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Hard to misunderstand

Encyclicals, especially social encyclicals, often function as Rorschach tests. The generalities and translationese produce whatever image an observer wants to see, or wants others to see. Whatever can be misconstrued will be misconstrued. But there are several passages about political economy in Caritas in veritate that are impossible to mistake or misrepresent. One is the beginning of paragraph 36:

Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution. [The italics are in the encyclical.]

So: Justice through redistribution is a properly political concern. The common good is not a natural, inevitable by-product of capitalism's "commercial logic"; it does not take care of itself but requires collective deliberation and collective effort—in other words, politics. The market "needs to be directed."The pope could hardly be more direct. Such stuff will be hard for Catholic champions of laissez-faire capitalism to swallow, and, predictably, some of them are already spitting it out as if it were the disposable shell of Benedict's more explicitly theological message.

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Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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This is a pretty funny take on Weigel's piece:, from the comment section, I love this remark about Weigel's article: "I think this may be the first time the historical-critical method has been used to tease out the real meaning of a religious document on the very day it was published."Hilarious.

I love how Weigel identifies the "Peace and Justice" passages with "red." Where's Joseph McCarthy when you need him!

Excellent point.....refer to David Gibson's post of the Acton Institute or listen to the EWTN news of June 29th and the exchange between Arroyo and Sirico.Some Sirico and Acton posts:- clarify for us that the pope is not condemning capitalism; but unfettered capitalism that gives rise to injustice. - on the other hand, even as the pope states these social justice issues, catholics need to know that these actions are "prudential" in nature; not dogma; not doctrine and thus open to differences of opinion....unlike the "anti-life" issues that are "extrinsically evil" at all times.- from the "Divine Economy" in the National Review Online: "But details aside, it is good to step back a moment and reflect on what Catholic social teaching is and what it is not, so that in studying the new encyclical, we gain a deeper appreciation of its intent and scope.Since 1870, the papacy has explicitly claimed to exercise the charisma of infallibility in the very area that progressives dissenters is a more accurate word have labored to dilute and episcopalianize for 40 years: faith and morals. In fact, Catholic progressives will find themselves on the horns of an intolerable ecclesiological dilemma no matter what the contents of the document.On the one hand (doctrine, liturgy, and sexual morality), progressives tend to take dissenting positions from defined and binding Church teaching. On the other hand (economic and social policy), they want to boast of the Churchs best kept secret, especially to the extent that they think it coheres with any number of secular-left platforms, while ignoring those aspects of Catholic social teaching that clearly dont fit the leftist nostrums.It is quite a spectacle to see Catholic progressives who in other circumstances contort themselves into exegetical pretzels when they want to undermine clear, emphatic, authoritative, and repeated magisterial prohibitions on same-sex relations, female priests, and contraceptive acts morph into virtual Ultramontanists on prudential matters such as the precise level of a minimum wage.Let us be clear: The Church explicitly makes no such claims of infallibility on those policy matters that it considers a matter for prudential judgment (i.e., most policy issues) but allows for Catholics to hold a variety of viewpoints on such questions such as the exact size of the states share of the economy. Clearly no Catholic can be an anarchist or a communist but there is a lot of room for prudential disagreement within these parameters. Benedict XVI has followed the model of John Paul II in saying that the Church has no infallible model of political economy to impose on the world. The Churchs social teaching is not, as John Paul stated, a third way.- am always amused by Sirico's repeated use of the phrase "gospel imperatives" when talking about social justice issues but then in the same breath delineating that gospel imperatives are not infallible dogmas. Guess I missed the point of the gospel and per your post, guess Fr. Sirico missed this paragraph of the new encyclical. Or, he & Arroyo are guilty of "selective hearing!"

It looks like Catholic thinking on such issues has degenerated into a silly parlor game.

I'm seriously surprised by Weigel's analysis. I mean, I know that he'd try to spin the new encyclical to the right, but this conspiracy theory about pinkos in Justice and Peace is a new low. Does he truly believe that, I wonder? Even Father Z writes, "I am not sure what his [Weigel] beef is with Caritas in veritate, other than that it cites Paul VI and Populorum progressio."Hilariously, Father Z interprets that the warning about 'secularism and fundamentalism' can be better translated as 'secularism and Islam'.

