I cannot take any credit for this, and I am sorry that I did not think of it first. The other day I was reading a book on spirituality and the author brought up an interesting point. She said that Christianity conformed to economic laws such as Gresham’s law. This law says, in its short form, that bad money drives out good. We can understand this by looking at an economic system that has two types of currency in circulation, both legal tender. One is a precious metal, such as gold, and the other, paper money, supposedly representing gold. The two currencies are interchangeable, meaning that one can turn in paper certificates for the real thing, or, say, for convenience, turn in the gold for certificates representing the gold. But when governments start printing more certificates than there is gold, like a counterfeiter, the value of those certificates begins to decline. People then notice that the paper certificate that says 10 oz. of gold buys less than the 10 oz. of actual gold. Noticing this, people obtain as much gold as they can and hoard it, and use the paper certificates. Gold, because it is now more valuable, becomes an inflation hedge and people keep it against the time when the paper currency becomes valueless; then they can bring out their real gold and still be able to survive.
The author to whom I referred said that there is a Gresham’s law of Christianity: non-challenging Christianity drives out challenging Christianity. We could say that non-challenging Christianity is “watered-down” Christianity, just as the paper currency in the above example is “watered-down” currency. In this case, however, the reason for the driving out of the challenging Christianity is different from the reason for the driving out of the gold in favor of the paper money. That reason is that people tend, because of the scars of original sin, to gravitate to the easy, the shortcut, to that which confirms their own private preferences. A friend of mine once characterized the typical sermon of the 1970s in New York City as, “It’s go to be good to be good.” This is an example of the “watered-down” religion that crept into so many parishes and dioceses since Vatican II was hijacked by modernist rebels. Priests no longer gave sermons on serious moral questions such as abortion or, God forbid, the evils of artificial birth control, in favor of sermons having very little content—sermons that made you feel good, rather than telling you what you must actually do. This kind of Christianity spread like wildfire, because now people could make up their own minds about moral questions, simply because there was no priestly guidance.
The catechetical instruction in the 1970s was horrible as well. When my kids began to become school age, we were directed to a private Catholic school run by nuns because people told us that it was more orthodox than the local parish school. Well, that was not true at all, and after my wife had a talk with the principal, and we both examined the catechetical materials my children were to have in their classes, we decided to homeschool. So who were left to go to the school? People who were not at all distressed by the no-content doctrine that was to be taught, and paid a lot of money for it. The rest of us went into “hiding,” in a sense.
One economic law that might help to understand this phenomenon is the economic “law of demand.” This very simple law, which is one of the first things one learns in an introductory economics class, is that when price goes up, people demand less of a product or service; when the price declines, they want more. The extent of the change of quantity demanded to the change of price is called by the unfortunate term of “elasticity.” Simply stated, if people are really committed to something, like heroin, a rise in price will make hardly a difference in demand. If people are not really committed, and there are some substitutes available, such as tea for coffee, the demand for the item with the rising price will fall and the demand for the item with the unchanged price will rise.
Applied to the religious situation at hand, when the Church begins to fail in its duties to the faithful to offer the unvarnished truth and substitutes a namby-pamby version of itself, two markets are created. One is the market for namby-pamby Catholicism, and the other for the real thing. They are no longer the same product. The newfangled version of Catholicism has a low price (no real penitential practices, pick-and-choose morality, and no real presence in the Eucharist) as opposed to the higher-priced Catholicism, the true version, which calls for real commitment and sacrifice, etc. Just as with a high-quality product which is sold in upscale stores, most people go for “knockoffs.” Liberal Catholicism is a “knockoff” religion. One gets to call oneself a Catholic like a woman who shows off her “Gucci” purse, but neither of them has the real thing.
Why are there two markets for Christianity? The answer is the level of the society. In a society that prized the traditional values of Christianity, the watered-down version would not be tolerated. For the last 40 years it not only has been tolerated, but embraced, by a society which has become “fat, dumb, and happy.” All we have to do is read the Old Testament to see the same scenario that God Himself predicted in Deuteronomy. The chosen people would become prosperous and eventually offer human sacrifices to Baal in the very temple itself. God sent his prophets to warn the people, as he has in the past hundred years or so: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Josemaria Escriva, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, great popes, but like the Israelites of old, we did not listen.
The other market, that does not tolerate the cheesy Catholicism, pays an even higher price for the “product” because it comes with persecution, not only from the society at large and the agnostic media, but from members of the Church itself. My own sons, because they have a large number of children, are criticized by their fellow parishioners: “Didn’t you ever hear of birth control?” or “What are you, some sort of Super-Catholics?” There are even advertisers for this diluted form of Catholicism—liberal professors at so called Catholic universities. Most college-aged Catholic students, ignorant of the true faith and whose parents are just as ignorant, send them to these colleges thinking that they will get a Catholic education. They come out as agnostics, or as surface believers. It is the same as the advertisers of Gucci knockoff purses, who, while not admitting that the purse is not a real Gucci, tell them that it is, but just cheaper. That is to say, this is the real Catholicism, but it costs less in actual requirements than the original.
Because economics is not a business science but a science of human action, I think that this author I was reading has stumbled onto something useful to our understanding of the spiritual world, and I intend to follow the path it leads from time to time.
Did you ever wonder why tuition at most Catholic universities has skyrocketed since you went there decades ago? Did you ever wonder why the tuition at these schools climbed way higher than the inflation rate? Well, the game is up; and here is the story.
