Thursday, July 29, 2010

Catholicism vs Conservatism: Who Can Save Freedom and Capitalism? (Part I)

The Catholic Church's Debt to Conservatism:

For months now, conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been sounding the alarm that the White House and Congress are hostile to capitalism. Using conservative principles, they defend free enterprise with every last breath they have. To be sure, the totalitarian aims of federal, state and local government have gained a lot of ground and are still pressing forward for even more territory to conquer. Nevertheless, Conservatism has hindered its progress.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the Catholic Church in America is indebted to conservative talk radio and cable news. The State is speedily absorbing the private sector, taking over what used to belong to private citizens and corporations. Given this, can there be any doubt that if the State is willing to expand its control over the private sector, it will certainly do so with respect to religious expression and yes, even religious worship?

Secular-liberalism, especially when endowed with political authority, knows no bounds. It's power to rule is not kept in check by the natural law or divine law. Rather, political liberalism is geared towards what is useful and beneficial for the accumulation of its own power. It will not stop at the church door nor at the sanctuary; it will instead run roughshod over that which is sacred in order to eliminate any resistance the Church may pose to the State.

Thus far, conservative media commentators have been the most vocal in its opposition to the growing threat of free enterprise, health care rights and religious liberty; for that reason alone, the Catholic Church in America owes a "thank you" to Conservatism. Indeed, the Church has benefited from the deterrents conservatives has managed to put in way of totalitarian aims.

Conservatism's Debt to Catholicism:

With that said, it is even more true to say that Conservatism owes an even bigger debt to Catholicism. Without the work of Catholic Church, her monks, her bishops and educational institutions in centuries past, there would be no Conservatism today. Conservative principles were born from the preaching of the Gospel and the Catholic doctrine contained therein.

Surprising though true, freedom and progress were inventions of Catholic medieval times. That's right! Freedom and progress became a cultural and economic phenomenon because the soul was saved and as a result, its dignity was better understood. From the spiritual liberation of the soul emerged a public recognition that the citizen (seen as the property of God), possessed human rights before the State; rights under God which demanded recognition by the State.

The belief in the immortality of the soul had real political and economic consequences! In the eyes of Christian society, the dignity of the soul placed the individual person outside the all-powerful reach of government. A person created by God, for God and in God's image is someone who may owe civil obedience to the State but is not owned by the State; the State, as such, does not have absolute power over the citizen. As a matter of fact, with the coming of Christianity, the State was seen as the servant of the individual person. Although the individual citizen was duty-bound to obey civil law, he, as a person made in God's image, was nevertheless considered superior to the State.

Our Lord said, "Give to God that which is God's and to Caesar that which is Cesar's." From this developed a distinction between between Church and State; not a radical separation between the two. It never occurred to ancient pagans- nor does it with many progressives today - that Caesar also belongs to God. He too is God's subject. He too will stand and give an account before the Judgment Seat of God. Under the inspiration of the Gospel representatives of the State were to be mindful that they were accountable to God. The justice that awaited them in eternity was no small incentive to temper any misuse of their civil authority.

Catholicism provided a world view in which the relationship between God and the person was given a much higher priority than the relationship between the State and the citizen. As such, the State, composed of individuals, was eventually regarded by the public as a servant to God no less than the individual. But as this Catholic world view fades from the consciousness of twenty-first century Americans, the relationship between the State and the citizen will once again will be the primary focus. With this narrow view, the State will undoubtedly be viewed as the highest and most important authority on earth. Due to technological progress, it will be endowed with powers not yet realized.

In 1935, Christopher Dawson, said the following:

"This is the situation that Christians have to face. The great danger we have to meet is not the danger of violent persecution but rather that of the crushing out of religion from modern life by the sheer weight of a State-inspired public opinion and by the mass organization of society on a purely secular basis. Such a state of existence has never occurred before because the State has never been powerful enough to control every side of social life."

Although Conservatism has been a leader in suppressing the growth and size of an all-powerful State in our midst, it is not equipped to suppress it indefinitely. America will not be saved on fiscal ideas alone. We have to look to the source which gave freedom and capitalism being, namely, the Catholic Church. Recovering freedom and capitalism means returning to those principles which brought it about. No one said it better than Pope Leo XIII:

When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to have them return to the principles from which society sprang...Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery.

Next blog: The Catholic Idea which made capitalism possible