All I know is the line at the cafeteria is getting really long...Either that or conservative Catholicism is an exhausted project?

May I offer a rather different take on the encyclical.First, it is not a club to wield in the conservative-liberal, left-right controversies. Rather, it sets out a vision of what a thoroughly good world would look like. As such, the document has both strengths and limitations. N. B. Limitations are not flaws.Main strength: a quite expansive list of topics that demand moral concern. E. g., food, education, health care, family life, respect for all human life, the environment, sustainable development, etc.Limitations: Properly,in my view, the encyclical does not try to rank these moral concerns. In that sense, it is an atemporal ideal. So it is not a complete action document. Each person and each society has to develop its own set of priorities to deal with the array of moral concerns that the pope lays out. Nonetheless, whatever its limitations, the encyclical does call all of us to work as well as we can to address all of the topics of moraql concern.In this life, we'll never be finished with doing so, nor can we reasonably expect full agreement on priorities and timing. Nonetheless, the document calls all of us Catholics to see the breadth and dept of our Christian responsibilities to both our fellow Christians and to all peoples, including future generations.So, the encyclical is not a blueprint for action but is an affirmation of the breadth of God's concerns, concerns that we ought to make our own as well as we can.Again. the encyclical is no stick with which to beat others with. Rather, it is a call, a "vocation," to fully grasp the implications of our humanity.

Human nature is always more predictive of behavior than idealogy [see freakonomics]. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Charity transcends justice -- the church's social teaching is essentially grounded in charity not justice -- this carries further the questionable thinking of the second half of Deus Caritas Est, and the attempt to rewrite Paul VI in this key completely undercuts anything that was new in the Catholic awareness of the 1960s. Rather than say "new" I should say "prophetic" -- for the Vatican II church linked up with the heritage of the Jewish prophets, long obscured in Catholic awareness.

Perhaps the church's social teachings would be more relevant if they were grounded in both charity and justice.

I really object that no one used bifurcate nor b.s. in this thread. It just throws me off. I understand that this discussion is developing. But tell me this. 2000 years after Jesus why are we not in the forefront of helping people such as these? we not have a Good Samaritan moment? The devil is in the details.

Redistribution can itself be a short-sighted intervention that causes long-term damage, a danger the encyclical recognizes:"The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; if badly directed, however, they can lead to an increase in poverty and inequality, and could even trigger a global crisis. It is necessary to correct the malfunctions, some of them serious, that cause new divisions between peoples and within peoples, and also to ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty: a real danger if the present situation were to be badly managed."# 42

