Why A Religious Model for the State Is Not Good

GIVE BACK THAT PENAsk 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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Dogs and Fleas, The Drill, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Y2Y says:

    This is quite possibly the most lucid and concise analysis of the present US healthcare dilemma & the Church’s role in it that I have yet seen. Thank you.

  2. PostCatholic says:

    The state, in a democracy, is ourselves. When we agree, through the democratic process of dividing scarce resources which we call “politics” to take care of the poor or to defend ourselves from an aggressor or to be the aggressor, when we define marriage in one way or in another, we are making an agreement among ourselves. We are not coerced by a despot, we are bound in commonwealth.

  3. Maltese says:

    When states behave like this we call them fascist.

    Or communist. Fascism and communism are two sides of the same coin. Interestingly, communists opposed classical liberalism as much as fascists. The common trait of both, of course, is suppression and coercion. A conservative democracy believes in as little coercion (government) as practicable to maintain proper order in society.

  4. FrCharles says:

    As a religious, this post cracked me up. As one of my confreres once remarked in frustration, considering the funny reversal of roles, ‘the laity want to do the priest stuff and the priests want to be politicians.’

  5. NoTambourines says:

    You have to pay taxes as a diocesan priest? Never knew that. Bummer.

    I’m personally earmarking all of my tax dollars this year for NASA toilet seats. I trust they’ll respect my wishes.

    Seriously, though, I remember what one of the sisters in high school told us about Acts 4:35: It depends on supernatural intervention — the presence and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit — to work! And everyone in a religious order is in it voluntarily.

    Outside of that setting, power corrupts, and the leaders never live like their citizens do. Across the board, when the state has taken away the motivation to produce wealth (someone else will do it if I don’t, and if I do it myself, it will be taken from me and given to someone else), absent the motivation of love of God and neighbor to produce more and live on less, people take the moral hazard and run with it. They get what’s in it for them.

    The states that operate like this have a pattern of chasing God out of public life, supposing that people will really love Dear Leader and comrades enough to toil for scraps out of the kindness of their hearts. It has a way of not lasting.

  6. Robert of Rome says:

    To PostCatholic: The difference is that if we don’t agree with what a voluntary, religious organization does or says, we are free to leave it. But if “we” don’t agree with what the state does in our name we can’t leave it. So in fact, we are coerced.

  7. pmullane says:

    Those who have should help those who have not. The rich man should help the poor, however the moderately rich man has no right to compel the very rich man to give his money to the poor. Furthermore, the rich man may have a very good reason for not doing what he is now being compelled to do. My government takes money from my pay packet that I canno longer use for my family, and gives it for free to people who do not work and who have greater incomes than me.

  8. ContraMundum says:

    The state, in a democracy, is ourselves.

    This kind of statement comes up from time to time, but it is one of the most ridiculous statements about government that one can make.

    If the state is ourselves, why should we pay taxes? That’s just giving money to ourselves — but we’ve already got it!

    If the state is ourselves, what could possibly be wrong with a lynching? We’re the state, after all, and vigilante justice avoids court costs — a very positive thing in times of economic trouble.

    If we’re the state, why is it that some people get to see classified intelligence reports, and others don’t?

    We are not a bunch of little Sun Kings. We are not the state — the state is that organization that takes in taxes, conducts trials, and keeps information it wants to classify to itself, among many other things.

    We’re not a democracy, either.

  9. Phil_NL says:

    Three cheers for an excellent post – a very clear formulation of a point that many bishops should take to heart, all over the world, as they often fall into this trap.

    And not just bishops, also simpler folks… Postcatholic, those ‘scarse resources’ belong to persons, not to the commonwealth. It’s the freedom – and responsibility – of those persons to do with those goods what is necessary, according to their preferences and conscience. And without that freedom, all others fall to the despots axe sooner rather than later, as any other freedom requires earthly goods to be properly exercised.

  10. kevinf says:

    Postcatholic: what is the difference between a tenured, unionized career bureaucrat or politician, and you? The difference is an example of what Fr. Z means by “the state” I think. I think you do not weigh the nuts and bolts of a republic in your idealization of government. Yet no matter: what happens “bound in commonwealth” if you try to stop an abortion?

  11. ContraMundum says:

    As for the main point … I think there is a role for government to play in aiding the poor. Make no mistake, the government has never left off aiding the rich, from the railroad barons to no-bid contracts for Haliburton.

    I don’t hear criticism of FEMA aid to the victims of natural disasters — even when those victims emulate the foolish man from the parable and build a beach house on the sand, where a hurricane is certain to eventually strike. I don’t hear criticism of Coast Guard resources being used to search for boaters who run into trouble — where are the calls to make this a private sector issue, or maybe have their church try to organize a search? When wildfires get out of hand, there are no complaints about sending in the National Guard to fight them. Even when dangerous cold hits the country, I don’t hear criticisms of schools or other public buildings being used as emergency shelters or warming stations — if the homeless want to avoid death, let them see if they can find an open church for warmth!

    All of these are appropriate government interventions. Of course, it’s better to keep things as local as possible, in the spirit of subsidiarity, but that has to be tempered with good sense. The disparity in public schools due to different tax bases is something to be ashamed of.

    Our health care system is broken. There is no justification for it to cost so much to give birth to a child or to set a broken arm, but the costs of basic medicine are inflated to offset the costs of “extraordinary measures”. The system needs to be fixed, only no one has emerged who can be trusted to do it right. Obama is certainly moving it in the wrong direction.

  12. Cathy says:

    The other thing that bothers me, and in a sense emanating from certain religious communities, is a skewed sense of sin. [Good point, although that is really a different conversation. This is about the confusion of models of religious community and the state.] I’ve seen letters from religious communities that insinuated calling certain unnatural activities “grave” and “immoral” is just too harsh and makes the sinner feel unwelcome. We seem to live in a world where bad as you want to be demands publicity and cheerleaders from every spectrum of society, and is a-ok as long as the evil is attached to a social justice good like feeding the poor or offering breast cancer screenings. I can’t help but wonder, is it because they have not, been there and done that, that they cannot conceive of the destruction that sin imposes upon the integrity of the human person. I often wonder, do they desire the story of the prodigal son to be re-written so that, upon returning to his father’s house, he finds the older brother has been supplied with his own brothel and feasts galore because his father has determined his own rules too harsh and fears not God, but that his remaining son might take off with the other?

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    The problem with your post Father (from my view at least) is that it assumes that country X (in this case the US) is a Catholic (or at least Christian) country that is properly orientated towards Christ.

