Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Very Quick Summary of a Complicated, Lengthy Subject

As I was getting older, I used to see myself as your typical "conservative", adoring capitalism, hating unions, and demanding little to no regulations. "Let the market decide," I would say in my good 'ol psuedo-libertarian way. However, as time went on I started to find trouble with this mindset. I saw the abuse of the worker first-hand, first when I worked in a factory filled with Latinos who openly admitted that they had fake papers (and would typically work 60 hours a week), and secondly in my current workplace where in violation of the law we get paid only once a month and aren't paid for overtime, all in the name of saving money and trying to be "cash flow positive", however never missing a payment of our CEO's $300,000/yr salary or paying for the executives to take trips to Milan to sip champagne with potential customers.

The West is sick. Whereas we used to break up monopolies, now there seems to be no concern whatsoever as company after company continues to be bought out by bigger and more powerful corporations. Farming isn't even safe anymore for Americans due to Monsanto controlling the seeds and Japan experimenting with "robotic farms" where vegetables can be grown and harvested without the need for human workers; if that works, it will go global. Meanwhile, many of us (myself included) find it hard to pay the bills or save for the future and several coworkers have started looking for second jobs (and nearly every coworker is searching for a new primary job). A two-income family today earns less than the same family earned 30 years ago with only one income, thanks to high taxes, fees, inflation, and stagnant wages. No good jobs, no money saved, no hope for the future. I now find myself siding with Lefties regarding labor unions, taxing the wealthy, and workers' rights. Experience of getting shafted will do that to you.

I've seen many people screwed because companies are choosing profit over people. In order for "free trade" to work, you need to minimize cost and maximize profit, which drives salaries down and sends jobs overseas. However, the entire world is embracing this new, anti-worker system. Mexicans are flooding over the border and seeking jobs in the US because our cheap, genetically-modified corn is driving corn prices down so much that these Mexicans have no choice but to sell their farms and migrate north to work in our factories and on our plantations. Slavery exists all throughout the world in order to give us "low prices - always." Never have American workers made so little and yet banks and corporate executives made so much. The CBC's research estimates that American corporations are hiding over $2.1 TRILLION offshore to avoid over $58 billion in taxes. American foreign aid policy hinges on forcing pro-life, traditional countries to accept homosexual "rights", abortion, contraception, and sterilization in order to receive aid. And it's not just us; these policies of eugenics and conformity - what Pope Francis calls 'ideological colonization' - are practiced throughout the West. The Guardian has reported in the past how the UK government spends tens of millions of pounds to sterilize India's poor - meanwhile, wealthy Western women are using India's poor to be surrogates. And yet, if you protest this, people call you a socialist or communist or fundamentalist or radical. I am none of these things - I am just a faithful Catholic.

The secular world is never more confused than when it reports on Catholic social doctrine. To them, they feel we're being good little charity workers, instead of seeing the reasons behind what we're doing, which is fighting for the upholding of the dignity of man since man is made in God's image. Since the press has been so wrong about Pope Francis' comments on capitalism and what the Church teaches about economics, I thought I'd write a short summary, just touching the subject. Volumes have been written about this, with more volumes needed, so I can't write anything here in comparison to those works. However, I can at least plant some seeds for more research on your part.

Part Three, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 7 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is on the Seventh Commandment, You shall not steal. This is a great section for people who want to learn about the Church's teachings on private property, the goods of man, and other economic teachings. I won't cover all of that here; it's just important to know that the Church teaches:

The Church's social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action (2423).
A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order (2424).
A system that "subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production" is contrary to human dignity. Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. "You cannot serve God and mammon" (2424).
The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with "communism" or "socialism." She has likewise refused to accept in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for "there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market." Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended (2425).

I think most "Right-leaning" people agree with all of this. Incidentally, this is basically what Pope Francis has been saying about capitalism, that when it is UNBRIDLED capitalism, a capitalism without restraint, it turns into an idolatry of money and reduces people to just cogs in a machine, just property to be used and discarded. It is the secular media that translates this into "Pope Francis Condemns Capitalism." That's not what he's saying.

There are aspects of the Church's social doctrine which will sound uncomfortable to the ears of conservatives, that is true. Such as:

A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work (2434). [An 8.25/hr minimum wage is NOT a just wage, for instance]
Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit (2435).
Rich nations have a grave moral responsibility toward those which are unable to ensure the means of their development by themselves or have been prevented from doing so by tragic historical events. It is a duty in solidarity and charity; it is also an obligation in justice if the prosperity of the rich nations has come from resources that have not been paid for fairly (2439).
The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race. The right to private property does not abolish the universal destination of goods (2452).

That's something I had to come to grips with - as a Catholic, some of our solutions sound "progressive" and some solutions sound "conservative", but these are false descriptions; it's Catholic, first and foremost.

My 13 months of unemployment was both a blessing and a curse - although my life shattered a bit in that time period, I was blessed with having some time to read some things that really helped me learn more about these issues, free from the dangerous secular lenses the news and pundits want you to wear.

