An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Reply to a Critic
Recently, I received the following reply to my posting "Why the Bailout Will Fail According to St. Thomas Aquinas":
In reviewing your thesis, I am bothered by a statement that you made in response to 'butterfly'. You stated:
'In other words, rather than bailing out the billionaires, which Christian principles show to be an immoral act, we should remove the property that they have abused and redistribute it to the poor and those who have been harmed by their actions.'
My question to you is, what actual, pragmatic steps do you propose that Christians implement to 'remove the property that they the (wealthy) have abused and redistribute it to the poor and those who have been harmed.' What steps do you propose knowing the results and sad lessons of the:
1) French and Russian Revolution which stripped the wealthy of their possessions;
2) Knowing that the wealthy have friends in government who would do all in their
power to block and obfuscate any attempts of Christians to use legal means
to achieve this end;
3) If nothing else works, the wealthy are capable of hiring mercenary troops to
guard their property and possessions. If you have never seen mercenaries at
work,go to the country of Columbia (for just one example), and observe
mercenaries working for drug lords out-gun and out-manuever the national armed
4) And finally as I am typing this out, I am listening to political ads on the
TV. One candidate for the presidency accuses his opponent of trying to do
exactly what you are stating that Christians should do "re-distribute wealth
all around." But this candidate states that this concept is wrong because it
removes any incentive to work; removes any initiative to create new industry or
technology; removes any impetus to propel the nation to growth.
Since most people have not been gifted with Aquinas' lofty intellect nor do they all possess his profound virtue---what concrete steps are you proposing to initiate in America to achieve Aquinas' vision?" Comment in National Catholic Reporter.
I replied as follows:
"Rather than advocating the methods of the French or Russian revolutionaries, I advocate the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and his major commentators. Consider the recommendation of Cajetan, St. Thomas Aquinas' greatest commentator: "Now what a ruler can do in virtue of his office, so that justice may be served in the matter of riches, is to take from someone who is unwilling to dispense from what is superfluous for life or state, and to distribute it to the poor. In this way he just takes away the dispensation power of the rich man to whom the wealth has been entrusted because he is not worthy. For according to the teaching of the saints, the riches that are superfluous do not belong to the rich man as his own but rather to the one appointed by God as dispenser, so that he can have the merit of a good dispensation." - Cardinal Tommaso Cajetan, St. Thomae...Summa Theologica cum commentariis Thomae de Vio Cajetani. In other words, our goods are owned by God and given to us so that we can share in His goodness and mercy by freely sharing them with others.
In other words, the confiscation of the property of the wealthy is sometimes required so that justice may be served. Those who violate the common good, whether they be Communists or Wall Street bankers have abrogated the right to their superfluous property. This property should be expropriated and distributed to those whose rights have been violated so that the rich might have the merit of a good dispensation. Note that this expropriation contributes to the spiritual good of both rich and poor.
You make a valid practical point in item 2. I agree wholeheartedly that the wealthy would use their friends in government to prevent such expropriation. What we must ask ourselves as Christians is whether we should submit to the machinations of unjust wealth because we may not be able to successfully resist their conspiracies.
This reply also applies to point 3. I am quite aware of the effectiveness of the U.S.-supported Columbian mercenary troops. My point above however remains. Should Christians submit to superior firepower and efficient political repression? Is this the example of Jesus?
As to point number 4, redistributing the wealth according to the principles of justice sounds like an excellent idea to me. The fact that Mr. Obama renounces this idea diminishes his stature in my eyes.
Catholic social teaching does not depend on universal attainment of the gifts of St. Thomas, but they do respect his principles. Concretely, I advocate four specific actions:
1) The fortunes accumulated fraudulently by the CEOs and financial speculators of Wall Street should be immediately confiscated and placed in public fund to compensate victims of predatory lending practices.
2) The 850 billion dollar bailout fund should be immediately redirected to public works programs to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure, provide decent housing and schools, universal health care, and provide well-paid, full-time jobs for the unemployed.
3) Dismantle the U.S. war machine beginning with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, both because of their intrinsic injustice and to contribute to the funds needed to rebuild U.S. infrastructure.
4) Markedly increase the progressive taxation of the wealthiest five percent in order to help pay for the shift to an economy based on alternative energy sources.
In my posting, I presented Christian principles, validated by the Catechism. Most of the replies have been based on political practicalities. I would treasure a reply based on scripture, the Catechism, or the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Where are your Catholic principles, sir?"