I’ve often heard people talk about their most beloved aspect of our Faith. When asked, “What’s your favorite thing about being a Catholic?” some well-instructed souls will cite the Eucharist, while others will speak of their devotion to Our Lady. The pointier heads in the room might cite the Church’s rich storehouse of worldly and heavenly wisdom. In the old days, people pointed to the liturgy — but that was before its renovation in the 1970s with shag rugs and cheap wood paneling. My mother (if speaking candidly) would surely have copped to Bingo. Reading what many Catholics have to say on economics and politics lately, it seems to me that if these folks answered honestly, they’d have to say: “Being Catholic gives me a high-minded rhetoric of noble-sounding values, a sense of moral superiority, and unrestricted license to speak and write as a crank.”
I’m reminded of people I used to meet at Latin Mass, whose faith was past reproach, but who hadn’t spent quite enough time on the care and feeding of Reason. Some would wave at me yellowed copies of The Remnant, citing the latest column proving that heliocentrism is a heresy. But I’ll never forget the sweet old lady who took me aside one Sunday.
“Do you know what I read?” she whispered. “The environmentalist scientists are planning to reduce the world population to 700,000 people, and turn the rest of the planet into a nature park.”
“And you know how they’re going to do it?”
“Well . . .”
“They’re going to clone dinosaurs and unleash them on us,” she said, almost giddy with glee. Apparently some columnist had read Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, rented Jurassic Park, and connected the dots.
Unsure of the charitable response, I restricted my remarks to these: “Well, you know what I heard? For the past 30 years, the Freemasons have been faking the weather.”
“Yeah. I don’t have time to tell you how they do it, but I promise I’ll give you all the details next time I see you.” And I never came back.
I’d made the woman’s day. From then on, whenever it seemed to be spitting smog on Lexington Avenue, or blazing heat on the asphalt, she knew that behind the Masonic façade there really was glorious, temperate, Catholic weather — if only we could see it.
That pretty well describes how too many Catholics look at economics and public policy. Whatever the facts of the matter, regardless of learned arguments, they know without thinking too hard or reading too much that the “Catholic” answer (as they dimly understand it) must be correct . . . so they need not bother slogging through the trouble of doing any research. Having read about an issue (perhaps for the first time) in some Church document or other, they seize upon a relative Good it recommends:
- The Church supports a “living wage.”
- . . . and decent conditions for workers.
- . . . and opportunity for the poor.
- . . . and “economic justice.”
- . . . and “rights for immigrants.”
- . . . and health care.
Then they treat this desideratum as an unconditioned absolute, as binding as the right to life, more important than liberty or property. They don’t feel the need to master even the basics of the discipline they’re considering, but rather grab left and right at whatever facts will help them build a case. If they’re talking about economics, they’ll cite a Gospel verse here, quote St. Francis there, throw in some abuse of “usury,” maybe even summon some half-remembered Chesterton — then wrap it in a pretty pink bow with a long quotation from a bishops’ pastoral letter and act as if they’ve made a genuine argument. If you ask about the costs of the policies they propose, or the dangers of bureaucratic management, they won’t respond to specifics, but rather start pounding the table and accusing you of “dissent” from Catholic teaching . . . as if you’d marched right out and joined Planned Parenthood or the Klan. Instead, you’re simply suggesting that maybe, just maybe, the hailstorm outside the window isn’t being faked by the Masons.
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