I learned of an economic system called 'distributism', which is based on Catholic social teaching. Great minds like Belloc and Chesterton wrote extensively on this, as did many priests and theologians contributing to the "Return to the Land" movement of the early 20th Century. In a most simplified story, during the Industrial Revolution - with its advancements, but also with its unfair and dangerous factories, mines, and such - Pope Leo XIII began these Catholic teachings in his letter Rerum Novarum. Barbara Lanari's article Rerum Novarum and Seven Principles of Catholic Social Doctrine sums up the purpose of Catholic social doctrine nicely. She writes:

All Catholic social doctrine is based on the dignity of the human person. Man derives both his dignity and his social nature from the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God. God is a community of loving relationships between the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Man similarly seeks out loving relationships in his life on earth. As man by his very nature desires to live in loving community with others and with God, Catholic social doctrine seeks to support all that facilitates this endeavor, and seeks to eliminate all that hampers this endeavor. While the Catholic Church is primarily concerned with the salvation of souls and with one's eternal destiny, it is also genuinely concerned with man's earthly existence and his temporal welfare during his pilgrimage to his eternal home.

Catholic social doctrine - which could be described as how to live out the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity - basically tries to offer solutions in order for us to have a world and lifestyle that will never inhibit our freedom to love God and neighbor. Distributism is an effort to incorporate the Church's social doctrine into modern economic life. The popes have written several times on her social doctrine, first with Leo XIII's Rerum novarum (1891), and continued through Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno (1931), St. John Paul II's Centesimus annus (1991), and Benedict XVI's Caritas in veritate (2009); some consider Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013) and his encyclical Laudato Si' (2015) as developments and restatements of the Church's social doctrine. At this moment, I think it's obvious to point out that what Pope Francis is saying is actually nothing really all that new; it's just that for some unknown reason, the press is starting to pay attention and report on some things. And you'll also find that if you read the Pope's comments in context, he's talking about our pursuit of Mammon, whether it's capitalist, communist, or any other method - when our focus is on materialism, wealth, and profit and not on the plight of our nieghbors and the poor, we are no longer living the Gospel; or, we've created a distorted view of the Gospel. The Catechism cites the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) and Jesus' promise that we will be judged on how we take care of the least among us (Mat 25:31-46).

For a much deeper understanding of these letters - all in the context of the Gospel and the Catechism - one could read them all, which isn't a bad idea. For a summary, however deep it may be, one can turn to the Church's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. As I said, it's a summary of the Church's social doctrine, but it still clocks in at over 200 pages! And inside it says things that will calm many Right-wing ears, like: "The free market is an institution of social importance because of its capacity to guarantee effective results in the production of goods and services," and "the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs"; it also says things that make Left-leaning ears happy, such as how labor unions, "while pursuing their specific purpose with regard to the common good, are a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life," and "Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen."

And before you're led to believe something different, the social doctrine of the Church doesn't just involve economics; as we've said, the Church cares about the whole person, so the chapter headings in the Compendium cover a variety of important subjects regarding mankind: God's Plan of Love For Humanity; Jesus Christ, the Fulfillment of the Father's Plan of Love; God's Plan and the Mission of the Church; the Nature of the Church's Social Doctrine; the Human Person as the Image of God; Human Rights; the Principle of the Common Good; the Fundamental Values of Social Life; the Family, the First Natural Society; Marriage, the Foundation of the Family; Biblical Aspects of Human Work; the Rights of Workers; Morality and the Economy; the Democratic System; the Crisis of the Relationship Between Man and the Environment; the Failure of Peace: War; For a Civilization of Love; etc. The point the Pope (and the Church) tries to make is that all of this stuff is connected; we cannot compartmentalize our lives. From the way we treat nature to the way we act on the highway to the way we run our business to the way we vote to whether or not we're open to life during marriage - all of it is connected. All of it is either an attempt at the Christian life, or it's not.

It's a complicated subject that the media tries to squeeze into a headline and a minute or two of summarization, broadcast through the lens of Left-leaning, mostly atheist reporters. They have no interest in learning the Church's teachings, nor do they care that they take the Pope - and 124 years of social doctrine, coupled with 2,000 years of Church teaching - out of context. This is a much more difficult subject and the Church does not pretend that there is a "one size fits all" kind of solution to every problem we face; she instead offers Christian principles to apply to our work lives so that in our pursuit of economic, social, environmental, and political development, we don't forget who we are and where we're destined to be after this life. As the Catechism teaches, "True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person's ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God's call" (2461). When our fallen nature gets in the way, everything - even the positive aspects of capitalism - can warp our senses, pollute our noble efforts, and leave many people behind to suffer; the Church is just trying to get us to remember that. As former Vatican Bank president Ettore Gotti Tedeschi said, "Separated from ethical considerations and assuming a moral autonomy, the economy ends up in the hands of people who transform it into an instrument of power, including political power." The Tower of Babel already failed, as man attempted to create a great world culture without God - there's no need to attempt to build it again, just so the same conclusion can be reached. Instead, we're asked to build up the Kingdom of God (Eph 4:11-13).