Somewhere in the mid-1960s when I was an undergraduate in a non-Jesuit Catholic college, the Jesuits had a meeting, the report of which I have read, where they were trying, for good reason, to increase the prestige of their universities. Since the schools were still Catholic at the time of this conference, they were interested in getting more people to go to Jesuit universities to increase the influence of Catholicism. Prior to this time, many, if not most, Jesuit scholars, after their long period of philosophical and theological training, got their doctorates at the Gregorian University in Rome. The Gregorianum, as it is called, was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola himself, and originally called the Roman College. Those getting their doctorates there have gone to an excellent school. The problem with it is that, in the mind of these Jesuits, it is Catholic. There is a prejudice against Catholic education in snooty circles, so the decision was made to send their budding academics to secular universities for the Ph.D. The thinking was that even though these people were Jesuit priests, the fact that they had a Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, etc., degree would give them, and their universities, recognition in the secular world, yet they would still be Catholic. But this view was very naïve. Since doctorates from Catholic universities in the United States as well as in Europe are generally just as good (if not better—don’t get me started), in my opinion, as the Ivy League’s doctorates, this tells you that the problem is actually that the educational establishment just hates Catholic anything. So starting in the late 1960s you saw more and more priests with doctorates, even sometimes in theology, from big-name secular schools. This was not only true of Jesuits now but of other orders as well. This, however, is only the beginning of the story.
The next chapter of the tale occurred in 1967 when a number of Catholic university officials met and issued the “Land O’Lakes Statement.” Signers included authorities from many Jesuit universities, Seton Hall University, and the Catholic University of America. Thankfully, my undergraduate institution was NOT one of the signers, but my Jesuit doctoral university was, and by the priest-president, who, one year later, left the priesthood. (See http://consortium.villanova.edu/excorde/landlake.htm.) This statement basically relegated Catholicism to the “campus ministry” department, and theology to a study of the “depths of the Christian tradition” and “the total religious heritage of the world.” In other words, Catholicism will no longer be the center of the Catholic university, but will be treated similarly as it is treated in secular universities.
But what about the tuition, our original subject? Well, at the same time as all this was going on, priestly vocations were going down. Since the universities had decided that only big-name doctorates were to be hired, they had to hire laypeople with these degrees. In order to do so, the Catholic schools had to compete with the non-Catholic universities, so that the pay had to be comparable. But how do they pay for this? And how do they pay for an increase in the number of fields available to study, not to mentions labs, etc., staffed by these faculty members now getting greater pay? Here is where the government stepped in. The government, beginning mostly in the Johnson administration in the mid to late 1960s, began a process of increasing the Federal government’s contribution to student financial aid in terms of scholarships, loans, and grants. At first glance, one automatically says, “Isn’t that great, now poorer folks can afford college.” But this had many effects, including one interesting economic one. The big boost in Federal student financial aid became an enabler for these now-liberalized Catholic universities to get more money for themselves. The key was this, and it took a while to actually realize it. What the schools did was raise tuition to great heights. The rich people can pay it anyway with just a check; the poorer ones can just get financial aid. Everybody wins. Now those interested in attending one of the now more secularly prestigious Catholic-named institutions can go even if they could not afford it in the past. One proof of this is the sudden building of a Taj Mahal–like student center at a university at which I used to do research in the 1980s and 1990s. This student center has marbled floors and a hotel attached to it. The reason for this is obvious—competition for students. Students will be attracted by the spectacular.
The last stage of the process is the changing of the Board of Trustees. This occurred early in the game, and the argument was made that since Vatican II gave the laity more responsibilities in the Church, so it should be on college boards. But there were always laypeople on the boards of Catholic universities. So, where is the problem? Now, on most, if not all, colleges run by religious orders, the laypeople are in the majority, usually the vast majority. The order no longer controls its own school. Oh, there is usually a provision that the president has to be a member of the founding order, but he is now a functionary of the board. But, you might object, there are plenty of laymen out there who would have the heart of the institution in mind, so they would make good board members. That is true, but is that why these laypeople are chosen? I argue that it is not. The real reason is their ability to raise money—purely and simply. After all, if the schools are going to hire laymen with big-name university degrees, and build fancy student centers and labs, etc., they have to raise more and more money, since tuition, even with government funding, does not cover probably even half of the expenses. The universities will generally not ask those who are hostile to the university in question to join the board, but the rationale of these board members is not quite the same as that of the original founding order when it was founded.
The ultimate outcome of this whole thing is that many—not all, thank God—Catholic schools have abandoned the faith in reality, while maintaining a veneer of it, to become a business, and while there is nothing wrong with business in itself, there is something wrong with this particular business, the Catholic university, built with the money of devout Catholics and the sacrifices of religious, in some cases since the late 1700s, abandoning their raison d’etre. This explains an awful lot of incidents, such as Cardinal Arinze being treated as if he was the bearer of the plague by a large group of Georgetown University faculty, or Georgetown’s covering up of the Jesuit IHS part of the school’s emblem when President Obama spoke there, the showing of obscene plays on the campus with the authorities powerless to stop it, and lastly, President Obama receiving an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame. Oh, by the way, both of these schools signed the Land O’Lakes Statement.
Pope Benedict, when he was just plain Joseph Ratzinger, wrote a very interesting book entitled Eschatology. There were many outstanding subjects in this book, so it is difficult to pick one. Nevertheless, I believe that the thing that affected me most was his theology of death. Death is not something one thinks about in any detail, and if one does, it is done with foreboding. Our faith gives us tremendous hope that God will keep His promises, and that we will be in heaven with Him forever, if we cooperate with His grace. But usually people, this author included, see death as an unwanted, tragic thing. We assume that, since we have been living, we will continue to do so, knowing in the mind that God can call us at any moment, but not in the heart. Death is thus seen as something to be avoided as much as possible.
The father of this author, who was a good Catholic, was hit by a hit-and-run driver when he was crossing the street. This accident was such a shock to his immune system that he developed a variety of “diseases of opportunity,” the worst of which was lung cancer. He was dying of it, and he said to me, “Why me?” I was too young and had not penetrated into these mysteries much up to this time (1976), so that I could not give him an answer. But Pope Benedict’s book has changed that for me. The human being is called to give of himself up to the limits of his nature. In this, he mirrors the Holy Trinity, the persons of which are known by their relationship with each other. That relationship is complete self-surrendering love. God is not limited by His nature, so He can be infinitely giving. We have to take care of ourselves, so, unless there are unusual circumstances, we have limits to the giving to others. Death, it seemed before reading this book, was a question of not giving; of going kicking and screaming into eternity. But the Holy Father explained death as a final act of giving oneself completely to God. It is a question of saying “yes” to God, no matter what, allowing Him to have His will with you in the last moment of your life. This quite correctly links the self-giving one is supposed to do to be like Christ during life, to a final act of submission, embracing God in death. Looked at in this way, death is a welcome thing, not because life is hard, as in the mind of the suicide, but because it gives you God. St. Catherine of Genoa, in her reflections on Purgatory, where she was allowed to personally experience those sufferings, tells us that the suffering she underwent there was horrible; nevertheless, the souls in purgatory have the vision of God, which grows even clearer as one’s sins are expiated, and one was willing to suffer anything to hold on to that vision, so wonderful was it.
