is not incorrect to say that the Pope expects the state to have the authority to redistribute wealth and to govern the economy. He fails to examine the principle of subsidiarity, though, which Caritas in Veritate reaffirms as essential to the political order. Decisions ought to be delegated to the smallest competent authority. One has to wonder if Boudway’s conception of justice is nearer to the Pope’s idea of governance seeking the common good in the economy, or to what the Pope warningly refers to as the “all-encompassing welfare state” that makes people dependent and unable to live up to their responsibilities. Making social security and public welfare efficient and personal, as well as protective, are balances that need to be struck, but that does not lead us to conclude that Caritas in Veritate justifies point-blank expansions of the current state assistance system.

Writing at “Opinion L.A.,” L.A. Times editor Michael McGough suggests that capitalist Catholics are little more than cafeteria Catholics because of their “discomfort” at the Church’s social doctrine. Not everyone over at Acton is Catholic, but we certainly don’t feel that our free market tendencies are out of touch with our faith lives. Indeed, we are eager to see how the Pope’s calls for transparency, accessibility, and opportunity in markets through reducing trade barriers, expanding micro-credit, and strengthening civil society will help the poor by advancing liberty. We are also hopeful that reminding the world again of the need for subsidiarity and investment rather than bureaucracy and government-to-government aid will help reduce the obstacles that the state can place in front of the poor.

Caritas in Veritate is about how to have a responsible globalization and development that serves moral ends and empowers everyone. It is also about putting morality at the forefront of every sphere of life, from bioethics to economics, and remembering that, when it comes to the world of finance, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”

Catholics who believe in economic freedom should see the new encyclical as an opportunity to highlight our ability to make markets work and to remember that freedom must always be undergirded by a morality aiming at the common good. We cannot allow the Left to reduce this document to just another political manifesto. It is far above that, as a statement of integral humanism, pervasive morality, and the need to ensure that the rules of society are just. It is a teaching document, not a partisan bludgeon.

Blog author: mcavedon
posted by on Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Click here for the text of Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and keep checking back here at the Acton PowerBlog for more commentary.