I'm on the verge of being "people such as these." Not interested in your help however. I've done some writing while attempting to find employment. Not easy in Detroit these days. If allows this to be posted in full, I will be grateful. For Heavens SakeThey call Him by different names, and they describe Him in different ways, but the God they worship is one-and-the-same. Unless there is more than one truth about the one God, only one religion can possess the means of salvation. Jesus said: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" [John 14:6]. Allah said: And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers" [3:85]. When relations between Christians and Muslims take a violent turn, as they currently have, the fault line is inevitably the way of salvation.As long as one religion holds the key to salvation at the exclusion of all others, conflict is unavoidable. While most Christians and Muslims prefer tolerance to religious strife, a certain group of extremists does not. The extent to which their motives are religious or political is unclear. What is clear is that by culling passages from scripture that support their violent agenda, they have managed to stitch together the argument that those who believe Allah is the one true God and the source of salvation have a sacred duty to wage violent jihad against those who dont.That a just God would automatically deny salvation to a worthy person simply for choosing the wrong religion is counterintuitive to most lay Christians. In a recent Pew Forum study, 70% of Christians said that religions other than their own could lead to salvation. The results were consistent across the religious spectrum: 63% of evangelical Protestants said other faiths could lead to salvation. Fully 79% of Roman Catholics and 83% of mainline Protestants agreed. Most lay Christians take an inclusive view of salvation.From a practical standpoint the solution is simple. If a man worthy of salvation cannot be damned to hell simply for believing in [or inheriting] the wrong God, extremists would have no justification for acts of violence against non-believers, and far less blood would be shed under the cover of God.From a dogmatic standpoint the solution has been elusive. Unlike the laity religious leaders must believe that they are in exclusive possession of Gods truth and the path to salvation. Duty-bound to uphold dogmas as absolute truths, Christian leaders will always insist, as the Gospel instructs, that salvation is possible only for those who express faith in Christ. Muslim leaders will always insist, as the Koran instructs, that it is possible only for those who express faith in Allah. Dogmas, and the scriptures upon which they are based, specify that faith in the one true God is a prerequisite for salvation.After struggling mightily with the question, the Roman Catholic Church, without hedging on dogma, opened the door for the first time to the possibility of salvation for non-Christians. To be sure, the Church did not declare that salvation could come in any way other than through Jesus Christ. To do so would be heretical. If a non-Christian leads a life worthy of salvation it is only because Christ has enlightened him. But its Second Vatican Council did declare that Christs truth could be sufficiently operative in all religions, even in those that dont recognize his divinity, for a non-Christian to be saved. Most Christians believe that an all-knowing, all-powerful God would most likely have the ability to grant salvation to any person of His choosing. He does, after all, work in mysterious ways. But the Catholic Church was finally able to describe exactly how this would be possible without modifying dogmas. The only path to salvation is through Christ, but at least its a path a non-Christian can take [even if he is unable or unwilling to recognize it as Christs path].While highly diverse and decentralized Islam resists generalizations, there is reason to believe that many of its leaders, like their Roman Catholic counterparts, see sufficient truth in other religions to believe that through the grace of Allah it is possible for a non-Muslim to attain paradise. This is due at least in part to the fact that Muhammad, as the last prophet, was the recipient of Gods full and final revelation. Because it has the last word so to speak, Islam is more able to find truth in the Abrahamic religions that preceded it than vice versa. Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve [2:62]. The million-dollar question then is whether faith in the one true God must be explicitly expressed for a man to be eligible for salvation. That pious Muslims and Christians behave in ways that are strikingly similar seems to support the notion that the one Gods truth is operative in all religions in ways that man cannot yet fully comprehend. Most reasonable people believe a just God would have an inclusive plan for salvation. Christians insist it is through Christ, and Muslims insist it is through Allah, but God would not deny salvation to a worthy person simply because he chose to believe in the wrong God.Interfaith dialogue to address the barriers to religious freedom and peaceful coexistence tend to get bogged down by conflicting dogmas. The Catholic-Muslim forum, hosted by Pope Benedict at the Vatican in November of last year, was no exception. The forum was initially described as landmark, and the Muslim leaders audience with the pope unprecedented. Unfortunately it yielded little more than the expected condemnation of terrorism - something both religions had previously done on numerous occasions and a plea for religious tolerance.The second meeting of the Catholic-Muslim forum is scheduled for early 2010. If its esteemed participants were to focus on the fault line issue of salvific exclusivity, perhaps enough religious leaders who reside somewhere in the reasonable middle could agree that all men can be saved which would put them on parallel paths to peaceful coexistence and agreement on tangible actions to be taken cooperatively to stem violent extremism.At the end of the day, the choices are ultimately limited to two: Fight it out over the one God until the last religion standing can unanimously proclaim its version of Him true [preferred by fanatics], or acknowledge that God has the power to grant salvation to anyone of his choosing whether or not a person outwardly expresses faith in Him [preferred by everyone else]. It would be helpful for Benedict and his Muslim counterparts stand up, in a public forum, and make their choices known. Amen.