    Using education as an example, the vast majority of schools and colleges in the UK were run by Christians (either anglicans or Catholics) right up until the 1940’s/50’s, sure the state had some say in education (over things such as the school leaving age) but it tended not to intefere with what was taught. Now as anyone who has ever lived in the UK can testify, it is incredibly secular and the Church (on the basis of demographics) had very little choice but to cede control to the state, this of course resulted in increased costs to the government resulting in a need to increase taxes and levey taxes on people who had never paid tax before (in the 50’s a working man supporting his family paid Zilch in income tax). This by the way is AFTER that complete and uttter (insert appropriate language) Henry VIII had taken the True Church out public life.

    Now the current PM David Cameron (an advert for the thing that used to be conservatism) is trying to ressurect the idea with the so called “Big Society” with volunteers/charities taking over the provision of certain services from the government. The Idea is sound in principle but my prophecy is that it will fail, simply because the virtue of faith is found in pitifull amounts on this acursed isle.

  14. James Joseph says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Thank you. I have been trying to work out in my noggan for some time how to logically dismiss the notion of we should be paying lots and lots of taxes when framed by the ‘give much…’ admonition.

    I can see it now. This is a social-soup flawed; blending in together a religious-commune and the politico-communista. Rather, the argument should be this. We are to pay less and less taxes proportionately inverse and non-regressively so that we might have the capacity to ‘give much…’

    It’s so simple, it escaped my mind!

    Thank you.

  15. wmeyer says:

    Apart from the criticisms raised already by ContraMundum (with which I agree) this is a great exposition, and one which needs broad publication. Yes, even broader than your blog, Fr. Z!)

    However, as I have commented in another thread, I think all voters should be required to read Thhomas Sowell’s Bacic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy. Dr. Sowell presents things very clearly, in a non-technical way.

  16. wmeyer says:

    I am reminded, too, that I got into a small argument a few years ago with a catechist who suggested that the government had to run welfare and other redistribution bureaus because people do not voluntarily give enough. My immediate retort was that Scripture teaches that charity is a personal obligation, and that the phrase “render unto Caesar” in no way authorizes us to delegate that responsibility.

    Moreover, I have said, time and again, that when I was a boy, the community mostly took care of its own. That meant that kids and widows did not starve, but it also meant we didn’t give money to the town drunk, who would, after all, simply feed his disease.

    Government plans do a lousy job of caring for widows and orphans, but they do provide booze to the won drunk. And they take much more from us to do so than they give to those in need. It is axiomatic that any bureau has overhead. Government bureaus have far more overhead than corporations of similar size, and outrageously more than charities.

    The Church teaches subsidiarity, which is in direct opposition to Federal level programs. The Church teaches wisely–this isn’t something they pulled from a hat, it is the distilled wisdom of very old experience.

  17. JMody says:

    wmeyer, let me pile on:

    Not only has the Church grown mute about subsidiarity and the obvious scriptural hints for it (work out your problem with your antagonist, and if he will not listen, then bring a witness, and if he will not listen THEN bring it to the church/community/authorities), she has also grown mute about the role of the State, about the relationship of Church to State, and what is good or bad for the State to do. I understand it when USCCB gets all lefty and mute — they hire a bunch of sun-dried hippies, fawn over liberals, and are afraid of violating the IRS codes on charitable organizations staying neutral — but I do not understand when that extends to the Pope, or to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
    I ‘ll say it again — the Church had well over a century of experience with condemning socialism/communism for very specific reasons — it teaches that man will solve all the problems, that the State defines meaning in your life, and so your allegiance is to the State ONLY or else … and thereby excludes God, denies God, and atrophies faith, hope, and charity.

    Well, the hammer and sickle are gone, the large red flags haven’t come here, but look what has. Our State does all these things, and is doing more of them every day. We need to pray for strength and engage the public square — we, the Church Militant (ANOTHER idea that seems to have gone >POOF!< in the "Springtime of V-2"!!).

  18. Maltese says:

    I don’t know, there have been some exemplary Catholic politicians, just think Fr. Gravel, or Fr. Tiso.

    But seriously, these men enter politics to advance their socialist or fascist agendas. It’s astonishing that Fr. Gravel’s Bishop gave him a dispensation to enter politics, knowing full well what he was unleashing on the people of Canada (I don’t know if Tiso was given a dispensation, but if so, obviously that was a very, very, bad idea.)

  19. SKAY says:

    I appreciate this post Father Z.

  20. DeaconPaul says:

    It’s interesting you chose Mussolini as your reference point for fascism and not Hitler, Franco (Fascist Catholic) or any of the many Fascist (extreme Catholic) dictatorships of South America which were supported by the American Right, none of these governments had the remotest concern about the state providing for the needs of all. Similarly there are numerous Western democracies that manage to combine the provision of universal healthcare with free market economies and many of these have higher overall living standards than the USA.
    As for the state being a modern institution based on coercion, who do you think Matthew was collecting taxes for, and do you think they were in any way optional. Coercion has been the way of law since well before Abraham.
    We live under an economic system that uses unemployment and poverty to regulate our cost of goods so responsibility has to also rest centrally to ensure that the poorest are cared for. I don’t see you complaining about the amount spent on defence or homeland security the NSA etc.

  21. tealady24 says:

    Wow, . . . see, Lent does have its good things!

  22. mamajen says:

    I 110% agree with you, Father, and I wish my diocese was not run like a mini federal government.

  23. kelleyb says:

    In the sixty’s, I had friends who believed socialism was the way forward for the United States. I told them the only place socialism ever worked was in religious communities and monasteries. Unlike voluntary “membership” in a monastery, in a socialist state, socialism is rammed down the throats of all citizens. It has never worked. It will never worked. No matter who implements it.

  24. Maltese says:

    Fr. Tiso, what a guy! Defaming the Church to the end.

    Fr. Z, if I understand your point fully, I fully agree that the Church should keep its focus on the eternal, not the temporal, even if, in spite of that vision, that means tussling with governments trying to impose things that degrade the eternal, such as trying to force the Church to violate its conscience and moral standards.

    DeaconPaul, interestingly Mussolini was an ardent socialist before he became a fascist. Socialists, like Lenin, believed in collectivization; fascists not so much. But the glue that bonds them is hegemony. Who was it that said “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

  25. nsummy says:

    I agree with this article, I think anyways. Some good points made. One thing to remember though is that a very small percentage of our tax dollars go to welfare and helping the poor. The vast majority of it goes to Social Security, Medicare, and the military. 3 things that you will never see anyone in the tea party ask to have abolished.

