Before everyone lynches me for being a “damn commie socialist,” allow me to say that I am neither a supporter of the communist social organization, the economic system of socialism, nor the current state of capitalism in the majority of developed nations in the world. Furthermore, I am providing commentary on this topic within the context of Catholicism due to my perception of a major contradiction in its social teaching. Obviously, this critique does not apply to every Catholic faith adherent, but it does affect many of them. I have avoided the other major sects of Christianity for the sake of the length of this article and my greater exposure to Catholic social teaching.
Ok, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s continue.
Catholic social justice essentially advocates for those with monetary and physical resources (“haves”) to assist and help those without these necessities (“have-nots”) by not only donating via a charity or other organization, but also to help these poorer individuals to attain a level of sustainability in their economic lives.
Well, that sounds all fine and dandy, except for the fact that the Catechism explicitly states,
Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good. 2429
Wait a minute. What is the “common good?” And, for that matter, isn’t the only legitimate authority with the gang with the most guns? The idea of a nation-state is, after all, based on the monopoly of force and force projection within a region.
Modern capitalism caters extraordinarily well to the elite financial class of bankers, money-pushers, and financial entity officers. These individuals know the rules of the game and they most certainly wish to keep it that way. From this perspective, the Catholic Church attempts to reconcile its philosophy with that of the unsustainable growth of a post-industrial world. Now, I am not stating that the adherents of Catholicism are being actively hypocritical in this regard (though some certainly are), but rather that the very act of living in a system in which the cards are stacked against the historically poor is a sign of passive hypocrisy. It seems logical to me that the Catholic faithful should attempt to carve a new and more just system out of this tangled mess of an economy rather than simply living within it. For instance, most Catholics pay their federal income taxes. Most of the revenue garnered from these taxes goes towards supporting a massive military that projects force in numerous nations. Often times, these campaigns are not for a “common good,” but rather to secure what are considered strategic resources and regions.
In short, I believe that in order to avoid the passive (and sometimes active) hypocrisy of Catholic social teaching, adherents to the faith should seek to redefine the idea of what constitutes a “legitimate authority” and a “common good.” I am interested in hearing from Catholics who have moral issues with the usage of their tax dollars, the economic system they live within, and the concept of a universal “common good.”