DavidYou say -All I know is the line at the cafeteria is getting really longHaving read the encyclical, I understand your point, expect there are a lot of other snippets that warn of the dangers of statism as well. I don't see anything in it that I can say - ah none of that. It's all a question of degree. For example, I agree that a Catholic ought to accept that a good economic system ought to have some redistributive characteristics to address the needs of the poor, the infirm, the very young etc., but I don't agree that the government ought to serve as the sole, or even the primary agent of redistribution. So I ask you - which doctrines am I picking and choosing? I ask this in all seriousness because I have been accused of rejecting Church teaching, for example, because I oppose minimum wage laws. Am I required to accept that as a policy based on this encyclical?

I am always impressed by the Commonweal blogosphere.It will be a great day for Catholicism in America when there can actually be an honest, faithful discussion of examples like Mr. Hannaway's. The "cafeteria" problem for Fr Sirico and Mr Weigel, though, is not so much on the question of specifics like minimum wage laws, but on their basic insistence on reading the social teaching as a substantive endorsement of the present American economic system. It is not. It is a basic indictment of fundamental assumptions of that system - as in the original blog post - and a refusal on their part to admit that Catholicism and American capitalism are in significant tension with one another. (I sometimes suspect this is because, if they did so, they could no longer have the proximity to political power and influence according to them by the Republican party) I cannot go into a sociology classroom in my campus and hear a professor teach as normative claims which are contrary to Catholic sexual teaching. But I can walk into business classrooms and be faced with blunt normative statements about human behavior and the conduct of business that flatly contradict the basic principles of the social teaching. Admitting that neoclassical economics is just as "relativist" and "atheistic" as they say contemporary sexuality is would be a good start. Then we could have a serious conversation about particulars. The entire thing reminds me of a quote: "It is so easy for those who have made their money under a given system to think that that system must be right and good. Conservatism is for that reason often nothing else than a pseudo philosophy for the prosperous." The author? One Msgr. Fulton Sheen.

Charity does transcend justice but I don't think charity is really charitable unless it is accompanied by a spirit of *engagement* that is, an appreciation of how one's charitable impulse will affect those apparently in need of charitable help. Although I think she is probably overstating her case, Dambisa Moyo's argument that "throwing money" at people can make a situation worse not better needs to be taken seriously. When I was still active, I worked with a parish group that administered a sister parish arrangement with a parish in Haiti. The Haitian parish had received from a German Catholic charity a milling machine that could be used communally and saved farmers a lot of money over having to use a commercial service, which was admittedly too expensive. It broke after one season from over use. I suggested that we replace it but provide training for a village person to service it, and his salary would be paid by the farmers, a still much more reasonable arrangement. He wouldn't own it, but it would be his job to keep the machine running. I was told that employing someone like that would cause too much jealousy and strife. I do think that they purchased a service contract.I understand the problem, especially in nations that are beset by corruption, and a communal solution was definitely appropriate -- but eventually, we, the Church, and everyone has to understand that we are self-interested for fairly compelling reasons -- because we want to survive and even thrive. What is wrong and needs to be addressed are embedded inequities that give unreasonable advantages to some while unduly harming the interests of others. Health care in the U.S., for instance. Here is an interview with Moyo: is depressing is the virtually instantaneous impulse to reject a softening of capitalistic tendencies.

First, I think Bill Collier's comment on Weigel in the thread below is spot on.The Pope called on folks to put aside ideology in favor of the common good.I think in the here and now America, where ideology dominates politics/ news reports and still large amounts of think tank money trying to seize control, that message is very hard.The Pope's message got little play in the media I've seen: nothing in my state wide paper this morning, waiting to hear some incisive piece on NPR. Buried under Michael's ceremony and Barak in Russia (and still never ending op-eds and cartoons on the retiring(if that's the right word) Governor of Alaska.) I know it's what sells, and maybe part of what BXVI spoke about.Maybe after the Pope meets Obama?I continue to think that a lot of the posts here and below are driven by political ideology.I think we need lots more serious discussion of the points raised (e.g.I would surely like to hear more on how concern for development and meeting basic needs as well care for the environment is congruent with population encouragement.)A further concern is how the average US Catholic will meet and deal with the Pope's presentation _ too thick? Turned off by Rome's perceived failures to follow its own calls for justice(say in sex abuse isues or treatemnt of women?)The meeting of the Pope with the President with an eye to underscoring the values in temporal society may offer an opportunity to burnish BXVI's values if the ideologues do not continue their clamor.We shall see...