  26. wmeyer says:

    mamajen: Interesting characterization. If I view my parish as a mini-FedGuv, then I am afraid I see more czars than anything else….

  27. Sissy says:

    Given the level and tenor of government interference with many areas of Catholic outreach (social services and healthcare), it might not be the worse thing if the Church decided to regroup and refocus on high-quality, orthodox Catholic education.

  28. disco says:

    About the best argument for limited government I’ve read in quite some time. I think many of the arguments concerning religious can also be made for academics. They are of course more worldly than monks or nuns but they live in a sort of lefty utopia where (for those with tenure) failure is tolerated.

  29. Phil_NL says:


    I believe no-one ever said that a characteristic of facism was that those regimes tried to care for the poor. The logic of your first couple of sentences really is absent. A system can turn facist under the cloak of caring for the poor (or national unity, or racial purity, and so on); that the latter of those detestable excuses have lost popularity doesn’t mean the first one cannot be tried. And you provide your own counterargument: many regimes, like those in South America, had facist elements, but were concerned only with perpetuaing their own power and/or enrichment.

    Facism is nothing more and nothing less than that the interests of the state are seen as paramount. Since that’s generally an unconvincing argument in a democracy, the only way to transform a democracry into a facist state is to provide the state with a motive for grabbing power that commands the moral high ground, such as caring for the poor. Such a tactic has the additional advantage that those genuinely interested in (e.g.) poverty relief will offer support, even turning a blind eye to the less commendable sides of those who they align themselves with politically. Even more so, collecting power in the hands of the state enables a coalition between all those who think they can use that power to do some good. And those who merely want that power, who want to become the state, as it were (the group that would contain the true facists, usually a small minority). So it will become hard to draw the line between those who are in it for the power – to be wielded by the state, and thus by them – and those advocating some selfless good.

    That’s the system at work.

    Now for the rest of your comment: you claim that free markets are compatible with universal healthcare. That’s only true insofar everyone wants universal healthcare at the price it costs, and that’s definately not the case. Some people have other priorities, and if you want universal healthcare, that requires coercion, hence the limitation of free markets. Moreover, you can very much debate if the standard of living in those countries you refer to – presumably European ones, all having had bouts of social democrats governing them – is indeed higher. It’s debatable on average (in terms of income), it’s also debatable in terms of the poorer percentiles of the population, as even America’s poor tend to have more living space and appliances than their counterparts in Europe.

    And of course, every state has coercion; that’s unavoidable if the state wants to fulfill any function. The question is, does it coerce more than absolutely necessary? When it starts to coerce in order to provide free condoms, morning after pills and sterilizations, it would be pretty hard to argue that we’re still in the realm of necessity. From a Catholic perspective, we’ve already landed in the territory of sin, and how can sin be necessary?

    Last but not least, you claim “We live under an economic system that uses unemployment and poverty to regulate our cost of goods” – excuse me? Unemployment is caused by three things: frictions (it takes time to move from one job to the next), minimum wages (people are not employable at what you have to pay them) and lack of confidence in the future (thereby foregoing even economically viable activities). The first is unavoidable whatever the system, the last two are very much the consequence of government interference, they wouldn’t exist in a completely free market. And the government interference we have does not take the form of some civil servant saying ‘well, this good is too expensive, let’s ramp up unemployment to make it cheaper’. It is a consequence of civil servants trying to do good, but causing damaging side-effects in the process, mostly due to heavy taxation and regulation. And neither the capitalist nor the civil servant derives any benefit whatsoever from people being poor. (certain politicians excepted…) We do all derive benefit from producing our goods and services as efficiently as possible, so that people can choose in freedom what matches their preferences best – and that’s what free markets do, all the time.

    In sum, I’ve rarely seen so much bare nonsense in a single post. yet i thank you for giving me the chance to debunk it.

  30. Nicole says:

    While it may be a good thing that priests don’t “run” the world in a civil sense, it still would be nice to have an actual Catholic civil authority…

  31. tcreek says:

    Bishops, in their latest letter, continue to advance positions that may become binding on public affairs when they have no qualifications or special competence on these subjects. These are matters of prudential judgment and bishops should not attempt to coerce outcomes as if correct answers are known only to the clergy.

    See the bishops’ latest letter, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, as they again give cover to politicians supporting abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, etc.



    Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life

    Making moral choices

    34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

    This statement says two things to me:

    1. – It is ok to vote for a politician who supports the intrinsic evils of abortion, euthanasia, or homosexual marriage etc, if you are opposed to these practices.”

    2. – “It is not ok to vote for a politician who opposes the intrinsic evils of abortion, euthanasia, or homosexual marriage etc, unless you balance that opposition alongside that politician’s position of other important moral issues.”

    Those “other important moral issues” being a long list of “social justice” issues, as welfare policies, immigration policies, global warming policies, monetary policies, minimum wage policies, environmental policies, gun control, war and capital punishment.

    Bishops have no special competence on these social, economic and political issues. They are accountable for the moral and spiritual condition of souls. That does not seem to have been a high priority for the last 40 years.

  32. wmeyer says:

    Deacon Paul: I would add that the various totalitarian regimes which were instituted in the 20th century were at their heart leftist. Socialism (already condemned by the Church) cannot long exist without the support of a totalitarian regime. Also, to their shame, numerous administrations in the 20th century allied with regimes in South America and elsewhere in the hope of stability of a sort, and reduced deaths due to war. But to say that these were supported by the American Right (capitalization suggests a formal organization of which I am unaware) is specious; they were supported by American administrations, spanning elections, party changes, and so on.

    My chief issue with you, however, is that in a discussion which was initiated in the realm of structural issues, you gratuitously offered up a political shibboleth.

    Fr. Z’s point was that the religious are ill-equipped to determine standards for secular government, as they are all but free of contact and experience with such government. That is a realistic position, regardless of party alignment, or of any particular issues.

  33. UncleBlobb says:

    Whatever it is with everyone being “bound in commonwealth” with the government “taking care of” the poor, with the tyranny of the majority awarding the resources of the minority to someone else – mostly themselves – it is not charity.

  34. bmc0123 says:

    Way Y2Y said. Thank you, Father.

  35. digdigby says:

    If you want to bring back the Know Nothing Party in a hurry just let the bishops rattle on about how it is the American worker’s ‘charitable duty’ to send illegal immigrants to college and give them American jobs. (Meanwhile fill the pews that they emptied with 40 years of guitar masses and dumbed down liturgy and outreach to everyone except believing Catholics). In case anyone misses the point, advertise Spanish language masses all over the place. On the other hand, when the govt. was trying to get churches to report illegals who were using their church qua church, I Do applaud them for refusing to cooperate. THAT is another fight.

