Newsweek: New York’s Homeless Say Pope’s Visit Won’t Help

Not all of my thoughts come into this blog. Here is an article in Newsweek in which I expressed a few of my thoughts. New York’s Homeless Say Pope’s Visit Won’t Help by Victoria Bekiempis.

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While New Yorkers are heralding the arrival of Pope Francis, whom many believe has fought inequality far more than any other modern pope, the pontiff’s visit here has generated mixed reactions among the city’s homeless.

Economic Policy Absolutely Has a Moral Quality

“I would strongly urge Sen. Rubio to go back and reread ‘The Sermon on the Mount,’” de Blasio said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Clearly, the core of Catholic teachings and Christian teachings talks about the economic realities that people face, and has for thousands of years.”“I’m surprised Mr. Rubio doesn’t understand that,” he added. (The Hill)

Bill DeBlasio Pope Francis Marc RubioMayor DiBlasio was responding, of course, to Senator Marco Rubio’s assertion that while, as Catholics, we must listen to the Pope in matters of faith and morals, but are free to disregard the pope in matters of politics and economics. DiBlasio cited scripture as proof, in Christian thinking, of the moral quality of economics and concern for the poor. Bill BiBlasio is right and I applaud his swift response!

Marco Rubio is absolutely wrong to assert that economics does not have a moral dimension and, so, is immune from the Magisterium of the Church; but it is not an original argument, as if Rubio were capable of one. The notion that economics is amoral was pushed in the early 2000’s by the Heritage Foundation and by certain right-leaning Catholic theologians as a push-back against social-justice oriented Catholics. Their aim was to give cover to the Republicans and Conservatives in the political debate; primarily, it was aimed at protecting George W. Bush in the midst of a reelection campaign.

One particular theologian wrote an article that was published in First Things at the time [I currently don’t have the name of the theologian or the article. My internet is limited at the moment. When I get more internet access, I’ll research to find the article. If someone else finds it first, let me know]. The theologian argued that economic policy was not a moral policy subject to the teaching authority of the Church, but a matter of prudential judgement. His argument was a theological sleight-of-hand.

In Catholic teaching, there are differing degrees of assent a Catholic has to make to assertions of faith and morals by the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority). Prudential judgement refers to a matter over which a person with an informed intellect and conscience is free, absent the magisterium’s interference, to choose the best course of action. But those judgments are not morally neutral, which is why an emphasis is placed on prudence. The Church emphasizes that such a judgment is made by a person with an informed intellect AND an informed conscience, because the course of action has to aim at a moral good or justice. When a judgment or course of action achieves an injustice, the judgment is either not very prudent at all, or the judgment, itself, has a morally negative quality. We have a responsibility, then, to assess the moral outcome of economic policy and the judgment behind the policy.

That is why Pope Francis is doing, as did Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did before him. Social justice-oriented Catholics were doing just this during the 2004 Presidential campaign season, and they were citing both the assertions of Saint John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at the time in doing so. Social justice-oriented Catholics citing the teaching authority of the Church in challenging American economic policy, at the time, is what moved Heritage Foundation and right-leaning Catholics to bend themselves into a pretzel to argue away the moral quality of economic policy. That is what Senator Marco Rubio (not to mention Senator Paul Ryan and other right-leaning Catholic politicians) build on when they challenge the Pope’s authority to make moral assertions about economic policy.

The heat is turned up at the moment and it will be interesting to see how things unfold. Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both challenged the justice of American economic policy; but the tone of their assertions emphasized a questioning of the prudence of  American economic policy. Saint John Paul II was satisfied reminding them of the just aim of economic policy. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that the economy was supposed to serve the human person and society, not the other way around; again encouraging people to consider whether American economic policy is prudent and achieving the desired aim.

Pope Francis in tone, on the other hand, seems to be challenging the moral quality of American economic polity – the judgment – itself. In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis pointed out that free market, trickle-down economics has proven not to achieve the end it claimed to achieve. So the economic policy has already been established as imprudent. But Francis went on in his encyclical to argue the unjust imbalance in the effects of America’s free market economic policy; that some are profiting and hoarding at the direct expense of others. The assertion, then, is not just that policy makers made the wrong, i.e. imprudent, economic policy choices; but that the economic policy choices were aimed at unjust ends.

