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July 12, 2009 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Caritas in Veritate (summary here), Benedict XVI's third encyclical, hit the presses last week and made it into Obama's hands on Friday. Part of a large body of Catholic social thinking, Benedict called for a United Nations "with teeth" (maybe it could happen) and a focus on authentic human development, grounded on a focus on the whole person and an economics governed by love. posted by l33tpolicywonk (44 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Small meta note: I thought about this one long and hard. I'm well invested in this stuff, and I tried to serve up the best balanced set of links I could. And, by "Catholic social thinking", I of course meant "Catholic social thought." I study this stuff and I completely messed that one up.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:57 PM on July 12, 2009


Thanks for this. Wish I had time to read through it and respond as thoughtfully as the post deserves. It'll be good to work through this over the next week.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:23 PM on July 12, 2009


This is fascinating stuff, and something to keep me occupied at work tomorrow, for sure.

I am still shocked, however, that the Pope, and Catholicism in general, is still considered relevant in society today. I do miss good ol' JP2. Despite his flaws, I thought he was the best hope for correcting some of the wrongs Catholics have done in this world. Benedict just doesn't seem to be living up to that legacy very well.
posted by snapped at 7:25 PM on July 12, 2009


fwiw, tyler cowen had an interesting response :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:31 PM on July 12, 2009


snapped: I do miss good ol' JP2. Despite his flaws, I thought he was the best hope for correcting some of the wrongs Catholics have done in this world. Benedict just doesn't seem to be living up to that legacy very well.

No snark, I promise, but I'm really curious what you're referring to here. Other than a penchant for appointing Americans to the curia and some personal style differences, I have a hard time detecting significant principled differences between JPII and BXVI.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:32 PM on July 12, 2009


Seeing “openness to life,” meaning resistance to measures such as abortion and birth control, as not only morally obligatory but a key to long-term economic development

I was getting excited and sympathetic, then this reminded me I was dealing with a weird old man in a dress who believes in eating the flesh of a two thousand year old Jew.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:34 PM on July 12, 2009


No snark, I promise, but I'm really curious what you're referring to here. Other than a penchant for appointing Americans to the curia and some personal style differences, I have a hard time detecting significant principled differences between JPII and BXVI.

Well, duh. JPII was a celebrity who wholeheartedly embraced his celebrity status (just like the Dalai Lama). And, as with the Dalai Lama, when a celebrity known principally for "humanitarianism" opens his mouth, it doesn't matter what he actually says--what we hear is the same old comforting pap about kindness and tolerance. If Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive, that's what we would hear him say too, not any of that stuff about Vietnam and poverty. Benedict, on the other hand, is not really a celebrity. He looks less like your nice grandpa and more like your bitter alcoholic uncle, and says things that make you feel like you're at your family reunion back in Arkansas. Which is why our lingering warm and fuzzy feelings about JPII don't extend to him.
posted by nasreddin at 7:41 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are two comments that I thought would bear repeating here.

From the Encyclical:
"The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development."

"Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility.

From the summary at NCR:
"To be sustainable, Benedict argues, economic policies must be rooted in a comprehensive vision of human welfare, including spirituality – as opposed to a “technocratic” approach, or one driven by “private interests and the logic of power.” . . . “The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ‘influences’ of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way,” the pope writes. "

I have not read all of it, but I'm greatly encouraged by his emphasis on "profit-making entities committed to the common good" (Christiansen). I think that were such companies to gain momentum and market share against more "purely capitalist" companies the world would undoubtedly change for the better.
posted by oddman at 7:49 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - no one's saying you need to love or even like the pope but knee jerk "fuck religion" stuff is juvenile and annoying/ Come back with better arguments or go to metatalk please, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very interesting, and extremely well constructed post.

I would like to see Ratzinger start to put some pressure on people like Scalia and Alito to at least be consistent in their Catholic-shaped worldviews in regards to the Catholic social justice message.
posted by The Straightener at 7:55 PM on July 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I would like to see Ratzinger start to put some pressure on people like Scalia and Alito to at least be consistent in their Catholic-shaped worldviews in regards to the Catholic social justice message.