  36. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    I think you would acknowledge that not everything in a society is up for definition by the society, because some things exist beyond that society. Part of the argument over Proposition 8 in California is that one side believes (or purports to believe) that there are rights which the members of a society may not take away or redefine out of existence. You raise the question of defining marriage, but this can’t be defined by any given society in any given time and place differently from how civilized society has understood it.

    God bless,


  37. Dismas says:

    In this fight for religious freedom, I had grown quite impatient and weary of the word Secularism. Secularism seems to me a word with no teeth, a sheep in wolf’s clothing or an emporer with no clothes; a word that has no real meaning for the larger population.

    Until now I thought I had a pretty clear idea of the ideologies (isms) presently at work. Although I’m no subject matter expert on any and can’t rank them in prevalence, I see aspects of socialism, communism, marxism, fascism and nazism at work in the Affordable Healthcare Act and subsequent HHS mandate, all so contradictory and such enemies of our constitution or any democracy. I couldn’t understand why these words were not being used in framing this fight or identifying what the fight was really about.

    Although I still think this, I see now, in light of all involved players; Our Church, CINO religious organizations and gov’t why I, our Church or anyone else can’t specifically use any of these ideological terms to frame this fight. I now see that this isn’t a fight against any one of these ideologies but a fight against a new synthesis of all these ideologies (secularism) working together and masquerading as democracy.

  38. Pingback: Voluntary Charity | Quicksilver to Gold

  39. tcreek says:

    In my prior post, let’s take an example based on the “voter conscience” letter logic of the bishops as they conflate moral judgements with public affairs.

    Candidate A is pro abortion & pro Kyoto protocol treaty
    Candidate B is anti abortion & anti Kyoto protocol treaty

    A husband and wife both vote for candidate A

    Pro-abortion husband because A is pro abortion
    Anti abortion wife because B is anti Kyoto

    Millions of abortions ensue

    Husband goes to Hell
    Wife goes to Heaven
    Bishops go to ???

  40. wmeyer says:

    There seems to be some confusion among the bishops as to their relation to Church Doctrine. It does not appear to me that the bishops are in a position to suspend our obligation to Church teaching, and it also seems to me that the Catechism, which is abundantly clear on most issues, is senior to local views of “social justice.”

  41. Centristian says:

    “Ask everybody and they’ll all agree it’s a good thing priests don’t run the world.”

    Ask some people and they’ll lament that priests run the Church.

    But your point about the naivete of some contemporary religious communities is an excellent one; I had never thought about their misguided political nonsense in that light before.

  42. Polish Falcon says:

    Thank you, Fr Z. You described the effect of religious community thinking perfectly, and as you said, it does not apply to general civil society.

    -tcreek, you see things as they are, including the social justice pap put out by the USCCB. Wishy-washy statements that mean whatever the reader wants them to mean.

    How about the Bishops adopting the style of writing seen in Papal Encyclicals in the first third of the twentieth century? Those are clear as a bell today as they were when written. Crisp, direct, and to the point. Not a hint of political correctness.

  43. jflare says:

    ” ‘The state, in a democracy, is ourselves.’

    This kind of statement comes up from time to time, but it is one of the most ridiculous statements about government that one can make. ”

    YIKES!! A government elected by the majority will of We, the People, of the United States, has always been a fundamental principle. Our Constitution EXISTS because of this idea!

    If we haven’t seen our government behave properly in the past several decades–or ever–it’s almost always a result of our having failed, as a populace, to hold our elected officials accountable to US. Part of the problem has long been that we’ve allowed the size and scope of government to become entirely too large to handle by a small number of elected representatives, but that too essentially comes down to OUR failure, as a nation of people, to function in the manner that the Constitution allows.

    I’ve been horrified for many years by what people don’t seem to comprehend about basic citizenship in this country.

  44. ContraMundum says:


    True, but then I think that mistake is not made only by the bishops. Parish priests make it to, as do we in the laity. You will not have to think long to remember dozens of instances in which Catholic laity, of greater or lesser degree of orthodoxy, consider themselves to have the ultimate veto on Catholic teachings and Catholic practices. This includes some who would shoot down the very existence of the EF and others who would shoot down the very existence of the OF; some who think that any form of religious liberty is a heresy, and otherw who think that the idea that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in this present, world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” is arrogant triumphalism that only a Neanderthal could believe.

    The real problem to me is how to show the proper docility to the local bishop. For example, I live in West Virginia, and (as I have mentioned before), my bishop made some silly statement about being certain that Robert Byrd, the long-time senator, is now in Heaven. May it be so! However, I see no way in which we can know that to be true, except maybe for private revelation, which of course is not binding. Byrd died as a Protestant, and his mixed record on abortion (43% rating by NARAL and 40% by NRLC in 2000) would seem to call for more caution.

    That is in some ways a silly example, but it also plays out in other contentious issues, such as immigration, where there is tension between different goods that are both acknowledged by the Catholic Church.

  45. ContraMundum says:

    Ugh! “Parish priests make it, too”, not “make it to”!

  46. smmclaug says:

    Actually the comparison is best made with academia which, after all, is simply the modern stepchild of the monastery. Why are both of these sealed-off communities both so high on the idea of the wider society as some sort of grand religious community?

    The answer is that neither of them is at all sealed off from the world, as much as they like to pretend they are. In one VERY important sense, they are both extraordinarily connected to it. That is, very nearly every scrap of resources they have comes drifting in from the outside world, almost like mana from heaven. In the absence of the collection plate, religious organizations cease to exist, but they are so radically sheltered from the process by which this wealth is created, that they come to believe it just “is.”

    This has been observed about academia as well, and there it’s even more pernicious because they are actually charged with conjuring up ideas about how secular society ought to organize itself, so naturally they start with the assumption that their own budgets ought to be really, really massive. When they observe the absurd ease in which they themselves live, and the endless flow of resources pouring into the school because of government coercion, they begin to think that practically anything is possible if the government just coerces enough people to open their greedy wallets.

    But among religious, the money literally just appears with their even having to come up with a theory for how it came about in the first place. One sticks out one’s hand, and money just lands in it like rain. And while most religious are intellectually aware this isn’t quite the way the world works, it still creates what I think is a powerful disincentive for inquiring too much into what the limits might be of people’s ability to prop up non-wealth-producing institutions through fiat.

  47. Phil_NL says:

    @tcreek: spot on. It would also do much for the credibility and standing of bishops if they would refrain from pronouncing on matters of prudential judgement. They have gone overboard on those so often it’s very hard to take them seriously anymore when they should be taken seriously. Not to mention some seem to do their utmost to alienate potential allies on items that do matter.

