Discover Our Best-Kept Secret

Here is a taste of part 2 of the series I am doing for the Catholic Weekly:

Last time in this space, we looked at heresy and its modern manifestation, ideology.

We noted that both of these phenomena are not so much lies as inflamed or cancerous truth. Somebody gets one single truth fixed in their head as the Only Thing That Matters and then weaponises that truth to attack other equally important truths.

The more important that one truth is, the harder it is to get the heretic to see that the truths he attacks are also important because every attempt to do so seems to him an attempt to tear down or belittle his idolised truth.

The Catholic genius is its capacity to embrace both/and thinking and avoid either/or manias. To be sure, the Tradition can also grasp that certain things are either/or questions (“Either Jesus is God or he is not”).

But it is also subtle and wise enough to know that most either/or questions are false alternatives (for instance, “Either Jesus is God or he is man”).

The great heresies have, again and again, embraced such false alternatives and have, again and again, been defeated by the capaciousness of the Catholic worldview which reminds us that God is sovereign and we have free will, that the Father is God and so is the Son and the Spirit, that the Son is both fully God and fully man, that we are saved by faith and works, Scripture is both inspired and the work of human beings, etc.

The same holds true with the Church’s moral tradition, expressed in the Church’s social teaching. That teaching has four basic pillars:

The Dignity of the Human Person
The Common Good

As with all the Church’s teaching, these aspects of Catholic Social Doctrine are intended to be understood in harmony with one another, not in conflict or competition. Think of them as the four legs on the throne upon which sits Adam, made in the image and likeness of God.

Much more here. Look for the conclusion in this space soon.


24 Responses

  1. Is there a document that I can send my kid that pretty much sums up Catholic social doctrine?

    I told him about Saint Ambrose (his confirmation saint!) and Saint John Chrysostom and the thing about having two coats when your neighbor has none. He was surprised, taken aback and even indignant, saying: “That sounds like communism!!!”

    I snapped, “who do you think the communists stole it from? But communists are big phonies.”

    I told him we would continue the conversation after her reads what I send him… (Pope Leo?). Anyway, I told him I’d get back to him and would even throw 20 bucks in if he promises to read the whole thing thoroughly.

      1. Heh. Okay. A whole book will require a higher bribe, IF he will read a whole book while enrolled in AP classes including literature.

        But it’s worth a try. I’d love to convert him from Libertarianism. My husband would love it if he and I would stop arguing about it. He begged us for mercy on our five hour road trip last weekend. It all began with my son trying to trap me by asking me what it means to be a conservative. He’s a nice kid, but he needs to act his age instead of condescending like a 40-year-old with a pipe and a silk ascot. Ugh

      2. At taco…

        Am I my brothers keeper?

        Communism says, at least in theory, of course, from each according to his ability to each according to his needs. Communism in theory would’ve made sure that the second guy has a coat. communism as practiced, however, was really fascism dressed up in humanitarian guise. Fascism in theory would say “we will make you give that guy your coat”. Fascism as practiced would have said “we don’t really care if he has a coat.”

        Libertarianism as practiced also doesn’t care if the second guy has a coat. In fact, for your average libertarian, it would prove that the guy without the coat just made a bunch of bad choices, and it’s up to no one else to help rescue him from them.

        Jesus said, “what you have done unto the least of these, my brothers, you have done unto me.”

        Were your son mine, my question would be: “which one of those guys do you want to be?”

        Jon Carroll, the chronicle columnist, used to write a column around the Christmas season every year that he entitled “the untied way“. His recommendation for loosening up your philosophy was to go to your bank, take out several hundred dollars in 20s, and then walk around giving the $20 to any person who asked for money until it was gone, without reference to whether you thought the person needed, deserved, or was in any way entitled to your money.

      3. It’s a skinny book. Hardly any big words.

        Libertarianism is attractive when you think the wider population is out to get you. “If they’d only leave us alone!” What first made me think Libertarianism is wrong is Libertarians claim parents have no duties towards their children, and vice versa. It’s utterly inhuman. Yes, there is a spectrum of views among people who call themselves Libertarian.

        The article on civil authority at the online encyclopedia is quite good too. Bigger words though.

      4. There are 38,000 words. Each one is locally-sourced, artisanally hand-crafted, organically grown, and bespoke. No animals were harmed in the creation of this book.

  2. @tacoanybody:

    If your son has a Kindle, or reads Kindle books on computer or phone, Mark’s book is available from Amazon. I recommend you get him to read at least the first chapter, which outlines the problem so many have: either/or thinking instead of both/and. The Catholic faith is catholic as well as Catholic.

    1. I bought the dead tree version. If he doesn’t read it, I’ll try that route. It probably would have been the better one. Thanks.

  3. @bensnewlogin:

    …for your average libertarian, it would prove that the guy without the coat just made a bunch of bad choices, and it’s up to no one else to help rescue him from them.

    Thanks – excellent summary of libertarian economics.

  4. @Ben,
    I think I need to memorize what you wrote. Snappy. Thank you.