I can see, then, why those on the right are up-in-arms over Pope Francis’ encyclical and why they’re very intent on keeping control of their economic narrative in the wake of Pope Francis coming to the United States. I think, though, it is very important that those of us who are social justice-oriented need to join Pope Francis and work so much harder to wrestle control of that narrative away from them.

Lookout! Worry About Pope Francis Address Congress. Worry!

Everyone’s predicting that the Republicans are going to get an earful when Pope Francis addresses Congress in September. I’m predicting it too, of course. But I also predict the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful. That was my immediate reaction when I saw the exchange between Black Lives Matter protesters and two of the Democratic presidential candidates at the Netroots conference (http://time.com/3963692/bernie-sanders-martin-omalley-black-lives-matter/).
Martin O’Malley seemed not to have been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter debate when he responded, “All lives matter.” We’ll just leave that to: he’s out of touch. More telling to me was Bernie Sanders’ response. When Black Lives Matter demonstrators challenged Bernie Sanders, Sanders got testy. He asserted his history of having engaged in activism for the black community, but attempted to shut down the messaging of the demonstrators. Sanders by effectively trying to dismiss the concerns of the demonstrators in the exchange seemed very arrogant.
I don’t think Sanders was being arrogant, though. Sanders has a very strong ideological politico-economic position. As far back as his days in college, Sanders believes that racial inequaltiy is a fruit, not a cause, of economic inequality; if you stay faithful to the social-democrat paradigm, you can uproot economic inequality, and, by doing so, uproot racial inequality. Sanders has argued that line for a very long time.
I have heard that same argument in scores of other places; most notably, at the Left Forum (http://www.leftforum.org/). I’ve attended that forum twice, and found it very annoying both times. Here you have a forum attended pretty much exclusively by left-wing activists; myself among them. Yet, somehow, you still have an incredible amount of inflamed infighting among those who attend the forum; folks challenging each other over who’s the true progressive. Evan the socialists who attend the forum fight with each other over whos the true socialist. Then you have those who are committed to very specific agendas arguing that others participating in the forum are not true progressives because others do not feel as strongly about their particular position or do not embrace the ideological paradigm behind their position. So, at times, the Left Forum breaks down into infighting between those whose primary concerns are economic justice vs racial justice vs lgbt justice vs disabled justice vs environmental justice vs animal-rights justice. It breaks down between between what progressive vision is more pure or what socialist vision is more pure. It gets really crazy. The root of the Left Forum’s breakdown rests in many people being more focused on ideological purity than they are about people.
That’s the same breakdown that occurred at the Netroots conference when Black Lives Matter demonstrators confronted the Democrat primary candidates. Which agenda is the more authentic agenda: economic justice or black-rights justice? Sanders’ response seemed arrogant, but it illustrates he’s more ideologically focused than people focused: a bad trait for a politician. That trait also won’t move the general electorate to get behind him.
Here’s why I think the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful from Pope Francis when he addresses Congress. Catholic social doctrine does not play in the world of politico-economic ideologies; in fact Catholic social doctrines holds that ideologies get in the way.. Catholic social doctrine addresses the matter of the proper relations between people and between a person and society. Yes, economic justice, racial justice and other questions of justice are involved in the question of Catholic social doctrine; and, as Pope Francis has emphasized in his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si,” so is the question of ecological justice. But Catholic social doctrine does not embrace particlular politico-economic ideologies. Moreover, as Pope Francis insists, embracing ideologies objectifies human persons.
So, here is my prediction. The Republican politicians and their supporters should be shaking in their boots in anticipation of addressing Congress. But Bernie Sanders and his supporters should be concerned too. [Sidenote: I think the likelihood of Sanders hearing and chaning course is greater than the likelihood of Republican politicians doing so. They’re motivated by different things.]

