Baptism Is Not an Economics Degree

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.”

“Er, really?”

“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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  • Davidtrad

    Why is it that every time a “Neocon traditionalist” starts to rant about others not knowing how wealth is generated, they begin by attacking traditionalists? Is it because the “traditionalist” part of “Neocon traditionalist” is a fantasy?

  • No

     It’s not only that; they often post about others not knowing things without knowing what those others know.

  • Davidtrad

    The link at “heliocentrism is a heresy” doesn’t work. Please document what you are referring to. I’ve never read any such thing at The Remnant Newspaper.

  • Daniel_Latinus

     Back in the late 1980s – early 1990s, The Remnant published an article by one Solange Hertz charging that heliocentrism was false.  I have the paper that contained this article somewhere around here, and if I had it handy, I’d cite chapter and verse.  Before Walter Matt retired, The Remnant was quite moderate as traditionalist publications go, but became shrill and highly unreasonable under its current editors. This tendency made me drop my subscription.

    I have a feeling that you only discovered the traditionalist movement in the last ten years; I’ve followed it since the 1970s, and noticed the many pathologies that lurk in some corners of the traditionalist movement, and which threaten to compromise much of the good work that had been done.  Ironically, these bad tendencies seemed to emerge at just the moment when the official Church was beginning to take traditionalist concerns to heart.  From Zmirak’s writings on the subject, it looks as though he has seen many of the same things I did.

  • Howard Richards

    The only good part of this article is the last paragraph.  The rest is hubris and insults, none of which are necessary for the conclusion.

  • Davidtrad

    Daniel, unlike you, I suppose, I don’t “follow” the traditional movement with an eye to find fault. I am a traditional Catholic, and I am also a columnist for The Remnant Newspaper, so I guess I’m shrill and unreasonable, much like the editorial staff at the Remnant. Such is life, I guess, at least as you and Mr. Zmirak see it.

    I became a traditional Catholic in 1995 shortly after leaving the seminary (where I earned a MA in Dogmatic Theology) because of the ordination of an openly homosexual man who was living the gay lifestyle and having sexual relationships with teen age boys, a fact that was known to his vocation director, and many members of the faculty at the seminary….Which brings me to your observation that there are “many pathologies that lurk in some corners of the traditionalist movement”: having lived and breathed in the traditional Catholic “movement”, as you call it, I have noticed some eccentric people. However, having been a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in the late 80s and early 90s, I can assure you I haven’t seen the kind of extreme pathologies, personal depravities and institutional malfeasance that I witnessed in the seminary. No eccentricities noticed among traditionalists even comes close to the kind of depravities that have ravaged our Catholic seminaries, rectories and chanceries.You and Zmirak may have noticed “many pathologies” among traditionalists; fair enough, given that those judgments are at best subjective. But are you really going to make the case, even from your subjective point of view, that the mainstream Catholic Church, where Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebellius regularly receive Holy Communion, where children can’t be trusted alone with priests, where all manner of lewd and disrespectful behavior at Mass is not only tolerated, but condoned, where openly gay men have been ordained by knowing vocations directors and bishops, are you really, given all these egregious facts about mainstream Catholics, going to contend that traditional Catholics have some kind of monopoly on “pathology”?

    Dear sir, please remove the plank from your own eye, first!

    I’m sorry, but I’m just a shrill and unreasonable columnist at The Remnant.

  • gghd

    >All Catholics should contemplate the fact that Holy Mother our Church >avoids paying taxes whenever possible through both >time & geography.   Jesus Christ set up the Nation of Israel with a God centered government & 10% flat tax. (A teaching on governments.)
    >Many Catholics today want to use governments to do the work of Jesus Christ.  History has demonstrated that governments most often do the work of the devil.
    >In the 2nd Temptation, Jesus said, >No!- when offered all the governments of the world.> The price the devil wanted was too high.  What is gained if you have this world but lose your soul for all eternity?

  • Logan

    Good post, Dr. Zmirak. The link about your disagreements with Dr. Woods is dead, though.

  • helgothjb

    I think that what lies at the heart of the matter hear is a radical distrust of the I individual. One side trusts the government and the other trusts the corporations. Neither places much stock in individual liberty.
    As regards traditionalists, many are so angry about everything, from the smallest theological point to even the slightest liturgical error, or the innocent noise of a small child at their preciously quiet Mass, that one is left thinking, “well, if this is the alternative, then the hell with it.”

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    I read her “Having read about an issue (perhaps for the first time) in some
    Church document or other, they seize upon a relative Good it recommends:
    . . . 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. ”

    I am intrigued by this article, but do not understand it.
    For me there are only two unconditional absolutes, love God and neighbor,  The right to life and health care derive from ‘love of neighbor’. 
    What do you think?

  • Brandon

    Great article!