Saturday, April 28, 2007


Friday, April 27, 2007

Slow Blogging Next Week

I have to do some travel and probably won't be near a PC very much until late next week.


Making Trade Just

Many people hear a term like "free trade", and instinctively think "Who can be against freedom?"

Further, we often think of "free trade" as simply exporting the best of American economic prosperity.

In reality, "free trade' is often a rigged game that allows corporations in the developed world to exploit developing nations, increasing poverty abroad.

What we need is not "free trade", but "fair trade" or "just trade".


One Side to Every Story

This Sojouners article by Danny Duncan Collum demonstrates that the media coverage of "free trade" agreements is biased and doesn't inform of the downside of recent agreements.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Interesting Fact From NETWORK

NETWORK is a Catholic social justice advocacy group.

I was simply browing their site, and ran across this interesting factoid that would seem to provide some empirical evidence from none other than the U.S. Defense Department that the way to peace is to work for justice:

According to a recent classified study conducted by the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Warfare Analysis Center, improving the quality of life of Iraqi citizens reduces the level of violence in Baghdad. Citing military sources, the New York Times reported in January, 2007: "...the study found that a 2% increase in job satisfaction among Iraqis in Baghdad correlated to a 30% decline in attacks on allied forces and a 17% decrease in civilian deaths from sectarian violence."


USCCB Concerned about Bush's Immigration Reform

The bishops also make an appeal for Africa.



Poverty: A Moral Wound on the Soul of the Nation

The president of Catholic Charities USA testified before Congress today that poverty in the United States is a man made disaster due to moral choices to deliberately retreat from economic justice.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Vietnam Outlaws Sex Selection Abortions

Hmmm. Here's something that many pro-choice Americans may not consider.

Vietnam apparently has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, where the majority of aborted babies are girls. India faces a similar problem, despite legislation against gender based abortions.

I don't know how I missed it last week, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the partial birth abortion ban.

Honestly, I did not expect that Kennedy would go along with it, and I was even uncertain of Roberts.

I believe it was something like eighty percent of the public that supported a partial birth abortion ban in the legislature.



Senate Majority Leader Calls Bush a Liar,..., Says Iraq is a Lost War

Harry Reid is not backing down to critics who say he is sending the wrong message to the troops in Iraq.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Excellent Commonweal Editorial

Commonweal basically asks when Weigle and Novak are going to admit that they were wrong about Iraq and the bishops and pope were right.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Saint Paul and Homosexuality

In the link above, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, claims that those who quote Saint Paul against homosexuality are going against the very meaning of the passage.

The Archbishop claims that the passage is really about how we are all sinners, and anyone claiming some are holier than others is wrong.

Williams claims that his reading provides ammunition for neither side of the debate.

Those who wish to use Saint Paul to condemn homosexuality wind up condemning themselves as self righteous judgmental hypocrites.

Those who wish to use the passage to justify homosexuality run up against the problem that Saint Paul is clearly listing examples of sin that everyone in his day acknowledged as sin, according to Williams.

What does the passage actually say?

Speaking of the ways that all the gentiles had historically turned away from God, Paul lists many sins, as Williams says. Later, he lines up the case against his own Jewish people.

Among the examples of how gentiles fell away from God, Paul states the following:

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
God handed them over to "degrading passions".

What does that mean?

It almost sounds like God is responsible for this. One can picture a sort of Flip Wilson defense of homosexuality. Instead of saying "The Devil made me do it", we have someone saying, "God made me do it."

It seems that homosexuality is not the sin, in itself, but some sort of consequence of a deeper sin.

Of course, we could technically argue that God did not make the gentiles turn to homosexual behavior. Rather, he handed them over to "degrading passions" that they already had.

OK. That's clear enough, as far as it goes.

Homosexuality would be viewed as degrading, though a consequence of a deeper sin. God doesn't make people embrace it, but he allows them to embrace it in freedom.

It seems that God honors free will, and God allows sinners to wallow in the consequences of their sin. Hmmm. Maybe that sets an example for the way we ought to view gay civil unions?

But let's go just a bit deeper.

Saint Paul says the females "exchanged natural relations for unnatural".

