Social Justice = Socialism?

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I heard a homily the other day that began with the Gospel of the woman with the hemorrhage touching Christ and being healed by her Faith. The homilist continued speaking about how this woman was rejected by society, yet Christ stopped in His “important” mission to heal the synagogue leader’s daughter to seek the woman out. This appropriately highlighted the importance of Faith in Christ for our healing by spiritually and physically. This also highlighted Christ’s concern for those “thrown away” by society. The homilist continued in this vein saying that Christ scandalized the Apostles by turning His attention to this ‘nobody’ instead of focusing on the ‘somebody’ important. Yet, almost immediately after making these points, the homilist diverged into a discussion of “social justice” under the guise of socialism. While it is true that Christianity (including the Church) calls for Christians to give to the poor and less fortunate, it is meant as a choice for each individual.

Socialism is conscription, a disallowal of free will. By legislating and forcing the “distribution of wealth”, much of the good of helping our less fortunate brethren is lost. When God created the world and man, He could have eliminated a lot of hassle by eliminating free will. Yet, it was important to God that we choose to love and obey Him. Prior to Creation, God had the angels He created to give Him His due honor and glory. Yet, their unquestioning adoration was not what He desired. His desire was for man to gift Him with their love, adoration, and obedience. With socialism, giving out of the goodness of your heart in a desire to do God homage is next to impossible. Your “donation” has already been evaluated by the government and “redistributed” to the less fortunate. While it is still possible (and expected) to give from your heart under socialism, the giving seems grudging.
Forced compliance historically engenders ill-will at worst, and lackadaisical responses at least. Conscripted armies of the past were routed by smaller, less equipped, volunteer forces. England conscripted sailors during the Revolutionary war. The “red-coats” obviously lost that battle. Drafted soldiers in more recent conflicts “dodged”, “conscientiously objected”, or even deserted. The only times that conscription seems to work is when fear is at the root or insurmountable numbers. While war is obviously an extreme example of conscription, it is a fitting analogy for our battle for souls (our own and our brethren’s). We are called to be warriors for Christ. Also, we are called to fight for the less fortunate by Christ himself. Part of this battle is in caring for our less fortunate brethren. If this battle is waged by legislative force instead of Christian good-will, the victory does not belong to Christians, but to the government.
As Catholics, we have a lot of rules “forced” upon us, yet because God’s gift of free-will even these rules are truly voluntary. Once you reach the age of reason and choose to remain in (or leave) the Church, it is your choice. While there are some “cafeteria” Catholics who pick and choose which doctrines, dogmas, and “rules” to obey, the basis of the Catholic faith is obedience to all the Church’s teachings. Christ taught us, through His obedience unto death, that unconditional obedience to God is our objective. Catholics believe that Christ put a hierarchy into place when He told Simon Peter that he [Simon Peter] held the keys to the kingdom and later when He exhorted the Twelve to go out and make disciples of all nations. The very nature of all Christianity is adherence to God’s will. Unlike our nation, Catholicism is not a republic or democracy; it is a Theocracy. Even with this fact, we are not forced to obey the rules in order to remain in the Church. Instead, we are asked to give our obedience to God through obedience to His Church. This, again, is free-will that magnifies the glory of God. Freely given obedience trumps forced obedience every time.

 Even if Catholics vote for legislation that forces charity (twisted and presented as

“wealth redistribution”) upon all in the nation, they are not following the spirit of God’s law. The spirit of God’s law is always of love freely given, never forced. Catholics are fond of arguing that the ends do not necessarily justify the means. In the end, legislation of “wealth redistribution” and freely offered charity beget the same things. However, the means of lifting up the less fortunate is important to Catholics and, most importantly, God. Forced charity, much like forced displays of affection, lacks an undefinable something. Whereas, charity freely given, not only benefits the recipient, but also, again most importantly, glorifies God. Through this glorification of God, the giver is also lifted up in God’s eyes. So, while offering my less fortunate brethren a hand up is a truly Christian objective, socialism, or forced charity, is not a justifiable means of enacting this moral objective. In other words, to offering charity of our own volition should be our goal, not forcing this charity upon one another.

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CARITAS IN VERITATE Encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of good will on integral human development in charity and truth.

10 Replies to “Social Justice = Socialism?”

  1. I’m very pleased to read this post. One of the most frustrating ideas circulating our country today is that we need the government to manage our charitable giving. The entire (Catholic)premise of subsidiarity is that charity should be handled at the smallest level possible. If Big Government steps up before church, community, county and state – in that order – can take care of the matter, much is lost in red tape and overhead…not to mention the human contact factor.