Scalia would claim that his Catholicism does not influence his judicial decisionmaking:

"What is the connection between your Catholicism, your Jesuit education, and your judicial philosophy?" Stahl asks.

"It has nothing to do with how I decide cases," Scalia replies. (via this 60 Minutes interview)
posted by jedicus at 8:19 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well then, I'm totally satisfied.
posted by The Straightener at 8:26 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would like to see Ratzinger start to put some pressure on people like Scalia and Alito to at least be consistent in their Catholic-shaped worldviews in regards to the Catholic social justice message.

Good God, why? The judges in any (secular) court should be making decisions based on law.

Seeing “openness to life,” meaning resistance to measures such as abortion and birth control, as not only morally obligatory but a key to long-term economic development

*sigh*
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would like to see the top men of religious hierarchies apply direct pressure to government officials to make them bring law in line with religious doctrine.
posted by grobstein at 8:48 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Look, sorry for the derail, but something is driving me insane. Maybe one of you Christians can answer it.

There are a lot of very bright, philosophically informed and knowledgeable Christians on metafilter. I do not understand how you reconcile being intelligent, civil, thoughtful people with something as basic to Christianity as the Apostles' Creed. It's voodoo to me. Is it voodoo to you too? I might even be a Christian if it weren't for the dang belief system, because so many of you are perfectly nice and well intentioned and bright and well educated and etc.

But that superstitious aspect, and I'm sorry but I can't read it in any other way, just poisons the whole thing for me. Do you take it as allegorical? Do you just not care whether it's true or not? Or do you constantly juggle malignant cognitive dissonance? I do not get it.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:56 PM on July 12, 2009


I believe in God, and it seems to me that there is nothing in the Apostles' Creed that is beyond God's power to do. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "voodoo", particularly in this context, so I can't address that.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2009


I didn't say those judges should be making decisions based on their Catholic beliefs, I'm saying that Ratzinger needs to put his money where his mouth is and pressure conservative Catholics to go full monty if they're only anti-abortion and anti-gay. Not that being anti-abortion or anti-gay is right, but that anti-abortion, anti-gay pro-free market anti-welfare state Catholics are conveniently inconsistent in their positions when it comes to the consolidation of money and power.
posted by The Straightener at 9:25 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


fleetmouse: I do not understand how you reconcile being intelligent, civil, thoughtful people with something as basic to Christianity as the Apostles' Creed. It's voodoo to me. Is it voodoo to you too?

Taking the usual YMMV disclaimer, let me try to answer this (and, apologies if this starts too early ... I'm not sure how much / if at all a believer in the divine you are). There are two basic-type paths in my view.

1a) Have one or a series of religious experiences in your life. While these are inherently irrational, persons of faith are not unusual for the incorporation of the irrational into their way of thinking. Anyone's life experiences naturally narrow their insight (you can call it confirmation bias in the negative or gut feeling in the positive)

1b) Note the time / place / context of those experiences, and extrapolate the religious community or figures you were in touch with at the time are correct.
---
2a) Begin with Aquinas' five proofs for the existence of God. Though there's obviously a lot of discussion here, let's assume for the moment you accept them.

2b) Make a series of logical extrapolations from the idea of God's existence as a creator. For example, I extrapolate from the existence of divine will the idea that God has an idea of what the right thing to do is. From there, I assume there's a wrong thing to do (call this sin). If one feels a conscience, one may also feel that the conscience is an indicator of God's will ... see 1a.. From there, assume a loving God would reject sin but not reject those imperfect beings who fall prey to it. Assume further that such absolute love (which is the only kind of love that could come from an absolute being per 2a) would demand a complete sacrifice in order to protect human beings from sin. Call this sacrifice Jesus. etc.

2c) Gravitate towards a religious tradition that provides a reasonable level of historical documentation of a community of people who felt the same things and believed they saw these ideas made manifest on the earth. Call this manifestation Jesus. etc.