Morally Correct: or, Rebuke of Politically Correct

confederate-battle-flagSeveral times, this week, the term, politically correct kept popping up in the news; mostly around the question of the Confederate flag outside the South Carolina statehouse. A South Carolina state legislator used the term in opposing the flags removal; as did pro-Confederate Battle flag demonstrators outside the statehouse. A firefighter in Minnesota used the term in justifying why he mounted the Confederate Battle flag to the back of his fire engine for the Independence Day parade. It’s also implied in numerous memes circulating online social networks. Those calling opposition to the official display of the Confederate Battle flag politically correct are suggesting that their rights are being impinged by overly-authoritarian, politically-doctrinaire liberals. The implication is that displaying the Confederate Battle flag is an innocent expression of a common identity; and that taking a position against the flag is an assault on free expression, and on the common identity of those making the expression.
But look at all the things that right-wing politicos and their minions call, politically correct. In the vast majority of cases, what are called politically correct are the assertions that language or behavior that are demeaning, dehumanizing or dis-empowering to minority races, women or lgbt are wrong. In other words, calling an assertion politically correct is an effort to diffuse the moral quality of the assertion, rather than take responsibility for analyzing whether the moral assertion is correct. In other words, “I’m going to do or say whatever I want, no matter who it hurts, convincing myself it doesn’t hurt anyone at all, and you’re just being politically correct if you tell me I can’t.”
So it would be more accurate to say that what those on the right refer to as politically correct assertions are actually morally correct assertions. Morally correct because it is never morally okay to intentionally inflict harm on another person just to assert a personal liberty of your own; even if that liberty legally or politically exists. Everyone (except sociopaths) knows that instinctively. Where the equivocation is, in these cases, is in what constitutes a harm. It would behoove those who self-identify as conservatives, then, to step back and assess what moral quality might actually lie behind so-called politically correct assertions. Seriously ask yourself, “What harm to whom might actually be caused by my language or behavior that somebody is telling me is wrong?” If you don’t do that, then you’re being hypocritical when you confess a personal commitment to morality.
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Along the lines of morals and liberties, let’s chat for a minute about the claim that legalizing same-sex marriage somehow impinges on the religious liberty of those who oppose it. That’s been in the news a lot the last few weeks as well.
Most people who oppose the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling are religious people, some deeply so. I understand that. I also understand that the ruling was a shock to your sense of the world; because you get your sense of the world through the prism of your own faith, which says marriage solemnizes a covenant between a man and a woman. So what seems to be an attack on your sense of the world comes across, also, as a direct assault on your faith. As a consequence, you perceive that your religious liberty is under assault. Right-wing politicians, and politically-motivated right-wing faith leaders, are playing on that anxiety, suggesting that the State is going to come in and direct what your faith community believes or does: old-fashioned fear mongering.
What you’re forgetting is the very subjective nature of faith. While you, in your particular faith community, might have a particular worldview and understanding of what marriage is, individuals in other faith communities have other world views. Are you right and those who hold differing worldviews wrong? Maybe so. We’ll find out in the afterlife, I guess. But keep in mind that others believe they’re right and you’re wrong.

Who is to be the arbiter of that? In the case of same-sex marriage, those of you who oppose it acted as the arbiter. In declaring same-sex marriage a constitutionally-protected right, the Supreme Court effectively said you can’t be the arbiter for everyone. In other words, while you do have the right to believe what you want to and personally act on that belief within the confines of your faith community, you do not have a right to impose on others your own worldview. Others have their religious liberty too. So step back and stop hyperventilating over your religious liberty. Those entering same-sex marriages are not harming you or your liberty; but you asserting their marriages have no value harms them. You cannot assume moral power over those whose lives you disagree with for the same reason you cannot dismiss moral assertions about language or behave that does harm others as politically correct: doing either merely asserts your right to power over others. Period. And, by the way, desiring power over others while feeling vulnerable and claiming victim-hood when those you desire power over push back is usually a trait of a schoolyard bully.

