14

Hell, Heaven, and Progressive Catholics

With another presidential election looming, it won’t be long before many self-described progressive Catholics start issuing countless statements about numerous policy issues. Though many such Catholics sit rather loosely with Catholic teaching on questions like life and marriage, their “relaxed” position on such issues is belied by their stridency on, for instance, economic matters. Woe betide he who suggests welfare cuts can sometimes be a legitimate policy option, for thou art anathema.

This absolutizing of what the Church teaches on what are usually prudential-judgment issues is often traced to the political theologies that emerged in 1960s West Germany, before (to everyone’s detriment) being exported to Latin America.

But as Pope Benedict XVI notes in part two of his Jesus of Nazareth, these theologies’ influence has faded in the Catholic world. Nevertheless, various progressive Catholics continue to press what is often a hyper-politicized understanding of the gospel. That suggests the roots of the problem may lie elsewhere.

Perhaps it has something to do with the eternal quest for “relevance” that’s often fuelled by living in hothouses like Washington, D.C. In some cases, it might be ambitions of a political appointment. While such factors shouldn’t be discounted, deeper theological influences may be at work. Though it’s impolitic to say so, one such pressure may be the effective denial of the reality of hell that has become part of much contemporary Christian life.

Hell is not a comfortable subject. The idea that we can, by virtue of one or more of our free choices, potentially separate ourselves eternally from God’s love is frightening.

But the reality of hell and that it will be populated by those who fail to choose to repent of such choices (we don’t know the identity or number of such people, and pray and hope we won’t  be among them) is firmly attested to by Scripture and Tradition. St. Augustine’s City of God devotes several chapters to affirming these truths. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers specifically to those who die in a state of mortal sin enduring “eternal separation from God.”

Moreover, from the standpoint of reason, hell is a logical side effect of God’s willingness to let us choose whether or not to live in His Truth.

God doesn’t will that anyone goes to hell. Hell is, as the philosopher John Finnis writes, “a self-made judgment, the inherent outcome of a sin by which one refuses to remain and grow in friendship with God.”

As a reality, however, hell has disappeared from some Christians’ horizons. This partly owes something to those biblical scholars who have reduced the gospels to “symbols” and “stories,” the “real” meaning of which — so they tell us — actually contradicts what the Church has always understood them to mean.

In this self-referential world, hell is simply “threat discourse” (as Karl Rahner called it) and God a cosmic bluffer — which would, Finnis observes, imply Jesus Christ is a liar.

Another, more mundane reason for hell’s disappearance is that we don’t really want to be accountable for our sins. Hence we rationalize them away through consequentialist illusions (a choice to kill an innocent life might be justified on the basis of an impossible calculation of known and unknown consequences), or delude ourselves that our fundamental option for Christ somehow obviates those post-conversion sins that render our faith, as St. James says, “dead.”

Among the many problems flowing from this is that once hell disappears as a real possibility, then heaven doesn’t mean so much anymore — since everyone, whatever they choose, is presumably going there.

The desire for heaven, however, can’t be eradicated from human existence. As beings made for an eternal destiny, it’s hardwired into us. Hence, it ends up getting transmuted into what Benedict calls “ideologies of progress.”

In Spe Salvi (perhaps his best encyclical thus far), Pope Benedict illustrates how the disappearance of the hope of heaven meant people started putting their faith in science to create a totally new world: “a kingdom of man” rather than the kingdom of heaven. This, Benedict argues, explains much of the modern world’s dysfunctionality.

When it comes to Catholics, hell’s disappearance and the ensuing trivialization of the hope of heaven has resulted in some effectively redefining their faith so that it becomes almost exclusively focused on various political agendas with utopian flavors (“end poverty forever”). It’s especially characteristic of those religious orders whose numbers have collapsed over the past 40 years.

Does this mean all progressive Catholics quietly deny hell? Not at all. But it’s certainly worth asking some of them whether their language and actions reflect a de facto embrace of such reasoning — one that subsequently reduces Christ to a rather secular-minded 20th-century progressivist and the Catholic Faith to mere activism.

Avoiding such errors, however, doesn’t mean Catholics should withdraw into an apolitical ghetto. Part of the Christian way involves doing good and avoiding evil, including through politics — but without imagining human salvation can be realized there.

