With churches and clergy ever more frequently inserting themselves into politics, the faithful among us must deal with cognitive dissonance now and again. Even devout congregants can be deeply troubled when their own politics are at odds with those of their pastors or parishes.
Such is unfortunately the case nowadays with my Catholic Church and me. In fact, any politically conservative Catholics who are paying attention must be increasingly disturbed by apparent Church doctrine on many things, but most notably so-called “economic justice.”
Even in my rural Western Pennsylvania parish, the call for “economic justice” has been a fixture since at least the mid-1980s when the U.S. bishops released their treatise, “Economic Justice for All.” But it certainly seems that there has been a sharp uptick in the last few years, coinciding with the advent of the Obama presidency. Indeed, I cannot recall a single mass in recent years that did not include some kind of call for some form or fashion of social or economic justice, if only in the weekly list of intercessions.
Now, there’s no need here to demonstrate the enormously biased and ideologically charged nature of the “economic justice” mantra. These things are well established. And to be fair, not all of the associated calls for action are equally troubling. I’ll gladly ask God to intercede on behalf of the poor or the unemployed all day long.
But something happened at mass recently that went beyond even the normally disconcerting stuff and really jolted me. Along with an otherwise unremarkable list of intercessions came this one: “That corporations would prioritize people and the common good over profits”—to which we were expected to reply “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Well, I couldn’t and didn’t issue the desired response. Regarding the 99.9 percent of my fellow parishioners who did respond as requested, I wonder: Were they really listening? If they were listening, did they really understand the cosmic implications of what they were asking for? Does the Catholic Church actually grasp what it is effectively advocating?
The only way to put this is bluntly: a call for “economic justice” that includes or implies a demand that private companies “prioritize people over profits” is blatantly, alarmingly anti-capitalist. Just think about the massive political and philosophical transformation that would be required to effect such a change on a grand scale. Such a society would be plainly unrecognizable, as well as unacceptable, to the vast majority of my fellow parishioners. Such a society would no longer be a capitalist one.
Capitalism is an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined mostly by private decision, and by prices, production and distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. In this free market, profit is an engine of economic growth and a key source of the individual’s prosperity and, ultimately, freedom.
So it is not surprising that Americans have believed from the beginning that this is not only the best economic system for the nation, but also the fairest and most moral one. As a result, capitalism has been widely revered in this country, not only in absolute terms but also in relation to its main rival, socialism.
The sad part is that the Catholic Church used to understand this. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II himself delivered a scathing critique of socialism, declaring that “the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated…. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil.”
My, how times have changed. Instead of ardent defenders of the superior morality of the free market, we Catholics appear to be little more than a clique of mindless followers, numbed by the constant droning of the Siren’s Song of “economic justice.”
In one sense, a “Siren’s Song”, alluding to The Odyssey, is something that carries a deceptively alluring appeal. Against this conception of the term, “economic justice” is the epitome of a Siren’s Song for the Catholic Church and, apparently, for many Catholics. “Justice?” Having to do with things “economic?” What could be wrong with that?
But as we’ve seen, the cry for “economic justice” is not nearly so innocuous. And if we’re more faithful to Homer, we would see that a Siren’s Song is far more than just deceptively alluring. Rather, it’s a sound so irresistible that no one who hears it can escape the pull. Let us hope that the Catholic Church’s “economic justice” song is only deceptively alluring and therefore something that the vast majority of independent thinkers will be able see for what it truly is—and ultimately reject.
— Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio is a guest commentator for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A former assistant professor and chair of the international relations program in the political science department at the University of Florida, he is now vice president of research and advisory services for a global business advisory firm. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Southern California.