On the other side, the most perplexing aspect of the book is where Benedict links the connection with others in our own death. Having been raised in the “old days,” with its more individualistic notion of salvation, those of similar background as this author see salvation as “me and God.” Yes, we believe in the mystical body, but that concept has not been thoroughly unwrapped. A friend and fellow professor in New York mentioned this to me over twenty-five years ago. I saw what he meant, but, not being a theologian at the time, I could not take but little steps on my own account to try to see how the Mystical Body relates to the “me and God” scenario. But Pope Benedict introduces this to us in his book. He asks, how can we say that we have reached our fulfillment and destiny after death, when there are still people alive on earth whom we have caused suffering, or who cooperated in the evil deeds we did and still bear the guilt of those sins? Here the Pope refers to the Hindu idea of Karma, which is, in a way, a Catholic concept, yet made more crude by the Hindus. The story is told of Bodhisattva, who refuses to enter heaven while there are still suffering people on earth. He says that Christ is the real Bodhisattva, because a heaven of bliss above an earth that is hell is not heaven at all. This explains the coming of the Second Person as true man, to rescue, not just individuals, but the whole of creation. It also explains Purgatory as the place where one suffers to the end of everything one has left in his wake on earth.
For this author, this is a very difficult concept to embrace, probably because it is new to him, but also because it surpasses so many other teachings which strain our puny brain’s ability to comprehend. Those we made to suffer, we are now suffering for to make up for what we have done. Those whom we got to cooperate in our evil schemes were acting with free will nonetheless, yet we are also suffering for them to rectify the fact that we were the catalyst or instigator of their actions. It was by our suggestion, or failure to resist, that they were drawn into the evil scheme. Take adultery, for example. If a man seduces a woman, it means that he is the one whose suggestion she took. And even if it was ultimately her free will, he was the one to present the alluring temptation to her. The hardest part of this is that, suppose that the man repents of the adultery, but she does not. This makes the evil that was done greater, and she may lose her soul because of him. This needs to be suffered for. This is why our ultimate fulfillment is put off; we have to clean up our mess, so to speak.
In the last article, I attempted to raise the thinking of the reader to the true nature of government as it really exists, using the Scriptures. I would like to continue that meditation now.
There is a substantial difference in how St. Thomas and St. Augustine see government. St. Thomas is a metaphysician. And metaphysics looks “beyond the physical” to the nature of something as created by God. In essence, the nature of government is good, because some authority is necessary to organize the society, and that is put in us by God, who does not create evil. In the Garden of Eden, we would have some government, but there would be no coercion, because the ruler(s) would always be just, and all people would see the reasonableness of what they ask. Catholics, who have been educated in the thought of St. Thomas for quite some time, accept this at face value, and this, I suspect, has colored the view of Catholics, and even some official Church documents, in the direction of a kind of worship of government. (One might want to see my previous article on cosmos and taxis, and well as those on government and the economy.)
Now, St. Thomas was not some naïve college student. His fifth type of law is called “fomes,” the Latin word for tinder wood. Tinder wood is very dry wood that burns very hot and very fast. The fomes means the tendency that human beings have to let their passions and emotions get control over their reason. If one does this, one winds up with a big, out-of-control, fire (see my article “What a Character”).
Now, let us contrast this approach with that of St. Augustine, a main theological source for the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI. St. Augustine posits the existence to two cities: the City of God and the City of Man, or the earthly city. The citizens of these two cities are distinguished by the objects of their love: the citizens of the City of God love God even to the contempt of selves, and the citizens of the City of Man love themselves even to the contempt of God. But, as in the parable of wheat and the tares (Mt 13: 24-30), God allows them both to grow up together, meaning that this world is inhabited by both, and the citizens of the earthly city outnumber the citizens of the City of God.
For Augustine, the citizens of the earthly city are attracted to the power and wealth of rulership, and, indeed, usually end up as the ruling authorities. Which means, in real life, government has no interest in the common good or virtuous rule. Augustine feels that the only reason government exists is to protect the citizens of the City of God from the citizens of the City of Man. But wait, you may say, why would the earthly citizens who rule protect the Godly citizens? Simple: they do not want to be overthrown. Irritate the Godly citizens enough and they will get rid of the current rulers and get someone who can do the job. Other than that, government is seen by Augustine as a punishment for sin, just as death is. In fact, if you heard the expression, “Nothing is inevitable except death and taxes,” it, or at least the concept, probably came from St. Augustine.
St. Augustine does believe that individual governments can be good. Firstly, occasionally a good person gets into rulership and for a while there is some respite from government stupidity. Unfortunately, these good rulers get killed, die of natural causes, or get exiled. Cicero comes to mind. He was a great thinker, and was called on to rule a consul of Rome twice. He was a very good ruler, and exposed a number of scandals. He ended up being killed by the Emperor and his head and his hand were nailed to the podium of the Senate. Secondly, governments can listen to the Church, and as Bishop of Hippo, he did not hesitate to tell magistrates what they should do. But I would not hold my breath waiting for that; do these names of “Catholic” legislators like Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry and “Catholic” bureaucrats like Kathleen Sebelius mean anything to you? Do they listen to the Church? How about Representative Patrick Kennedy? Did he listen to his bishop, even when his official restraint from receiving Communion became public, or even after the letter from his bishop became public?
