Protesting the future or voting Catholic values?

The United States bishops have called for a new social contract in a time of globalization. While it would be … Continued

The United States bishops have called for a new social contract in a time of globalization. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Catholics are obliged to vote for Democrats this November, the principles espoused by the Magisterium are not found in most of the Republican and Tea Party slogans.

Based on the English meaning of Rerum Novarum, the 1892 pioneering papal encyclical of Catholic social justice, the document describes globalization as the “new thing” that demands rethinking of the economy and the setting of new economic priorities. Just like you should understand the terms of a contact before signing, the bishops urge a reevaluation of our political commitments at this juncture of history. Famously, both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were influenced by Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. They interpreted “social contract” through the prism of a business deal: people agree to obey a ruler because they will “profit” from good government. According to Locke, people form governments to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” “Whenever government becomes destructive of these ends,” runs the thought, the people have the right to dissolve the contract with government. Although few would express it this way, the logic implicit here means that loyalty to your country is ultimately based on an individual’s economic advantage.

Catholic theology about the social contract is older than Rousseau and Locke. As expressed by the Spanish Jesuit, Francisco Suarez, the social contract is like marriage. Playing on the feminine gender of “patria” (= motherland), Suarez argues that love of country is like the love of a man for his wife. Patriotism is “for richer or poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,…” Thus, Cardinal Spellman of New York was to say during the Vietnam War, “My country, right or wrong, but my country.”

The Catholic preference is to work patriotically within the system rather than adopt Tea Party slogans that government is an “enemy.” Citing Benedict XVI, the bishops would remedy social injustice by “just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics.” Rather than “less government” the bishops call for “better government” in regulating the economy. The Catholic teaching in favor of the redistribution of wealth, or course, is not the same as “more welfare.” By focus upon the dignity of the person, Catholics are able to criticize both dependency on a nanny state as well as the Ebenezer Scrooge effects of Capitalism.

We have our priorities, however. For instance, it would be against Catholic teaching to insist “unemployment benefits must be sacrificed in order to keep down the federal deficit.” That is a relatively common theme of the Republican Party today, but the deficit is not a person: the unemployed worker is. To be true to our faith, Catholics are conscious bound to place highest value on the person.

In a similar fashion, the policy of hiring only part-time to avoid paying for health insurance benefits or to escape union labor runs against Catholic teaching – even if such abuses are widespread in our economy. Moreover, in a global economy, we are called to be as concerned for workers in other countries as we are for those in our own. Care for the environment rather than for corporate profits is another issue addressed by the bishops.

The culprit here is not a political party or a single issue: what has to be changed is a materialistic and consumerist society with false values. Thankfully, you don’t have to be Catholic to agree. Recently, Catholic moral theologians have spelled out the implications for such a new global ethic. Catholic America, therefore, is called by pope, bishops and theologians to emphasize the environment, health care, safety in food production and education. These values replace maximizing corporate profits, or nickel-and-dime savings based on exploitation of child workers abroad.

Sadly, Catholic America faces a political terrain where Republicans and the Tea Party have defined an agenda for return to past economic policies and AGAINST these “new things,” perhaps only because Democrats are for them. Thus, Catholic voters this November will have to decide if they will follow the Magisterium or just want to vote to protest the future.

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • WmarkW

    Maybe someone can explain why with 10% unemployment, the 6% of the labor force who are in the country illegally shouldn’t be the first ones to lost their jobs? (Followed by the ones here on H1B visas.)

  • usapdx

    Since there are thoes groups that claim tax exampt and speak out politically without fileing income with the I.R.S. and never paying tax, congress needs to up date the tax exampt law which does have rules. Total freedom of speech in the U.S.A. which thoes who file tax exampt do not have requires the fileing of income with the I.R.S..

