“When Christian institutions attempt to mitigate or compromise this understanding of their mission–often as the result of the political pressure–they morph into shadowy versions of their former selves,” writes Rev. Robert A. Sirico. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 24), Rev. Sirico explains that by losing the Christological dimension, Christian charitable work becomes essentially secular. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
Article: “Catholicism, Human Rights and the Public Sphere”
Christopher McCrudden, International Journal of Public Theology
This article suggests that the scope and meaning of human rights, and its relationship to religion, is anything but settled, and that this gives an opportunity to those who support a role for religion in public life to intervene. Such intervention should address four main issues. First, it should ensure that judges engage in attempting to understand religious issues from a cognitively internal viewpoint. Secondly, it should articulat a justification for freedom of religion that fully captures the core of the significance of religious belief, and the importance of the religious principles in the public sphere. Thirdly, it should ensure engagement and dialogue between the churches and others on the meaning of human dignity, given its centrality to religious and secular perspectives on rights. Lastly, the churches should consider more carefully what it means to give ‘public reasons’ in the political and cultural context, and how it can engage in the process of ‘public reasoning’ regarding human rights.
Article: “New Challenges for Catholic-Inspired NGOs in Light of Caritas in Veritate“
Jane Adolphe, Catholic Social Science Review
The non-governmental organization (NGO) is perceived not only as a disseminator of information, monitor of human rights, or provider of services, but also as a shaper of national, regional, and international policy. Many members of the lay faithful, working with others from various Christian denominations, have established NGOs to monitor and to promote the rights of the unborn, the natural family, and many other topics of common interest. These NGOs lobby at the national, regional, and international levels. This paper discusses the role of the Catholic-inspired NGO on the international level with reference to the thought of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.
International Conference on “Governance and Sustainable Development: Building Commerce and Communities,” Coimbatore, India 10th-13th December, 2012. With increasing calls for greater accountability and efficient management of sustainable development, there are also greater demands for more effective governance in this area. The overarching aim of the conference is to provide a forum for stimulating debate and exchange of ideas by exploring the latest developments in the governance of sustainable development from a variety of perspectives including environmental sustainability, social enterprise, corporate governance, legal pluralism, and social investment. The conference will appeal to academics, professionals from both business and non-profit entities, and policy makers.
The Operations Editor would work with the JBIB editor to identify data bases and journal listings that the JBIB should be in, to assist with printing and other logistics, and to help guide the future of the JBIB in the fast-paced academic journal industry.
The Book and Media Editor would work with the editorial staff of the JBIB to manage media reviews for the journal. The Editor should understand the nature of media in the 21st century, be organized, be experienced in the classroom, and be of an inquiring mind.
The course I taught was a survey of some major themes in the Catholic social tradition, with readings from Augustine, Aquinas, Maritain, and the modern papal encyclicals and conciliar documents. Interested readers can see the syllabus here. Guest speakers Father Robert Dodaro, OSA and Father Stephen Brock brought their great expertise to bear on our discussions of Augustine and Aquinas, and I took the class on a side trip to the magnificent Augustinian mother church in Rome, the Basilica Sant’Agostino, which includes the tomb of St. Monica and a wonderful Caravaggio (Madonna di Loreto).
In a paper at the symposium I noted in yesterday’s post, Richard Helmholtz described the application of natural law in a particular case in which the judges observed that “charity begins at home,” since “it is a natural impulse to do good to one’s own family.”
Because of the wonders of digital publishing and public libraries, I was able to borrow an ebook version of Winter’s Bone from my local library. As I noted yesterday, there’s a scene in the film that powerfully evokes a recognition of natural moral obligations, in this case to one’s neighbor.
In the book version, however, this scene is even more prominent, as it concludes the very first chapter (in the book, Ree’s brother is named Harold):
She heard the door behind her squeak and Harold, age eight, dark and slight, stood in pale long johns, holding the knob, fidgeting from foot to foot. He raised his chin, gestured toward the meat trees across the creek.
“Maybe tonight Blond Milton’ll bring us by one to eat.”
“That could be.”
“Don’t kin ought to?”
“That’s what is always said.”
“Could be we should ask.”
She looked at Harold, with his easy smile, black hair riffling in the wind, then snatched his nearest ear and twisted until his jaw fell loose and he raised his hand to swat at hers. She twisted until he bore up under the pain and stopped swatting.
“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.”
In this account from the book the relation between Ree’s family and her neighbors is more obviously that of “kin,” although even in the film this seems to be the kind of region where nearly everyone is related in one way or another.
