Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Where does Pope Francis get his ideas on the economy?
The same place as every other informed Catholic. Like other Christian traditions, Catholicism says God’s truth is revealed through the Bible. Like other Christian traditions, Catholicism says Jesus Christ is God’s unique self-revelation. Catholicism also says God’s One Truth is mediated through reason (philosophy, social science and physical science) and through collective experience. Many Christian traditions agree with this method, but some do not.
Catholic social doctrine is premised on the God-given absolute dignity of each person—from womb to tomb. Further, says Catholicism a person is by God’s design a social being. Therefore, God expects society to enhance personal dignity. A good family makes it easier for its members to be holy. A just society makes wholeness or holiness possible.
Now back to Pope Francis. Drawing upon the Bible, reason and collective experience, the pope frequently talks about the doctrine of participation and its opposite, exclusion. An economy with a large and increasing wealth gap, an economy with stagnant mobility, an economy that encourages an insipid popular culture does not inclusively honor the social character of human nature. This defect cannot be corrected merely by individual conversion or singular change of heart. The social habits of such an economy reflect the premium it gives to individualism. Its symptoms include warehousing of the elderly, inadequate embrace of the disabled, callous comments about refugees, and violence to the young and unborn. The symptoms also include the unfortunate loss of social purpose among many lawyers, some teachers, an increasing number of doctors, plus the frustration of bankers, small business owners, and a fair number of executives.
The way to move back to participation, says Pope Francis, is to cherish small groups and make them the focus of economic and social policies--the family first of all, but also schools, clubs, civic associations, neighborhoods, precincts, professional groupings, unions, soccer leagues, organizations of business people and much more. A dominant market philosophy aims for the maximum happiness (so-called) for the maximum number of individuals. It doesn’t know how to foster personal flourishing within local groups. (In our country Republicans put individual liberty ahead of communal life regarding economics; Democrats favor individualism in regard to lifestyle; and neither seems able to respectfully deliver essential services through local groups, instead of one-by-one from government to isolated individuals.)
The particulars of economic reform must be left to informed business associations, unions, legislatures, advocacy groups, neighborhood organizations and more. Pope Francis and other Catholic teachers are advised not to wade deep into specifics. For example, Pope Francis and other Catholic teachers must talk about a family wage. However, Catholic doctrine does not specifically say $10.10 or $15 or $12.55 is an acceptable minimum wage for a family. Within reasonable parameters of the social principles and with a determined bias for the common good Catholics can disagree on applicable details.
A social policy is not good because it is Catholic. It is Catholic because it is good. This means that ordinary Catholics seek improvements in concert with other Christians and with others of various traditions. It is never a matter of imposing Catholicism on our pluralistic society. Pope Francis is fulfilling his role as a moral leader, encouraging Catholics and all people of good will to be allergic to injustice, to eliminate poverty as much as possible and to cherish the sacredness of life within families and communities.
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter on Catholic social thought.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Is the pope a socialist? During this month’s papal visit to our country a few vocal critics raise the question.
Why would someone call Pope Francis a socialist?
First, there is still a strain of anti-Catholicism in corners of our society. Socialist conjures up abhorrent communism. The socialist label is thus a covert slur. In addition, there are a few disgruntled U.S. Catholics who over the past 40 years have not liked many Catholic leaders, including the current pope.
A further source of the socialist label is worth more comment. Many people in our society follow an ideology of individual liberty. They—be they moderately rich or be they working class--mostly think about life in relation to their individual situation, usually in monetary terms. Pope Francis is quite clear in condemning this individualism and this consumerism.
For example, in his recent visit to South America Pope Francis condemned selfish individualism because it blocks any chance of peace, harmony and true happiness. A spirit of community must replace individual regard, he preached. This pervasive outlook is part of our so-called free market economy. The current economy, which has become an extreme type of capitalism, “promotes inordinate consumption, increases inequality, damages the social fabric and increases violence,” he writes.
Yet despite the evidence of the 2007-2008 economic collapse, many people still defend laissez-faire or nearly unregulated markets. Pope Francis challenges them in a frequently quoted section of Joy of the Gospel: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness.” This opinion “has never been confirmed by the facts… Meanwhile the excluded are still waiting.”
So, maybe this pope is a socialist? No. Let’s get real. No one becomes a Catholic bishop who is extremely liberal in the way that term is thrown about in our culture. “The Marxist ideology is wrong,” Pope Francis emphatically states. Catholic doctrine has always defended private property and opposed any total state system.
On the other hand, Catholic doctrine is not conservative in the way that term is used by the influential libertarian strain in our society, residing comfortably now within the Republican Party. Catholic doctrine is not, without a boxcar full of qualifiers, pro-capitalist in the way that term is now used by free market enthusiasts. Private market forces alone do not translate individual gain into socially efficient outcomes, says Catholicism. Yet, the same is true of government alone. Its prying regulations and accompanying bureaucracy stifle creativity and undermine families and local groups. Catholicism is not liberal on lifestyle. Catholicism is not conservative (libertarian) on economics. Catholicism does not want government to be the only responder to social problems. Catholicism does not want private enterprise to be the only means of advancement.