That implies that the female was heterosexual by nature, and made a free choice to change her desire and engage in unnatural relations. The males did likewise.

In other words, what is "degrading" is acting against a natural desire - the desires you originally had at birth.

I hold no doctorate in scripture. I've taken some courses, and dabbled a bit in scholarship and the original languages and such. But I'm far from being a full fledged expert.

Yet, like any Christian, I have to make my best educated guess what the passage means with an openness to listening to the Holy Spirit.

The way the passage seems to read to me is that Paul is clearly speaking of a freely chosen homosexual condition that goes against an individual's inclinations given at birth.

I understand that Paul may have had an assumption that all people are born heterosexually oriented at some fundamental level.

Maybe some of my readers share this presumption.

The important thing here is not whether a person is born heterosexual or homosexual.

The important point is that it seems that the reality Paul is describing is chosen.

Further, it is chosen as the result of a deeper, yet conscious turning away from God.

When I listen to some people speak of thier own experiences with homosexuality, it is true that I occassionally hear someone referring to preferences, choices, and the malleability of sexual attraction.

In some cases, a person will insist they have predominantly to exclusively heterosexual desires, and still chose homosexual behavior. I've heard this especially from men in prisons.

For such people, it would seem that Paul might be saying that homosexual acts go against the more natural inclination of heterosexuality.

On the other hand, I also hear many people describe an experience of homosexuality that seems to be fixed before the age of reason, and is predominant to the point of being an exclusive attraction to members of the same gender.

The CCC and many documents from the Vatican admit that this innate sort of condition can exist.

These people describe a homosexual orientation as though it were a condition at birth. They are quite adamant that no choice is involved.

There even seems to be empirical evidence in observing animals and in some observations about human beings that suggests that a condition of unchosen homosexuality might exist from birth.

If that is true, such people would not seem to have "exchanged natural relations for unnatural".

Rather, homosexuality is the natural way such persons relate to the world. Paul may not have known about such a state, but that does not mean it did not exist.

Paul did not know about the existence of the Americas, but that does not mean that the land mass did not exist.

If we do two things, I think it is clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury is largely correct.

First, if we read Paul's whole letter to the Romans attentively, it does become clear that the Archbishop is correct that much of the opening chapters is dedicated to demonstrating that we are all sinners fallen short of the glory of God, and no one person is better than another.

This is where Augustine later found scriptural support for his doctrine of original sin.

If we read the letter in its entireity, the Archbishop is correct that it is a mis-use of Paul's letter to single out a particular class of whatever we call sin and argue it is somehow worse than others.

Second, by examining exactly what the passage says closely, we can go beyond what the Archbishop said.

I think it is clear that the application of Paul's thinking would only clearly indicate that freely chosen homosexuality by a basically heterosexual person is related to sin, more as a consequence of sin than a sin itself.

If certain people are "born gay", the passage does not seem to be referring to those people, whom Paul and his readers did not know about.

The Archbishop is correct that this argument does not "prove" that Paul approved of homosexuality if people are "born gay".

We cannot prove such a thing, because it was not likely Paul conceived of such a concept as a permanent homosexual condition from birth.

I'll even concede that the passage does provide a caution to us to be slow in assuming such a condition exists. However, caution does not mean ruling out the possibility a priori.

If we reach the conclusion that such a condition does exist after careful consideration of reality, it seems unlikely Paul is speaking about that condition in this passage.

We cannot prove that Paul approved of homosexuality in some instances. We cannot know if would have approved of it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined. Yet, we also cannot prove he would have condemned it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined.

The simple fact is that the passage has no bearing on those "born gay" to anyone who accepts the possibility that a human person can be "born gay".


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

An Analogy for the Logic of Humanae Vitae

In my comboxes, a reader compared natural family planning to fishing.

He stated that he sometimes likes to fish all day, even during those times of the day when the fish don't typically bite.

Sometimes, due to a lack of time or some other reason, he might fish ONLY during a time of day when making a catch is unlikely just to be outside. That's how he sees NFP.

On the other hand, using contraception is like tying a shoe to the end of your fishing line, instead of bait. It frustates the act of fishing.

I like his analogy as far as it goes. I even think this is a good way to explain the older rythmn methods known to Pope Pius XII, and perhaps even Pius XI.

