The release of my latest book The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching, draws ever nearer, as this picture of a box full of ’em, fresh from the printer and on their way to me proves!
You can buy the book either in hard copy here:
…Or you can order it on Kindle here.
To celebrate its release and hopefully whet your appetite to read it, I’m posting some excerpts. The book takes us through a discussion of the four pillars of Catholic Social Teaching: the Dignity of the Human Person, the Common Good, Subsidiarity and Solidarity. Today’s post is from the discussion of the Dignity of the Human Person.
Issues Pertaining to Socio-Economic Evils
The Church also lists arbitrary imprisonment, mistreatment of the environment, capital punishment, deportation, disease and lack of health care, drug abuse, hunger, poor working conditions, poverty, slavery, subhuman living conditions, and suicide as issues that affront the Dignity of the Human Person. There are a number of points worth touching on here since it is this collection of evils that brings us closest to what many see as “less important issues” than abortion that “dilute and fracture the brand.”
The argument works, or seems to work, this way: Why should we spend time and energy on things like capital punishment or deportation or the fact that the United States is now a gigantic prison state when 1.5 million babies are dying each year? The same objection is typically advanced for nearly everything listed above. All these things are (goes the objection) “prudential judgments” and not gravely and intrinsically immoral as abortion is; therefore we can pass over them and, as the saying goes, “focus on abortion, which is non-negotiable.”
But the problem with this approach, as the language about “diluting the brand” hints, is that the Church’s teachings about these issues are not really passed over in favor of defending the unborn by those who use such language. On the contrary, the Church’s teachings are actively opposed by those who claim to, but do not, “focus on abortion.”
Here’s the deal: There is plenty of room in the Church’s tradition for specialization and focusing on specific issues, needs, and ills. Dominicans specialize in preaching. The Sisters of Providence specialize in healing and building hospitals. Jesuits found schools, and so forth. As Paul says, different members of the body do different things (see 1 Corinthians 12). So somebody who truly wants to focus on abortion and the protection of human life from conception to birth is perfectly free to do so.
But healthy members of the Body of Christ do not declare that other members “dilute the brand” by focusing on other issues or by caring about multiple issues at once. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Somebody who says “We need to address the sadistic cruelty being meted out to refugee children, snatched from their parents at the border and disappeared into a concentration camp system that cannot even figure out how to unite them with those parents again” is not “diluting the brand” of the Church’s teaching, nor “distracting” from abortion. They are simply being consistent about the Dignity of the Human Person from conception to natural death.
Likewise, the person who is fighting to uphold the Church’s teaching about the necessity of a living wage—a teaching as old as James 5 and the basis of the Church’s tradition that depriving the worker of his wages is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, exactly like murder—is not somehow “distracting” from abortion. Indeed, one crucial point of the Church’s insistence on economic justice is that families cannot happen if people cannot afford to marry and have kids. Poverty, in fact, is the #1 abortifacient. A living wage is crucial to our dignity and to the foundation of families.
Another related issue is capital punishment. Recently, Pope Francis—echoing a call for the abolition of the death penalty also sounded by Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI—formally changed the Catechism to read:
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. (CCC 2267)
This development definitively places the good of the human person over mere judicial retribution and says, in effect, that if we do not have to kill somebody we should not do it, even if they have it coming—especially since about 4% of our prison population (the largest on Earth) are wrongly convicted. Fighting this development in the Church’s teaching not only means killing people unnecessarily, but killing innocents in order to do it and (no small thing as well), turning ourselves into people who are willing to kill innocents in order to kill the guilty unnecessarily.
“But these are all prudential judgments,” returns the Focus-on-Abortion interlocutor. “Aren’t we free to disagree with the Church on prudential matters?”
Actually, no. We are not free to ignore, or worse, oppose the Church’s guidance without very grave cause. It is vital to remember that “prudential judgment” concerns not whether, but how best to implement the Church’s whole teaching. If your focus is on abortion, fine. Focus on it. But do not pretend to focus on it while actually spending your time and energy fighting against the Magisterium and in favor of capital punishment, fighting against Laudato Si’ and in favor of policies that harm the environment, fighting against a living wage and in favor of laissez faire capitalism (condemned since Rerum Novarum was written in the 1890s), fighting against a century’s worth of magisterial calls for universal health care and denouncing the Church as “socialist” to shout down that call. None of that is “focusing on abortion” and none of it is prudential judgment. It is weaponizing the unborn in order to fight the rest of the Church’s teaching by making the unborn the opposite of and competitor to all the human lives harmed and even killed by sins in these other areas.
By the way, on Saturday, September 19 at 1 PM Eastern/10 AM Pacific, I will be having a Facebook livestream to talk about the book and take questions! Hope to see you there!