Saturday, March 20, 2010

Glenn Beck and Social Justice: Part III: Social Justice in Roman Catholic Social Thought

We continue with our series of posts on Glenn Beck and social justice by turning to Roman Catholic social thought. Here Beck's lack of nuance become glaringly obvious. He urges people to leave their churches if their churches mention the phrase social justice on their websites and in so doing he basically assumes that any Church that uses this phrase without intending to teach socialism must be uninformed. Yet the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church does use the phrase "social justice" and clearly means something other than Marxism by it.

In section 81 we are told that it is the social doctrine of the Church to denounce sin, especially the sins of injustice and violence. It says:
"By denunciation, the Church's social doctrine becomes judge and defender of unrecognized and violated rights, especially of those of the poor, the least and the weak. The more these rights are ignored or trampled, the greater becomes the extent of violence and injustice, involving entire categories of people and large geographical areas of the world, thus giving rise to social questions, tha tis, to abuses and imbalances that lead to social upheaval. A large part of the Church's social teaching is solicited and determined by important social questions, to which social justice is the proper answer." (See Chapter II, II.d)
So here justice is defined in classical, pre-Marxist terms and then social justice is said to be the rectifying of injustices like the violation of rights. This could be interpreted in a Marxist sense, but need not be necessarily.

It is striking to compare the language of the Compendium (the official teaching of the Church) to the language of liberal Catholics who are working in social activism. Whereas the Compendium uses the language of "social doctrine" and "social teaching" most frequently, liberal Catholics uniformly utilize the language of "social justice."

Obviously, the topic of Roman Catholic social thought is complex and I am no expert on it, although I find myself drawn to it more and more. But a few more observations are in order.

The Church recognizes the the reality of social problems above the individual level; in fact, the Church is very concerned about families, nations and even the world economic system. But the Church does not make the State the prime actor in the struggle for social justice. The principle of "subsidiarity" prevents that. The principle of subsidiarity is defined as follows:
"On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help ("subsidium") - therefore of support, promotion, development - with respect to lower-order socieites. IN this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place."
Obviously, this principle, which, the Compendium points out, has been the most consistent and characteristic part of Catholic social teaching from the beginning of the great social encyclicals in 1891, rules out all forms of statism, whether Communist or Fascist. The solution to social problems is never as simple as "start another government entitlement program" for Roman Catholic social teaching, as it often seems to be for socialists and their liberal fellow travelers.

Another observation I would like to make is that the social doctrine of the Church is as multi-faceted and complex as is human culture. Unlike Marxism, which basically reduces justice and the good for human being to economic equality of outcome, Roman Catholic social doctrine encompasses sexual ethics, family life, the sanctity of life, economic life, political life, education, medicine and bioethics and international affairs.

Making economic leveling the sole or primary goal is normal for socialist political movements and for the liberal "social justice" Christians who imitate them. A perfect example is the way that Sojourners supports Obama's health care reform on the basis of how it makes for economic equality while ignoring the largest expansion of funding for abortion ever.

You can't build true justice on a foundation of policy that denies the right to life to the weakest and most vulnerable members of the community. This is why the stance of the Roman Catholic bishops in the US, who want health care reform but refuse to support this bill is so principled and admirable. If the Democratic Party was really concerned about social welfare in general and not fixated on economic equality alone, it would find a way to get the bishops on their side. The fact that they have not done so strongly suggests that their idea of social justice is more socialist than Christian.


penny farthing said...

This is interesting. I actually emailed Beck about the Catholic concept of social justice, and what to read about it - he is all about reading primary sources. He definitely oversimplifies, but it is true that many churches in the US, and even more in Latin America, have a very socialist view of social justice. Most churches, though, use the phrase to mean basically helping the poor, volunteering, charity, that sort of thing (which is still not a very in-depth view of social justice, but at least it's not Marxist)

penny farthing said...

I forgot to mention - it's true what you said in your last paragraph about not having a foundation that violates the rights of the weakest people. It's admirable that the bishops stood up for that. However, it really bothered me that they were pretty much fine with Obamacare as long as it didn't cover abortion - what about subsidiarity? There are a number of things wrong with this law from a social doctrine point view, aside from abortion.