  • skellmeyer

    Uh, you’re entirely wrong, my friends.The key to Rerum Novarum, Centissimus Annus and a host of other papal encyclicals on social justice can be found in the phrase “subsidiarity.” Subsidiarity is the idea that the power to make a decision should be left at the lowest possible level of a structure of power. Higher powers should not interfere in the operation of lower powers. This principle is the driving force behind everything the Church does, including the guiding philosophy behind canon law and salvation theology itself.In short, subsidiarity means the government should not be a mediator, it should instead stay out of the way.The Republican Party and the Tea Party are both HUGE fans of subsidiarity. The Democrats are adamantly opposed to it. Whoever taught you Catholic social justice needs to apologize for botching the job.

  • Elohist

    Hey Skellmeyer!The principle of subsidiarity requires that the local institution IS ACTUALLY PROVIDING RELIEF. Such is not the case when it comes to the US states that are precisely the entities that passed segregation laws, easy banking regulations, lowered pollution standards. You and others of your political ideology think you can smuggle in your cafeteria Catholicism against the teachings of the pope and bishops. If you had read the bishops’ statement you would know that they spoke of “new things” which make you and your ideas just as obsolete as Bush and Cheney.

  • skellmeyer

    Elohist,I don’t know where you got your degree in Catholic theology, but you should really ask for you money back, and threaten to sue the institution for breach of contract if they don’t cough up.Anyway, you’re wrong. a) The USCCB’s opinion is of no importance whatsoever. It’s not a council, not even a synod, just a lousy national conference. None of the statements it makes is binding on the faithful unless it is already taught by Rome.b) Subsidiarity doesn’t work the way you think it works. The higher authority is not permitted to replace the lower authority, it’s only supposed to assist the lower authority. Mandates are not assistance, that’s compulsion and it violates subsidiarity. There’s absolutely nothing in Catholic social teaching which mandates government unemployment benefits. Such charity is supposed to come through the church, not the state. Indeed, I am supposed to image God. God gives His things to others. He allows me to have things so I can give them to others and learn to exercise charity. When you forcibly take things from me (via taxes) you simultaneously take me ability to image God in the physical world. So government charity actually violates Catholic social teaching twice over – once by having government take over the job churches are supposed to perform and again by taking my things so I can’t help the churches perform.But I wouldn’t expect Democrats to understand that, since it’s impossible to be a Democrat and a Catholic.

  • skellmeyer

    Hey Elohist,You don’t understand subsidiarity! The higher power is not supposed to replace the lower power, but only assist the lower power.I am supposed to image God in the way I live my life. God has lots of stuff and He gives His stuff to me. If I have lots of stuff, I image God by giving my stuff to others. If the government takes my stuff, I don’t have stuff to give anymore, so now I can’t image God. So, the more the government taxes me, the more it violates my ability to practice being charitable. Worse, the government is not supposed to be the prime source of charity – church communities are. But the government has taken over the role of the church in the life of charity.So, things like unemployment benefits, Medicaid/Medicare, etc., are all infringements on the Christian mode of charity. The government violates charity twice – once by interfering in the church’s role and again by interfering with my paycheck so I can’t assist the church in it’s role.But this is a Catholic thing.

  • Elohist

    Hi skellmeyer:Who said I had a degree in theology? Sounds like you don’t. You ran away from the basic issue about subsidiarity, namely that IT IS ALREADY BEING DONE. In the case of civil rights, abolition of slavery, child labor, violation of Catholic rights, abuse of the workers’ rights, the principle of subsidiarity can not be invoked because it simply doesn’t exist. Of course talking nonsense is something that comes naturally to your crowd on the right of the cafeteria Catholics.You really should go back to fifth grade and take a class in logic.Didn’t Jesus say, “He who hears you (plural), hears me)? But you ignore the pastoral letter of the bishops saying only the pope’s teaching is binding for you. Try writing something logical next time and spare us your claptrap about your virtue in making charitable donations rather than paying taxes. That’s the dumbest application of the principle of subsidiarity that has ever been written.

  • usapdx

    Why should anyone make one to vote their way by any means in the U.S.A.? The American goverment is of the people, by the people, and for the people as a nation under GOD but of no religion what so ever.

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