More generally, most Catholics aren’t called to a life of activism (left or right). As part of God’s design, we all have different vocations, the faithful fulfilling of which mysteriously helps, as Vatican II taught, “to prepare the material [materiam] of the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, eternal life does in fact somehow begin now. Our good works today — what Vatican II called “all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise [industriae],” most notably “human dignity [humanae dignitatis], brotherhood [communionis fraternae] and freedom [libertatis]” — will be taken up, cleansed of sin, and perfected when Christ returns.

None of this makes sense, however, without accepting Catholic teaching about the hope of heaven and hence the alternative of effectively choosing hell. Herein lies the gospel’s ultimate relevance. Embracing it is the path to true freedom, not to mention eternal life.

(This article originally appeared in Crisis Magazine. © 2011  Samuel Gregg)


Dr. Samuel Gregg is Director of Research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded (University Press of America, 2001) and On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society and Challenging the Modern World: Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and the Development of Catholic Social Teaching.

(This article is a product of the Acton Institute —
www.acton.org, 161 Ottawa NW, Suite 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 — and is reprinted with permission.)
Filed under: »
  • Jack Quirk

    “Prudential judgment” has become for “conservative” Catholics what “conscience” is for the “progressives”: a verbal tool for justifying disobedience to Church teaching. The idea that every person has a right to adequate food, housing, clothing, medical care, and, of course, his own life, is not born of a notion that there is no hell, but the recognition that every human is created in the image of God.

    Catholics would be a powerful force for good in the social arena if we could unite for the implementation of the Church’s social doctrine. Instead, we organize around our preferred political parties, and allow party platforms to divide us into separate camps and determine our understanding of the essence of our religion.

    Neither Ayn Rand nor Margaret Sanger are going to be designated saints or doctors of the Church. That is because the views of those women were, and are, directly contrary to Church doctrine. Now would be a good time to stop providing their views the cover of “prudential judgment” and “conscience.”

  • I abhor both Margaret Sanger and Ayn Rand but I am glad they were mentioned because they are a false option. Another false option is that we are to choose between tax-borrow-spend Democrats or let-big-business-do-whatever Republicans. Big Government or Big Business is like choosing between swallowing the insect or drinking the insecticide.

    The real choice is between incompetence or competence. Big Government and Big Business are incompetent and they make us all poor. They are running a race to the bottom by skilfully manipulating ‘we the people’ into bad choices. As soon as you have a sincere movement towards a smaller and a more moral government there the Ayn Rand Libertarians come in with their immoral ideas and ruin the whole thing. False options again!

    A Libertarian Conservative is like a Protestant Pope. Conservatives believe with Russell Kirk that: “Real progress consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms. Real decadence consists in the movement of mankind away from the understanding of norms, and away from obedience to norms. (Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969.)

    That is 100% consistent with Church teaching, that there are norms that are eternal and without aiming to their high standards we fail to raise from the mud of original sin.

    Saint Paul says clearly that those who do not want to work neither should they eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and also that we should work to have something to give. He directed that advise to the Church, not to Caesar.

    We are in the business to give witness to the truth. We are not in the business of turning Caesar into a fountain of easy bread and circus for all.

    “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11) said Jesus. Whatever we do to the poor we do to God. To Caesar we must give Caesar’s lot. Caesar is not God or the willing agent of God–WE are God’s agents.

    The real choice is Caesar or God and not Sanger or Rand, Big Government or Big Business. Those are false demonic choices that well-trained consciences will never take.

    • Jack Quirk

      If by “norms” you mean legislation in accordance with natural law, I am 100% in agreement with you. But if you reside in the United States, or anywhere in the Western world, you know that belief in the natural law is decidedly a minority position.

      The word “conservative” has come to mean so many things that it has nearly been stripped of meaning. For example, who would have thought that foreign interventionists in the Wilsonian mold would ever don the conservative mantle?

      What we are left with is trying to use the word with its usual meaning, which nowadays means Objectivist, or, perhaps, more accurately, Theistic Objectivist. A Theistic Objectivist deplores Ayn Rand’s atheism while swallowing her political philosophy whole. Similarly, our country is positively swarming with those who reject Darwin’s biological theory of evolution, but embrace its illegitimate offspring: social darwinism.

