Tag Archives: government

Catholics must be well-trained, operative citizens

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Following Christ’s command requires Catholic citizens to know “Caesar” and comply with Caesar’s just commands.

Salvation history shows that God often relied on leaders who knew how civil governmentworked.

Joseph, whose brothers sold him to merchants, was imprisoned and later rose in importance in the government of Egypt to become second in authority under Pharaoh. Joseph’s position enabled him to save the fledgling chosen people from death by famine.

Moses, who was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, learned first hand of the operations of the Egyptian government in Pharaoh’s household. That knowledge was critical to the Hebrews leaving Egypt.

When St. Paul was in a fight with the Jewish Sanhedrin to preach Christ crucified, he convinced the Roman governor, Festus (who wanted to turn Paul over to Jewish authorities), that he was a Roman citizen who could appeal to Ceasar to decide the dispute.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput noted, “Catholics need to wake up … What we’re watching emerge … is a new kind of paganism, and atheism … and … it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.” (Public Discourse, 1/24/12)

Anti-Christian zealots are working to prevent the Church from finding families for orphans which it has been doing for nearly 2,000 years until the current imposition of LGBT demands. Now, nine states and Washington, D.C. (96 million people) have laws/policies that require faith-based agencies to place children for adoption or foster care with homosexual couples or have their adoption licenses revoked.

The Church’s social doctrine states, “No power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits and purpose. Marriage in fact is endowed with its own proper, innate and permanent characteristics,” but the 2015 Obergefell Supreme Court decision assumed that sodomy and other disordered behaviors constitute the predicate for same-sex “marriage.”

In 2017, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) criticized federal Court of Appeals Trump Appeals Court nominee Amy Barrett, a Catholic, because “many of us … have this very uncomfortable feeling [that] … in your case … the dogma lives loudly within you. And that is a concern …” Apparently, killing roughly 60 million children under the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion ruling is not a concern for Sen. Feinstein.

Planned Parenthood, LGBTQ activists, socialists, and others are pressuring school boards, courts, state legislatures, and Congress to remove Christians from the public square as was done in the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin, in China under Chairman Mao, in Germany under Adolph Hitler, and in Mexico under Plutarco Calles.

Abandoning government to secular atheists has dire consequences for our families, friends, country, and the Church. A Woodrow Wilson Foundation poll of 1,000 American citizens found only 19 percent of those 45 or under would pass the citizenship naturalization test. Citizens hostile to the natural law who are ignorant of the Constitution and its due process requirements are easily led by demagogues.

So, starting with our own example and families, we must teach our children to be well-trained citizens knowing how laws are made and elections are won to better defend the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the public square as our Founders did.

Pope Pius XI (1937) told German parents, “none can free you from the responsibility God has placed on you over your children. … the eternal Judge … will ask. ‘Where are those I confided to you?’”

To love our neighbor we must be the leaven of America, the light of the world, and the salt of the earth as Christ told us, or we will be trampled underfoot by growing, angry mobs.

ROBERT MARSHALL was a member of the Virginia General Assembly from 1992 to 2018, and is the author of Reclaiming the Republic: How Christians and Other Conservatives Can Win Back America. Email him at robertgbobmarshall@gmail.com.

Community, liberty and freedom

Michael Miller writes that the battles for religious liberty are only beginning. Americans are faced with the choice of being governed by its citizens or surrendering the culture to a massive, uncaring government bureaucracy. He argues that one of the ways we can have the strength and integrity to stand up is by not being dependent upon taxpayer dollars . . .

Michael M. Miller

I’ve been thinking lately that much of the division in America about the role of the state, the Church, the family, and religious liberty comes down to a clash between the intellectual visions of two Frenchmen: Alexis de Tocqueville and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Many of the differences can be boiled down to what we mean by community. Rousseau’s vision of community is what the sociologist Robert Nisbet called the “political community.” For Rousseau, the two main elements of society are the individual and the state. All other groups — including the Church — are viewed as inhibiting individual freedom and detracting from political community that is found in the state.

Tocqueville’s vision of community, on the other hand, is not reduced to the “political community” but instead means a wide variety of associations, different levels of groups, and layers of authority. Society is not made up of autonomous individuals and an omnicompetent state, but is a diverse group of overlapping associations like families, churches, schools, and mutual-aid societies.

Tocqueville worried that democracies could slide into what he called “soft despotism.” He said that this type of despotism “would be more extensive and milder and it would degrade men without tormenting them.” In Democracy in America, he wrote: “I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is a stranger to the destiny of others.”

