Friday, July 30, 2010

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

As the dignity and salvation of the soul is the foundation from which freedom can be realized in society, historically, faith in Divine Providence provided the rational basis for capitalism. The invention and development of capitalism, for instance, takes its origin from within monasticism in the ninth century and later practiced on a wider scale during the Renaissance in Italy. Rodney Stark, author of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, said that capitalism was developed by "Catholic monks who, despite having put aside worldly things, were seeking to ensure the economic security of their monastic estates..."

There is also a theological underpinning to capitalism. In the Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis says that there is not a leaf that falls from a tree without God's permission. An omnipotent God who governs every last atom of the universe- a universe endowed with order and beauty -can also ordain the free actions of every human being towards a useful and happy end for the benefit of humanity. This is certainly true when applied to the economy. It is this belief in Divine Providence that renders central planning by the State unnecessary.

God has so endowed each human being with talents and career aspirations that when each person is allowed to act on these God-given gifts, their work contributes to the well being of society. One person's work is like one very important piece to the puzzle which contributes to a beautiful picture when all the pieces are in place. This is why free enterprise has produced such untold prosperity and progress. Whether spoken or not, capitalism presupposes that each person's career and economic choices contributes, as if by design, to a robust economy.

This is why fiscal conservatism alone cannot save the free market. It may convey economic truth, but it does not inspire courage to endure short term sacrifices for long term gain, nor does it affect the whole spectrum of life like the Catholic Faith does. When, in the absence of faith, people see the world as being riddled with random forces devoid of meaning, it is but a natural response to flee from the risks and uncertainties that freedom poses. Instead people will naturally take refuge in the so-called security the State pretends to offer; that is, the illusory security from the unpredictable results of a free market. Eliminating risk in the market, fearing the consequences of failed corporations, decreeing a moratorium on oil drilling and capping C.E.O's salaries are recent examples through which the State alleges to protect citizens. Unfortunately, people from Wall Street to Main Street have capitulated to to these tactics.

A personal faith in Divine Providence- a kind of "intelligent design" of human interactions and transactions -is more than just a political or economic ideology; rather, it translates into a lifestyle and a worldview. Fiscal conservatism may be a portion of one's world view but it certainly does not provide the day to day strength and guidance that our faith in Christ does. As Christians we believe that all things work together for the good for those who love Jesus Christ. Does this not include our own economic choices? And do not the principles of free enterprise and capitalism presuppose that one or two-hundred million individual career and business choices will contribute to a prosperous economy? There is an unspoken faith that underlies this. It should not be unspoken anymore.

I am afraid that without this daily, living faith, capitalism will become more unintelligible with each younger generation. They will not appreciate the value of risk, sacrifice, or even failure in the absence of faith. The promise by the State to harness or control millions of "risky" economic decisions is seductive to the unbeliever and to the sub-religious. To be sure, fiscal conservative principles cannot compensate for the fears of insecurity that unbelief inevitably produces among the masses. People will either have to believe in an all-powerful God whose wise providence makes everything work together for the good of society, or they will to place a servile trust in an all-powerful State to manage the world they fear.

The preaching of the Gospel by Bishops and monastic orders long ago provided the spiritual and intellectual environment from which freedom and capitalism originated. To recover them, the same means must be used.

Catholics should pay their respects to conservative think tanks and commentators for the contribution they have made. But again, to recover freedom and capitalism we must go beyond fiscal conservatism and look to the Gospel for the answer.

With Bishops leading the way, the Church will have to embark on the New Evangelization with a sense of urgency. People need to once again believe in Divine Providence to makes sense of the uncertainties of life. If Christians fail to inspire this belief among tbe people, a greater reliance on central planning by the State will be the alternative to a daily, living faith in Divine Providence; a faith which makes freedom and initiative a practical, everyday reality.

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Excerpts from "Religion and the Modern State" by Christopher Dawson (1935)

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.