      Because these views are called conservative, they are also, by means of some linguistic virus, able to call themselves Christian. Of course, they are Christian in a Protestant, specifically Calvinist, sense, a natural outgrowth I would maintain, but in no way can they be identified with orthodox Catholicism.

      The same goes for the modern idea of the separation of Church and State. Surely we are better off without the establishment of a national religion, but we should not therefore devolve into the rhetorical nonsense that insists that morality should not be legislated.

      The Church has taught consistently that humans have a right to private property, but that there is no absolute right to use that property in any manner that the owner sees fit. The common good must always be taken into account. There is also the preferential option for the poor to consider.

      If purely private means can be trusted to care for those without adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education, that is certainly preferable. But the Church also acknowledges that the are circumstances where the State must step in if subsidiary entities are unable to do what’s needed. It seems to me hard to argue that the present circumstances in America are such that the problems associated with poverty can be handled by solely private means.

      Moreover, there is the matter of the inherent injustice of unequal contributions to consider, since there are so many with means who are likely to contribute nothing, having no religious principle, or a warped religious principle, to guide them. The libertarian notion that taxation for the purposes of poor relief is a kind of theft is inconsistent with the Catholic doctrine of the universal destination of goods.

      Although there are those who refuse to work, that can hardly be the presumption wherever poverty resides. Capitalism relies on a labor surplus, which is why there always is one. Minimum wages have always been inadequate to feed a family. Moreover, even where there is laziness, there are the children of lazy people to consider.

      Application of Catholic doctrine to social issues must deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. Present circumstances do not allow for alleviation of poverty by purely private means. There is nothing wrong, however, with working for social conditions where purely private means will be adequate.

      • Mr. Quirk, your words lack clarity. “If by norms you mean…” Russell Kirk uses that term in purest Aristotelian (and English) sense. Norms, from the Latin “norma” meaning a rule or guide. That where we get that other word “normal.” Of course we live in the era of the Clintonian “meaning of is” and that seems to affect many.

        How can you get lost on such a pristine quote is beyond me.

        For us –regular folk that do not have time to learn about Objectivism and the nuances injected by some on the Social Doctrine of the Church because we are working our butts off– excuse the long clause, for us I say it is clear that the poor are being used as a prop to siphon money out of productive citizens and increase the economic decay of our society. That on the contrary done without any benefit to the poor!

        The false options are repeated and the waters are muddled to appear as preoccupied with the plight of the poor but the reality is other and we the people are beginning to wake up and “see the game.”

        “The poor you shall always have with you” said Jesus. Infallible words that mean that charity will never go away until His Kingdom comes. I would add that big government and big business will indeed end and perhaps soon. Not by means of a violent revolution (I hope) but by the sheer weight of the stupidity of their ways. Every centralized system in history has collapsed under its own weight. This will not be the exception.

        When this society gets to produce more plumbers and carpenters than Philosophy Majors and Lawyers we will start to do better. The back of the American worker is wide but we can’t have 50% of the country ‘working’ for government or living on the dole. The system breaks down at that point. It is simply too expensive and inefficient. Charity by the state is not the rule but the exception in the Social Doctrine of the Church.

        I suggest you read Kirk’s books carefully and also pray the parable of the talents: a master’s lesson in common-sense economics.

        • Jack Quirk

          From the quote I can’t tell if the “norms” refer to Kirk’s belief in natural law, or his respect for customs and traditions, which are analytically severable. But since you are a scholar of Russell Kirk, and you are the one who found the quote, I will defer to you on that.

          When you talk about “is,” do you mean “is” as a copula, or as an auxiliary verb?

          I realize that time is at a premium, but it might be worthwhile to learn something about Objectivism lest one unintentionally become an Objectivist (unless, of course, one desires to become an Objectivist). Sorry. Since you said you abhor Ayn Rand, I assumed that you abhorred Objectivism.

          The preferential option for the poor is hardly a nuance of Catholic social teaching. It is a centerpiece of it.

          I agree with you that current programs for the poor are nowhere near as effective as they should be. We should definitely have less bureaucracy and more aid, which is why I support a variant of the negative income tax.

          Indeed, the need for charity will not end until Jesus returns. So let’s get busy.

          No human society can last forever. Only the Kingdom of God can do that. That’s the meaning of the Tower of Babel story. But, as Catholics, we still have a duty to do as much good with the society that we have as we can.