So, if St. Thomas and St. Augustine were speaking together about government, after St. Thomas said the government was in essence good, St. Augustine would probably reply: “So what?” He would point out that we do not live in a world of essences, but in a world tainted by men with original sin (the fomes). In real life, government is nothing but a great robbery, a racket. He spends many pages in The City of God showing the atrocities of Rome, which was a great empire founded on a parricide, and never stopped. He quotes a pirate (arrgh!) who was captured by Alexander the Great, who told that emperor that he had a lot of nerve calling him a thief because he stole a few ships, but for stealing whole countries, Alexander is called “emperor.”
Sadly, this well-founded distrust of government does not show up often in the thinking of Catholic churchman, and even the current pontiff (see my article, “Where is Pope Benedict Coming From?”), with the exception of Centesimus Annus of John Paul II. Catholics who merely parrot what they hear and read, without looking at the actual situations, and taking advantage of the findings of such sciences as political science and economics, are doing a disservice to their fellow man, their fellow Catholics, and their country.
On these pages, yours truly has discussed some of the problems of government from the economist’s point of view. Now I would like to tackle the problem of government from a theological point of view, keeping in mind that, to my knowledge, nothing has been written on this subject in the way I am discussing it.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 4: 1-11), after the baptism by John, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4: 1). There, in the midst of loneliness and extreme hunger, He was confronted by Satan. Jesus then experienced three temptations, and in homilies we have heard the priest explain them to us and their basic meaning. The first temptation was that Satan wanted Jesus to prove that He was the Son of God by turning stones into bread: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The ordinary explanation is that Jesus was hungry, but He was fasting. The devil wanted Him to break His fast of forty days and nights in a prideful way to demonstrate His divinity. Jesus, of course, refuses.
Then Satan takes Him up to the pinnacle of the Temple, saying: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Mt 4: 5-6). Jesus responds that one must not temp the Lord your God. This temptation is usually explained as a temptation toward pride in Jesus by Him showing that He had almighty power.
Lastly, the devil took Jesus took Jesus to the top of very high mountains and “showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them . . . ” (Mt 4: 8). And the devil said to him: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Mt 4: 9, my emphasis). Jesus responded, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall your serve’” (Mt 4: 10). This last one is an overtly blatant temptation to power by having Jesus sell His soul. It is not for nothing that we sometimes say, usually only in a metaphorical sense, that someone sold their soul for some benefit. This means that they “sold out.” They traded their principles for some material or political benefit. The recent “Louisiana Purchase” might be an example of this phenomenon.
Now let us take a deeper look at these temptations. To see these temptations in a purely individualistic manner is to miss part of the boat. The first temptation, the one to turn stones into bread, actually came up again in the feeding of the five thousand people in the desert. Here, “[w]hen the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself” (Jn 6: 14-15). Jesus “ratted out” their true motives when the people He had fed found Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (Jn 6: 25-26). This reveals that the first temptation was a temptation to become a “bread king,” that is, one who will give the people food without them working to provide it. The parallels with socialism are obvious here. The difference is that the socialist leader cannot just create bread, but has to take it from those who produce more bread. This king then gets the support of the masses against the wise, disciplined, moral and productive people, who are in the minority. Meanwhile, this action provides a disincentive to the productive minority who feel that since the fruits of their labor are taken from them and given to the non-productive majority, they might as well get on the bandwagon and stop working as well. This puts the nation in a decline.
The next temptation, where Jesus was supposed to throw Himself off of the pinnacle of the Temple, is not only a temptation to show His divinity by signs and wonders, but to get a following this way. In other words, Satan would not care if Jesus had political followers who were “ooh’d and ah’d” by signs, even if these signs did not feed them as in the first temptation, if only this would deflect His message, which transcended earthly things. If Jesus submitted to this temptation, people would follow Him waiting for the next “trick” but would not listen to a word he said. If you go to a circus, do you remember what the ringmaster said, or do you remember the acrobats, etc.?
This second temptation also came up again in the case of Simon the Magician (Acts: 8: 9-24). People were amazed by the magic of Simon. I doubt that his magic was the “pull the rabbit out of a hat” kind, but was of a preternatural type, done with the aid of evil spirits. Simon heard the Apostles preaching and, like so many others, came to believe in Jesus Christ, and was baptized. Later on, when he saw how the Holy Spirit came down visibly upon the people the Apostles laid hands on, he was impressed. He offered the Apostles money in exchange for this power, “saying, ‘Give me this power, that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8: 19). St. Peter was not pleased, to say the least: “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money” (Acts 8: 20). Peter upbraids him, and it is clear why: Simon, the magician, wanted this power, like all of his other powers—for show. Because he already had a great reputation for this magic, this power would make him more famous. In the end, Simon repented by asking St. Peter to pray for him that all of the things that St. Peter predicted about him would not come to pass (Acts 8: 22-24).
But it is the last of the temptations which is important for this discussion. In this one, the devil says to Our Lord: “All these [kingdoms] I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” St. Luke’s Gospel is even more emphatic: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will” (Lk 4: 6). First of all, if God actually worshiped anyone, He and everything would go out of existence. God cannot do evil; it is against His very nature. Even worse, worshipping Satan was the devil’s desire all along. St. Michael’s name means “Who is like God?” The answer is only God is like God. Satan in his pride wanted to be like God, and his fallen nature is forever stuck, frozen in this desire, which he relentlessly pursues through the ages.
But, what did the devil mean by “All these will I give you”? And, “[A]ll this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” One cannot give away what one does not own. I cannot say legitimately, “I will give you Bob’s pen.” Only Bob can give you his pen. If, on the basis of what I said, you expected to get Bob’s pen, you would be sadly disappointed when Bob says: “No, chance; you can’t have my pen.” Satan is saying that he possesses all the kingdoms of the earth! Now there are two caveats here. First, Satan is a liar, but he tells half-truths. He doesn’t tell whoppers because people would see through them (see, for example, Gen 3: 1-7). Half-truths make the lies more believable to rational but weak creatures so that they will fall for them. Now, since the other kingdoms of the earth were composed of rulers and their cronies who not only worshipped false gods, whom the Fathers of the Church considered demons, and also did whatever they could get away with, so that they were an easy prey to Satan’s influence, there is a great truth to his claim that he did own these kingdoms.