    Any bishop that says something about immigration, climate change or defense has a 50 to 1 chance of talking baloney. Then they shouldn’t complain that much of the faithful think they’re talking baloney as well on everything else.

  48. wmeyer says:

    ContraMundum: I agree, but I spoke of the bishops, who are, after all, our shepherds, our leaders. They are to teach, to guide, to lead us in our faith. The Church is a hierarchy–if the right lessons are not given by the bishops, if the priests are naught properly taught, what chance the message will reach the laity?

  49. Kerry says:

    Dennis Prager says, “Ask a liberal the difference between social justice and justice.”

  50. Chrysologus says:

    Interesting thoughts, but isn’t your division of labor between the state and private citizens too stark, in light of the social doctrine of the Church? The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says that the promotion of the common good falls on both, and that private citizens cannot manage it all on their own. Let me quote:

    “The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists. The State, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression, in order that the common good may be attained with the contribution of every citizen. The individual person, the family or intermediate groups are not able to achieve their full development by themselves for living a truly human life. Hence the necessity of political institutions, the purpose of which is to make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods.” (No. 168)

  51. Traductora says:

    I have been traveling a lot and have been encountering uncertain internet connections, so I wasn’t able to post this morning when I read this…but I thought Fr Z’s post was truly excellent and analyzed and explained the situation from an entirely different but very accurate perspective.

  52. wmeyer says:

    An earlier comment of mine is still in moderation…. :-(

  53. AnAmericanMother says:

    C.S. Lewis said it best:

    On the political question guidance comes not from revelation but from natural prudence, knowledge of complicated facts and ripe experience. If we have these qualifications we may, of course, state our political opinions: but then we must make it quite clear that we are giving our personal judgment and have no command from the Lord. Not many priests have these qualifications. Most political sermons teach the congregation nothing except what newspapers are taken at the rectory.

    You can bet that the religious orders at issue here take the Fishwrap, America, and the Daily Worker. (O.K., I’m just sorta kidding about the last one, since it has thankfully ceased publication after several mergers.)

  54. AnAmericanMother says:

    Father Z,
    Your explanation for the slant of the religious orders is a cogent analysis that I haven’t heard elsewhere and it deserves further investigation — and a wider circulation.

  55. Thomas in MD says:

    A fascist state. AMEN. God will help us, but in proportion to how much we help ourselves. We need to oust this anti-Christ official.

  56. wmeyer says:

    Thomas in MD: I have often quoted Ben Franklin to our local catechists, and they seem to believe that as it’s not found in their references (Fr. Richard Rohr, OSV, LTP, etc.), it’s not relevant, and perhaps not even true. However, I think Franklin’s advice that God helps those who help themselves was probably inspired by James on faith and works.

  57. Mrs. O says:

    I agree. There is so much burden on the middle class right now and so many social problems that have been ‘fixed’ thru taxation that should have been voluntary that I do feel like saying I already gave when the basket is passed. I don’t but you are so right they aren’t the best to decide this.

  58. ContraMundum says:

    Actually, the Franklin quote goes back to the ancient Greeks.

    I prefer the Beofwulf version, anyway: “Fate often saves and undoomed man when his courage is good.”

  59. ContraMundum says:

    Correction: “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.”

    I think my keyboard hates me. Yeah, that’s the ticket — it’s gotta be the keyboard!

  60. wmeyer says:

    Or demonic possession of a keyboard?

    The Franklin quote, I think, is more likely to be comprehensible to the catechists of my acquaintance. ;)

  61. Stephen D says:

    The irony is that most religious communities were founded to provide for the poor because no-one else did. The first hospitals were founded by the religious orders to attend communally for those who could not afford to be treated at home. When religious orders did their job, economies were very much poorer but they generally did a good job anyway. There was consent: the religious tended the poor in the hope that they would get to heaven, the rich laity paid for it in the hope that they would. These assumptions no longer generally apply and the religious now spend their time telling the government to take the money whether citizens are rich or poor or are willing or not. They have totally lost the religious plot in this respect. Governments spend so much on administering the sharing that little or nothing would be lost in reverting to straightforward charity.

  62. tcreek says:

    Notice the great paradox in the approach to charity by the bishops.

    — Liberal approach — When the bishops speak about “social justice” it is almost always in support of some government program which has nothing to do with charity. “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.” – Fr. Z

    — Conservative approach. — “… 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.” – Fr. Z

    By any poll or study that I have seen, it is the traditional church going Christians that are the leading source of charitable giving. Liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives and give far less time to charitable causes. “Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household.” Americans who believe in “income redistribution” give 75% less to charity than Americans who do not. – “Who Really Cares” by Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks.

    The bishops have aligned themselves with the secular, non-church going liberal establishment. The consequences are an ever expanding government and an ever shrinking citizen. As the government does more, the less we are able to do for ourselves and the less we do for others.

    Why oh why did the bishops abandon the voluntary approach to Christian charity?
    Fr. Z has a big part of the answer.

  63. robtbrown says:

    A few comments.

    1. The US health care system is NOT broken. The increase in cost comes from two distinct sources. First, there are more products that are being purchased than ever before, incl knee replacements and end of life medicine. Second, Demographic changes: The group that is paying into the system but is not filing many claims (read: young and healthy) is shrinking, but the group that is filing lots of claims (read: older and sicker) is increasing and will continue to increase (cf. baby boomers).

    2. National Health Care systems, e.g. European as well as US Medicare, are all having the same problems with cost vs financing. BTW, those national systems are very good at delivering basic medical care, but they don’t really provide sophisticated procedures. The famed war correspondent John Burns, a supporter of British national health care, said that neither he nor his wife, nor one of their sons would be alive today if they had been treated in England rather than the US.

  64. disputationist says:

    Father I have a question, does your criticism of the views of religious on the role of the state in pursuing the common good also apply to the views of the Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, and his writings on “distributive justice”, the “universal destination of goods”, the role of the rulers in enacting distributive justice, etc?

  65. wmeyer says:

    robtbrown: There is a third cause of high costs, which should be ranked first: government regulations, and lack of tort reform. The regulations create a minefield of risks, and the lack of tort reform makes those risks stunningly expensive. Add the cost of bringing new medicines to market, which has also been hugely exacerbated by government regulations. And now, in an absurd comedy, the government will “fix” health care by multiplying the regulations.

  66. ContraMundum says:

    So, I guess when everyone starts buying blue-ray players, their price will go UP? Wanna bet?