          Lawyers are a necessary evil. Once people are perfect there will be no need for lawyers, judges, police, or military establishments.

          As for Philosophy majors, a world without the liberal arts would be a dreary one indeed. Frankly, I think everyone should be required to demonstrate a certain level of competence in formal logic in order graduate from high school, let alone college. The anti-intellectualism evidenced by your remark does not find support in Catholic tradition in that the medieval universities were started by the Catholic Church. That said, it might be a fine thing if more people worked with their hands.

          When you say that charity by the state is the exception rather than the rule in Catholic teaching, you’re referencing the doctrine of subsidiarity which says that a higher social institution should not perform a function that can be served by a lower one. But with this economic system, the increasing disparity between rich and poor, and the disintegration of the family and community support structures, simply ripping away state welfare could very easily result in mass starvation. I, for one, would not like to see that, even if it would lower my taxes.

          The parable of the talents is about using our spiritual gifts for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. It is not a lesson in economics.

          Thank you for your reading suggestion.

  • Mike Smith

    The argument over Big Conservatism, Big Libertarianism, Big Ayn Randianism, the “preferential option for the poor,” God given rights to food, etc. and over whether Big Government, Big Business or Big church should provide them misses the point.

    What about Big Family?

    The family (as if we still had them!) should pull itself out of the hole before asking the neighbours, the Church and community help organisations BEFORE asking Big Government. But, BG being more impersonal it has become less of an embarrassment to ask some stranger for help than our friends.

    The end result of putting things backwards is the collapse of both government and the economy– church and family having already all but disappeared as a force to be reckoned with.

    If our culture was strong enough, family and Church, AND heads of families got together and formed limited government to protect the above and the God given rights they extend, THEN we could legitimately say, “Government has no role in education, guaranteeing income or any of the goods it buys, or health care,” not exactly because families and Church are strong enough— though that is important, but because Government is incompetent to provide them at best, and will turn those very things against the Church and the people at worst, with the very purpose of destroying both family and church economy and making them slaves to the almighty State, thus helping or hoping (Depending upon how wicked those government leaders are!) to ensure the destruction of their very souls.

    Thus, there will always be tension between Church and State, the “twin swords” of pope Gelasius, to keep each in its proper place — with families and individuals somewhere in between. Therefore the genius of our constitutionally limited government, explicitly (If you read what our Founding Generation had to say about it!) kept out of any form of income redistribution.

    Neither Protestants nor Catholics (Most of them anyway!) seem to get the whole picture. God (I believe) inspired out Founding Fathers to write the best human only form of government ever in our Constitution. And it implicitly put the burden on Christian men and their families to keep it small, and to take care of their own, with communities and churches to help out.

    It’s fatal flaw, if you will, was the Protestant Reformation itself which began the process of stripping the protection of families and communities from secular government and runaway economies and putting it into the hands of that very government.

    But since the Second Protestant Deformation has all but completed the destruction from within, through what previous popes called Modernism/Liberalism — there is nothing left to stand between remaining families and Big Government and Big Economy.

    Only the restoration of the Family and the Church would save the a humane economy and limit government to what it does best, killing people and breaking things!

    That would take a generation or two…

  • Mike Smith:

    Objectivism supporters are everywhere these days filling the airwaves with their fluff. They follow Ayn Rand’s technique of presenting a ridiculous straw man, then their position or some false option like the one espoused above: Sanger or Rand a preposterous option like Himmler or Hitler (whom Rand admired.)

    Central to this example it the case of Rand herself. Rand seriously misrepresents the history of ethics. Take for example Rand’s two alternative views in ethics: first that moral knowledge is believed to come to us by mystical revelations from God followed by her assertion that moral principles are arbitrary conventions. That view has been adopted lately by the left. In that way ethics is generally thought of as something irrational akin to superstition. To reinforce Rand’s position she goes and sticks her own previous definition of ethics to Aristotle (he’s the author of something called Ethics isn’t he?)

    Here comes the deformation: Rand says that Aristotle understands ethics as the habits and conduct of noble and wise people but he neglected to explain the reasons why noble and wise people adopted such rules.

    For someone only partially formed in classic philosophy Rand’s sleight of hand looks brilliant. Yet the maneuver is just a straw man: Aristotle never thought that ethics were mere customs or choice. Of course Rand never offers any reference or quotes any passages to support her outrageous conclusions but she manages to confuse the ignorant with that rubbish.