Over this multitude a massive government exists, “which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, regular, far-seeing, and mild. It provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, [and] divides their inheritances.” He says it would be like a father. But unlike a father, the state doesn’t want citizens to grow up; it wants to regulate and manage all their little decisions, even though the external forms of freedom remain.

He wrote this in the 1830s and his words today are prophetic. Think, for example, of President Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign, where he envisions that big government is there to assist us at every stage of our lives. What was supposed to be a social safety net has become the social fabric of our lives.

Tocqueville believed that the way to counter the rise of soft despotism was to encourage people to get involved in their communities — and to work with their neighbors to solve problems rather than relying on the state. This requires active local politics, a rich diversity of private associations, and of course, religion. Religion, religious institutions, schools, and ministries play a central role in creating the conditions for freedom and resisting soft despotism. Religion helps fight the negative forces of “love of comfort” and “individualism” by providing an eternal perspective.

Intellectually, Christians need to be aware of these two visions of community and what they mean. We should reject the Rousseauian vision of community and adopt Tocqueville’s, where a diversity of organizations possess the local and appropriate knowledge to help those in need. His idea is similar to the Catholic social doctrine of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity not only limits the role of the state, but it enables authentic human interaction. The Church (this means us) needs to think creatively to provide local solutions to social issues.

From this, I believe that in our current political and cultural situation, Catholic institutions should be wary of taking government money, which can end up making these institutions an arm of state services. The Church needs freedom to follow God’s laws and to live out its mission, preaching the gospel, getting souls to heaven, and helping to create the conditions for human flourishing. Clearly it’s not wrong to take government money, but in today’s climate — with an increasingly secular state hostile to Judeo-Christian teaching — I wonder if this is the most prudent course.

The battles for religious liberty are only beginning and the road ahead will be hard. One of the ways we can have the strength and integrity to stand up is by not being dependent upon taxpayer dollars. What vision of community do we want? Rousseau’s with a small, isolated, and so-called emanciapted individual over whom hovers the protective, watchful state — or Tocqueville’s vision of a rich diversity and layers of association where citizens can find something much better than raw, amoral emancipation: They can find human flourishing and human love.

Michael Matheson Miller is a research fellow and director of media at the Acton Institute. He is currently leading PovertyCure, an international network of organizations promoting enterprise solutions to poverty rooted in a Christian understanding of the human person.

Morality and the meltdown

Who would have imagined 20 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of socialism — or in the 1990s when so many made their fortunes in the new economy — that now in 2009 capitalism would be under heavy fire. The Cardinal of Westminster, Cormack Murphy O’Connor, reportedly went as far as to say that as 1989 marked the end of communism, 2008 is the year when capitalism came to an end.

What are we to make of capitalism in light of all these crises, fraud and government bailouts when even some traditional advocates of markets are supporting bailouts and seem to have lost faith in the market order? Is capitalism really to blame for all of the financial woes we now face?

Before we try to answer that question, it’s important to point out that the word “capitalism” is actually a Marxist term. While we use it interchangeably with “market economy,” the Marxist view of capitalism surprisingly still shapes the way we understand economics. The word “capitalism” gives the impression that the market is something out there — a nebulous force which can create great wealth but can also turn and harm us.

This impersonal understanding can lead us to blame markets when things go wrong instead of looking for reasons that are harder to diagnose and often reveal deeper cultural and spiritual issues. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II specifically rejected the term “capitalism,” preferring instead “market economy,” “business economy” or “free economy.” He did this not to be pedantic but to illustrate the important truth that markets are fundamentally networks of human relationships. Understanding markets this way sheds light not only on many economic problems, but also on the underlying moral nature of markets.

Markets are the combined activities of millions of individuals, not just some guys on Wall Street. But like all human institutions, markets are not perfect and can fail. If people become overly speculative and are convinced that prices can only go up, they will violate all norms of prudence and keep buying at outlandish prices. It happened in the tulip bubble in 1637, the dot.com bubble in 2000 and the housing bubble last year. Sooner or later, reality sets in and the bubble bursts.

Markets can teach us important, though often painful, lessons about life, and we cannot separate markets from human action and human responsibility. Despite their failures, however, free markets have lifted more people out of poverty and helped create prosperity and peace than any system ever devised — so much so that even in today’s financial downturn, very few people who live in mature market economies are desolate and on the brink of starvation. Notice that markets are often blamed for the downturns, yet we tend to forget the cause of the upturn.

