Monday, March 3, 2014

A Two-Pronged Strategy, II: The Two Great Commandments


As we saw in the previous posting in this series, the point of Catholic or any other religion’s social teaching is not to take care of people directly, except in extreme cases.  The same goes for what the State is supposed to be doing.

A religion is primarily there to take care of people’s spiritual needs.  A State is there to take care of the common good, the environment within which we meet our material needs.  There is overlap between the areas of competence for both the State and organized religion, but one cannot replace the other.

Fat, Fat, Theocrat
Attempts to have the State take over religion, or to have religion take over the State, end up subordinating religion to the political needs and expedience of the State.  This is true whichever one takes over the other, even in a theocracy, because the temporal power is first a state, and then a religion.  You don’t have to think too long or hard about which one will give way to the other.

The only difference (and it usually makes no difference) is that a theocracy sometimes admits a higher power than the State.  It may not do anything about it, but at least the admission is (usually) there.

Mixing politics and religion tears your heart out.
The bottom line, however, is the same for ordinary people.  As Sancho Panza said, “Whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.”  Whether a state takes over religion, or religion takes over a state, it’s going to be bad for ordinary people.

When ordinary people have no power, that is, they own no capital, then those with power can control every aspect of their lives.  As we saw in the previous posting, propertyless/powerless people become permanent dependents — slaves — of those who have property, and thus power.

Far too often, however, people are willing to surrender the hope of getting something in the future for material security today.  This influences those in power to keep others dependent on them.

Yes, meeting immediate needs takes precedence over many things.  It does not, however, take permanent precedence.  Once immediate needs have been met, the solution to an extreme situation is to organize, and correct the problem so that people can once again start taking care of themselves.

"Some remedy must be found."
This is why Leo XIII and subsequent popes have mandated a “two-pronged” approach. One, meet people’s immediate material needs. Ordinarily this calls for charity. In extreme cases, duly constituted authority may redistribute a measure of wealth to keep people alive and in reasonable health until the underlying problem can be solved. (Rerum Novarum, § 22.)

Two, reform the institutions of the common good in conformity with the principles of individual, economic, and social justice to empower as many people as possible to become capital owners. Owning the capital that displaces human labor from the production process would enable ordinary people to supplement and, eventually, replace income from labor, with income from capital.

To oversimplify somewhat, the essence of the papal program might be summed up as 1) give a man a fish to eat so you can take care of him today, while 2) teaching him how to fish so he can take care of himself tomorrow. All the rest is how to do these two very simple and straightforward things; “On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:40.)

Teach a man to fish.
That is, we demonstrate our love of God (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.” Matt. 22:38) by carrying out acts of charity, and we “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39) by meeting the demands of individual and social justice.

Thus, charity fulfills justice, it does not replace it; charity and justice go in tandem, or we violate both of the “great commandments.”

So, as long as the means is ethical (keep in mind that the end does not justify the means), the “how” of meeting people’s immediate needs and reforming the system to enable them to care for themselves in the future is irrelevant.

#30#

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