    Normally objectivists are cultish and verbose, pretty much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses with a different lingo and a different leader. They display an abysmal incompetence in philosophical matters but because no one studies any philosophy anymore they manage to pass for “intellectuals” just like sloppy little Ayn did. The fact that her soporific books continue to be sold, studied, and even taught in some places is a testimony to the darkness of our age. The above is a gross caricature of the history of ethics, and Rand makes no effort to document her claims at all.

    In short, Rand draws plausibility for her position by attacking straw men.

    It is not hard to conclude that faithful Catholics should not waste our time with a philosophy that presents selfishness as a virtue. We don’t even need to be Christians to dismiss something that contradicts one of the things that all classic philosophers agree with. But there’s the rub: objectivists are just like a Jehovah’s Witness trying to convince you that the Bible was not understood until they came along 19 centuries after it was written. In the same fashion Objectivists present their unnatural view of ethics as a revolutionary insight that NO ONE EVER was able to see until they came along.

    In one of the last letters to his daughter, Marx noted his preoccupation with something he calls (parphrased) “the survival of meta-historical values in the culture.” The story goes that he went to see a play (The Trojan Women by Aeschylus) and he was surprised that women among the audience would cry or become emotional. If every era’s mores are simply a construction derived from economic pressures and class struggle: Why should women of today be touched by a play written thousands of years ago? We know the reason but for Marx that was a torpedo below the flotation line of dialectic materialism. He admitted in that letter that the problem had to be resolved or the whole thing was over.

    Well, his life was over before he could solve the problem but none of his followers ever even noticed that passage of his letters. The proof is in the pudding… almost a century later we got Derrida. Pff!

    Those “meta-historical values in the culture” are the natural understanding of what Kirk refers to as norms. A contemporary philosopher and part-time Virginian Roger Scruton believes we can cure the culture of that disease by way of Esthetics. Scruton shows that beauty is a real and universal value connected firmly to our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty can be used to shape a more just world.

    Again I beg your pardon for my occasional bad grammar. English is my fifth language and the grammar register is getting crowded.

    • Jack Quirk

      Just so I am not misunderstood, I didn’t espouse the options of Rand or Sanger. I specifically repudiated them.

      • Your repudiation appears to indicate that there are no viable Catholic options. Either Sanger or Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand may have been adopted by some “conservatives” that think they can apply conservative principles to the economy and yet being libertarian on everything else. Wrong. Ayn Rand is no conservative in the Kirk-Goldwater-Reagan-Buckley tradition which most people understand as conservatism. Modern American conservatism is deeply rooted in basic Christian morals and it is not the baby of Ayn Rand’s sick theories.

        There are plenty of viable options for Catholics in that area. The idea that I have to choose between one or the other seems to be designed to smear conservatives as if we were all Randian Objectivist. I quote Thatcher on this: “It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.” Creation of wealth by work vs. greed. Ayn Rand like Gordon Gekko glorifies greed and argues (wrongly) that greed and selfishness are the “virtues” that create wealth.

        One more thing: the parable of the talents IS a lesson in economics. God expects us to do something with what we get from Him. From times immemorial the Church has four interpretations for Scripture (a)literal (b)allegorical (c)moral (d) anagogical or mystical. It has been like that from the very beginning. The literal sense-goes almost without saying-is what Scripture says literally. In this case: “use it or loose it” + “if you don’t work God will see that someone will take what you have.”

        The whole tradition of the Church -in teaching and practice-puts work ahead of charity “work, so that you have something to give to those in need” says St. Paul.

        Again in the words of Margaret Thatcher: “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.”

        The modern idea that state welfare equals Christian charity is not scriptural nor Catholic. The State is the last resort and not the first and only, like some have come to believe.

        • Jack Quirk

          Honestly, Carlos, I don’t know why you want to argue with me so much. I agree with you that there are other options for Catholics. That’s the point of my original remark that neither Margaret Sanger nor Ayn Rand will be canonized: Catholics should take neither of them as patrons.

          Now I would never identify the modern welfare state as the Kingdom of God on earth. But I don’t find Reagan’s supply-side economics in the Catechism either.

          The truth is: the Church doesn’t endorse one political system over another, but seeks only that certain standards of justice are met in a society. A critical component (notice, I didn’t say “the only”) of that is that the needs of the poor and vulnerable are given first priority.

