Thursday, July 4, 2013

Have we failed to learn the lessons in Rerum Novarum?

Here's an article that highlights the ways in which the tenets of socialism have invaded modern society, even where the government is not overtly or structurally socialistic (communist).

We should not be fooled by the fact that most modern political systems these days maintain a republican form. As Gustavo Solimeo points out in this article, "A Specter is Haunting America -- Socialism," 
The very motherland of communism, the Soviet Union, called itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ...
Socialism can be applied in varying degrees. Thus, in practice, there can be a difference between an incomplete application of socialism and full-blown communism, which is socialism taken to its ultimate consequences. [emphasis added]

I think too many of us in the West have become complacent, believing that socialist ideology has succeeded only in areas with a large, downtrodden peasant population. This is because we make the mistake of thinking of socialism as a political agenda, rather than a thorough-going ideology that embraces every part of culture.

Western nations may not have embraced socialism/marxism on a political level, but many have fallen prey to cultural Marxism, i.e., the attempt to undermine the political structure indirectly, through the culture. As Soleo points out,
Much more important than the political expansion of communism/socialism is the spreading of ideas and customs that are leading the world to abandon the natural order and Christian civilization.
The title of the article echoes the first line of the Communist Manifesto,  substituting America for Europe, as the land being haunted by the specter of Communism. Read the article to see the particular points on which Soleo believes America has been undermined by socialist ideology.

If Soleo is correct in his analysis (I leave it to the reader to decide), American Catholics have, by and large, failed to embrace or apply the principles set out in Rerum Novarum, the founding document of the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, which was also a direct response to the Communist Manifesto.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Morality of Fracking: A Catholic Approach

As our modern world gets more complicated and contentious, it's good to know that Catholics have unchanging moral principles to guide us. Of course, learning to apply those principles is more an art than a science, which is how explicit Catholic social teaching got started -- Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum to help Catholics, and others of good will, see how those unchanging principles applied to the peculiar conditions of the modern, industrialized world, and subsequent CST documents have also addressed topical concerns of their day.

Letterman fracking meme
No, thanks, Dave, I'd rather rely on
Catholic Social Teaching for guidance.
Environmental concerns often reveal the deep divide between the Catholic worldview and the view of those who fail to recognize any inherent dignity or transcendent value of human life (often privileging the needs and "rights" of animals, and even plants, over those of humankind). The resulting politicization of such concerns often obscures the moral principles at stake.

This recent article in Our Sunday Visitor addresses the moral conundrum in "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing) to extract natural gas from shale deposits, something occurring all over the U.S. these days (in my part of north Texas, for instance). It cites several Catholic dioceses that have gotten involved in the fracking debate:
“Our responsibility is to care for the ecology of the earth,” said Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, whose Steubenville, Ohio, diocese lies in the midst of Ohio’s fracking boom. “In any participation by the Diocese of Steubenville in the leasing of land for natural gas or oil exploration, care for the ecology of the earth is a benchmark concern.”
Bishop Montforton goes on to point out that there are social, as well as environmental, concerns to be taken into account, and states that he takes guidance from a 1981 document produced by the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops on “the moral dimensions of energy policy."

Fr. Ron Lengwin of the Diocese of Pittsburgh says his diocese relies on principles enunciated in Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”).
In the encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI called the environment “God’s gift to everyone” that entailed a responsibility “towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole” (No. 48). The pope stated that the environment can be used “responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation” (ibid). 
Aside from environmental questions, other kinds of problems can arise when a fracking operation moves into a community, as a representative of the North Dakota Catholic conference notes:
“We have a lot of good going on here,” [Chris] Dodson said. “But we also have an increase in crime, we have roads that are terrible, we have probably incidents of human trafficking going on.”  
The article goes on to quote a spokesperson for the Diocese of Rochester (NY), who points out the way such operations can affect the cost of living of local low-income residents. She says that "the state ultimately should respect the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, and allow communities to look at the potential impact on their economies and then hold a referendum or a vote on whether to frack or not to frack."

This last point -- the impact on the community -- is probably the one most often overlooked in debates about economic benefits and environmental concerns. It's good to know that Catholic dioceses are not leaving the discussion to the environmentalists and economists, but scrutinizing the practice of fracking in the light of Catholic social teaching.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Catholic Social Teaching in a Nutshell

Catholic Social Teaching in a nutshell
Mark Shea, over at the National Catholic Register, has an interesting way of putting Catholic Social Teaching in a nutshell:
Catholic social teaching is, in many ways, very simple. You can basically sum it up as, "If it's good for the family, it's good. If it's bad for the family, it's bad." ... [I]n the main, if you are puzzled by Catholic Social Teaching look at it in that light and pretty much everything snaps into focus.
This makes sense -- as we see in Rerum Novarum, the founding document of the Catholic Social Teaching tradition, one of the principles of CST is that "society" at its most basic level is the family. So, if it's good for the family (the smallest society), it's good for Society (the larger society, made up of families).
This means, among other things, that we must stop pitting concern about abortion and euthanasia against Catholic teaching on social justice as though they are opposites. ... [T]he great mistake we make is to take apart Catholic teaching -- including Catholic Social Teaching -- and just privilege the bits we like.
And we all have seen how destructive that can be. Read more.