Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Playing Well With Others

As a predictable outgrowth of the Self-Esteem Movement, this is the new normal. I notice a trend in conversations to allow for the fallacies of the masses to go unchecked, or to be blindly lauded because it's 'their choice'. True enough, God is pro-choice as evidenced by the existence of free will. We're called to make the right choice. And among our duties outlined in the Spiritual Works of Mercy are to 'instruct the ignorant'. Lest this sound haughty or self-glorifying, I refer to our collective Mea Culpa (have I gushed on the addition of the breast striking in the new translation of the mass?) It's a most gripping moment of unity for this Catholic, to stand together and proclaim our sinfulness and failure to live the glory which is possible as a Christian. We don't believe or proclaim that truth is distilled to a select few. The message of hope found in the Gospels is a tangible gift to humanity, and we're called to use the gifts bestowed upon us in time, talent and treasure to foster this hope among everyone around us.

The approach one takes in guiding other souls towards truth will likely match inborn temperament and the opportunities around them. God sends us the people we're supposed to learn from, as well as a few to teach, if we seek them. This seeking can come in the form of being open to new life within marriage, active ministry or outreach.

Humility is the key, and this comes at the price of pride. I pray to surround myself with people much wiser and more charitable than myself, in the hopes of being challenged.

Many would seem to disagree, and are increasingly demanding adulation and support for the most mundane acts while discounting any divergent views as 'ignorant'. If our double speak doesn't finally land somewhere meaningful, we send children into the world with nothing more than unmet emotional neediness. Erikson's position that our first psychological need is that of basic trust vs. mistrust is left hanging if we hear only applause. No one trusts a flatterer, and children are especially attuned to counterfit in personal exchanges.

Being hassled by the man begins too early.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations with power grabs disguised as compassion, equality or science. So you want to fund every speedbump of our brethren's lifespan with the confiscated earnings of successful earners, redefine the cornerstone of civilization (marriage), and take away all the good light bulbs? Feel free to plead your case, but do a favor and call it what it is: fascism. We're seeing the children of yore --- who not only received a trophy for signing up, they were never taught to examine their form on the court --- grow up and enter the public sphere with a hostile sense of entitlement. Challenge them to give you logic in place of huffing disdain, and may we always extend the grace and peace possible in civil discourse. America needs the tension between the hipsters and the nerds as much as it needs Christian morality, and we cannot relent in our preservation of individual liberty.


  1. MsB: I am not being hostile, but sincerely interested in how this works in your understanding: When the Apostles and disciples had the early Christian community put all of their belongings/$/etc in the pot and share it all equally, is that fascism? I think you have to be very very careful because from how I am understanding you, this runs smack dab against the traditional Christian understanding of basic community. If your concern is that the Government is the one forcing Christians to give up their earnings to care for others, you might have a better case. Even so, the Church's traditional social doctrines would be quite critical of this post. Also, have you read what St. John Chrysostom (and other Church Fathers & Mothers) have to say about "successful earners"? Early Church teaching is VERY concerned with these issues and I will tell you this much, "successful earners" are not on the winning side of the Gospel. As a matter of fact, it is the "successful earners" whose souls are most at stake (according to the Church Fathers) because they tend to believe it is "their" efforts that have caused them to be successful, as opposed to God giving them abundance IN ORDER to share with those who do not have. The Catechism even quotes St. John C who notes that when "successful earners" do NOT share enough to bring others out of poverty, they are STEALING from the poor.

    1. Successful earner employ others, for one thing. Are you implying that unless someone desires their own business to fail, they cannot have holiness or charitable hearts? The answer to how I "work this out" begins with an absolute separation between willing giving and servility to strong-arm dispersement gone mad. It's quite a different affair to share --- radically, for those who answer the call --- with causes that align with someone's beliefs. It enriches botht the recipient and the giver, and is part of our mission on Earth. The Church is not an arm of the federal government, nor vice versa. Coercion by the state will never result in salvation, but fighting like hell against it might.

  2. The Church's traditional social doctrines would actually be quite supportive of this post, with its emphasis on honesty, personal responsibility, and personal virtue. Many of the early Roman and European saints were individuals from royal backgrounds that used their wealth to benefit the less fortunate, yet they did not insist that those around them – even their own spouses – do the same. They encouraged like behavior by their personal example and prayers and sacrifices, never by coercion.

    Perhaps delineating the discussion in terms of its sociological principles would be helpful. Ms. Borges names the culprit fascism, but the enemy of personal responsibility we are fighting at present may be usefully identified as socialism.

    Sociologists draw ideological distinctions between fascism and socialism, although in practice they essentially converge. They are distinguishable however, in that under fascism, the iron fist is attached to a human face (that of an absolute dictator), and in socialism, the fist is wielded by an amorphous and extensive beaurocracy. In either case, the State – be it in the person of a dictator or as the collective operatives of a beaurocracy – assumes the role of a god, and dictates to us what counts as acceptable activities, values, even our very worldview. (A notable difference here is that there is frequently some hope of an individual dictator being converted to true Godliness, but there is *never* a corresponding hope for a beaurocracy.)

    Nonetheless, both fascism and socialism gravely offend the foundational principle of subsidiarity, which upholds the basic dignity of each human person by maintaining the locus of social control locally. Socialism willingly, gleefully sacrifices the individual to the beaurocratically-defined “common good.” Yet Christ died for me specifically, not for “the masses” – He offered Himself for "you and for many" (individuals), not for “all”.

    While it has attempted to work in cooperation with systems such as monarchies and republics, the Church under no circumstance has cooperated with or even condoned socialism. From the Chair of Peter, since Pius IX in 1846, the Church has thoroughly and consistently condemned socialism, and in so many words:

    Pius IX : “You are aware indeed, that the goal of this most iniquitous plot is to drive people to overthrow the entire order of human affairs and to draw them over to the wicked theories of this Socialism and Communism, by confusing them with perverted teachings.” (Encyclical Nostis et Nobiscum, December 8, 1849)

    And every Pope since, right through BENEDICT XVI.

    The early Church was *not* a nascent socialist society. The traditional Christian understanding of basic community was one which people joined *voluntarily* because they believed in what the Church taught and represented. They voluntarily performed works of personal self-sacrifice for the good of other individuals in the community, and to promote God’s Church on earth so that even more individuals could get to heaven. Most importantly for this discussion, individuals were also free to leave and stop contributing their belongings/$/etc at any time they felt that these resources were not being used properly. But a socialistic society by its very definition cannot allow this kind of freedom or choice, because individuals will often find themselves diametrically opposed to the "common good" as defined by a beaurocracy.

  3. Let me just say that I have read the original post and all the comments twice, and I'm bookmarking this for a third reading. Excellent thoughts that I must dwell upon. Thank you!

  4. So your concern, MsB is not the sharing aspect, but the coercive nature of gov forcing that sharing to occur. I better understand.

    Here is my thought, though, I don't know any lay American Christian who has given up all their belongings and $ to live in community and to share the expenses. Excluding sisters and priests, of course. But American Catholic families? Maybe the Catholic workers who are living out the Biblical call to radical living?

  5. That should read The Catholic Worker as in Dorothy Day's group. And even then, most of them are a tiny tiny minority. When a little boy dies because he cannot afford to get dental care, something has gone deeply wrong with the Christian command to share their belongings and ensure that women and children are cared for.

    At the same time, I have been on the receiving end of very generous charity by many devout Catholics. Maybe it happens more than we know and cannot see it.