Yet, I do not think it explains why the type of NFP embraced by Paul VI or John Paul II is morally licit.

Because contemporary NFP can achieve a certainty that pregnancy will not occur that Pius XI could not imagine, if that is your intent, I argued that NFP today is more like casting your baited line into the sand during low tide.

If there is a good reason to cast your bait into the sand, maybe that same reason applies to tying a shoe to the end of the line.

My reader responded that the analogy failed because casting your line into the sand is no longer recognizably fishing.

I responded that this is how the legalistic sort of thinking done by the Vatican would explain how casting bait into the sand during low tide is still morally licit fishing:

FIRST PREMISE: The purpose of casting a fishing line into water is catching fish. This is the primary end of all fishing expeditions. Therefore, it is intrinsically evil to tie a shoe to the line frustrating the act of casting a fishing line into water. Any frustration of the act of casting for fish would be morally illicit.

SECOND PREMISE: Casting your line in shallow water is morally licit, even if water is so shallow as to likely have few fish (analogous to infertility).

THIRD PREMISE: Casting your line with little chance of catching fish, such as during a time of the day when fish are not likely to bite, is morally licit (the rythm method of fishing). For fishing does achieve other secondary ends, such as enjoyment of the outdoors. So long as an openess to catching fish is present and all secondary ends are subordinate to the primary end, there is no sin.

FIRST CONCLUSION (analogous to what Castti Connubbii allows): Therefore, casting in shallow water, such as close to the shore, is a morally licit place to cast your line, even during times of the day when fish would not likely bite in deeper waters, so long as you are open to catching fish. Tying a shoe to your line is intrinsically immoral, because it frustrates the act of casting a fishing line.

FURTHER CONCLUSION (Analogous to what Humanae Vitae allows): Since casting your line close to the shore is not intrinsically immoral, you may cast your line at that same point in place, even when the tide is so low that water no longer covers that point in place. For God graciously gave us periods of time when water does not cover the entire beach. By casting your line at this precise point close to the shore during the period the tide is so low that water is absent, you are not doing anything to frustrate the act of casting your line, as you would do by tying a shoe to the line. Instead, you are enjoying a period of time that God has gracioulsy given for another purpose. This may be done to enjoy the great outdoors, even when one has morally licit reasons to refrain from catching fish, such as not wishing to deplete the body of water of fish. We call this "responsible fishing", which is morally licit due to the unitive end of fishing that seeks to be one with nature. Though the intentions seem similar, there is no contradiction, because the means of achieving the end are entirely different. Nothing is done during the act of casting your line to frustrate its purpose. One may cast one's line in the sand during low tide to exercise responsible fishing.

Humanae Vitae sounds this silly to many Catholics.


Monday, April 16, 2007

VA Tech Gunman Dead After Rampage

At least thirty two people are dead after the nation's deadliest school attack. No words can do justice to our horror at this. May those killed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. May all of the rest of us find some form of healing from this tragedy.


My Homework Assignment From Mass

This is a post especially intended for "lapsed Catholics" based on an assignment given to me in a homily at Mass yesterday.

Yesterday's Gospel reading tells the story many of us know as the origin of the term "a doubting Thomas".

One of the Twelve, Thomas, doubted the reports that Christ was risen from the dead, and he was the last of them to come to faith.

The presider at the Mass I attended, Father Mike, is the leader of a young adult group, comprised of people in their twenties and thirties, and a few in their forties.

This is only one of Father Mike's many ministries, and he was speaking to the entire congregation at a regular Sunday Mass.

He spoke of a man whom he called Frank, who was likely a composite character of people he knows through this ministry to young adults.

Frank now works as an engineer, and was brought up Catholic and attended Mass every Sunday as a kid, because his parents made him go.

He also was compelled to take some religious instruction in grade school and high school.

After he turned 18 and went off to college, he started going to Mass less and less, though his mother nagged him about it enough to keep him going at least once a month.

Then, under some peer pressure from some friends, he attended a retreat for the young adults.

For the first time in his life, he experienced people his own age speaking of ways they encountered God in their daily lives.

He felt a bond with these people, and wanted to experience something of what they seemed to have. So he joined the young adults.