    I have mixed feelings about the goverment regulations. It’s frustrating to see promising drugs be so slow to come to market, but it’s positively scary to see drugs first approved, then later yanked from the market because of terrible side-effects.

    As for tort reform, I think there is room for it, but I would want (in compensation) to make it easier to strip bad doctors of their licenses.

  67. filioque says:

    Just two points. 1. We can’t have 21st century medicine at 20th century prices. The government has been unable to run Medicare in a financially sustainable way and it was pure hockum to claim they could take over everything and run it more efficiently and give everyone better care. 2. I agree 100% with Fr. Z. Our bishops have been asking for this for decades and now they are shocked to find out what Leviathan does by nature. It is fascism, the subordination of the individual to the state even though the forms of a private sector are preserved. To the extent that our bishops have encouraged the process for decades and failed to identify and discipline catholic politicians who were bringing it on, they have been wolves in shepherds’ clothing.

  68. bookworm says:

    The evangelical counsels that are the basis of Religious vows — poverty, chastity, and obedience — all involve VOLUNTARY renunciation of things to which people have a natural right: the right to earn one’s own living and own property; the right to marry (someone of the opposite sex, of course); and the right to choose one’s own profession and place of residence. All these things are God-given rights that can be given up in service of a greater good, but which it is never right to take away from someone against their will. Hence they can NEVER be imposed by the government upon unwilling persons.

    Religious life may have some of the economic aspects of socialism or communism (e.g. everything being owned in common and distributed according to need), but ultimately it bears about as much resemblance to state-imposed socialism as a happy and loving marriage does to a life of sexual slavery or abuse.

  69. I would like to add that when we voluntarily give to the poor, we have an opportunity to gain merit with our heavenly Father. What merit is there in being coerced into helping the poor? That is why God gives us freedom: because our freedom is an opportunity to share in His holiness and gain merit. This is a really thought-provoking post. It must be no accident that Obama and his allies want to make friends with these wide-eyed innocent religious.

  70. pforrester says:

    Absolutely superb post. Excellent! Wish I could “share” it on Facebook.

  71. Charivari Rob says:

    Father Z: “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.”

    I think that is, at best, an oversimplification. [I refer you to the response of, especially, Robert of Rome, below.]

    Yes, I’d agree that they don’t worry much about unemployment – there’s always something they can be doing. But – health care, food, housing, retirement care? Yes, their communities are to provided, but most religious are aware that these things cost, and don’t come out of thin air.

    ContraMundum: “I don’t hear criticism of FEMA aid to the victims of natural disasters — even when those victims emulate the foolish man from the parable and build a beach house on the sand, where a hurricane is certain to eventually strike. I don’t hear criticism of Coast Guard resources being used to search for boaters who run into trouble — where are the calls to make this a private sector issue, or maybe have their church try to organize a search? When wildfires get out of hand, there are no complaints about sending in the National Guard to fight them. Even when dangerous cold hits the country, I don’t hear criticisms of schools or other public buildings being used as emergency shelters or warming stations — if the homeless want to avoid death, let them see if they can find an open church for warmth!”

    If you haven’t heard that criticism, you haven’t been listening to the news very much. Disruptive and destructive natural events usually lead to discussion of insurance coverage and zoning and why construction is allowed in certain areas. There are increasingly frequent reports and discussions and even laws in some places regarding billing people for rescue operations (especially when they’ve put themselves in danger by some foolishness, like being ill-prepared) or denying emergency services (Fire) to people who don’t prepay into a system.

  72. Robert of Rome says:

    To Chiarvari Rob: Without wishing to take this discussion further into a rabbit hole, I nevertheless want to disagree with your criticism of Fr. Z’s point about the economic irreality in which members of religious communities live in relation to their own health care, food, housing, retirement care. Your point that “most religious are aware that these things cost, and don’t come out of thin air” is really minimalist — as if to say that religious know that food costs money — and can be easily conceded. But there’s a huge difference between, on the one hand, the religious community providing these needs for you, and, on the other hand, having to worry about paying your own bills out of your own income, after paying income taxes. Just ask diocesan priests about this.

  73. cthemfly25 says:

    Father—well stated but let me expand it beyond “community”. For decades the USCCB has advocated redistribution through the now pejorative term of “social justice”.

    Authentic charity is the real channel to salvation. Statist “charity” is marked by dependency and coercion.

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  75. ContraMundum says:

    @Charivari Rob

    I did not say that I never have heard such things in my life. My dad says them all the time. So you can think of it as hyperbole, if you like, or as applying to this particular conversation.

    My point, though, is that almost everybody has some reason why they want the government to be a safety net for them, whether its FEMA or the Coast Guard or whatever. It’s only when it’s the other guy who’s in need that they become budget hawks.

    To be clear, I do not favor the 100% government welfare state. I also don’t favor the 0% model. We can do better than to think in crayon.

  76. wmeyer says:

    ContraMundum: The difficulty with government regulations is chiefly that they have raised to high art the creation of unintended consequences. And as we see in the present case, regulations can bypass legislation, opening the door to tyranny.

    Tort reform is essential, as it is a major contributor to the high costs of medical care and of insurance. A realistic view of medicine must recognize that any non-trivial procedure has risks. It is not realistic to allow lawyers to chase every ambulance. A loser pays policy would be a good first step; I understand all too well that putting a cap on damages is problematic. Another possibility would be to severely limit the percentage of the award which can be claimed by the law firm. The existing system is too easily ravaged by opportunists.

  77. wmeyer says:

    I recognized at the age of 20, or perhaps earlier, that a government safety net was unreliable, at best, and I never believed in Social Security. As I am now 63, I’m happy I never put any faith in the system.

    The chief problem with the notion of a safety net is that we have a couple of generations who have been conditioned to think that insurance is supposed to pay for everything, rather than to be a guard against catastrophe. It will take many years to re-educate the population to understand that there is no viable economic model which can support “free medical care”. And to understand that medical care cannot be a right, unless medical practitioners are enslaved.

    Capitalism works, when not violated by politicians. We’ve not seen it, because they’ve been interfering with the market since the first railroad land grants. I’m old enough to remember when doctors made house calls, and that my father had one of the first spinal fusions done in the U.S., it was not covered by insurance, and my parents paid off the debt, without going bankrupt. But that was almost 10 years before the changes made under the excuse of thalidomide.

  78. dcs says:

    In the same vein, we might say that the State model is not good for a religious order. I’m not referring to democracy, of course, which I think is workable in small communities like those belonging to religious orders. But a State can’t justly expel one of its subjects, while a religious order definitely does need that option (and perhaps should make use of it, especially today!).