But does this apply to today? Are all those people who put their faith in governments and their policies missing something? St. Thomas argued that government was good. God Himself gave us a natural need for some to organize the society. We call that government, and since God created that need, in itself, government is good. But St. Thomas is approaching it as a metaphysician. A metaphysician looks at the nature of something. The nature of all things is good, because all things are made by God. Evil does not have a nature; evil is bereft of something it should have, which is why it is an evil. Also, St. Thomas, in his naming the five types of law (eternal, natural, Divine positive, human positive), includes “fomes” as the fifth type of law. This word in Latin means tinder wood, and what does tinder wood do? It flares up very hot and very quickly when lit. The fomes is a reminder that every human being (with two notable exceptions) has a tendency, due to their fallen nature, to allow their passions to flare up, overcoming their reason. It is a major error, and a foolish one to boot, to think that once someone gets into public office, the fomes goes away. The good nature of government aside, it is populated by imperfect people, many, many of whom do not have the grace, never had the grace, or have rejected the grace, to do what is for the common good, but, on the margin, do what is good for themselves. (See my blog entry, “The Economics of Politics.”)
St. Augustine understood this well. Cicero had written many years before that Rome was not a real empire because it was not just. Augustine replies that, yes, Rome was unjust, and he spends a lot of pages showing that this was so. But he says that Rome was definitely an empire, and everyone admits it. Justice cannot be expected from government. Government is run by the citizens of the Earthly City. The main job of government is to keep the citizens of that City of Man or the Earthly City from overwhelming the citizens of the City of God. Now, you may reply, why would rulers from the Earthly City want to protect the citizens of the City of God? It is in their interest to keep the two sides apart. If they do not, they might be overthrown. The rulers’ object is civil peace, not justice or goodness. Why peace and not justice or goodness? Because government attracts those who like earthly things, like power, etc. Since that is the case, how can we expect goodness or justice from people who have no intention of providing it? St. Augustine does say that once in a great while you do get a good and just ruler. History certainly bears this out. But sooner or later he dies or is killed, or retires (voluntarily or not), and it is back to the same old unjust and/or non-good rulers, who are merely interested in peace so that their money and power can keep rolling in.
In my blog entry on Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, I pointed out that political power had become his god. He was willing to lie about his affairs and illegitimate child to the public, rather than give up the possibility of becoming president. Power was his real god, and that is idolatry. He is not the only one. Power tends to attract those kinds of people. While not all public officials are power-hungry idolaters, one good viewing of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” staring Jimmy Stewart, which I believe reflects much of reality, should persuade you that Lord Acton’s expression that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true. The next time you look to government to solve society’s problems, remember this blog entry, and think it out.
To many Catholics a martyr is one who dies for the Faith, usually by open persecution. We think of the Apostles, St. Stephen, St. Peter of Verona, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, among so many others. Few, however, know the origin and nature of the term “martyr,” and hence, the multifaceted aspects of martyrdom.
The word “martyr” means witness (martus) who gives testimony about something he witnesses (martyrian). The apostles were witnesses to Christ’s life, suffering, and resurrection. They died because they gave witness before the enemies of Christ. It is not the dying that made them martyrs, but the witnesses. It was only later in the history of the Church that the term was applied exclusively to those who died for this witness. When you read the Fathers of the Church, you see that anyone who suffered for his witness of the Truth is a martyr, even if they were not put to death because of it.
Wait, you say, because I am relatively safe in the more civilized West, the chances of my dying for the Faith are relatively low. While that might be true, all of us are called to be witnesses to the truth, and, as St. Thomas says, all truth, no matter who says it, comes from God. When we stand up for the truth, even in non-religious matters, we are being witnesses—and the world does not like the truth. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates asked his interlocutors what justice is. One of them replied that justice is always in the interest of the stronger. This meant that there was no objective measure of justice. The one who pays the piper calls the tune, as the old expression goes. Socrates tries to show that there is an objective nature of justice, no matter who has the power. It is the same with truth. Truth exists and can be discerned by reason and revelation no matter who has the power. But the people in power hate the objective truth and objective justice, especially because it threatens a concrete interest of theirs. (Refer to my article “What a Character” in the blog.) This is why we must be witnesses to the truth, and in doing so, we bring suffering on ourselves. We should say the truth with prudence, realizing that a baby cannot have solid food, and we should witness with love and kindness. But witness we must.
We also must witness in every area of life. The Vatican II Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity says that the laity witness primarily in their families and in the marketplace. So this means that we are first called to be a witness by living an upright life, to be honest, concerned for the welfare of others, and actually do what is in our power to do, and love our families and raise our children to be true children of God. We witness to the doctrine of the Church when it is appropriate to discuss such things. We witness to truth and justice in political life by voting, getting involved, writing our representatives, and learning the truths of economics as the science has discovered them.
Doing these things is wonderful, but it will attract persecution. This is where the suffering comes in. So many good persons have been vilified because they support the truth in economics against the current administration’s intended policies. They have been labeled as not caring for the poor, as being paid by insurance companies, being liars and lunatics. It is a disgrace, all in the name of keeping political power and installing a more socialist and statist regime. Catholics even attack other Catholics because the first group has no knowledge of either Catholic Social Teaching or economics, and labels the second group as heretics, or, and one person has said and written about yours truly, “Dr. Luckey has single-handedly destroyed Catholic Social Teaching.”
When I was younger, I read somewhere that all those who go to heaven are called to be either wet or dry martyrs. Standing up for the truth may not get us killed, but it can make life miserable. As Jesus told us, even members of our own household may become our enemies.
It is the same thing with sin. Our catechisms, when we were young, assuming that we had a good religious training, told us about sin, but the sins written of were basic sins that anyone can be prone to: taking an orange from a grocery store, hitting someone, gossip, impure thoughts and desires, missing Mass when attendance is required, etc. Never do these catechisms tells us about the sin of respect of persons, whereby we become unjust by not judging objectively but according to the status of the person before us. But politicians do this all the time. They ask, especially on the margins, where does my support come from, both financial and in terms of votes, and formulate their positions on issues accordingly. Even principled politicians will, when push comes to shove, abandon their principles for the most part if their jobs are threatened.
