Sunday, August 1, 2010

Catholic Socialism

The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them.

Mark 14: 7


Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs. The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity.

The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God's plan for man.

CCC, 2426

Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.

CCC, 2428

A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good. Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

CCC, 2434

Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits.

CCC, 2432

It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.

CCC, 2442


I once had an interesting conversation with a conservative friend. We were talking about the Obama administration and Israel. He chided me for citing an article from Ha'aretz, saying that Ha'aretz is a left-wing paper. Now this is true as far as it goes. Even so, it struck me as a bit odd, as if left and right wing views are somehow universal.

The reverse has happened too. A commenter from the UK once expressed surprise that my views would be considered radical here; that socialism is such a loaded word in American politics. The idea is similar. In a country with socialized medicine, for example, support for it or opposition to it is not a necessary part of left or right wing views.

It's true, for American political dialogue, I identify myself as a socialist. Though the label isn't perfect, it's convenient. It gives people a quick, general idea of where I stand. On the other hand, I am not a member of any political party, socialist or otherwise. My so-called socialism derives not from Marx or Lenin, but from Catholicism.

I often hear Mark 14:7 quoted in opposition to things like a minimum wage, a minimum income, progressive taxation, welfare programs and the like. The idea is usually that we are called to personal charity only; that attempts to address the needs of the poor on a societal level are not only futile, they somehow deprive us of an opportunity to do good works. Progressive taxation in support of such goals is seen as "mandated charity."

Yes, personal charity is important. Personal charity cannot, by definition, be mandated, but it goes beyond that. Before any question of charity is the issue of justice. "The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity." "Man is himself the author, center, and goal of all economic and social life. The decisive point of the social question is that goods created by God for everyone should in fact reach everyone in accordance with justice and with the help of charity." (CCC, 2459)

Am I a socialist? A radical? That depends on who you ask. What I am is Catholic. For some, that's even worse. But there it is.

As far as American politics are concerned, I am a socialist. I accept that label. It's accurate enough, but it isn't the whole story. I don't spend much time thinking about Marx or Lenin. I don't curl up with a copy of The Communist Manifesto.

No, my politics come from another book entirely.

Respectfully Yours,



lime said...

i really appreciated the excerpts from the catholic cathechism since i am not familiar with it. though i am familiar with the scriptures themselves and i have formed my own opinions on what they mean long before joining the baptist congregation i am now a part of and increasingly frustrated by, i might add.

i have long been disturbed by the individuals i speak with in my congregation who equate their brand of christianity with political conservatism (#1 jesus infuriated both the liberals and the conservatives of his day and #2 the whole notion of god as a conservative is absurdly limiting of the creator who scripture says cannot be contained by the universe itself but i digress with my objections) all the more so since they seem uniformly convinced that the current "liberal" administration is a step toward ushering in the antichrist and then begin frothing at the mouth about the redistribution of THEIR wealth to the undeserving underclasses. meanwhile 4 blocks away from our church is a bunch of low income housing, what are these rabid pewmates of mine doing to reach out with christ's love to the struggling folks in our neighborhood (loving our neighbor as ourselves, are we? it wouldn't seem so. oh, wait...we did drop the can of nearly expired stewed tomatoes in the food collection boxes in the lobby)

anyway, the clarity in the catechism was refreshing. the notion of justice as it relates to workers struck a chord because i remember my factory employed single mother having her piecework rates retroactively cut so they didn't have to pay her what she actually earned when she had worked her fingers off to produce what she needed to earn enough to put food on the table. i remember living in a small town and knowing the factory owner's son who mocked me for having less than he did and i remember telling him he had what he did because his father cheated his workers, my mother among them.

oy, it's late. a nerve has been touched and i am rambling. sorry for that. i just deeply appreciate this post. it was both illuminating of catholic thought and affirming of much of my own.

lime said...

holy cow, what a long rant.....again, sorry.

lime said...

one more....i feel affirmed but i still don't call myself a socialist. in act i refuse to label myself politically in any way.

Cricket said...

Lime - No need to apologize. Make your comments as short or as long as you like.

I really appreciated the excerpts from the catholic cathechism since i am not familiar with it.

The Catechism is a fascinating book, though it can be a bit dry. I am glad you appreciated it. Sadly, many Catholics are unfamiliar with it also. At least you have a good excuse. ;-)

People in general and the media in particular tend to equate Catholic moral teaching with sexual morality. This is unfortunate. The Catechism is fairly large and relatively few pages are concerned with sexual morality. Got a social issue? We've got an app for that.

Of course, there is a wide difference of views within the Catholic Church itself, and frustration on both sides. The Catechism is a valuable document, though, as it helps us all focus our thought and provides a framework. Ideally, it can be a unifying force. Ideally....

I resent the attempts to use the issue of abortion to align the Catholic Church with the far-right Republican fold. The issue is real, but I think it is used in a cynical and insincere way. I do not support most Republican policies precisely because I am Catholic, but that could be a post or several all in itself.

Thanks, as always, for your comments.

Suldog said...

Whenever someone was deriding communism (Caveat: In a particularly hare-brained fashion, since My Father was much more a capitalist than a socialist or communist) My Father would always come back at them with "It's just what Jesus taught, and what the apostles practiced following his resurrection."

The first time I heard him say that, I was rather non-plussed. Jesus wasn't a stinkin' communist! Well, actually, yeah, he pretty much was.

Good piece, Cricket (as always).

lime said...

thanks for your further explanation of the catholic catechism and its breadth. it's also clear that you've given your positions a lot of thought and have well reasoned ideas. i enjoy learning from you.

suldog, i have to laugh. the first time i ever read acts 2 i was in high school. i was struck by how the description of how the believers pooled all their possessions i thought, "wow! that's communism and the bible seems to think it's pretty groovy!"

James said...

Excellent post. I used to be a liberal, but now I'm a radical socialist, according to the right. Interesting how they decide to kill government or defund it or rescind programs or repeal others, starve children, kill unemployment... only when Democrats are in office.