Through the young adults, he became involved in a weekly prayer group that regularly reflected on the week's upcoming readings at Mass.

The young adults would try to apply these readings to what was going on thier lives, at work, or in classes, or in dating, or in family life, and what have you.

Through this process, the young man began to go to Mass more frequently, and was far more personally involved in what was going on at Mass.

He'd listen to the homily more attentively, often just to see if the presider got the same thing out of the readings that he did.

Sometimes, the priest did. Other times, the priest had a different insight.

Sometimes, the priest's insight was better, and sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes, the priest was "boring". Other times, he was engaging.

Despite the priest, this young man found he was getting more out of Mass, simply because he was now paying attention.

Slowly, the Mass was becoming the highlight of his week.

Eventually, Frank married. He had children, and he and his wife wanted to raise thier children in this faith that they found growing within them.

As a family, Frank and his wife and children were active in the parish community. He had retained ties over the years with those in the young adult group, and formed new friendships through other parish activities.

By now, his parents were divorced, and his father had remarried. He questioned if it were wise or true that his father should not receive communion.

He and his wife had decided to use birth control, though they knew the Church is against it.

One of his best friends from college had come out to him as a homosexual, and seemed happy. He questioned whether the Church teaching is adequate on homosexuality.

Frank believes that some horrendous crimes merit the death penalty, even though he knows Catholic teaching doesn't fully support his view.

He was paying enough attention to the Church at the beginning of the invasion in Iraq to know that Pope John Paul was against the invasion. At the time, he thought the Pope was overstepping his bounds and should mind his own business.

Now, a few laters, he sees the wisdom of John Paul's cautions against the invasion.

Father Mike went to say that this young man is still an active Catholic and that the whole family is still going to Mass regularly.

Frank was looking for ways to raise his children in this faith that would be different than the way he was brought up.

He wants his children to experience and share his own enthusiasm for the Mass, and the local parish community. He does not want to make them feel that Mass was simply an imposed obligation like his parents made him feel when he was young.

Frank has doubts about Church teaching, but he continues to find a home in the parish, and in the community and the tradition. He is open to continued growth, but doesn't accept everything uncritically.

Father Mike then stated that Frank's story is not typical of young adults today.

Frank is not typical, because three out of four young adults are simply drifting away from the Church.

Father Mike held up a book containing a statistical study of the Catholic Church in America.

Father Mike highlighted that most people raised Catholic - just like Frank - seem to accept many of the articles of the creed, real presence, and many Marian beliefs, and that they even have some sort of spirituality and prayer life.

These folks are often educated in the faith as best as can be expected.

They attended Catholic schools or CCD or PSR, and have been exposed to far more information and facts about the faith than people knew two or three generations ago.

According to the statistics, however, three in four do not come to Mass on any regular basis, especially in the twenties, thirties and early forties age bracket.

They share many of the same doubts that Frank does, but drift from active involvement in the parish and a sacramental life.

When asked the most important thing in the Gospel, ninety one percent respond that caring for the poor is the number one mark of being a good Christian.

Father Mike then said "These people get it."

Father Mike went on to say that the Church is failing these people, and that we need them.

By that, Father Mike did not mean that the pope and bishops alone are failing these people - whether there is some truth to this or not.

Father Mike was not encouraging those of us gathered to stop coming to Mass so that we could care for the poor on Sunday morning either.

He was telling us that we are not making it transparent why we keep coming to Mass despite our own doubts and questions.

We are not in the habit of speaking of how we encounter the Holy Spirit in the Church, and even in the midst of our questions.

Father Mike went on to drive home the point by telling us of conversations he has with his evangelical Protestant relatives, where they tell him "The Holy Spirit said this to me....and then the Holy Spirit did that...."

Father Mike stated that we Catholics need to speak more about how God is active in our lives, even when we have our doubts.

That's what made the difference for Frank.

He had the good fortune of meeting Catholics his own age who could speak openly about what God was doing in their lives.

Father Mike tied this experience to the doubting Thomas.

When Thomas was apart from a community, his doubts took over. Only when he felt included in the gathering of believers in the upper room did his doubts begin to be relieved.