  79. PA mom says:

    Spot on, as they say. As an upside, it will be quite difficult for Sr Keenan to keep her 900,000/yr job once all of the Catholic hospitals close…

    no, seriously, it is creepy how something started by faithful for pure good staffed for free can be turned into something of greed and dishonesty and death. An so few remember the simple generous roots of it all.

  80. Southpaw says:

    @PostCatholic “The state, in a democracy, is ourselves. When we agree, through the democratic process…..” We are not a democracy. Democracies are mob rule. The U.S. is a constitutional republic. BIG difference. In fact, the word democracy cannot even be found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or any of the 50 state constitutions. There was a reason for this. This is a great video to check out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIcOfu6Udec

  81. robtbrown says:

    ContraMundum says:

    So, I guess when everyone starts buying blue-ray players, their price will go UP? Wanna bet?

    I’ll bet you completely missed the point.

    The point is not per same medical procedure but rather that more medical procedures (many of which are tied to new, expensive technology) are being purchased. The price per X Ray has not really gone up, but compare it to that of an MRI. (At VA medical facilities, and it’s almost impossible for a doctor to order an MRI.)

    Thus, to your analogy:

    More money is being spent on blue ray players now than 5 years ago, when they didn’t exist.

    A family having 3 blue ray players spends more many than if there was only one. And if 3 people are paying for 1 player, it costs less per person than if 1 person is playing for 3 players.

  82. Midwest Girl says:

    Amen, Father!

    I’d even go further to say most diocesan priests don’t live in the real world, either as far as understanding how difficult it is for families to make it. They truly don’t understand what higher taxes can do to the working family. In most places, their cell phone, housing, food, internet, car, housekeeper, and other bills are paid by the parish. I understand this frees them up to anoint the sick, hear confessions, and do the other responsibilities we desperately need priests to do. [I made the point, some years ago and in tandem with a discussion with the great Roman Fabrizio (a friend and a family man with 4 kids, fighting to make it in Italy) that many fathers of families faces problems that would make many priests curl up in a ball. However, fathers of families also don’t face those things alone, which in the big scheme of things is significant.]

    Unfortunately, many priests I have met don’t understand what family life is like [How is that? Because priests spring full-grown from the head of Zeus? They are delivered as adults to the seminary without having grown up in a family?]
    – they don’t understand how much many of us pinch pennies in order to be able to give generously to the church and her ministries, they don’t understand how we are up half the night with our children every night, as they complain about being called to anoint in the middle of the night once or twice a month. They may understand the need for a food pantry, for affordable healthcare, etc. but many times don’t realize how advocating for can financially burden those who don’t currently need assistance.

  83. Midwest Girl says:

    I meant advocating for universal healthcare can burden us with higher taxes. :)

  84. robtbrown says:

    A further point on technology:

    Very often with technology, there is a disproportionate relationship between the cost of development and that of production. It is usually very expensive to develop the initial software (firmware) and overall hardware design, but the actual production is much less. Generally, the development of second and third generation, the foundation already established, is not that expensive, which keeps prices down. Further, once the costs of initial development have been covered, the price stabilizes. And when the product is mass produced, prices drop.

    The technology used in medicine, however, never is mass produced, and so there isn’t much of a drop in price.

  85. robtbrown says:

    Should be: A family having 3 blue ray players spends more money than if there was only one. And if 3 people are paying for 1 player, it costs less per person than if 1 person is playing for 3 players.

  86. wmeyer says:

    Universal healthcare not only leads to higher taxes, but to a shortage of doctors and hospitals due to lack of return on investment. It leads to a lower standard of care, an experience which I have had, during years of living in Ontario, Canada, whose system is the model for HillaryCare, and ObamaCare.

    In the metropolitan Atlanta area, doctors have told me there are between 50 and 100 MRI units. In the Toronto Region, with a population somewhat greater than metro Atlanta, the government had determine only 4 MRI machines were needed. A fifth was donated privately, and was then confiscated by the provincial government. This info dates from about 18 years ago, when I lived there.

  87. wmeyer says:

    “The technology used in medicine, however, never is mass produced, and so there isn’t much of a drop in price.”

    Not quite true. the scale is different, of course, than for Blu-ray players, but such products do go into a smaller scale mass production. Having spent much of my life working in small to medium scale electronic manufacturing, I can tell you that prices do reduce, and economies of scale do play a part. But in addition, a great many of the small components are also used in consumer products, so the component cost reduces over time, even though the market for ultra-sound, for example is relatively small.

  88. robtbrown says:


    You’re right–I was not clear. What I meant was that products like MRI’s are not mass produced. I did note that once the basic software has been developed (some of which is purchased from vendors), the cost drops–I suppose that can be considered mass production. In addition to these mass produced components, Moore’s Law has meant the price of computing power continues to drop.

    The semi-conductor has had two effects: Generally, it has improved the quality and price of previously produced products. TV’s are a good example–the 42in flat panel I have is comparatively cheaper (and much better) than the 27in CRT TV I bought in 82. In that same year I bought a VCR for $425 (didn’t even have a remote)–last Dec a Blu Ray player for $50.

    Secondly, it has introduced lots of new products, e.g., MP3 and Blu Ray players, Ebook readers, and MRI’s that weren’t purchased before.

  89. wmeyer says:

    The evolution of electronics has had many effects, but the primary ones are endlessly decreasing costs and increasing functionality. when I began working in television broadcasting, a videotape recorder cost about $100K. Although the quality of consumer video tape was never much (even on Beta), the notion of a VCR for <$100 would, in 1967, have been unthinkable. Not unlike the famous quote from Bill Gates that 640K or memory was enough for anyone, the market for video was never foreseen by any domestic manufacturer. Had it been, we might still have actual manufacturers here, rather than companies which merely put labels on things.

    But to return to the topic at hand, the only rational model for a society which preserves and promotes liberty is capitalism. The model followed in DC since the initial railroad land grants in 1862 has been for government to "solve" problems. I have looked high and low and been unable to find a government "solution" which brought a better life without unintended consequences much worse than the problem "solved."

    Government is useful for managing road systems, which must, of necessity, cross jurisdictional boundaries. The same notion would apply to a postal system, except they have, with their accustomed skill, bungled that operation for decades. And of course, the military must be an operation of government. With those three areas covered, however, I am hard-pressed to think of anything which would not be better resolved much closer to the problem.

    As the Church teaches, subsidiarity is the approach which generally works best. Following the principle of subsidiarity, there are very few "solutions" which wold require 2,000+ pages to define. Nor would they spawn endless rows of desks filled with overpaid clerks who have lifetime security.