We Catholics have to examine our consciences, all of us, even officeholders, and ask, firstly, are we saying the truth all the time, always with kindness and prudence; but, maybe more importantly, are we willing to be martyrs for it? Even when we commit less grievous sins (excluding words that might just slip out of our lips and the like), is it not because we are not willing to suffer to do what is right? It feels better to get our anger off our chest, so we act with uncharitableness toward someone who irritates us. Gossip is always so satisfying because we know something juicy that someone else does not know. Gossip is especially great if it is about a person for whom we do not particularly care. And then there is (unlawful) sex, where some people think they are actually going to die if they do not have it, although that would be a first in the history of medicine.
We are all called to be martyrs one way or the other. Many of us are called to be martyrs for the truth of the common good. Then let us resolve every day that we will not give in; that we will suffer, by and with God’s grace, whatever he allows for standing up for truth in our speech, and in our actions, whether in public or in private lives; whether in the religious or political/economic spheres. Do you want a better world? It has to start with you and me, here and now.
Many Catholics, including popes, have contrasted economic development with personal development. They are at pains to point out that mere economic development does not necessarily lead to the development of persons or culture per se. They seem to harp on this as if everyone would be ignorant of this obvious truth, or as if the free market economic system automatically deflects one from development of their personhood. I think that some Catholics make their careers stating and restating this.
While to some extent this point is very true, in many ways, especially factually, it does not play out. The constant harping on this point is based on a faulty view of human nature itself. In a paper one time I criticized a colleague who said that, first, man is by nature a social animal. True enough. Then he went on to reflect in his paper the common 1950s theory that we are becoming mass men; that society, especially urban society, is becoming like people on a train; that the social bond is being dissolved by our business and technological culture. This notion is still reflected in some of the students I deal with. My response was that if man is a social animal by nature, that means that he has a natural drive to be so, and that any appearance to the contrary in a free society is a false vision of the reality. Unlike most academics, I worked for a number of years in New York’s financial district. In that time I never met anyone fitting the description given by this professor. Everyone came from families that they loved and wanted to be with; everyone cooperated with their coworkers and those who were not team players were filtered out; at the end of the day, everyone went home to these same families. Even the people on the train were for the most part courteous, even though New Yorkers are known to be a bit cold. Sometimes something funny happened on the train, and everyone laughed, showing that they were human, and could share a common human experience. Sometimes bad things happened on the train, and everyone pulled together to help. One incident stands out in my mind, although it did not happen in my presence. My father, who also worked in the financial district, was on the train on the way home from work when a man right near him pulled a big knife and threatened to kill everyone. Instead of fleeing for their own lives, this subway car full of World War II combat veterans, my father included, all jumped the man and disarmed him. I have seen people get sick, I have seen children become separated from their parents, and tons of people cooperated to help those in need.
Now of course there are those people who are one-dimensional. They focus on one aspect of their lives and for them there is no other thing. The top student of my high school graduating class was a pure curmudgeon. He had a photographic memory, and did nothing but read and study. He had no friends because no one could get near him to make friends. The number two student in the class, whose grades were almost as good as those of the front-runner, was completely, different. He was charming, funny, kind and athletic. He was a good friend to all who knew him. So there are people whose job, education, wealth, batting average are all there is to life. But these are very few. Most people are well-rounded, and if they work hard, they do so because it is a duty, even if they enjoy it.
In the case in point, the misunderstanding of human nature expresses itself in a similar way. It says that human beings are meant by God to be real persons. They are to be giving, loving, friendly, dedicated to the welfare of others, but for some reason, says this theory, when they begin to become materially comfortable, they veer away from their natural calling. They focus totally on wealth and the accumulation of it, to the neglect of everything else.
This is an extremely cynical view, and is not backed up by the facts. Just observing the people around one, one can see that most people, not all, of course, use their wealth to better their lives, beginning with their physical betterment, but going up from there. Firstly, one needs to provide for food, clothing and shelter for one and one’s family. When income increases, it is spent on things like medical care, better quality and healthier food, better clothing, education, travel. The data shows that as the wealth of a country increases, infant mortality declines, illness in general declines, life expectancy increases, education levels rise, and folks move to safer and nicer neighborhoods. In addition, charitable contributions increase. How many parents pay for the college and graduate education of their kids, help them get started in life, bail them out if they are in financial straits, pay for their grandchildren to go to school, or summer camps or trips, etc. Donations from individuals to charities totaled over $314 billion in 2008. It certainly would be more if our tax rates were lower. Note that this official figure does not count non-listed contributions like the ones I cited above—i.e., helping one’s families who need it and do not have a tax number. So the real amount is much higher. In addition to this, no matter what you think of social programs like social security, there are more of these programs in wealthier countries because, quite frankly, they can afford it. And they can afford it because the citizens create wealth, which, allegedly, makes people greedy.
Now there are some people who are materialists, and some who are consumerists, just like there are intellectual people who are curmudgeons, and there are workaholics, but to condemn wealth as a cause of greed and all the other problems of the world is very questionable. As one economist recently stated: “Greed is a constant.” This means that everyone is tempted by the capital sin of avarice. Interestingly, a recent survey of the seven deadly sins among people concluded that lust was the most common and greed the least. I rest my case!
This line from an old pizza commercial brings up an exercise in one of my management courses when studying for my MBA. What you had to do is think for a while about what you would like your epitaph to say about you. I never thought about it this way. Another way to put this exercise is to ask, “What kind of a person are you? How do you want people to remember you?”
The Catholic Church focuses a lot on sin, and rightly so. Catholics examine their consciences, or should examine their consciences, frequently. But much of what is contained in a list of sins to be checked against our thoughts and actions leaves a lot under the radar. Pope John Paul II has contributed, along with some phenomenologists such as Max Scheler and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), to examining personhood, and there are many Catholics who may or may not be sinners according to the list in the books, of which I cannot judge, but they fall short in their personhood.