In these days of financial turmoil, we often hear critics speaking about de-regulation or “unbridled capitalism.” Yet both of these are straw men. Unbridled capitalism is a myth. Try to think of one country where there are no regulations on the economy or business. In fact, for free markets to succeed and be sustainable, they require a framework with rule of law, contracts, secure property rights and so on. The real question is what regulations and what level of intervention we should choose.

It’s important to remember that many of the primary reasons for this crisis are precisely an overly invasive government that created regulations requiring banks to provide mortgages to customers who could not pay back the loans, the Federal Reserve which manipulated the money supply and thus exacerbated the housing boom, and the promise of bailouts which incentivized irresponsible behavior. These are prime examples of what Friedrich Hayek labeled “the fatal conceit,” the notion that bureaucrats and politicians have enough knowledge to plan an economy better than the individuals and businesses.

Sustainable markets also require a specific moral culture. This includes trust, diligence, collaboration, honesty, perseverance and prudence. If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the importance of morality for a market economy. Wall Street bankers took imprudent risks with clients’ money and bought financial instruments they hardly understood.

Yet instead of learning the lessons of the past, we again hear calls for increased regulation and government involvement. Some regulation is necessary, but we must not look to regulation to solve our moral problems. Here is where the realization that markets are networks of human relationships is important. If we regulate too much, we concentrate the power of markets in fewer and fewer hands. This has led to all sorts of corruption. Socialist economies, cartels, oligarchies and union-controlled industries where the price mechanism cannot function lead to stagnation and create incentives for corruption.

It is a false hope to believe that regulation will make everything right, a utopian dream that ignores human failing and is the same promise that has been peddled by the socialists. It is likewise delusional to believe that markets alone are enough. Markets require more than just efficiency, they require virtue. Our Founders taught us that political liberty could not long be sustained without virtue. The same holds true for economic liberty. Yet without economic liberty there can be no political liberty. Like liberty, the market must be moral or it cannot be.

Michael Miller is the Director of Programs at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Abortion and the disintegration of the state

Can a United States citizen conscientiously vote for a political candidate who supports legalized abortion? Perhaps we should let Pope John Paul II answer that question. These words are from his powerful 1991 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

“This is what is happening at the level of politics and government: The original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people — even if it is the majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: The ‘right’ ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part.

“In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The state is no longer the ‘common home’ where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part.

“The appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy.

“Really what we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is, the most unjust of discriminations practiced: Some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and others are denied that dignity?

“When this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the state itself has already begun” (#20).

By John Paul’s analysis, legislators who support and vote for abortion are contributing to the disintegration of the state itself and undermining our democracy. As he said, “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others” (#20). Such a society, he said, “is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness” (#24).

Any politician who would claim to be personally opposed to abortion but would support its legalization is engaged in a “tragic caricature of legality,” is betraying democracy, is contributing to the establishment of a “tyrant state,” and is on “the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness.”

These are the words of John Paul II. We have Catholic politicians who say that they are personally opposed to abortion, and we have no reason to doubt that they are personally opposed to it. However, they then, as we know, usually go on to insist that they cannot “impose their beliefs” on others. But it is not a matter of imposing their beliefs on others but of protecting the innocent in society which is their civic duty. The inviolability of the innocent is not a revealed religious doctrine recognized only by the adherents of a particular religion but a mandate placed on all by the natural moral law.

Public servants — whether legislators, executives or judges — must work for the public good. To those who claim they are personally opposed but cannot force their beliefs on others, John Paul said: “Abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, ‘we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself.’ We are facing what can be called a ‘structure of sin’ which opposes human life not yet born” (#59).

The form of government we utilize is no safeguard against injustice. Democracy can be as brutal as totalitarianism. And an unjust law is equally unjust whether it is enacted by a majority vote or a single tyrant. To quote John Paul again: “When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a tyrannical decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless of human beings?

“Everyone’s conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus” (#71)?

Every conscientious American knows the answer to that question.

John M. Haas is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Medical Moral Commission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Healthcare choices

A Catholic perspective on the McCain and Obama healthcare plans

With the 2008 presidential election just a month away, Americans will soon choose between two candidates who have proposed significant and very different changes in the way healthcare is administered in this country.

