The prudential arguments Catholics have on subjects such as immigration, welfare programs, and government spending all too often descend into mutual, willed incomprehension — in which each side holds fast to its caricature of the other and insulates itself against learning a scintilla from the “enemy.” While this is counterproductive, it’s also kind of fun. So I’m not suggesting that we stop. Or not precisely. As long as we’re pelting each other with lemons, I’d simply like to step in and make some sorbet.
First, to my favorite art form — public detraction. A tea-party Catholic like me is tempted to begin and end an argument suspecting that “social-justice” Catholics:
- resent not just the rich, but even the middle class;
- don’t so much love the poor as they fetishize poverty, wrapping what is objectively evil (involuntary suffering and deprivation) in the mantle of St. Francis of Assisi;
- blindly refuse to understand how wealth is produced, and how big government gums up the works;
- are either hostile or indifferent to the just claims of the thrifty, the hard-working, and the prudent — hijacking biblical parables like that of Lazarus to serve their agenda of toxic envy;
- recklessly disregard the solemn duty of citizens to make rational, patriotic decisions about the best interests of their country and their descendants; and
- apply a degrading double standard to the rich and the poor, the white and non-white — holding the “privileged” to a high, Christian ethic of selflessness and tolerance but winking at greed, sloth, envy, and tribal racialism among the less fortunate, as if the latter were hardly human.
- smugly take credit for our comparative success and prosperity, when in fact we have inherited many of our advantages over (say) recent refugees arriving at Kennedy Airport from Kenya;
- indulge without compunction in sinful habits fueled by consumerism and materialism;
- callously spend our wealth on luxuries and entertainment, which could otherwise be redistributed to the starving or even the disadvantaged;
- either practice or wink at white racism, unjust male privilege, American jingoism, and an individualist Protestantism that marked our country’s founding, and which has been condemned repeatedly by several popes; and
- covertly identify with figures in the Bible such as the rich young man who “went away sad,” the older brother of the Prodigal Son, and the workers in the vineyard who’d labored the longest hours — preferring justice to mercy because in our sinful pride we don’t think we need much mercy, and we don’t care to dispense it.
I’m preaching the bad news today to clear away the nonsense that takes up most of the time in political arguments, wherein we assail each other’s motives and sternly defend our own. Instead, let’s assume and admit the worst, get the ad hominem attacks over with, and try to face the practical problems at hand.