    At the local level, as may be seen in local charities, or even your homeowners' association, increases in spending are the very last approach favored.

  90. Bruce says:

    The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and
    man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new
    morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by)
    is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right.
    Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks
    and cranks who do that. As Dr. Johnson said, “People need to be reminded
    more often than they need to be instructed.” The real job of every moral
    teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple
    principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse
    back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back
    and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.
    The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does
    not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying “Do as you
    would be done by” to a particular society at a particular moment. It could
    not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme
    which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is
    not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not
    give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it
    does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar.
    It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and
    sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs,
    and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will
    put themselves at its disposal.
    People say, “The Church ought to give us a lead.” That is true if they
    mean it in the right way, but false if they mean it in the wrong way. By the
    Church they ought to mean the whole body of practising Christians. And when
    they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some
    Christians- those who happen to have the right talents- should be economists
    and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should be Christians,
    and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to
    putting “Do as you would be done by” into action. If that happened, and if
    we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian
    solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. But, of course, when
    they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to
    put out a political programme. That is silly. The clergy are those
    particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained
    and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to
    live for ever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which
    they have not been trained. The job is really on us, on the laymen. The
    application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education,
    must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just
    as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists -not
    from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and
    novels in their spare time.
    C.S. Lewis

  91. robtbrown says:


    I think we tend to agree.

    I have two problems with Obamacare: The first is that its advocates somehow think that the govt can wave a magic wand, and health care will become less expensive. They push the Marxist explanation that increased health care costs are simply price gouging by insurance and pharm companies. And they disingenuously point to Euro systems as being without the US problems. The second is that is inevitable that it will pay for abortions.

    The USPS basically sat on its hands while FedEx and UPS made use of technology to create new methods to streamline shipping. The result was that the USPS lost the more profitable part of the the business to FedEx and UPS, leaving the USPS with the low profit and money losing mail.

  92. wmeyer says:

    robtbrown: to put it simply, and to quote Reagan, government is not the solution, it is the problem. They enforce changes in the way these companies do business, then cry gouging when costs increase.

    Idiots of the less than useful sort.

  93. GW says:

    Thanks for a great post, Father Z. I have long been mystified by the affinity between many in the Catholic Church for the socialist left as it has developed in the U.S. over the past eight decades. The base of the left has been defined since the inception of socialism in the French Revolution by their antipathy towards Christianity. And on a closely related note, it is capitalism that has brought the greatest benefits to all people, from the poorest on up, in our nation and the world. Yet many in religious orders seem to agree with the left that capitalism, operating from enlightened self interest, is less desirable than the left’s model of forced redistribution.

    I have long suspected that this has much to do with the lifestyle of clergy and monks of the Catholic Church – a suspicion you have confirmed. It is the closest thing to a successful experiment in the Marxist model as likely ever to be found on this earth. Thus it becomes understandable that many in the Church, not seeing the larger reality, would in fact feel an affinity for their would-be executioners. Many in the Church do not seem to distinguish between voluntary acts of charity and expropriation of property by the police power of the state. They do not recognize that capitalism creates far more wealth to the benefit of all – thus making charity possible – while socialism produces much less wealth and results in far less charity, with the State assuming the role of charitable institutions. All of that said, it still doesn’t explain why many in the Church have been willfully blind about the ultimate goal of the socialist left – to remove religion from society in order to make the state the ultimate arbiter of morality.

  94. Imrahil says:

    Interesting. Really. Thank you very much dear @Fr. Z.

    While I don’t on the whole agree with the second part. And here’s a try to say why. I can say beforehand that as an European I have, of course, imbibed a certain amount of collect-and-share (greetings to Tolkien) tax philosophy with my mother’s milk. But still, two points of thinking.

    After all, among Catholics there’s necessary and necessary. A Catholic must not eat more than necessary (under generally venial sin), but a Catholic can eat a magnificent dinner as adequate to certain occasions (without any sin) because there is necessary and necessary. Likewise, a State must have the means to do what is strictly necessary, but may also collect some means to do something of what is relatively necessary. Let us call him poor who has only (or not even) means to do the absolutely necessary; the rest be called wealth. Obviously, it is lawful for a family, an individual, a club, the Churchto acquire wealth. I think that the State to some degree is a community and it is not unlawful for it (or as we say in our language, him) to acquire some wealth – let us be not unclear: in the manner that happens to be the State’s manner, viz. coercion, but also with an appeal to the coerced to really will the thing they are being coerced – and dispose of it.

    I sometimes have a fancy that ethicists and moral theologians should answer this important question with a number and the words “per cent”. That’d be constructive.

    Second, what I do not understand is the thought: “The rich are obliged to help but without coercion.” Now do not take that as pro-Lefebvrist (coercion to religious acts happens to be intrinsically evil, I cut my try of demonstration), but I don’t get the thought that one is really obliged (not only in an “it would be good” way) to something and yet may not be coerced to do it.
    Taking, of course, for granted that especially concerning charity there really is a vast area of “you are not obliged but can do something good”. In this, as such, the state has no room for allowed coercion. (With “as such”, I mean: save perhaps in a limited way along the lines of my first point.)

  95. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Bruce,

    But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political programme. That is silly.

    It is not so silly as it seems at first hand. And that for the following reasons.

    The clergy, yes, are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live for ever. But the clergy is not only a body of functionaries (of however supernatural functions), but, impopular as that may be these days, it is an elevated estate and as such naturally in a leading position, particularly if there exists no nobility (in the essential sense).

    Then, with the exception of administering the Sacraments, making sure that there is no lack of knowledge in what concerns true Doctrine, perhaps admonish sinners if need be, and being friendly in whatever one does, and being joyful at least at joyful feasts [I’m aware that this might fill the whole schedule of a parish priest], there is hardly anything as pastorally important as politics.

    Then, clerics happen to have studied theology, which, in a Christian view, is in charge for fitting all the particular things into a single world-view. (In Natural Reason, that role is to philosophy. But clerics also studied that.) That is, yes, open to laymen, but as a matter of practical experience and nothing more, clerics still have a better reputation than lay theologians.

    Then, politics really mostly is about finding out what is right and what is wrong; and I’m convinced that still often enough, this is not about mere application, i. e. includes a little question of principle. The whole issue between Democrats and Republicans is not application; it is principle. That is, we are talking about the Truth. Now finding the truth as yet unknown is (save accidentally) to the layman; but authoritatively declaring untruths to be untrue, that is to the clergy.

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