Thursday, August 18, 2011

Living the Gospel is not an ideology

Upon his arrival in Madrid, the Holy Father had this to say to the press about the world economic situation, which seems to be going from bad to worse: "The economy doesn't function with market self-regulation but needs an ethical reason to work for mankind. Man must be at the center of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by maximization of profit but rather according to the common good."

I read what the pope said shortly after it hit the wire and I posted in on Facebook. Within mere seconds people were responding, eisegetically parsing Pope Benedict's words, waxing forth on how what he had to say does not cohere with their ideological predispositions. From where I stand, at least in Christian terms, what the pope said is non-controversial. In fact, these words could serve well as a brief introduction to his encyclical, Caritatis in veritate, which, unlike his previous two letters, is quite a complex document. Hence, it is one that is in need of more popular exposition by experts.

I think before we start reading into papal pronouncements (this is the meaning of "eisegetical"), loudly proclaiming, "I’m a conservative", I’m a liberal", "I’m a libertarian", "I’m a vegetarian", et al., it is important to note that the Holy Father is not articulating an ideology. He is proposing the application of the Gospel to life in the real world. As a result, he neither prescribes nor proscribes specific economic policies. Ethics, after all, is the application of morals. Personally, I have nothing to say to anyone who insists that people exist for the economy and not the economy (the very term is a highly ambiguous attempt to describe reality- at best) for people, a simple fact that seems to be quickly forgotten by everybody, regardless as to which ideology they subscribe (including those who fail to see how human dignity is violated by creating and perpetuating welfare-dependence among the poor- even Catholics whose view privileges solidarity over subsidiarity).

The debate is not now and has not been for many decades whether unregulated markets or government central planning work better. The fact is, neither work for the common good. To wit, not all governmental regulation is bad, much of it is necessary. On the other hand, government over-regulation, to which we are certainly prone and, so, needs to be kept in check, is certainly a drag on the economy. What is needed is a balance. Being in balance means holding things in tension and leaning one way or the other to maintain stability, as conditions dictate. These kinds of issues are not the kind that we resolve once-and-for-all and certainly not by undertaking dramatic measures, like the one proposed recently by both Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann, to abolish the EPA. This is why zero sum-gamers on both sides, those who refuse to budge, fail to serve the common good, looking out only for narrow interests, usually their own.

It’s like the Holy Father’s take on globalization: in and of itself the phenomenon is neither good nor bad; it depends on how it occurs and whether it is grounded in the truth about the human person. "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" (Gaudium et Spes, par. 22).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a much appreciated and enlightening commentary on the Holy Father's message!


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