Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Political Life of American Catholics

AMERICAN CATHOLICS generally vote as if they are either Freemasons or Socialists, but certainly not as Catholics. This no doubt is due to our cultural milieu, especially as conditioned by the schools and media, as well as poor catechesis and lukewarm faith (as mine so often is).

Just reading blogs and editorial pages will demonstrate this fact: rarely will commentators hold to the general Catholic view.  Politically conservative Catholics will state that a living family wage is impossible since wages ought to conform to market rates.  Politically liberal Catholics will state that they will not oppose abortion unless society addresses other social problems. Rather, a living family wage ought to be the center of the organization of the economy, and the right to life is at the top of the hierarchy of values.

Any Catholic who agrees with the typical platform of either the Republican or Democratic Party is objectively a heretic. Fortunately for us, although the precepts of the Church's Social Doctrine is grave matter — that is, if you fail to follow them you go to Hell — the Church recognizes that the difficulty of gaining adequate knowledge of the matter can mitigate the severity of our guilt. However, non-Catholics are not completely off the hook: unlike matters of Church discipline like the observance of days of penance and fasting, the Church proposes that this doctrine is a part of the Natural Law, and so is binding in conscience on all persons.

Evidence that the Social Doctrine is a part of the Natural Law is shown by its observance in many stable cultures all over the world and throughout history.  Only when we get to the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and French Revolution do we see a clean break from the ideals of the past, as well as the increasingly violent ways of solving social problems.  Forcing people out of their jobs is good for the economy, some say. Killing people is the best way to achieve good health care, say others.

Both political parties seem completely dedicated to the principle of competition:  for the Republicans, it is competition among businesses; for the Democrats, it is competition between social classes. Both parties are dedicated to encouraging competition between nations, although in different ways.  The principle of competition, as the primary mechanism for the advancement of society, is a heresy and belies a materialistic worldview, although it does have a minor role to play.  Rather, the social doctrine is more spiritualistic and emphases cooperation and agreement in all levels of society, including public and private institutions. Now both parties no doubt would like cooperation, as long as their opposition is silenced. And so shamefully, both parties promote ever greater competition in the spheres of their interest, causing ever greater chaos in society.

I would suggest reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  There is much in here to delight both conservatives and liberals of good will!  However, it may outrage those who seek great wealth or big government, or those who seek to do their own will, in the spirit of non serviam.  Catholics ought to form their conscience on the Social Doctrine of the Church, this being an integral part of her preaching the Gospel for the purpose of "helping man on the path to salvation".


  1. Mark, I am very surprised and delighted. I never have seen it expressed so well in this year of BS (pardon me, but there is no way to make waste pretty) -- perhaps in several years. I only wish many more Catholics (especially some bloggers) would be able to read it.

    I hope you don't mind my passing on the URL to this remarkable essay.

    And I take back any time I ever disagreed with you.

  2. Thank you for a clear, well-written post, and a stark reminder that we Catholics are called always to seriously consider the teachings of the Church in our political lives, be it as leaders or as ordinary citizens.

  3. The Church's Social Doctrine is very clear, but not well known. Faithful Catholics would do themselves well if they would study it, and this would help heal many divisions among those who otherwise agree.