The reason for this is that we generally see personhood as a static concept. We say that the unborn baby is a person, and so it is. But it is in an undeveloped stage. The personhood requires development, and the development of personhood requires that we open our hearts to others, that we have empathy, that we see ourselves as the image of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, who are known to us as complete self-giving. In short, personhood is the gift of ourselves to others.
Unfortunately in my experience, I have run into many Catholics, some of whom have professed themselves to be exemplary, who have been very short on personhood. They are self-centered, arrogant, intellectual bullies, unable to empathize, paranoid and uncaring. These folks have persecuted me and others seemingly for no other reason than that it makes them feel superior.
These things not only have spiritual consequences but economic as well. The reason that we were asked to perform this exercise in a management class is so we can examine how we treat others. Being mean and hard on others is not just plain anti-personhood for the actor himself, but it is discouraging to employees, customers, suppliers. Surgeons are notoriously compatible with this non-person model, and I wonder how many medical students have decided not to specialize in surgery due to the arrogance of those who are supposed to teach and guide them. Mean teachers, and we all have probably had experience with this, discourage academic performance. And how many mean confessors have dissuaded penitents from returning to confession. I have been mistreated by many priests, nuns and lay Catholics so that it is a miracle that I still have my Faith. (My wife says that we cannot take it out on Jesus for the faults of his followers.)
Interestingly enough, the people who do these things may not even really know that they do them, because they never truly examined their personhood—that is, how much empathy do they have, how much self-gift are they. Ultimately, John Paul says, man is meant to give and receive love, and real love is not the “love” that is mean “for the beloved’s own good.” Love is the self-giving that we see in the Trinity. It requires humility, kindness, empathy, long-suffering, “living with” another.
Take the case of entrepreneurs. The myth about them is that they do what they do for money. The truth is that they never do what they do for money, and if someone does entrepreneurial activity just for the money, they will fail. Entrepreneurs take risks, raise money, usually from relatives and friends, and work their fingers to the proverbial bone with virtually no return for years, for the thing in itself; because society needs it; because it will make man’s work easier; because it needs to be done. This is true self-giving. They could be much more comfortable at a desk job, pushing papers, working 9 to 5, but instead, they go through all of this so that our lives will be better. This does not mean that they are perfect in their interpersonal relations, but if they do not have a well-developed personhood, their task will be much harder, because no one will want to work with them.
So let us all examine ourselves from the viewpoint of the epitaph. How do you want to be remembered? “Here lies Fred—a mean, backstabbing, selfish, overbearing, arrogant, inhuman creep.” Or, “Here lies Fred—the most kind, generous, self-giving, hard-working, caring person one could ever meet.” The choice is yours.
There is a new-ish theory going around conservative and Catholic circles, and it was expressed by two recent thinkers who spoke at our college this month. The theory goes like this:
1. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) had a terrible view of man. Without the benefit of civil society, human beings would be cutthroat beings, “seeking power after power, a search which endeth only in death.” Therefore they need a dictator to keep them in line.
2. John Locke (1632–1704) had the same view of man, only slightly moderated. The whole purpose of government was, similar to that in Hobbes’ thought, to protect man’s ability to do what he likes signified by the protection of life, liberty and property.
3. Our Founding Fathers were Lockeans, which means that they were modified Hobbesians— only concerned with people doing whatever they wanted.
4. Our current problems stem from the Hobbesian nature of our government.
I objected to these thoughts as a person who has a Jesuit Ph.D. in political philosophy, and who studied under some famous political philosophy scholars. Both of these speakers did not address my objections, but merely repeated what they originally said, as if I did not hear them the first time. They took no trouble to refute anything I said.
I believe that this new theory is, first of all, false. Secondly, the theory is dangerous, because it spurs hatred for our government as originally intended, not just the way it has been deformed. Thirdly, it gives fuel to those Catholic monarchists and others who hate this government in the first place.
So, my refutation:
1. Those who hold this theory are basically correct about what Thomas Hobbes thought about human nature. However, one thing I learned from my Jesuit professors was teleology, which has always been a Thomistic principle. Teleology means that to understand the nature of anything, one must understand its end or goal. That will tell you what it is. For instance, a baseball bat may be used for many things—propping open a door, bashing someone over the head, but its nature is to “bat” baseballs. Thomas Hobbes wrote his book Leviathan to justify the dictatorial, Divine right rule of Charles II.
2. What about John Locke? Locke has no such view of human nature. A close
reading of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government shows that, first of all, civil society is already in existence. He distinguishes the private civil society, which the people already set up and which, with the market, is sui generis (self-generating) and exists due to the natural propensity of people to better their lives in every sense of the term, and the government, which the civil society sets up to protect this bettering of lives, and which comes under his heading of ‘life, liberty and landed estate.” Note, Locke does not use the word “property” in this trilogy. This is because these three things are all your property. All three are under your care, custody and control, to use the terms of tort law. You as a human being have the responsibility properly to use these to the end of human flourishing. “Life,” obviously because I cannot flourish if I am dead; “liberty,” if I cannot use my free will, my life is not worth much in terms of flourishing; and “landed estate,” because in the agricultural society of Locke’s day, one might starve if one’s land were taken away. The purpose of any government is to protect this human flourishing. If government does not, you can set up a new one.
It should be noted that Locke’s Second Treatise has a teleology of its own. He was trying to justify the removal of James II of England and the replacement of him with William of Orange. The treatise is decidedly NOT a treatise on how people should live their lives. It is not a treatise on morality or on human natureper se. If fact, a close reading of Locke shows that he takes human nature as we experience it.
It is also necessary to see the Second Treatise in the light of the First Treatise. The First Treatise on Civil Government was meant to refute the argument from Scripture that all kings were essentially descended from Adam, which was made by James I’s court theologian, Sir Robert Filmer. Since God made Adam the ruler of creation, Filmer said, absolute monarchy was the only form of legitimate rule. Locke, using Scripture, effectively refuted Filmer. Therefore, it is easy to see that the Second Treatise is continuing the argument, “If absolute, Divine right monarchy is not the proper form of government, what is?” This has nothing to do with Hobbes. In fact, look at this quote from the early Father of the Church, St. Isidore of Seville, often quoted by St. Thomas:
Law should be honesta (respectable, worthy), just, possible, according to nature, conformed to the customs of the country, suitable to place and time, necessary, useful, clear, also not to contain anything which by its obscurity might lead to wariness; it should be devised for the common good of all the citizens, and not for the interests only of some individual.
