Ask everybody and they’ll all agree it’s a good thing priests don’t run the world.
I agree with this view.
I also believe it’s even better that members of religious orders don’t run the world, whether they are Sisters of Mercy or, lemme think, Jesuits … or some other kind of religious.
Religious don’t live in the real world.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe firmly that many religious do alot of good for the world, but they don’t live in it.
Sure there are exceptions of savvy religious who know the score, especially those who may have had a career before entering religious life. But in general, religious formed in community don’t live in the real world.
For example, unlike diocesan priests, individual religious don’t pay income taxes. Religious don’t worry about unemployment, health care, food, housing and nursing care when they are aged, or the cost of their funerals. Their religious communities take care of all that. Religious contribute all of what little (or in some cases much) money they earn from their apostolates into a common fund that is administered by their superiors. That common fund takes care of the needs of all community members.
That’s why I get a little edgy hearing religious talking about social justice, universal health care and other federal mandates and entitlements.
The idea that religious have of the state is far too analogous to that of a religious community.
Time and time again religious who pronounce themselves on social issues demonstrate that they think of nation-states, such as the USA, in religious terms. Nation-states are their communities writ large, in which everybody helps everybody else, and in which goods are distributed not on the basis of property rights, but instead, as in the Acts of the Apostles, “distribution is made to each according to his need” (Acts 4:35).
According to this model, wealthy Americans should “pay their fair share” in federal and state income taxes in order to help those who are poor.
I happen to agree with that sentiment.
The wealthy should help the poor. Jesus taught that. The Church Fathers taught that long before modern popes wrote encyclicals (just read St. John Chrysostom or St. Augustine of Hippo).
But what Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles and the Church Fathers all had in common in this regard is that they were talking about voluntary charity. They were not talking about the state.
The state is a modern institution and it is based upon coercion.
If you don’t believe that, go and break a law and see what happens to you.
The power of the state may in some places derive from the consent of the governed, but in no place do individual members or even the majority, consent to each and every act of the state.
If you don’t believe that, try stopping an abortion and see what happens to you.
When the government collects income taxes, it is not passing the basket at church, asking you to perform a voluntary act of charity (pace William Buffett): it is seizing your property. If you don’t hand over your property, the state will garnish your wages and/or confiscate and sell your house and goods. It may also put you in prison.
Where’s the voluntary in that?
In the national conversation Americans are currently having over the federal government takeover of health care, what gets obscured is the distinction between the public sector and the voluntary sector, that is, between the state and the Church.
It’s the role of members of any church to practice charity. The state’s role in our lives is, with our consent, coercive. But its coercive power should be limited.
If you allow the distinction between the political and religious spheres to be blurred, and if you begin romantically to think of the state as a kind of big religious community, you will end up thinking just like Mussolini: the state should own everything and provide you with all your needs.
When religious behave like this we call them a community.
When states behave like this we call them fascist.