    Pope Francis turned my partially libertarian mindset on its head when it comes to the homeless. It has been very freeing not to worry about how they spend the money. On Ash Wednesday Bishop Barron encouraged us to become lavish tippers. The working poor!!! He also said, “I don’t care if you put your money in the collection basket, *find* the poor and give them your money.” I loved that. (I wonder what his host, Fr. Larry thought about it lol). What was also cool is my son’s girlfriend, a former Seventh Day Adventist really loved what she heard and saw that day. When my son started dating her she had all kinds of ideas about the Catholic faith, that just aren’t true. After the mass, we took a picture with the Bishop. I sent it to my son who was at work who sent me back an LOLOLOL. –She has come a long way from believing the earth was created in six days, and Catholics go to hell. She referred to Bishop Baron as “the guy in the pointy hat”. Anyway, she is living proof that while fundamentalism is exasperating, fundamentalists can have beautiful and open hearts when they want to love.

    1. @ taco

      Paul and I have had some recent discussions about what he calls “cheap people”. We were having that conversation that you and I had last week about how people attached to money, and how it becomes a proxy for a lot of other issues. What’s interesting to me is that he doesn’t see money as his issue. But it is.

      He brought up a few of my friends that he considers to be truly “cheap”. They don’t like to tip, and they will calculate the tip down to the last penny. I agree with him. They are well off enough that they don’t need to do that. On a few occasions, back in the before times, they left what I considered to be an inadequate tip. I suppose I could’ve called them on it, but I prefer just to slip the waiter a couple of extra dollars. But I feel no need to shame them over it, or ruin what I want to be a nice evening out with friends. My friend Charles and I would often go to a restaurant before the opera or the symphony, and the waiters always recognized us, and greeted us warmly. It’s a very popular restaurant, and it’s usually full before concerts. Yet we would walk in, and somehow, a table would be found for us. Charles thought that was pretty neat. I pointed out that I tip the waiters very generously, and that is why they are happy to see us, and that is why we would have a table.

      But that was in the before times.

      What’s also interesting is that he can be incredibly cheap or incredibly generous. Because he used to be a waiter in a previous life, he tends to be a very big Tipper, and I’ve become one as well. An extra dollar or two is nothing anymore, but then I’m old enough to remember when you could buy a Hershey bar for a nickel and a large Hershey bar for a dime. Because I try to be conscious about everything, a few years ago I started to wonder why I only gave homeless people a quarter. I realized why: because the little boy that I used to be grew up in a time when you could buy a Hershey bar for a nickel, and a quarter would buy you five of them. When I realized that that was what was going through my head, I started giving out dollars instead of quarters. And since the pandemic started, I’ll give a dollar to just about anyone who asks for it.

      1. @Ben,
        Everything you said resonates with me. My husband waited tables in college (at the top Zagat rated restaurant in SB), and then had a restaurant which was a love/nightmare project. Most of his life he has worked for “the man” as my daughter calls it. Unfortunately the money is where the money is, rarely is there money in the arts, the creation of beautiful food etc. The angst of slim margins is burned into our memories. Our staff has to have been a collection of some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known in my life–from the snobby Brit with the Phd to the backsliding sex-obsessed Jehova’s Witness, Lola, the half Mexican half German (who looked Mexican but was 100% German in her soul) the chef who wore women’s underwear, the aspiring musician manager addicted to pain killers and his Iranian wife who was the life of the party. We loved them. Most of the customers were good. Some were simply lovely. The worst of them all was a catholic man with millions and millions, who once said something very awful to me. He wouldn’t order, he’d just drink one coffee and ask the waiter for baskets and baskets of bread and butter. And now I’m going to admit something: He died an awful, violent death–not at the hands of anybody, but when a boulder came crashing through his living room wall and swept him away in a torrent of debris. Since I no longer believe God sends judgement upon people in this manner, I have to wonder if he sometimes reaches down and parts the flood waters to save others–his kind and lovely wife who was also swept away was saved when the belt of her robe caught onto the branch of a tree.

      2. @taco

        And YOUR story reminded me of one of my mother, one of many. I mentioned before that my parents were adults during the depression. I was visiting them, and we went out for breakfast one morning. They sat us down, but the waitress hadn’t yet cleared the table. There was a basket of plastic wrapped crackers sitting on the table. My mother took the crackers and emptied them into her purse. These were solidly middle class or above people.

        The waitress came, cleared the table, and brought another basket of crackers, which my mother promptly emptied into her purse. When the waitress came back, my mother asked her for more crackers. She gave my mother a look, but brought another basket of crackers which my mother…

        …No, do I have to tell you?

        Even my father, who never said anything, muttered under his breath, “I don’t know her.”

    1. @JJ. It’s funny, this whole conversation made it clear to me that there is a difference between *believing* that something is true, and being able to convince *others* that it is true.

      I need to read the book.

      1. Sometimes we need to back of from trying to convince someone, and move to trying to interest the person – and I have found, too, that I often don’t actually listen to what the person is really saying in an argument. The other is talking about something that has some truth in it, or he or she probably wouldn’t hold his belief. I myself might be changed, too!

  5. @JJ Your point is painfully true. I have some of the most stubborn children on earth, but they are all adorable. Sometimes they say outrageous things to me just to see if they can get me to blink. None of them have sworn off being Catholic yet!

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