          Thus, whenever someone makes suggestions about how the system should be changed or improved, I look at how that change or improvement is likely to impact the poor and vulnerable. That process is not a review of Church dogma solely in the abstract, but a search by a very fallible mind as to how to best implement Church teaching in the social sphere. The method of implementation that I will decide upon will not be that which I would impose if I was some modern day Solon, but a practical suggestion by a citizen of small influence that I think will work within the system in which I live.

          Subsidiarity is the Catholic social doctrine that higher order entities should not perform duties that can be accomplished by those of a lower order. Those who say on the basis of subsidiarity that federal social welfare programs can be replaced with state, local, or voluntary private programs need to address the following concerns:

          (1) States and localities that have the most poor people residing within their boundaries are also likely to have less revenue at their disposal than wealthier states and localities. Wouldn’t forcing the poorer states and localities to rely solely on their own resources for social services harm the interests of the poor and vulnerable?

          (2) Businesses big and small have an interest in paying as little in taxes as possible (up to the point just shy of providing inadequate funding for infrastructure development). They will, therefore, try to set up shop where they have the least tax burden, all other things being equal. Why won’t shifting the funding burden of poor relief to states or localities engender a race to the bottom regarding the amount and quality of poor relief provided?

          (3) While there are Christians and others of good will who would likely contribute to a purely voluntary program, there are a large number of other people who will not. Indeed, there are some people who self-identify as Christians but who feel no obligation to contribute aid to the poor at all. The traditional support structures of family and community have nearly disintegrated. Selfishness is now deemed a virtue in many quarters. How can we be reasonably certain in these circumstances that a purely voluntary system wouldn’t leave too many poor and vulnerable without relief?

          Subsidiarity applies where the low order entities will work, not where they won’t. That is why the listed questions are pertinent as to how our society should deal with the vulnerable and impoverished, and what method of implementation should be considered as preferable by those who support Catholic social teaching.

          • Honestly, nothing personal. I hate the Liberal Progressive ideas because they create poverty, destroy family, attack life, foster ignorance, induce to violence and mob thinking. You are a Progressive whether you consider yourself one or not, your words betray your leanings. I am a Conservative Traditionalist in the best tradition of Carol Wojtyla, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

            I don’t need to sell my ideas under a cloak of a nuanced compliance with Catholic doctrine because what I believe is firmly interwoven with the faith of the Church from the beginning. I have no need to impress anyone with big words, yet I can use them too if need be. I am a fool for Christ and his Church and I am sure that He is the Savior of mankind and his Church will prevail and fill the earth with the Kingdom of God one day. I am poor, I have always been poor and most likely will die poor and among the poor. I don’t need to feign preoccupation for the poor to sell the old tired destructive ideas of the Left or the Left-lite.

  • Mike Smith

    Pardon my bad English as well. Often my mind outruns my fingers — and never catches up! So, often, I am looking at a rough draft that I, hopefully, did not send and going: “Whadd-I-say?”

    I tend to dismiss most “philosophers” as well as inconsistencies uttered by otherwise nice and smart people, as rubbish. I just don’t have the time or energy anymore. I am re-reading Plato’s diologues and it is amazing how much smarter he was than many passing themselves off as philosophers and deep thinkers today. Not that I am so smart. I am not. I had to drop out of Dr. Crosby’s Philosophy of Law class as he, and it, were too far over my head. In fact, much of modern philosopher’s thought, even the best of orthodox, Thomistic ones are too much for me. I could never understand Kant. I have a hard time deciphering John Paul II. St. Thomas Aquinas one can disassemble it piece by piece and finally get it. The Stoics much easier. Today’s guys have gone full circle to a time of perhaps the Sophists, or earlier — pre Pagan perhaps. Impossible (for me) to figure out because, I guess, they are not logical. I sense a spiritual aspect to Marx, though he denies it. He, and other even more modern and post modern, have inserted a supertitious spiritism somehow into matter. It is all very confusing. That is the devils idea! If we go back to the beginning and study the Classics, the St. Paul, early Church Fathers then medieval scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas we can get a discernment of real differences from only perceived ones, real distinctions with a difference. Then, if we have the time, energy and brainpower — all infused with Love of Jesus and His Church, we can take apart modern thought piece by piece, showing the error of most of it, and put back together arguments with which to show the truth to those previously too busy or confused to get it. That would be a good project for some young students of philosophy!

