"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.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

God's Good Things are Sufficient for Me

Recent economic events are an profound confirmation of the truth of traditional Catholic teachings and an equally profound refutation of the "spirit of capitalism" school of Catholic theology. The spirit of Catholic economics as declared above by St. Ambrose makes it blazingly obvious that the corporatist/consumerist economic model promotes exactly those economic vices that the Church condemns.

An illustration from the recent financial debacle may clinch the point. The Catechism tells us: "The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste." Catechism 2409. Though all of these apply to the current culprits of uninhibited neoliberal practice, the most pertinent one for the most massive transfer of wealth in U.S. history is "appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise", the "enterprise" in this case being the United States of America. AIG, Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, and those yet to come, have all pleaded to those in charge of the public treasury to absolve them of the consequences of their greed. And corrupt officials have gladly agreed.

What is blatantly obvious, though few in the Church seem willing to state it openly, is that the current economic system, far from creating the conditions for virtuous action, promotes and rewards precisely those economic vices that the Church explicitly condemns. In fact, we have been systematically blinded to the consequences of neoliberal economic practice by a system of corporate propaganda that has rarely been challenged from American pulpits. Instead, the Church has been glad to share in the bounty of these practices as long as they were successful.

We Catholics in the pews must have the courage to repent our own endorsement of corporate neoliberalism first, then we must demand that Church leadership condemn these immoral practices with the vigor of John Paul II who wrote in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, "It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world, in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a 'virtue,' is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. This determination is based on the solid conviction that what is hindering full development is that desire for profit and that thirst for power already mentioned. These attitudes and 'structures of sin' are only conquered - presupposing the help of divine grace - by a diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one's neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to 'lose oneself' for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to "serve him" instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage."

The virtue of solidarity is precisely what our economic system despises. While we Catholics are treated to endless discourses filled with "shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people", the solid convictions of the Church which condemn neoliberalism are never mentioned. Again, the recent bailouts are heart-wrenching examples of the diametric opposite. Rather than committing to the common good, the goods of the vast majority are being decimated (quite literally) in order to promote the good of a tiny wealthy minority.

No comments: