April 24, 2009

Rather Proving My Point, Mr. Cusack

When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way,
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.

My compliments to Andrew Cusack, who defends the Catholic faith the way I defend the South, wholeheartedly and without reservation. I like to say that a real Southerner will defend his homeland down to the last boll weevil on the last cotton boll beside the last tar paper shack on the last dirt road. The late downhome humorist Brother Dave Gardner captured this attitude with his ironic declaration, “I love everything about the South. I even love hate.”

By denouncing Protestantism as “on the side of the Revolution”—along with capitalism, among other subversive scourges—Mr. Cusack rather proves my point about the blind men and the elephant. To Mr. Cusack, the Church (there is to him only one and no other) is a bulwark of conservatism, a steady Rock amidst tempest-tossed seas, unchanging and unchangeable. Yet there are many other Catholics who have grasped some other part of the elephant and declare that the Church is an irresistible force of Progress which, were it not for the obstructive ways of bigoted reactionaries like Mr. Cusack, would vanquish each injustice and every inequality, including those obsolete superstitions about the celibate all-male priesthood, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc.

Being an outsider, a mere spectator at the gladiatorial combat inside Catholicism, my sympathies are naturally with Mr. Cusack, Dr. Rao and their reactionary brethren. Nevertheless, my reading of Rerum Novarum and its several sequels, Quadragesimo Anno, Populorum Progresso, etc., causes me to believe that the Vatican’s engagement with secular politics and economics is far more implicated in the internal broils of the Roman faith than Mr. Cusack will acknowledge. Speaking strictly as a Protestant layman, it seems to me that Catholic leadership has for more than a century tried to steer a middle course between secular Left and Right, seeking to preserve social conservatism while steadily ceding political ground to statist economic collectivism.

Thus my reference to the Austrian economists and particularly to Friedrich Hayek’s The Mirage of Social Justice. Every faithful Christian seeks to understand what is required of him, as an individual, in dealings with his fellow man. We strive, or at least should strive, for honesty and fairness in matters of business. Yet when we attempt to reason upward, as it were, from the level of individual morality to the question of “social justice,” the One True Way becomes increasingly less obvious. Thoughtful minds see that this is a utopian mission, an effort toward universalistic one-size-fits-all prescription, with some central authority dictating down to the minutest level what is prohibited and what is required. During the 1970s, after radicals had captured majority power in the municipal government of Berkeley, Calif., a shopkeeper put up a sign in his window sarcastically describing the new order: “That which is not forbidden is mandatory.”

This is the meddlesome tendency unleashed when we make “social justice” our goal in politics and economics. What is “social justice” to the SEIU labor organizer, to the ACORN activist, to the HHS bureaucrat, to the La Raza militant, to the GM executive, to Tim Geithner? I rather suspect Mr. Cusack would dispute their differing interpretations, and yet each will claim that the policy he supports is “social justice.” To cite just one example, for every Catholic conservative like Patrick Buchanan who sees American immigration policy as an unmitigated disaster threatening to subsume our nation under a Third World tsunami, there is a Cardinal Mahony denouncing border enforcement as a social injustice.

Which is right? Apparently, it depends on which part of the “Catholic social teaching” elephant is nearest at hand. Perhaps in his next column—produced by The Amazing Catholic Bullsh*t Generator—Cardinal Mahony will warn the faithful against the skepticism expressed by smug and materialistic Protestant heretics like me. Frankly, however, I’m feeling marginalized and disadvantaged.

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