Even in anticipation of the papal visit, some commentators are sideling Pope Francis. They say he is out of step with his recent predecessors. This is inaccurate. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), for example, was just as critical of consumerism and runaway capitalism. But he is remembered selectively. Some recall only one side of his economic critique: the opposition to communism.
Some commentators say Pope Francis is not scholarly like his predecessors. This is nonsense. Pope Francis uses more interesting idioms and provocative one-liners than previous popes. But his content is solidly and consistently mainstream Catholicism.
Where do Pope Francis and other Catholic teachers get their social doctrine? To be continued….
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter on social doctrine.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Psalm 63: O God, you are my God – For you I long! For you my body yearns: For you my soul thirsts.
Labor Day 2016, as usual, was an inspiring celebration for Joanne and me. To march with fellow workers, to sense the enthusiasm of younger workers, enlivened hope in our hearts. As old timers, we had attended many Labor Day celebrations, but this year was special.
I was moved by talking to old friends who were in the battles beginning in the early 80’s. The company we worked for, Briggs & Stratton, mounted a full blown attack on our union. We went on strike, but were forced back to work. Labor law as interpreted by the Reagan Administration left us with little voice. Of course, since that time the situation for labor is worse. Most now recognize the problem of income inequality, but few favor changing labor law so that workers’ demands for fair wages can be effective. Where does Hilary Clinton stand on E.F.C.A., the Employee Free Choice Act?
After the parade and chatting with friends, we headed home. We set out to walk to our car which was parked a couple of miles away near Zeidler Union Square where the march began. Both of us were exhausted from parading in the heat and standing talking to friends. At the gates of the festival grounds we met an African American woman with her CWA t-shirt who told us she was waiting for the bus that takes people back to their cars. We waited, but decided to walk. After a few blocks in the heat we wondered if we could continue. The woman we met at the festival ground gate was right behind us. After taking a look at us she advised us to sit down and rest, and we did. She went on ahead, but soon came back with two cups of ice cold water. It was emotional for us; we could only come out with a simple thank you.
Lord when did we see you thirsty and give you a drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?
I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
This column is hardly ready to endorse Hillary in 16. But Clinton is correct in her reaction to Black Lives Matter activists with whom she had an off-stage exchange early in August. They probed her how she will change hearts to eliminate racism. “How do you actually feel that’s different,” they asked?
“You can get lip service” from some people, Clinton replied. Some people will respond to your protest and say: We get it. We are going to be nicer. “That’s not enough, at least in my book,” she asserted. “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.” Her point, reports Maggie Haberman in New York Times (8/20/15), is that “deeply felt emotions” have to be translated into “meaningful lasting change” because “movement politics gets you only so far.”
This same juncture was reached in the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is the specific goal and expected outcome of the protest? Is there anything more to this movement than dissipation of anger?
Some years ago a team of social scientists thoroughly studied ten cities to measure the “effectiveness of demand-protest strategies.” Their report is titled Protest Is Not Enough: the Struggle of Blacks and Hispanics for Equality by Rufus Browning et al. (University of California Press, 1984). Protest is frequently useful, they found. That is, when the protest supports “sustained and substantial” organizing. Browning and his colleagues concentrate on access to and responsiveness from electoral politics. But their analysis can apply to justice within business, education, cultural institutions, civic arenas and more.
Admittedly, protest activists are often frustrated by the long march through institutions. They find that their idealism succumbs to cooption, especially when they are unaware of being used.
Cooption comes by way of grandstanders who are attracted to any event that makes it onto TV or into newspapers. These media hounds might emerge from within the ranks of the protesters or they might be national personalities who visit the scene of action.
There might also be well-meaning celebrities who donate money to the cause. This type of money, especially at the early stages of the protest, almost never builds a lasting constituency.
Then there is the matter of coalitions. They are absolutely necessary to aggregate more power, but the original fervor can get subsumed into a diffuse agenda or a bureaucracy.
And finally there is the cooption of tokenism. The protest group feels like they and their grievance are incorporated, but real decisions are in fact made elsewhere. There is no substantial policy change. For example, a protest leader or two is put on an oversight board or even into a public office. It appears like an achievement, but endless meetings sap their energy. This cooption is very subtle. For example, many politicians (including presumably Hillary Clinton) are adept at attracting activists to their campaign, but then ignore the activists’ cause.
The outcome of a protest greatly depends on critical choices made by some primary activists, say Browning and his colleagues. Can they get savvy political advice from people experienced in the ways and means of business, criminal justice, neighborhood development and the like? Not academic background on issues. Not distracting guidance about someone else’s agenda. Can the protest leaders find and accept direction from skilled organizers who have no other interest than building genuine, accountable power from the grassroots? It is not easy. Cooption is everywhere. Fatigue is the constant temptation.
Droel is the author of What Is Social Justice? (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5.50)