Father Mike pointed at the altar and said something to the effect that many of us want others to experience the real presence of Christ there - as well we should, he said.

Then, he pointed to the ambo (or lecturn - where the word is proclaimed), and said and we should want them to experience the real presence there too.

And then he pointed at all of us and said "And here too. Perhaps above all."

In community, he said, we find how to believe and doubt and grow and resolve the tensions of our natural doubts - doubts as real as Thomas' doubts.

The community needs to be able to speak of how God is operating in the community and draw the doubters into the upper room with us to be fed in the faith.

Father Mike then went on to say that part of this type of conversation involves listening too - and joining in each other's struggles - sharing the bond of friendship even in the midst of doubt and confusion until it becomes transparent that the where the Spirit really is operating is with this community of friends.

Father Mike asked, "Can I be a Catholic if I don't believe everything the Church teaches? The answer is yes."

He went on to explain that, at its best, Church teaching helps us to grow in love.

That is the intention of every teaching, and we should strive to seek the ways that the teaching helps us to do that.

And admitting that we have questions and struggles understanding how a particular teaching helps us grow in love right now in our own daily life is simply part of the experience of being a Catholic - an experience every one of us knows.

At that point, Father Mike gave the entire congregation a homework assignement, which is why I am writing.

The homework assignment is to ask those people who drifted away from the Church what the Church could do to serve them better?

To show his own commitment to the assignment, he will be setting up a sort of town hall through the young adult ministry.

Through this meeting, he will listen to those who struggle with Church teaching, or who have drifted for no conscious reason, or who feel excluded, or who have been hurt, and so forth.

Father Mike will listen without trying to respond defensively.

Father Mike challenged the entire congregation to do the same thing.

I am well aware that posting the question on a blog is not quite the same as speaking directly to someone in my personal life. So, this post is not the completion of my homework.

There is also a danger in posting this type of question on a blog that is trafficked by many active participating Catholics who participate in the sacraments regularly.

The danger is that if a so-called "lapsed Catholic" were to honestly answer the question in my comboxes, the "defenders of the faith" might try to respond.

It is not my homework to solicit from active Catholics why you remain committed to the Church.

My homework is to solicit responses from anyone happening by who was raised Catholic, and who has drifted away: What could we do better to serve you and entice you to become involved again?


Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Common Good: A Biblical Perspective on the Role of Government

This Sojourners article by Ronald Sider seemed like good Biblical support for some of the ideas for yesterday's post.

He also alludes to Catholic social justice teaching, giving us Catholics credit for it.

Sider is an Evangelical Protestant, and has some different emphasis than I do, but I see no contradictions.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Role of the State in Economic Justice

I have been thinking quite a bit this year about economic justice. There are basically two reasons I am thinking about this.

First, it simply amazes me beyond words that the United States of America could have spent over four billion dollars over the last four years on killing people in Iraq without just cause, while we cannot seem to put a mere one percent of our federal budget - about twenty six billion - into international development.

Second, as I have mentioned many times in the past few months, I am participating in a program in my parish called JustFaith.

Through this program, I am almost daily confronted with images, narratives, facts, figures and analysis regarding poverty at home and abroad and what faith has to say about these conditions.

Basically, I am coming to see that the Church's social justice teaching might be best understood as a diagnosis rather than a prescription.

For example, the teaching on a just and living wage does not necessarily mean that a nation state without minimum wage legislation is an unjust state.

Nor does the teaching establish what the minimum wage should be or how it should be calculated if a nation state does pass minimum wage laws.

Yet, the teaching does have some sort specificity to it.

The teaching is that if any worker anywhere for any reason is paid a wage that cannot support his or her family, that worker is being paid unjustly.

Supporting the family is also defined. It means that there does exist some basic minimum requirement for food, shelter, clothing, and medical care that would sustain human life and human dignity.

We can quible over where the line between living with dignity and being degraded actually lies. Let's save establishing that precise line for another day.

Really, in broader strokes, the teaching is an application of the golden rule.

It amounts to saying that the employer must pay the worker a wage that the employer, him or herself, would accept to do the same job.

In a sense, if a seven figure earning CEO would not accept a five figure salary to do the job of the five figure earner, that CEO is not paying that worker enough money.