The coming conflict is not one between religion and secular civilization but rather “between the God-religious and the social-religious,”—in other words between the worship of God and the cult of the State…

Communism is not simply a form of political organization; it is an economy, a philosophy and a creed. And its hostility to Christianity is due not to its political form, but to the philosophy that lies behind it. Communism, in fact, challenges Christianity on its own ground by offering mankind a rival way of salvation. In the words of the Communist poster, “Jesus promised the people paradise after death, but Lenin offers them Paradise on earth.”

Consequently it is in Communism that the latent opposition between the new state and the Christian religion attains its full realization in the social consciousness of our age. For the first time in the world’s history, the Kingdom of the Antichrist has acquired political form and social substance and stands over against the Christian Church as a counter-church with its own dogmas and its own moral standards, ruled by a centralized hierarchy and inspired by an intense will to world conquest.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Secret to Peace

By the Abbot, St. Dorotheus:

"The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man.

But perhaps you will offer me this objection: “Suppose my brother injures me, and on examining myself I find that I have not given him any cause. Why should I blame myself?”

Certainly if someone examines himself carefully and with fear of God, he will never find himself completely innocent. He will see that he has given some provocation by an action, a word or by his manner. If he does find that he is not guilty in any of these ways, certainly he must have injured that brother somehow at some other time. Or perhaps he has been a source of annoyance to some other brother. For this reason he deserves to endure the injury because of many other sins that he has committed on other occasions.

Someone else asks why he should accuse himself when he was sitting peacefully and quietly when a brother came upon him with an unkind or insulting word. He cannot tolerate it, and so he thinks that his anger is justified. If that brother had not approached him and said those words and upset him, he never would have sinned.

This kind of thinking is surely ridiculous and has no rational basis. For the fact that he has said anything at all in this situation breaks the cover on the passionate anger within him, which is all the more exposed by his excessive anxiety. If he wished, he would do penance. He has become like a clean, shiny grain of wheat that, when broken, is full of dirt inside.

The man who thinks that he is quiet and peaceful has within him a passion that he does not see. A brother comes up, utters some unkind word and immediately all the venom and mire that lie hidden within him are spewed out. If he wishes mercy, he must do penance, purify himself and strive to become perfect. He will see that he should have returned thanks to his brother instead of returning the injury, because his brother has proven to be an occasion of profit to him. It will not be long before he will no longer be bothered by these temptations. The more perfect he grows, the less these temptations will affect him. For the more the soul advances, the stronger and more powerful it becomes in bearing the difficulties that it meets.

My brethren, let us consider how it can happen so often that someone hears something unpleasant and goes away untroubled, as if he had not heard it; and yet sometimes he is disturbed and troubled as soon as he hears such words. What is the cause of this inconsistency? Is there one reason for it or many? I recognize several, but one in particular is the source of all the others. As someone has put it: it all comes from the person’s state of mind at the time.

If someone is engaged in prayer or contemplation, he can easily take a rebuke from his brother and be unmoved by it. Or again, his affection toward a brother may be a strong reason; love bears all things with the utmost patience. Yet another reason may be contempt: if a person despises the one who is trying to trouble him, and acts as if he is the vilest of all creatures and considers it beneath his dignity even to look at him, or to answer him, or to mention the affront and insults to anyone else, he will not be moved by his words.

All in all, then, no-one is disturbed or troubled if he scorns and disregards what is said. But on the other hand, it is also possible for someone to be disturbed and troubled by his brother’s words, either because he is not in a good frame of mind, or because he hates his brother. There are a great number of other reasons as well.

Yet the reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, it that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.

We see that this is true in so many other people; and yet we hope, in our laziness and desire for peace, we hope or even believe that we are on the right path even when we are irritated by everything and cannot bear to accept any blame ourselves.

This is the way things are. However many virtues a man may have – they could be innumerable, they could be infinite – if he has left the path of self-accusation he will never have peace: he will be afflicted by others or he will be an affliction to them, and all his efforts will be wasted."