And who would make the decision, assuming the beginning of a new state? The pre-existing civil society. This conforms to St. Robert Bellarmine’s thought, when he says that although government comes from God, the authority of God is given to the civil society, which decides what form the government should take and who should exercise the authority, since the whole society cannot actually exercise it. How is Locke different from this genre of Catholic thought?
3. Was Jefferson a Lockean, that is, a modified Hobbesian? Persons holding this
theory take the popular myth that the words of the Declaration, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” are the same as “life, liberty and property.” But there is no proof that Jefferson had this in mind. Firstly, these were common terms used in the colonies—life, liberty and property, that is. Secondly, there is no proof that Jefferson was a Lockean. In a great study by the famous Jesuit scholar, Father Joseph Costanzo, it is demonstrated that Jefferson frequently spoke out of both sides of his mouth on many subjects. Father Costanzo attributes this to ignorance of these matters by Jefferson, whose education was mostly in science, and was neither a political philosopher nor a theologian. Thirdly, as the book by Kendall and Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, definitively demonstrates, the teleology of the Declaration is to prove that the PEOPLE who are now Americans should be free from another PEOPLE, the British. Hence, the American people, as a mature people, are, and should be, free to live and pursue happiness, the path to which is never exactly the same for all peoples—see St. Isidore’s quotation above. Oddly enough, to demonstrate his case that the Declaration is the source of the moral decline of this country, one of the speakers placed the words “. . . any old happiness” after the word “happiness” in the Declaration. But the Declaration does not say that, nor does its teleology nor its context imply that in the least.
4. Scholars in political philosophy generally admit that the Founders of this
country knew that the keeping of this government required a virtuous people. But where do they get this virtue?—from the already existing civil society, which includes parents, schools, for those lucky to go to one, and from the mainline denominations, all of which teach the Ten Commandments. In hisFarewell Address, George Washington said exactly that. A good government required virtue, and he said we should not be fooled into thinking that this is possible without “revealed religion.”
5. Last point: Was Locke justifying a “do whatever you want” ethics? Take this
point from his Second Treatise. Thinking obviously of the virgin territory of the new world, he said that if one roped off a piece of land that no one ever owned, one had to farm it. Unused land deprived others of the necessary fruits of the earth, and others could take it away if they were going to farm it. He also said that one was not allowed to accumulate food, because hoarding also deprived the needy of necessary food. He disliked money, because he said money was just another way of hoarding. Now I don’t agree with his economics, but you cannot doubt that he cared for the well-being of others and encourages sharing. That’s not Hobbes.
6. The argument that our society has become corrupt because its founding principles were defective is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) fallacy. There are a myriad of reasons that can reasonably be given for the decline of our culture. One big one is the defective philosophies that come over from Europe and are taught in our secular universities; then there is the decline of the Church; the actual deviation of the courts from our founding principles; the removal of prayer and moral teaching from the schools; the advance of the liberal media elite and their political favorites. The founders are way too removed from this current crisis to blame for it, even it the argument was true, which it patently is not.
This entry has already gotten too long, but I think that people ought to read more closely prior to tearing things down.
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." — Luke 18: 10-14.
A good question one might ask oneself is: When I thank God on Thanksgiving, what exactly am I thanking God for? Pride is the most insidious flaw in our nature, and many of us have not learned to identify it and control it. The reason I bring this up is that many people are obsessed with morality when it comes to business and economics.
Early on in the 1800s the Church had this notion that anyone who went into business was by nature ruthless and materialist, and therefore, like a spoiled child, business had to be reminded constantly, if not forced by the state, to be moral. A conversation with a student last week reminded me that this attitude is alive and well in Catholic circles. I even had an undergraduate professor who was convinced that business people were evil until they entered politics. Then they became saintly. Hence, it made sense to him that government had to ride business, because government was essentially better morally, even if it were composed of former businessmen.
But why this obsession with morality? I argue that business people are no more or less fallen creatures than any other human beings. In fact, studies have shown that business people and those in the military are the most frequent churchgoers in our society. Well, I think there are a couple of reasons for this obsession that can be readily divulged. Firstly, there is the ideological component, which I just wrote about above. Then there is the neglect to realize that people in business, as well as in every other field, are not infallible. They, like all of us, make mistakes: they miscalculate; they fail to predict changes in the market or the economy; like most of us they seek security, as when they push governments to impose tariffs or to give them bailouts. We all have done similar things in our life. Why do we expect that business people be perfect? We aren't!
Lastly, and this takes us back to the quotation given in the beginning of this essay, I think it is possible that Catholics get infected with a holier-than-thou attitude (as displayed by the Pharisee the Gospel passage quoted above). This happens from envy (whether detectable or undetected) of those who are more financially successful, work harder, or have original ideas and are reimbursed for those ideas. In this case, Catholics who are not in business might feel justified in looking down on Catholics in business, and thus feel better about themselves. Think of your childhood. We all knew kids who did this, or remember doing this ourselves. If a kid got rewarded for doing something cool, there was always someone there who would ridicule that kid, or minimize what he or she did. They could never feel happy for the one rewarded.
This can also be a result of not adequately admitting that we are sinners, which can give us license to project our sinfulness onto others. The big targets, like business people, are the most available, since it couldn't be government people, because the ideology says that sinfulness in a politician is an aberration.
The remedy for this problem has been given by Our Lord—don't judge another person. It is perfectly alright morally to play Monday-morning-quarterback and say, "Well he should have done such-and-so," but to sit there in all one's glory and say that these people are just immoral is unacceptable.
So what are you really thankful for? Think about it. St. Paul writes: "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" Perhaps we should all court the blessings given to each of us, and refrain from counting the faults of others.