Indeed, claims on the moral obligations of “kin” are a foundational theme on the development of the rest of the story’s plot. The audience takes the journey with Ree, discovering just what is expected of kin and what might be actually delivered in this concrete situation.
Whatever Ree gets, however, doesn’t come easy. In the book she’s sixteen years old with “a body made for loping after needs.”
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Galatians 2:10 NIV
This video is part of an extended interview with Rev. Dr. John Dickson (Director, Centre for Public Christianity and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University) for The Faith Effect, a project of World Vision Australia. (HT: Justin Taylor)
Update: I should also add that a useful collection of primary texts on the social thought of the early church is edited by Peter C. Phan, Social Thought (Michael Glazier, 1984).
Yesterday in his personal column for the Diocese of Madison’s Catholic Herald, Bishop Robert C. Morlino issued a call to arms to Catholics battling for their religious freedom.
But such a battle, he says, is one that should emulate Christ’s loving nature, while being resolutely clear and firm in rejecting the obligation of Catholic institutions to provide healthcare that includes contraceptives and abortifacients under the Obama administration’s controversial HHS mandate (see recent reactions below on EWTN by U.S. bishops and Acton’s President, Rev. Robert Sirico).
While no doubt the Madison bishop is aware of Christianity’s bloody history of self-sacrifice in defense of religious liberty, any fight should not, in his opinion, automatically involve escalations of physical violence and warfare.
This non-violent perception is very unlike that of the Hollywood film of heroic Catholic martyrdom – Cristiada – which I reviewed last week at a Vatican screening. Perhaps many of us might daydream of Bishop Morlino trading in his miter for a sombrero and staff for a rifle to become the invincible Zorro-like Generale Gorostieta of the Cristiada film – gunning down one federale after another all the way to a Catholic coup d’état of ObamaCare. Surely mental fodder for another Hollywood epic drama!
For this Catholic bishop it is the simple power of Christian Truth and Charitable Love that will help Catholics prevail in their frustrating battles with the U.S. government. The laity need to arm themselves with these two great weapons of faith. Bishop Morlino believes in putting up a good fight, especially one that respects the Vatican II’s encouragement of building up an effective, reasoning Catholic culture of “lay mission”.
In witnessing the 500-strong that protested peacefully in front of a Madison federal building, Morlino was proud to see the laity shouldering the burden in defending Catholic religious liberty in a charitable, yet determined fashion:
I was privileged to be a witness to religious freedom and freedom of conscience with nearly 500 faithful people at the Federal building in downtown Madison. Such rallies had been quickly organized around our nation and I know that not all who might have come were able (or even aware of the events).
Those who were able to gather, however, were in large part Catholic (though not all), and in being there, they were really doing what the Second Vatican Council meant by “lay mission,” that is, applying the standards of God’s Kingdom to the real world.
That is the true role that the Church was trying to enliven in the laity through Vatican II — faithful people witnessing actively to today’s world, bringing the Church into the world of today (as opposed to the idea that the main way one can be an “active” Catholic is by performing different liturgical roles)…
Let’s make sure we are charitable, but let’s make sure we are clear and we are heard. Sometimes we can be tempted wrongly to think that charity and reasonableness are excuses for acting like wimps.
To read the rest of Bishop Morlino’s column and his pastoral advice to Catholics go here.
While reading the Wall Street Journal not so long ago, I came across an article and two opinion pieces that, each in their way, told a story far different than one rendered in Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming album, Wrecking Ball.
At first listening, Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” chugs along with some of the best of the Boss’ rock anthems. But the song’s lyrics convey a deeply cynical despair about our nation’s charitable nature. Springsteen says we in the United States simply don’t do enough to tend to the less fortunate. And, in his Albert Schweitzer meets Florence Nightingale way, he invokes our nation’s predominantly Judeo-Christian heritage.
In “We Take Care of Our Own,” Springsteen lyrically conjures God’s sacrifice of Christ for humankind’s redemption. “I’ve been knocking on the door” – a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” – “that holds the throne,” presumably the one occupied by God. “I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone/The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone.” Never mind that Springsteen inadvertently forgets it’s the road to hell, not heaven, which is paved with those good intentions.