It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’m watching a strong reaction to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion to the Court’s ruling opinion on the question of gay marriage. The strongest reactions revolved around Scalia’s assertion that the government allowing slavery did not deprive the slave of his or her dignity. I understand the reaction. ARE YOU SERIOUS? Justice Scalia said that dignity is innate. He chose the wrong word. Scalia was responding to a Catholic philosophical/theological principle, one aggressively promoted by Saint John Paul II, that the human condition has an intrinsic dignity.
Saint John Paul II’s choice of wording is much more careful than Justice Scalia’s wording. There is a difference between saying something is “intrinsic” and saying something is “innate.” “Intrinsic” is a metaphysical term in justiposition to “extrinsic.” Intrinsic dignity means I have dignity simply because of who I am. Extrinsic dignity means that the source of my dignity comes from outside of me. Innate, the word Justice Scalia used in his dissent to the opinion declaring gay marriage a Constitutional right, on the other hand, is language deriving from the scientific community. “Innate” looks for the scientific source of conditions or behaviors. “Dignity” is not something science can explore, so “intrinsic” vs. “extrinsic,” studied from a philosophical approach, is the correct way to ask the question of dignity.
I’m certain that, when Justice Scalia argued that dignity is “innate,” and that the governent can neither grant nor take away that dignity, he meant dignity is “intrinsic” to the person. To that point, I cannot disagree. I absolutely believe that the human person has an intrinsic dignity that nobody can take away.
Where I disagree with Justice Scalia is on the question of whether the government can choose to honor or dishonor the intrinsic dignity of a human person; and, by extesion, the relationship a human person is driven to enter into. While Justice Scalia seems to have gotten the Catholic philosophical/theological position down, he proved very ineffective in communicating that position in his dissenting opinion in this ruling.
There is another misuse of language that affects debate about gay people I want to use to exemplify this problem. In the lat 90’s, the Catholic Church can out with a universal “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – the first since the Catechism of the Council of Trent – in order to clarify to Catholics what we believe. At the time, a number of bishops in the United States opposed its publication because the Catechism employed philosophical language not easily assimulated into popular thought. The American bishops who opposed its publication at the time have since been proven right. So much of the language is rooted in classical philosophical/language that is not easily accessible through contemporary thought. I’m not saying the Catechism is wrong, I’m saying it doesn’t communicate meaningfully. That is specifically true on the assertion when the Catechism asserts that the incliniation to same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered.”
Early on, after the Catechism was published, I was arguing with gays who were upset that the Catechism was calling them mentally ill. At the same time, I was arguing with homophobes who were using that same assertion from the Catechism to assert gays were mentally ill. I quickly gave up arguing with either group. Neither understood what the Catechism meant by “objectively disordered” because neither had any background in Catholic philosophy/theology.
When the Catholic Church says the “tendency to homosexuality” is “objectively disordered” the Church is drawing on an ontological argument proposed by Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. In that argument, the Church wants to know not only whether something exists, but why. Applying the argument to ethics, the Church is asking, “What is the purpose of a particular act?” The Church had long ago decided the purpose of sex is to produce children (later, the Church decided it’s to deepen relations and produce children). To say the inclination is “disordered,” then, is to say it’s an inclination to engage in sexual activity not aimed at what is believed to be the natural purpose of sex: to produce children.
I think we can debate that onotological purpose of sex; but only if we understand what it is we’re actually debating.
At the same time, I think we can debate what Supreme Court Antonin Scalia meant when he said human dignity is innate and can neither be granted nor taken away by the State. But first we have to understand and respect what he meant when he wrote that. By the way, I have a low opinion of Scalia that he could attach himself to that philosophical tradition, but not think to translate that into a meaningful legal reasoning.

Rick Perry and Feudalism

Rick Perry is out early in his 2016 Presidential bid touting the fact that, during his time as Governor, Texas produced jobs at a much higher rate than the rest of the country. Take-away message: “I’m the job creator.”

Let’s look at Texas’ job creation at that time. The dominant industry in Texas, for obvious reasons, is fossil fuel energy. During that time, the fossil fuel energy industry was benefiting from tremendous Federal tax breaks and subsidies aimed at encouraging them to expand domestic production. Texas’ dominant industry, then, was buoyed by Federal policy, not anything Rick Perry did.

Much of the actual job growth in Texas, however, was in the service industry or related industries supporting the energy business. Those jobs are low wage, keeping the workers in poverty or near poverty. That employers could employ workers for such meager wages was a result of State policy. Rick Perry, as Governor, can take responsibility for that. So the real take-away message: elect Rick Perry and he will promote a feudalistic economy employing hoards of surfs too dependent on the meager wages they’re fortunate to have to even think about trying to compete for the rare opportunities they might not get that would improve their incomes.

Obtaining a meaningful job that pays a living wage should not be like buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best. Friends won’t let friends vote for Rick Perry.