    To quote Wikipedia (I’ve researched the accuracy of this):
    ‘Catholic social teaching is distinctive in its consistent critiques of modern social and political ideologies both of the left and of the right: liberalism, communism, feminism,[4][5] atheism,[6] socialism, libertarianism, capitalism,[7] fascism, and Nazism have all been condemned, at least in their pure forms, by several popes since the late nineteenth century.’

  2. Believe me I feel as you do, but I have recently been thinking hard about this issue and my issue with your opinion is that in this increasingly secularized country, it is not as easy to find Christians who willingly practice charity. In such a society, where many say that societal structures make it harder for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty, and where the breakdown of the family has also caused great poverty (i.e. single mothers raising multiple children); where the Church no longer has the capability of providing for the poor like it once did (not as many believers and therefore not as many contributions); in a society like this, is not redistribution of wealth by the government perhaps the only way to give certain opportunities to the poor or even to ensure justice? I even hate to write that, b/c I know of the waste and governmental control that can come with that solution, but at the same time it seems wrong to leave the poor without sufficient help.

    (I am by no means an expert in economics, so forgive me if I take the following out of some broader context in the encyclical which I do not understand; as always, it is best to read the whole for oneself). However, this caused me to think; although later in the encyclical he promotes subsidiarity as “the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state,” the Holy Father also states the following:

    From Caritas in Veritate:

    36. “Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

    The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”

  3. Mary C — while your quote from Caritas in Veritas does seem to Indicate that governmental force of charity under the guise of wealth redistribution could be endorsed by the Church, the truth is that several popes have said otherwise — even in this encyclical. The Church has consistently always been against forced wealth redistribution. It appears that similar to the Church’s stance on abortion, the Church’s stance on charity is that it should be voluntary. Part of the trouble with government mandated wealth redistribution is that people will be lulled into thinking the government is taking care of those most in need. The truth is that the Church, even in these days of economic struggle and out-right attack, is the most charitable organization in the world. The socialist-like mandates put into place by the government not only take the charity out of our hands, but also closes down the most charitable organization known by attempting to force it to abandon its moral ideals.

    To point out something else, I don’t think that the facts agree with the assessment that fewer people are being charitable in this secular society with a failing economy. Actually, these thought economic times have been times of more giving. Where the economic times affect charity is in the most secular section of society. Those who believe the government takes care of the poor and lack a moral authority advising them to give of their own volition, do not give to charities. You also point out that when the g over meet is involved there is mis-appropriation, mishandling, corruption, red-tape, etc that redistributes the wealth not to those who truly need it, but to those who can appropriate it. The Church, in her long history, has based its aid on true need and made no profit from such help. Most Church charities have very few paid employees, instead they rely on volunteers who truly care about their neighbors. The government will have many paid employees and few volunteers.

    I just don’t think it is possible for the redistribution of wealth to be mandated by the government and be equitable to all involved. There are inevitably those who are going to abuse the system and corrupt the purpose. What we need to pray for is a return to true charity among not only the religious-minded, but also the secular-minded. God truly does work in mysterious ways, but most often He works in the hearts and souls, not the pocketbook.

  4. I think that Christ, if he had approved of socialism, might have said (after giving to Ceasar what is Ceasars and to God what is Gods), ” and make sure that Ceasar takes care of the poor.” But He did not do that. In today’s political world, “social justice” is being used by secular progressives, democrats et al to try to cover over an attempt to move us toward socialism and away from Christianity. Also if you review our Founding Father’s concept of our constitutional republic, you wil see that socialism is antithetical to their vision.

  5. Don’t forget the lesson Jesus spoke of when Mary Magdalene was putting expensive oils on Him and one of the apostles was berating her for the waste of good money. I believe He said there will always be the poor, yet M.M. knew that Jesus’ time was near. I have always interpreted it as the poor are playing important roles for all
    of society to learn how to be charitable. Kinda sounds stupid and heartless, but in essence, we as INDIVIDUALS are supposed to use our own good conscience to build up the kingdom of God.

  6. I have been really struggling to define what the role of the government should be and my Catholic faith. We as Catholics are thrilled when the government passes legislation that agrees with our faith, i.e., limiting abortion “rights”, federal bans on gay marriage, etc. But when it comes to healthcare, many of us are outraged. Can we have it both ways?

  7. LF — it is not a matter of having it “both ways”. As Catholics we strive to protect everyone by embracing a conservative (not as in the political group) viewpoint. When our cause of protecting the innocent infringes on true rights, then it will be a matter of wanting it both ways. However, at this point, the Catholic effort to err on the side of compassion and protection for the most vulnerable is actually embracing the true rights we are given as US citizens.

  8. Taxes are not immoral and according to the Catholic encyclopedia the purpose of a state is the temporal well-being of it’s citizens. If taxes are not immoral, neither is a progressive tax, nor is using the taxes to provide welfare to citizens immoral. We are Christians not Ayn Randians.

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