Zenit published my article on the pope’s new social encyclical:
Encyclical Offers Opportunity to “Think With the Church”
By Jennifer Roback Morse
SAN MARCOS, California, JULY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate” is his contribution to the course of Catholic social teaching.
Many commentators seem to read this document as if it were a think-tank white paper, and ask whether the Pope endorses their particular policy preferences. I must say that I surprised myself by not reflexively reading it in this way. After all, I spent many years teaching free-market economics.
I distinctly remember reading “Centesimus Annus” for the first time, and mentally checking to see if I agreed with it.
But this is not the correct way to read papal documents. The papacy’s prophetic role is to interpret the past, and provide guidance for the future, while avoiding the excesses of its own time.
In “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI argues for the centrality of moral considerations in both economics and politics. Without charity and truth, we cannot create a truly decent society, no matter how sophisticated our technology or how thorough-going our democracy.
Benedict XVI stresses the centrality of the social, cultural sphere for several reasons.
First, neither the economic nor the political spheres can function entirely on their own. Both the economic and the political sectors need to be peopled with individuals who have well-formed consciences. Therefore, economics and politics rely upon the Church, the family, and other social structures that shape the conscience.
Second, the cultural sphere needs its own defense. Both the economic and the political sectors have plenty of ideological defenders. The libertarian right seems to believe that the market can manage all of society. The socialist left seems to think that the government can solve every problem and wipe away every tear.
Extremists on both sides fail to respect culture’s distinctive role. (more…)