2d) If you grant 2a-2c, you've formed a framework in which logical arguments about the nature of God and creation can take place. While there's tons of reasonable disagreement about these specific points, one clear statement of a set of possible beliefs is the Apostles' Creed. If you accept that set, you are a nominal Christian.

In my case, some combination of both paths led to and reinforces my faith.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:27 PM on July 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


fleetmouse, there are several sincere ways in which one might respond to your consternation.

1.) "I have no idea why you find it even remotely difficult to reconcile the Apostels' Creed with being intelligent, civil, and thoughtful." That they need to be reconciled is as alien an idea to some as the possibility of reconciliation is to you.

2.) Many will argue that they are nice, civil, well intentioned, etc. because of their faith, not in spite of it.

3.) There are things that I believe because of the evidence of my senses, things that I believe because I rationally conclude that they are so, things that I believe because my heart tells me so, and things that I have faith in. None of these sources of belief are privileged above the rest; they each have their domain (with plenty of crossover) and they each have their virtues. That sometimes they conflict with each other is not particularly surprising (your hand tells you something is solid, while you understand that it's really mostly empty space and tiny particles). Nevertheless diligence, honesty, and charity will usually see you through.
posted by oddman at 9:29 PM on July 12, 2009


a weird old man in a dress who believes in eating the flesh of a two thousand year old Jew.

WHAT'S HIS SECRET???
posted by grobstein at 9:31 PM on July 12, 2009


I believe in God, and it seems to me that there is nothing in the Apostles' Creed that is beyond God's power to do.

Well yeah, granting an all powerful being makes an all powerful being's acts more plausible, certainly.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "voodoo", particularly in this context, so I can't address that.

Dead guy rising from the grave.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:42 PM on July 12, 2009


Not that being anti-abortion or anti-gay is right, but that anti-abortion, anti-gay pro-free market anti-welfare state Catholics are conveniently inconsistent in their positions when it comes to the consolidation of money and power.

The Straightener: Totally. And may I add as a corollary -- nary an election season goes by without some bishop in the US making headlines about denying communion to a Democratic candidate due to his/her support for abortion rights. Where are the headlines about Republican candidates being denied communion due to their support of policies that directly conflict with the rest of Catholic Social Teaching? There aren't any. Because it never happens.

Policies that make the poor poorer. Capital punishment. Torture. Union busting. Destruction of the environment. Unjust wars. Disenfranchisement of voters. Income inequality.

There wouldn't be a Republican party to speak of if it weren't for any of the above.
posted by contessa at 9:44 PM on July 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


One of the challenges, for me (and I'm talking as what my Grandma would call a "Good Catholic Boy"), is to remember that the Church is a human institution. For all of its protestations and pronouncements, it's human people fumbling and awkwardly trying to discern the mind of God.

Documents like Caritas in Veritate remind me that there are powerful intentions toward justice and advancement of the human condition. But, then there are the other times when I bang my head against the wall and am frustrated that what seems so clear and apparent to me is so beyond the grasp of others.

But that's similar to any other human institution.
posted by elmer benson at 9:58 PM on July 12, 2009


I do not understand how you reconcile being intelligent, civil, thoughtful people with something as basic to Christianity as the Apostles' Creed.

This is how I reconcile it: in my life, faith and reason live together and do not bother or obstruct each other in any way. Because of faith, I believe in everything in the Apostles' Creed. Because of my intelligence, and education, I usually think things over in a very scientific way. I love science but I know it is not infallible and have a certain amount to skepticism towards it. I also have a big amount of skepticism towards religious people, particularly those in the high ranks.

I know many things in Christianity are hard to belive or tough to understand, but for me, so are the explanations of how airplanes fly, for example. That doesn't mean I don't get on them, though. Maybe no one on Earth really understands about things like the Holy Trinity or transubstantiation, but it doesn't bother me or my beliefs that I don't understand and no one can really explain it to me.

There are things I know and there are things I believe. Even though some of those don't necessarily mix, there hasn't come a time yet, when I've had to sacrifice one for the other.