    Then we can separate our arguments over economics, politics and culture so we can present the truths within and reject the baloney!

  • Oh well. God forbid we believe on supply side economics, uh? Chile seems to be doing very well following Milton Friedman. Much better than the US these days. Poverty fell to 13% in just a few years. A 50% improvement. People love it. Perfect it is not but it works a lot better than Allende who made everyone equally miserable. I’ll take Friedman economics any time.

    Your points (1) (2) (3) answered below:

    (1) Centralized government is always an idiot-as-master. Need I bring forth some examples? There are many. If there are more poor in one region as compared to another there is no point in creating a centralized bureaucracy to “deal” with the problem because (a) it is expensive (b) it is perpetual (c) they add to the problem. Taxing Peter to feed Paul requires a bureaucracy, which has to be paid by Peter and diminishes the lot of Paul ultimately. This exacerbates the poverty of Paul and discourages and makes Peter poorer also. Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.

    (2) Taxation can be destructive (unchecked) or constructive (to cover essential common needs) In an island of 100 you have 5 or 10 people that are poor or simply not self sufficient. You also have some that are inclined to do bad. So we tax ourselves to keep a policeman, a fireman, a soldier. The other 80 or 90 people will have to work for those who are either incapable of engage in order, infrastructure of defense. When those not self sufficient (or otherwise engaged) reach a number close to 50% the load on the rest of society grows to a maximum. At that point people tend to gravitate to the non productive side or leave. You can’t feed the poor with that method, it only creates more poor people. If you were right then the Soviet Union would have been a success. It was not. Most importantly that is not what the Social Doctrine of the Church demands. The best social program is a job and jobs are created by the Edisons, the Fords, the Watsons of this world and not by your local priest or the IRS or Obama.

    (3) Yes there are people that don’t contribute and they should not be forced to contribute. In this United States is the Liberals who are the most selfish and stingy. Read “Who Really Cares” by Arthur C. Brooks Not so surprisingly those who are looking to save the poor using other people’s money are the same group that gives less to charity. Statistically proven beyond any doubt.

    This is a spiritual reality clearly seen in John 12: 3-6:

    “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.

    What a coincidence that statistically the group of Americans who give less to the poor are the ones using the poor as a prop to create welfare bureaucracies where they can employ themselves and negotiate the best salaries and working conditions at the expense of the productive citizenry.

    My advise is: do you want to help the poor? Do as Mother Teresa or come by here and join our group where we are doing concrete voluntary things to help those in need in Appalachia. Stop trying to be the judge of what others should do with their money. God’s eye can see much better and with him there is no deceit, no false option, no despise for those who improve our society the best they can.

  • Mike Smith

    Mr. Quirky,

    You seem like a nice guy but are, like most Catholics it seems (Sadly!) woefully ignorant of charity, free will and why our Constitutional system is the most humane ever devised.You inadvertantly pointed at the problem when you mentioned “a race to the bottom” by those seeking to pay as little in taxes and those seeking the most in government assistance.

    Knowing there’s help for those not working decreases the incentive to work by both those seeking and those avoiding paying for “benefits.” Thus, a race to the bottom.

    You mention human nature. Laziness on the part of some. Most of us have a built in sense of obligation to make the most of our lives and to raise children and give them more than we had. Thus, the most responsible get taken advantage by the least, and the government that makes welfare slaves of them.

    The Church, and other private charities used to take care of the poor. And they did it a lot cheaper and more humanely. So, as you say some people wont give. So what? Like Dives looking across the unbridgeable chasm, they’ll get theirs!

    Charity is voluntary or it is the opposite of charity, it is theft. And it breeds resentment. And dependency. And arrogance. When government at all levels took less than half today’s burden, and when regulation was less burdensome as well, and even when the economy was less developed so there was less surplus from which to give, private citizens gave enough to fund inspiring Churches, hospitals, museums, great universities, libraries, concert halls — and took care of the poor and the sick and the elderly. The more government interfered, causing Great Depressions and economic collapses, the more it interfered, which deepened the cycle.

    As far back as the ancient Greeks it was known that government welfare would eventually collapse the state. It has “helped” that cause by the Church having collapsed itself.