But to view it this way makes it sound like the issue is simply one of personal morality, and can lead to some confusion.

Perhaps the CEO would do a job for five figures, but is better qualified and adds more value doing a job that really should pay seven figures. There's nothing wrong with this instance.

Nevetheless, I think it obvious that some employers pay a worker a wage that the employer would never personally accept under any conditions short of threat of starvation.

And paying a worker merely enough to prevent her or his personal starvation is not a just and living wage in the sense intended by the Church.

What the Church is teaching is that there is both an aspect of personal morality, but also public or social morality.

As individuals, we all must put morally licit forms of pressure on each other to live up to the ideal.

The Church's social teaching is not purely or solely political, but it does have a political component.

Basically, the Church is saying that societies and cultures are formed by four broad forces that could be considered like legs to a table (The U.S. bishops have used this precise metaphor, and it's a fairly good one in my mind).

The four legs to the table outlined by bishops are as follows:

(1) the individual moral agent and the family;

(2) privately owned businesses and corporations;

(3) government entities; and

(4) voluntary associations such as churches, unions, clubs, and so forth.

American Democrats tend to be at least somewhat distrustful of the business community, and somewhat more reliant on government solutions and voluntary associations to address social problems.

American Republicans tend to be somewhat distrustful of government, and more reliant on the power of the free market or the family to relieve social problems, with some assistance from particular types of voluntary organizations.

The Catholic Church simply refuses to definitively and unambiguously take either side on this American division. The teaching authority seems to perceive these two poles as a false dichotomy.

The Church insists that all four legs of the table must be stable to support the table top of the common good.

Every single individual, and every single family, and every single business, and every single operation of the state, and every single voluntary association must serve the good of human persons or the entity in question ceases to be just and is properly called unjust.

When one leg of the table becomes wobbly, the other three must bear more weight until the defective leg is repaired, and the defective leg must be repaired.

Repairing the legs of the table is a collective effort, which means that every single individual alive has some responsibility to making the repairs.

Thus, returning to our living wage example, if you believe that anyone anywhere is paid a wage that cannot support a family, you are morally obligated as a Christian and a Catholic and a human being to do what you can within your sphere of influence to rectify this worker's wage using all four means of effecting social change:

(1) Demanding a just and living wage for yourself and paying anyone who works for you a just and living wage, and pressuring the individual business owner, especially within your own family, to act with personal justice;

(2) Pressuring those companies you do business with to act justly by the investments, personal and business purchases, partnerships and advertizing you engage;

(3) Pressuring the government to intervene in morally, ethically and legally licit ways to correct injustice; and

(4) Joining and involving church, unions, clubs and other voluntary associations in your personal efforts to ensure that everyone everywhere is paid a just and living wage.

Of course, there is more to all of this.

For example, we could flesh out principles such as subsidiarity and how to apply it to various situations.

What subsidiarity never seems to mean in doctrine is that one leg is not responsible for social justice. All four legs are responsible - always and everywhere.

What subsidiarity seems to mean to me has to do with is whether to fix a leg where it connects to the table at the top, or where it touches the floor at the bottom, or somewhere in between.

If two legs are defective, subsidiarity may apply to a different point for each of the two legs, and the table top will not be stable until both legs are fixed.

There are other aspects of the Church's social teaching that we could delve into deeper.

What do we mean by rights and responsibilities, the universal destination of goods, the common good, participation, solidarity, a fundamental option for the poor, stewardship for the environment, the sanctity of human life, peace, and so forth?

Simply defining all our terms could take a great deal of time and effort.

But none of that is what I set out to write about today.

Indeed, what I have outlined may seem overwhelmingly complex if it is to be considered morally binding on everyone.

And everything said so far is really to establish the topic I want to address, which I haven't even really got to yet.

The issue is the role of government and politics in social economic justice.

There are other types of injustice than economic injustice, so I want to narrow the focus a bit to zero in on an important point.

Whenever I bring up social economic justice on this blog, inevitably, someone wants to argue that morality cannot be imposed by the state, or that the Church needs to stay out of politics, or subsidiarity somehow absolves us from involving the state in intervening to address issues like poverty.