“From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/We yelled ‘help’ but the cavalry stayed home/There ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown.” In this verse, Springsteen conveniently ignores the churches, faith-based relief agencies, private companies and millions of individuals who opened their hearts and wallets to help those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Listening deeper into the song, the audience may discern biblical allusions – the cavalry representing the location where God sacrificed his only Son, and the bugle no one hears belonging to Gabriel. In other words, for all of our religious talk in the United States, according to Springsteen, we simply don’t put our money where our mouths are.
Springsteen’s manager told Rolling Stone that his new LP has “social overtones” and a “very pronounced spiritual dimension.” The magazine cited another source who confided that the rocker “gets into economic justice quite a bit.”
But is Springsteen’s “economic justice” based on sound “spiritual” footings?
In the issue of the January 30 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Aryeh Spero writes: “[T]he Bible’s prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy’s saying that ‘Judges and officers … shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not … favor one over the other.’ Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.”
If Springsteen missed the Rabbi’s essay, he might’ve read Warren Kozak’s opinion piece in the Journal, which appeared on the same page. Kozak writes that the “U.S. government spends close to $1 trillion a year providing cash, food, housing, medical care and services to poor and near-poor people. Of that figure, about $111 billion is spent on food in federal and state programs.” Kozak quotes 2009 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reveal that nearly 50 million U.S. citizens are classified as poor. However, the Census Bureau also finds that 96 percent of poor parents assert that “their children were never hungry” and 83 percent “of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and 82 percent of poor adults said they were never hungry at any time in 2009 due to a lack of food or money.”
One hopes these statistics, in part, answer Springsteen’s closing questions in “We Take Care of Our Own”: “Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see/Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy/Where’s the love that has not forsaken me/Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free/Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me/Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?”
If not, perhaps the following facts may reacquaint Springsteen with the spirit of American giving. Left unmentioned in Kozak’s essay are the results of the 2010 Charities Aid Foundation global survey, which, like many other suveys, singles out the United States as one of the most generous nations in private giving and volunteer activity. Of the 150,000 citizens from 153 countries surveyed by the Gallup organization, 65 percent of Americans donated money; 43 percent of Americans volunteered their time; and 73 percent of Americans helped a stranger.
Maybe Springsteen doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal, or avoids newspaper opinion pieces altogether. Had he read a straight news story in the same issue of the Journal, however, he may have learned something new in an article titled “Charities Ended 2011 on High Note.” Journalist Melanie Grayce West reports that The Salvation Army raised $147.6 million in its Red Kettle campaign – up nearly 4 percent from 2010 and 6 percent from 2009.
Alas, this amount is still $100 million less than Springsteen’s estimated net worth. While the rocker is recognized often for his generous charitable giving – I did that too in an Acton Institute article in 2004 – it’s more than a little strange to be lectured about our “fair share” by an extremely wealthy American celebrity.
Springsteen is entitled to his opinions and all that, and, further, he is guaranteed the freedom to publish whatever agitprop he wishes — especially if it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. But “We Take Care of Our Own” just doesn’t pass muster with the information readily available on any given day in any reputable news source.
At some point in the past few decades, Springsteen began patterning his songwriting on the supposed social consciousness of folksingers Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs. Ochs once recorded an album titled All the News That’s Fit to Sing. Springsteen would perform a tremendous favor to the better-informed members of his enormous fan base – this writer included – by actually reading a newspaper.
Bruce Edward Walker writes on the arts from Midland, Michigan.
My recent piece in The American Spectator took the left to task for its misuse of the terms justice and social justice. The piece was more than a debate over semantics. In it I noted that Sojourners and its CEO, Jim Wallis, continue to promote well-intended but failed strategies that actually hurt the social and economic well-being of poor communities. I also called on everyone with a heart for the poor to set aside a top-down model of charity that “has trapped so many humans in a vicious cycle of paternalism and dependency” and instead to focus “on cultivating political and economic freedom for the world’s poor.” Sojourners’ Tim King responded here and then emailed me to ask for my thoughts on his response. I’ll start by emphasizing a few areas of agreement, adding a caveat here and there so as not to overstate the areas of overlap, and then I’ll move on to some areas of difference.
First, it’s a matter of record that politicians and other opinion leaders from both major U.S. parties have supported various forms of government-directed charity over the past several decades. Tim King is completely justified in pointing this out, and it’s important to recognize this state of affairs, since it reminds us that transforming the way we do charity won’t occur simply by voting one party out of power. Substantive change will require cultural transformation.
A second area of agreement is that, yes, there is such a thing as smart aid. PovertyCure has a good discussion of smart aid versus damaging aid here, as well as a page here on the good, the bad and the ugly in efforts to fight malaria. And in this Acton Commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse discusses some of the lessons learned in the battle against AIDS in Africa.