(For the record, I'm Catholic.)
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:05 PM on July 12, 2009


Thanks for the post, l33tpolicywonk. I'm only 30 pages or so into the encyclical, but I'm very impressed by how blunt the Pope is in his condemnation of "invisible hand" capitalism. I am also enthused at his specifically endorsing micro-credit/micro-lending in developing countries, government oversight of banking/finance, welfare/safety networks, an end to the abuse of intellectual property rights re: patented medical technology, and so forth.

Not that JPII was unclear or evasive by any means, but I can't seem to recall an encyclical of his that was as direct in saying that governments and corporations should do this, and not that.
posted by Wavelet at 10:31 PM on July 12, 2009


Good God, why? The judges in any (secular) court should be making decisions based on law.

The alternatives aren't a Scalia who is influenced by all Catholic doctrine versus one who isn't influenced by any Catholic doctrine. What was posited was a Scalia who is influenced by all Catholic doctrine, including the stuff about executions and social justice and so on, instead of just the doctrine about how wrong and evil birth control and homosexuality are.

Which would, indeed, be a step up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do not understand how you reconcile being intelligent, civil, thoughtful people with something as basic to Christianity as the Apostles' Creed.

Quite simply, it's called faith. Personally, I don't see proofs or evidence proving God's existence beyond a reasonable doubt like say, the theory of gravity showing there is a gravitational force out there. Consequently, I must trust and believe in something that I do not think can be proved (and yes, I am quite well versed in apologetics and all that jazz). This is also why I don't think my religion belongs in politics: How can I force a belief system which I don't think is provable upon someone else? I have to rely on faith to bridge that gap between being not provable and believing.

Dead guy rising from the grave.

You do sound sincere in your curiosity, but seriously, that is kinda the basis of the entire Christian religion and starts to teeter on the edge of being obstinate. We just have faith, I think in large part due to l33tpolicywonk's point number one.

That, or marrying someone Christian (or in my case, Catholic) tends to do the trick. And having kids. And no, I'm not being facetious.
posted by jmd82 at 10:36 PM on July 12, 2009


I didn't say those judges should be making decisions based on their Catholic beliefs, I'm saying that Ratzinger needs to put his money where his mouth is and pressure conservative Catholics to go full monty if they're only anti-abortion and anti-gay.

Understood, but the danger is that they will cave to the pressure. And something that atheists and many believers (self included) can agree on is that religion has no place on the bench or in the legislature.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:38 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


United Nations "with teeth"

a "U.N. Dentata"?
posted by russm at 10:56 PM on July 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before I took the plunge I was nervous about committing to the Apostle's Creed. You either believe that Jesus and God are one or you don't, that we know God only because of what Jesus taught us or we don't, that God loved us messed up humans so much that He gave His only Son or He didn't. But just because you don't believe now doesn't mean you never will.
posted by kindalike at 1:11 AM on July 13, 2009


If a person does evil with three of their thoughts, and does good with four other of their thoughts, I'll curse them for the former and praise them for the latter, and on balance, consider them to be doing good.

This, in my opinion, amounts to a few dozen good, a few evil, a bunch of smart and a few stupid thoughts. It's great news.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:17 AM on July 13, 2009


Seeing “openness to life,” meaning resistance to measures such as abortion and birth control, as not only morally obligatory but a key to long-term economic development;

Ugh. There's simply no way to make endless population growth work - space colonization (at least in substantial numbers) is almost certainly never going to happen. We're going to hit the fundamental carrying capacity of the Earth, probably fairly soon (assuming we haven't already exceeded it already over the long term.) At that point, the population growth will stop whether we want it to or not. Either we can stop it ourselves, or we can simply let enough famines and plagues rip through the population due to massive overpopulation and poverty that enough people die to bring birth rates down to replacement. Personally, I'd rather go with the option that doesn't involve massive human suffering and near-total ecological destruction.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:30 AM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mitrovarr Personally, I'd rather go with the option that doesn't involve massive human suffering and near-total ecological destruction.

Arguably, raising living standards and human rights would achieve that as a side-effect. Large families are associated strongly with high infant mortality and scarcity in food and resources. Raise their standard of living enough and they too will start to feel that they can make "rational decisions" to put off marriage and children to further their careers.