I see quotations from scripture taken out of context such as "the poor will always be with you" and "render to Caesar what is Caesar's".

Typically, people are arguing that the free market feeds more people than any other system, and too much tinkering with free markets could do more harm than good.

As idealistic as wealth redistribution may sound, the government often messes it up.

And what I have been slowly coming to realize over the course of several years is that there absolutely cannot be a morally neutral state.

The state either does good, or evil, and it always and everywhere is involved in our personal lives no matter how much individual freedom the state grants.

I am not really arguing so much for wealth redistribution as the government's role in addressing poverty, as will become clear.

In a democracy, we, the people, are supposed to actually be the state - having some say in shaping our own collective destiny. We are making moral choices through our voting or abstaining.

At a fundamental level, deeper than any issue such as whether to raise taxes or spend state funds on this or that, the state has its primary intervention in our lives in a way so obvious that it is like the air we breathe - we are seldom conscious of it unless we make ourselves conscious of it.

The government is directly involved in your personal life right at this very moment in a way you may not consider until it is pointed out.

So, let me point it out.

If you have any money anywhere at this very moment, the state printed that money!

That money has no value except that the state printed it and guarantees its value.

Every single thing that has anything whatsover to do with money is an issue involving the state.

When you buy a cup of coffee, the state is involved - not just through the sales tax or an FDA regulation on coffee production or a free trade agreement with the country growing coffee.

The state is involved simply because you handed the sales clerk a means of payment that involved government issued money!

Unless you washed dishes for the coffee sales clerk or bartered something on your person other than money in direct exchange for your coffee, you chose to involve the state in your transaction by the mere fact that you used money in the transaction.

Every monetary transaction everywhere at any time in human history and the foreseeable human future involves the state in a direct way in people's personal lives.

Thus, when people suffer what the Church diagnoses as social injustice, and it would cost money to repair the injustice, the state is involved even if the Church seems to be the channel through which the money flows.

Our question can almost never be whether to involve the state in addressing economic injustice.

Our question must almost always be to what degree and how do we involve the state in a morally licit way in addressing economic injustice.

I say "almost" for the sole reason that there may be strict barter transactions occurring anywhere at any given time that do not involve money.

Wherever "economic" injustice exists, the state is the primary short leg holding up the table top of economic justice.

There could be other forms of injustice, such as gender discrimination, that are not necessarily economic injustices.

For example, a woman making a just and living wage as a theology professor may not be suffering economic injustice due to the Church's refusal to ordain her - but we can ask if she is a victim of another type of injustice.

She may even be better paid than a parish priest.

But when we speak of a woman in general making 73 cents to the dollar of her male counterpart, that is an issue of economic injustice, and therefore does involve the state in at least some way.

Except in a primitive barter economy, any form of economic injustice involves the state to a degree - and the grossest injustices involve the state heavily.

If people die of preventable disease or starvation in a monied economy, that is a state problem in a way that may not be true in a barter economy.

Yet, even for those who barter more than usual, such as in a developing nation, money transactions will occur in the lives of almost every human being alive today.

States are involved in the lives of every human being in transations that have nothing to do with simply preventing murder or violence or enforcing traffic regulations or banning or approving gay unions.

There is no such thing a true and absolutist libertarian who wants to keep money.

Libertarianism to the absolute extreme would abolish money entirely, and return the entire global economy to a primitive barter system.

Everything involving money involves the state.

Interest rates are determined in large part by the Federal Reserve. A corporation is a legal entity created by the state. A business contract is a state product in the sense of being a legal document dealing with transfers of money. Tax rates are established by the state.

Money never really belongs to you. It is sort of borrowed, sometimes in exchange for your labor or ideas, but sometimes just because you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Regardless how you came upon it, money doesn't belong to you. It is a state issued piece of paper and it belongs to the state (Render to Caesar what is Caesar's).

In and of itself, the piece of paper or metal is almost entirely worthless to you, accept that the state guarantees it will have a certain value.

So, it is perfectly fair to ask some fundamental questions when a worker does not earn a just and living wage.

We can ask the business owner why he doesn't pay the worker more money?

But we can also ask the state why the money the worker is paid doesn't have enough value to support a family?

