The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christianity on the Cheap

A good friend of mine recommended the writings of Fr. Robert Sirico, who as described by the NCR at the link is a defender of free-market capitalism as consistent with Christ's and the Church's social teaching. (You can read Fr. Sirico in his own words here, and here.) As the NCR summarizes his oevre:
Sirico said he co-founded Acton in 1990 to "help bring sound economics to good intentions," a mission that includes advising theologians and religious leaders. Even with the best intentions, he said, "ignoring economic realities" can lead to the "unintended harm of other people."

For instance, he argues, the church's teaching that all people should have access to good health care does not necessarily translate into support for government health insurance. Making the government the main health care provider, he said, "cuts out the knowledge base (of) a competitive pricing market," raising the costs of services.

Sirico also suggests that dangers to religious freedom -- such as the Obama administration's requirement that the health insurance plans of Catholic institutions cover contraception and sterilizations, in violation of the church's moral teaching -- are inherent in "welfare-state" social service programs under government control.....

"The church doesn't uphold or endorse or canonize any economic model," Sirico said, making it clear that in his own value system, faith trumps economic philosophy.

He calls the work of Ayn Rand, one of the most popular and influential proponents of free-market economics, a "false gospel" of "radical individualism."

"She's looking for Jesus Christ but she rejects all of the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as human solidarity, even a clear sense of human dignity," he said.

On the other hand, Sirico cheers the recent decision by the U.S. bishops to endorse the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, whose holiness he finds manifest in her service to the poor and her reverence for the sacraments. Never mind that the founder of the Catholic Worker movement hardly shared his enthusiasm for the benefits of capitalism.

His arguments for a free-market economy and market-based approaches to social problems are not articles of faith, Sirico says, but merely contributions to the church's larger effort to serve the common good.

"What's happening right now in the Catholic Church in the United States, and to some extent around the world, is that there is a new way to speak about Catholic social teaching, and that's exactly what Catholic social teaching allows us to do," he said.

"On issues of life, on issues of marriage, those are critical non-negotiables," he said. "On the other questions, you see bishops, you see laypeople, you see academicians having this vibrant debate."
Now, Fr. Sirico's views are easily caricatured, but, to be fair, he rejects the Randian exaltation of selfishness and calls for "strong moral formation to ensure that the right values, rather than the market's supposed dictates, determine their investments and other choices."

Let's stick, though, for a moment, with Fr. Sirico's "non-negotiables." Marriage, and life issues. By this "issues of life" he clearly means only abortion, contraception and assisted death; Fr. Sirico has described "going to war and the death penalty, in Catholic theology, as matters for prudential judgement," contrasting it with "Abortion [which] is seen as an intrinsic evil."

In other words, Catholicism fits in just fine with the conservative agenda, and does not challenge the social order at all. Which brings me back to my problems with Robert George; the "life fully begins at conception" doctrine is a 19th Century development, contrary to the theology of Thomas Aquinas by which Canon Law was defined until the 1980s, and yet this is now a "non-negotiable." Likewise, marriage, which is only fleetingly addressed in the Gospels, and grudgingly endorsed by Paul ("It is better to marry than to burn" is hardly a rave) is core. The bulk of Jesus's teaching? Optional.

I'm afraid I have to agree with Charles Gore, who, revolted by the view of many of his colleagues that laissez-faire economics was divinely ordained, sardonically explained that:
It must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.
Fr. Sirico's version of Catholic teaching is soothing syrup for those as to whom Jesus said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for them to be saved. I think Christianity is harder, and more reality based, than that.

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