Let me follow on Bob Nunz's comment.As I read Caritas in Veritate, it is an expression, on the one hand, of the complex dangers that threaten human well-being and, on the other of the complex aspirations that the Christian tradition has, when it has been true to itself, always fostered.The document makes it plain, more than once, that the task of avoiding the dangers and pursuing the aspirations is one that is, in this life, interminable. No particular set of policies or programs can be devised that are perfect. Nonetheless, it is crucial to decent human living to remain cognizant of both the complex dangers and the complex aspirations.In my view, the pope has done a good job. The ball is, as it always is, on our courts now. It's in the clergy's court inasmuch as they have to see that they do not have all the competences and resources necessary to respond well to this document. they need the laity. Conversely, we lay people need the clergy to keep us attuned to the vision the pope lays out here. None of us will come up with difinitive answers. there are no such things in practical life. But we can all grow in appreciating the complexities of the dangers and the splendors of the aspirations.We need to support one another and we need to give one another the benefit of our criticisms. But I see no reason whay we ought not to agree with one another and with the pope about the strength of the dangers and the worth of the zspirations.

David said: But I can walk into business classrooms and be faced with blunt normative statements about human behavior and the conduct of business that flatly contradict the basic principles of the social teaching. Admitting that neoclassical economics is just as relativist and atheistic as they say contemporary sexuality is would be a good start. Then we could have a serious conversation about particulars.Atheistic and relativist sounds too harsh dont you think, since we are in this case talking about these beliefs being held by good practicing Catholics. How about saying morally neutral where the economy is a blank space inhabited by people who themselves are morally committed in a personal way. In this way, they can pride themselves on being good people while the sins of the economy are washed away in the Blood of the Lamb known as the Free Market, which kills the undeserving with true dispassion?Barbara said: Charity does transcend justice but I dont think charity is really charitable unless it is accompanied by a spirit of *engagement* that is, an appreciation of how ones charitable impulse will affect those apparently in need of charitable help. Although I think she is probably overstating her case, Dambisa Moyos argument that throwing money at people can make a situation worse not better needs to be taken seriously.But we already do take it seriously, and thats the beauty of it. Part of charity for us is deciding who deserves it in the context of an economic system that claims that suffering is an excellent way to motivate people for their own good. Spitting in the beggars eye is therefore an act of Christian mercy and the best part is that it is also very cost effective.

Unagidon, I will consider that to have been a rhetorical riposte. Misery does not motivate. Hope motivates. Moyo's point is that charity by itself will not create a context in which hope can flourish. Unlike her, I don't think that makes it wrong, but I do understand that it can create perverse incentives and ultimately make it less likely that those who have the authority to change things will be held accountable for their intransigence.

Barbara, you are correct about my riposte. I am not attacking you.Hope does motivate. But one of the problems we have to face in our discussions of the encyclical is that in the context of the economic thinking that the Pope criticized, our notion of charity is informed by the same errors as our notion of justice.I do take your point. But we live in a degraded age where even the definition of hope is defined by the market.

Bob Nunz --I agree that Benedict's encouragement of population growth us not wise, to put it mildly. He seems to be assuming ta Earth's resources are not finite.I've only skimmed the encyclical, but in spite of his encouraging population growth. i'm extremey encouraged by his apparent understanding of the particulars of the world's present economic problems. He even has the vocabulary down pat. I can't imagine JP II talking about outsourcing, "the market", micro-loans, etc. It seems that Benedict is not so much the ivory tower pope i had thought he was.One other thing about vocabulary struck me -- he talks very little about "redistribution of wealth", and when he does it doesn't seem to have the sort of crude Marxist/socialist connottions. Rather he seems to see that the creation of wealth is as much a solution to poverty as redistributing what is alredy here. Except for social programs for the poor of course. They do in a sense redistribute wealth.

Let us hope and pray that the Pope's many efforts to bring more holiness to the life of the Church and that of society will be fully embraced by all Catholics.

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