With the former question, we know the standard pat answers.

The employer will claim he cannot pay the worker without driving up costs to the consumer, hurting everyone in the long run with inflation.

In some cases, we even know that the employer is not lying. As prices go up, the increased salary we gave the employee will fall back behind.

So, we settle on minimum wage legislation that isn't calculated on the cost of caring for a family. Instead, it is calculated to keep the single worker above some imaginary threshhold we call a poverty line.

There is an assumption that not all workers have a family to support, and minimum wage jobs will be taken by those who do not need to support a family.

We adjust our calculations occassionally for inflation.

But we're never really getting at the root of the problem, and we're never really tackling the issue that there are workers who cannot support their families even if they make more than minimum wage or work more than one minimum wage job.

If instead of asking why the employer doesn't pay more, we asked the state why the workers' wage doesn't have more value, we shift the discussion substantially.

The state cannot argue that raising the worker's wage in dollars drives up product price in dollars, because the number of dollars earned by the worker isn't even the question we are asking.

We aren't even demanding the business owner to pay more dollars. The question we are asking is why the dollars the worker receives do not have the value the state should be guarenteeing!

The state sets the value of the dollar (or the yen, or the euro, or what have you).

To grasp what I am trying to convey, imagine that the state issued everyone in its domain (every legal citizen) an ATM card with enough money to support their basic needs for the year.

People would retain the right to enter into any sort of private arrangement they want that adds money to the account, or they could just live off the card all year at some basic level until it runs out and a new card is issued next year.

Whatever they don't spend rolls over to the next year, but everyone receives the same basic minimum each year. The basic minimum is recalculted every year.

Thus, say a person could meet all the basic living expenses on about $14,000 per year in the United States for 2007.

During this year, they actually manage to wheel and deal through hard work, innovation, and some risk taking in such a way as to still have $2,000 left in their account.

In 2008, the base is recalculated to $14,280 (a modest 2 percent COLA for inflation). For 2008, that person will have $16,280 in her or his account.

Yet, the person who spent their entire $14,000 in 2007 will start 2008 with $14,280, which was what was calculated to maintain his or her same life-style from 2007 in 2008!

I am not arguing that the rich cannot get richer. If someone manages to rack up millions of dollars in her or his account without harming anyone over the years, more power to them.

I am arguing against ever allowing the poor to get poorer under any circumstance.

Let people keep their homes when they become unexpectantly unemployed or interest rates go up.

These cards could even be individualized for exceptional needs.

A person with a debilitating handicap may be eligible for an extra $5,000 in medical care so that his 2007 card is $19,000, and 2008 is $19,380.

There could even be an established process for receiving emergency funds for "acts of God" like Katrina.

What am I really arguing here?

I don't know for sure if my idea of a state issued ATM card to every citizen is THE ideal solution to every social ill. Maybe it is, but it's not the specific solution I am really arguing.

Rather, I am arguing a mentality - and that mentality is the mentality of "entitlement".

We are entitled to some basic minimum standard of living according to Church teaching.

Anyone dismissing the very idea of entitlement is simply wrong - morally wrong.

Even a prisoner has a right to be fed and have a roof over his head, and the same applies to a couch potato.

It applies all the more to a Wal-Mart employee!

The state does have a grave obligation to ensure that entitlement is met, because the state controls the power of money.

The ability of the other three legs to do their thing in the most effective manner depends on the state because money is used by all the legs.

From the issuing of money itself, to a decision to spend money on a war, the state is intervening in our personal lives every day and determining in one manner or another what money will buy and who will get the most of it.

Unless you can envision a society without money at all, it is always the state's responsibility to ensure that people receive what they are minimally entitled to receive as human persons.

People have a right to life. This means they have a right to the means to support life. As John Paul II put it, people have a right to eat!

The state must guarantee that right, and the only question is how the state goes about that in the most effective manner.

Think about this as we debate things like universal health care, social security, and so forth in upcoming elections.


Monday, April 09, 2007


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iraq Four Years Later

This is a great editorial from NCR on the true costs of our blatantly unjust and immoral war in Iraq.


John Allen on Church in Central America

Allen asks why 500 years of Catholicism in Central America hasn't had more impact.