He's totally wrong about contraception, of course, but it doesn't matter. If people actually obeyed what the pope said, there wouldn't be any Anglicans, for a start. On the other hand, the same applies to the good things he wants people to do.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:44 AM on July 13, 2009


Mitrovarr, even among those who support the availability & legality of abortion and birth control (I count myself in this group), it would probably be a stretch to say that the primary reason for supporting these issues is for population control. To me, the idea of forced abortion or sterilization is as repugnant as the denial of those rights. The key is having a choice in the matter.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Pope is going to hammer home the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life in any encyclical he writes...really don't think there's going to be a reversal of that any time soon. For what it's worth, though, the rest of Catholic Social Teaching flows from this concept, and they are good and meaningful and moral teachings on the whole. At least it's consistent with the overall theme of respecting human life (mostly - I'm thinking of the refusal to allow barrier methods to prevent the transmission of disease here). There are many christian sects that are all, "boo abortion, yay capital punishment," and never see the irony there.
posted by contessa at 2:00 AM on July 13, 2009


How many economists has the Pope?

(No, really ... I'd like to know)
posted by adipocere at 2:15 AM on July 13, 2009


Say what you will about Catholicism being superstitious but at least they've gotten beyond the point where they do things like suing genies.
posted by XMLicious at 2:40 AM on July 13, 2009


contessa: "Where are the headlines about Republican candidates being denied communion due to their support of policies that directly conflict with the rest of Catholic Social Teaching? There aren't any. Because it never happens."

You have a point. My old suburban church, St. Stanislaus, was almost singularly fixated on abortion, but I think you're reifying the church a bit. After becoming fed up with St. Stans, my family and I started driving 45 minutes into Philadelphia to go to here. You noticed St. Vincent's was different as soon as you walked in the church. They flew a rainbow flag over the choir loft. They sent parishoners down to the School of the Americas to protest. Shortly after 9/11, they passed out pins that read "Justice, Not Revenge." Now, I know one good apple don't make up for the whole damn bunch, but you'd have to be foolhardy to think that St. Vincent's is the only Catholic church with a prominent social justice mission.
posted by The White Hat at 4:13 AM on July 13, 2009


Dang, The White Hat - it's a shame St. Vincent's isn't in University City; the mean old Nun with an Attitude at St. Francis de Sales has basically forbidden my sister from getting her daughter baptized, because she is a horrible mean old bureaucratic hen.

/derail
posted by contessa at 4:25 AM on July 13, 2009


Where are the headlines about Republican candidates being denied communion due to their support of policies that directly conflict with the rest of Catholic Social Teaching?

because they're republicans - pro-choice republicans get a pass while pro-choice democrats don't
posted by pyramid termite at 4:48 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


fleetmouse: First, I should say that, even though I was raised Catholic, I pretty much agree with you with regard to the supernatural aspects of Christianity. I try not to be so glib about it, though, because plenty of people I respect believe those things, and people of good conscience can disagree.

Second, one can be "very bright, philosophically informed and knowledgeable" as well as "intelligent, civil, [and] thoughtful" without holding empirical evidence and/or strict rationality as the ultimate truth. The cognitive dissonance isn't as great as you might imagine once you assume that there are things out there that aren't measurable or reproducible in an empirical manner.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 7:21 AM on July 13, 2009


Reading through this, I'm going to have to seriously reconsider calling the Pope "Joey the Rat" by default.
posted by contessa at 8:23 AM on July 13, 2009


yeah, yeah the Pope. Well the Pope just excommunicated a nine year old rape victim. Nice.
posted by caddis at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2009


yeah, yeah the Pope. Well the Pope just excommunicated a nine year old rape victim. Nice.

If you follow the first link in that blog posting, which goes to another post on the same blog, even the blog author says that the girl was not excommunicated. The people excommunicated were the adults "involved in the abortion".
posted by XMLicious at 5:21 PM on July 20, 2009


OK, my bad.
posted by caddis at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2009


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