Brian Keaney

Month: October, 2012

A Truly Catholic Political Dialogue

Originally posted at Millennial.

ImageThe presidential election has shown us just how deeply our house is divided.  I dare you to find a card-carrying Republican who has anything good to say about President Obama, or a registered Democrat who is willing to utter a nicety about Governor Romney.  This great political schism has been growing for years and, unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight.

Consider the Cardinal Newman Society, which does some excellent work around the issue of Catholic identity on college campuses.  They have been near-fixated on the issue of the Health and Human Services contraception mandate largely.  This is not, I suspect, because it has a direct impact on the implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but rather stems from a general conservative bias against the president.

When On All Of Our Shoulders was released earlier this month, the Society attacked it on the grounds that the lengthy list of Catholic thinkers who signed it were “distorting Church teaching in favor of left-leaning politics to take political shots at vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.”

Put aside, for a moment, that the statement begins by explicitly saying that they “do not write to oppose Ryan’s candidacy or to argue there are not legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote for him.”  Let’s also ignore the fact that this is only tangentially related to issues of Catholic higher education in that several of the signatories teach at Catholic colleges.  Instead, let’s take a look at all the places where the Cardinal Newman Society has shown that the statement distorted Church teaching.

Sorry, I can’t find any.

They do not, in fact, cite a single instance where the statement strays from Catholic teaching.  Instead, the Society makes an ad hominem attack on one of the signatories who, in all fairness, appears to have his own issues with dissent from some fundamental teachings of the Church.  Lacking any substantive complaints about the document itself, they attack the credibility of one of the dozens of people who signed it, and in so doing hope to discredit the entire statement.

Like so much of our political commentary today, the Society’s response appears to simply be a Pavlovian reaction by a conservative Catholic organization to a statement critical of a fellow conservative Catholic.  They are attacking our guy, so clearly they are wrong.

I would have much preferred to have read a thoughtful response, something that moved the ball forward instead of just circling the wagons.  Lest you think such a discussion is impossible in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere, I will instead point you towards a conversation taking place on what Anna Williams at First Things has called A Truly Catholic Economy.

George Weigel began with a thoughtful essay on how a “robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.”

It is a good start but, as David Cloutier explains, it is missing several important considerations.

Mr. Weigel presents a romanticized view of the work world as it presently exists. We need to take seriously our dependence on exploited, low-wage labor, which we manage to do without too much social chaos only because of a number of subsidies. I’m not saying here that people need to have “cushy” jobs. I’m saying that people who work erratic hours at the local supercenter still need health care and rent, and it’s pretty hard to imagine them raising a child and doing all that without the subsidies. Let’s get real about just wages, and then we can talk about the dignity of work and the need to reduce welfare spending.

Cloutier then engages even further on an informed comment left by a reader.  This is the type of exchange of ideas that we as a nation can benefit from, and I hope other bloggers pick up on the thoughts presented by Weigel and Cloutier and run with them.

There are no simple answers to the problems that we will have to confront in the next four years, and I don’t propose to have any of them.  What I do know, however, is that we are much less likely to find them when what passes for dialogue consists mainly of pointing fingers and calling names.  What we need is a reasoned, rational debate that is all too rare today.

As Americans, we should rise above the current dismal state of political discourse.  As Catholics, this is precisely what we are called to do.


The allegory of the 12 monkeys

It’s not even yet 9 am, and I’ve already experienced my first :headdesk: moment of the day.  It’s times like these that I like to let my mind wander back to islands.  Not for memory of the gentle tradewind breeze that blew across my lanai, or the sight of the sun setting over the Pacific while I sipped on a mai tai, or even for the rush I felt when I was finally able to catch a wave and ride it.  No, it is for a story related to me by perhaps the most cosmopolitan Islander I knew there.  While it does nothing to make the situation any better, it does at least give me a chuckle.

Twelve monkeys were put into a large cage together and lived peacefully enough.  One day a bunch of bananas was placed in the middle of the cage.  Monkeys, being fond of bananas, immediately went for a snack.  As soon as the first of our primate cousins touched one, however, a fire hose was turned on and sprayed all of the monkeys to the far side of the cage.  This process was repeated the next day, and then the next day, and continued until the monkeys finally figured out what was going on.

The following day, when the bananas were placed in the cage, the monkeys who had figured it out went over and defended the bananas, not allowing anyone else to touch them lest the fire hose be turned on them again.  Should another monkey persist, the monkeys who were wise to what was happening beat up the offender.  This continued until all 12 monkeys knew that if they tried to eat the bananas that they would get beaten up.

One day one of the monkeys was removed from the cage, and a new monkey was put in his place.  When the bananas were placed in the cage the new guy, seeing a tasty little treat, went for them and earned a couple black eyes and some bruises for his efforts.  Soon enough he learned not to touch the bananas.  When he learned well enough to leave the bananas alone, another monkey was removed and yet another new monkey took his place.  The lesson not to touch the bananas was quickly imparted to him, and the cycle of replacement continued.

Eventually there were 12 monkeys in the cage who had never experienced the fire hose, and all but one of them knew enough not to touch the bananas lest there be some painful repercussions.  When the 12th and final replacement went to go eat a banana, the other 11 bounced on him and beat him to a pulp.

“Hey,” said the new monkey.  “I was just going to eat a banana.  I wasn’t hurting anyone.  What did you all beat me up for?”

“I don’t know,” replied the other monkeys.  “That’s just the way things have always been done around here.”

I can appreciate when there is a logical reason behind something I don’t like, even if it’s something I’m going to have to do and not like doing.  What kills me, however, is when ridiculous practices persist, even if there is no good reason for it, simply because that is how things have always been done in the past.  What I wouldn’t give, in times like this, to be sipping a mai tai on my lanai.

The photo above was posted to Flickr by Mozzer502 under this Creative Commons license.