Third, Tim King’s blog post gives the reader the impression that that I consigned all uses of the term “social justice” to everlasting perdition, or that I want to ban the use of adjectives from the English language or something. My position is actually a bit more nuanced than this. In my article I noted that the term social justice has “a justifiable raison d’être,” “stretches back to 19th century Catholic social thought” and “was used in the context of nuanced explorations of law, ethics, and justice.” I didn’t have space to elaborate on this in the Spectator article, so I pointed to additional resources in this follow-up blog post.
King went on to say that the adjective social in social justice “highlights that justice deals with systems and structures within a society, not just with individual people. Justice can occur through the punishment of a single person for wrongdoing, but also through ending slavery or apartheid.” Absolutely. Justice deals with those things, a point I underscored in my article.
The thing is, though, that’s not how the religious left generally uses the term social justice, a reality that Tim King himself demonstrated by immediately pointing to the Circle of Protection statement as an embodiment of social justice principles. The statement is about preserving top-down government spending programs on behalf of the poor.
Another way to see how ordinary justice is being leeched out of Sojourners’ brand of social justice is to look at its official position on abortion. On the organization’s Issues page, under “What is Your Position on Abortion?” Sojourners emphasizes that “All life is a sacred gift from God, and public policies should reflect a consistent ethic of life.” Sounds like justice, plain and simple. But then look at their specific recommendations for how to protect the sacred gift of unborn human life:
Dramatically reduce abortion. Our society should support common ground policies that dramatically reduce the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing meaningful alternatives and necessary supports for women and children, and reforming adoption laws.
Notice what’s missing from the list: A call to extend the most basic human right to unborn babies by making it illegal to kill them. What’s missing, in other words, is a call to extend ordinary justice to the unborn. In its place is a call to prevent “unwanted pregnancies” and to create attractive alternatives to killing unborn babies.
Sojourners and its leader say that laws against abortion are unattainable and ineffectual. But these laws wouldn’t be unattainable if the religious left joined religious conservatives in the fight to extend the right to life to the unborn. And as for ineffectual, University of Alabama professor Michael New studied the question and came to a very different conclusion in State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Here’s how he summarized his findings:
Planned Parenthood and many groups on the Catholic Left often argue that pro-life laws are ineffective. They claim that contraception spending and more generous welfare benefits are the best ways to reduce abortion rates. In reality, however, there is virtually no peer reviewed research, analyzing actual abortion data, which finds that more spending on either contraception or welfare has any effect on the incidence of abortion.
Conversely, this study adds to the sizable body of peer reviewed research which finds that legal protections for the unborn are effective at lowering abortion rates …
The study is now part of a substantial body of academic literature showing that such laws are effective in cutting abortions — and back up the anecdotal evidence seen in states like Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri and others where abortions have been cut by half from their previous highs thanks to the passage of several pro-life measures limiting abortions.
What Sojourners and many others on the left support for the unborn is more of their ineffective brand of redistributionist “social justice,” and never mind about the most basic form of justice for the unborn — a right to life protected by the law.
I’ll close by calling attention to one other thing in Tim King’s response, and that is Sojourners’ whole post-partisan meme. It’s a little surreal that they keep trotting this dog out after the George Soros funding fiasco. As my old colleague Jay Richards and others have reported, Sojourners had already received significant funding from the ultra-liberal, ultra-secular George Soros when Jim Wallis denied it in a public interview, going so far as to answer the charge by saying that World magazine editor and Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky “lies for a living.” Then it came out that Sojourners has in fact received major funding from Soros, along with major funding from a who’s who list of left and ultra-leftwing organizations.
Sojourners keeps trying to hunt with the “we’re deep, not left” meme, but the dog won’t hunt anymore. A better approach would be to simply identify themselves as members of the religious left and forthrightly make a case for the specifics of their position. An even better approach would be to rethink that position from top to bottom, looking not at just the immediate and obvious effects of various government wealth transfers, but also at those long-term effects that are less obvious and often destructive.
In the mean time, if you are looking for a clear alternative to A Circle of Protection, one that emphasizes the dignity and creative capacity of the poor and the role of Christian worldview in promoting human flourishing, take a look at PovertyCure’s Statement of Principles or PovertyCure’s Facebook page. To sign a letter that directly answers the Circle of Protection, go here to Christians for a Sustainable Economy.