What exactly would Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain do with a system that many people agree needs genuine reform? Would the poor and uninsured be better served by one plan than the other? What about employers and their employees? And most importantly for Catholics, does either plan line up with Church teaching?

Personal responsibility

Legatus member David Wilson, founder and CEO of Wilson Partners, an independent employee benefits consulting firm based in Troy, Mich., sees the respective candidates’ plans as a clear choice between greater government control (Obama) and free-market reform (McCain).

He favors the McCain plan because he believes it empowers people to take control of their own health and healthcare, something he says will improve both.

“Government can take control of all the healthcare payments,” Wilson said, “but if it doesn’t engage the individual in taking responsibility, you will not have improved health, only more costs. Any system that fosters a retarding of responsibility is going to have greater costs and less health.”

Wilson’s view mirrors that of other free-market advocates, including Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, who pronounced the McCain plan superior to Obama’s “Plan for a Healthy America,” which claims it will lower costs and ensure affordable, high-quality healthcare for all. According to Tanner’s analysis, Obama’s plan relies on what is known as “managed competition,” a concept that keeps healthcare private, but with strict government controls and regulations.

The Obama plan would require employers to provide “meaningful” coverage for their employees, contribute to its cost or pay a percentage of their payroll toward a new national plan, which would be created for those not covered by an employer or other government program. Additionally, Obama is proposing expanding eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Plan) and requiring parents to buy health insurance for their children.

“Obama’s plan, with its heavy reliance on government,” Tanner writes, “leads to the same problems that bedevil universal healthcare systems all over the world: limited patient choices and rationed care. McCain’s proposal is much more consumer centered and taps into the best aspects of the free market.”

Access and choices

Like the Obama plan, McCain’s health proposal promises improved access to healthcare, but by providing patients with choices beyond the employer-based health insurance system. McCain’s plan would retain employer-based coverage as an option, but would give directly refundable tax credits of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families so they could select their own insurance provider. The money would go directly to the provider and any unused portion could be deposited into expanded health savings accounts.

In addition, the McCain plan would allow for the purchase of health insurance across state lines, meaning families and individuals could shop for lower prices in states with fewer coverage mandates.

Grace-Marie Turner, an adviser to the McCain campaign and president of the Galen Institute, an organization that promotes free market healthcare reform, said the state-line provision alone could decrease the number of uninsured by 12 million.

Turner said the Obama plan calls for “private insurance in name only.” Under it, she added, “insurance companies would be so highly regulated that they would be little more than governmentregulated utilities. They would have to offer governmentprescribed plans with government-prescribed premiums, profit margins, loss ratios and administrative costs. They would basically be functionaries of the government because the consumer would not have a choice.”

Catholic care

But those who like the Obama plan claim it does more than McCain’s to meet the needs of the poor and the estimated 47 million people who are uninsured. Clarke E. Cochran, coauthor of The Catholic Vote: A Guide for the Perplexed, recently told Catholic News Service that Obama’s proposal is more in keeping with the U.S. bishops’ call to help the poor and uninsured and to fortify Medicare and Medicaid. However, Cochran also said Obama’s plan is not likely to provide protection for the unborn, a key issue for Catholics.

Although abortion and other life issues are not mentioned specifically in either candidate’s plan, the starkly different positions of Obama (who supports abortion) and McCain (who has a largely pro-life voting record), are likely to be reflected in their health policies.

Dr. Steve White, a Daytona Beach, Fla., pulmonary medicine specialist and former president of the Catholic Medical Association, which produced a 2004 report on healthcare in America, said because Obama wants more government regulation and control, there is reason to believe he would insist on including reproductive procedures opposed by the Church in basic health-coverage standards.

White said he fears that if Catholic hospitals support the Obama plan in hopes of getting funds to pay for care of the poor, they may find that down the road they will no longer be able to decline participation in activities that conflict with Church teaching.

Michael O’Dea, president of Christus Medicus, a healthcare reform group aimed at giving Christians “conscientious choice” in health insurance, agreed. “The only way Catholic health providers will be able to practice their faith is to break the law, to close down their organizations or to go underground. That’s where we’re headed under an Obama plan.”

O’Dea said he also sees the Obama plan as contrary to the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity, which says the state is not to “substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1894).

According to this principle, he said, “responsibility is supposed to begin first with the individual and the family. Government is supposed to assist the family but not to come in and take over the family.”

However Tracy Williams, president and CEO of Verus Health, an Indianapolis firm that provides administration services to selfinsured health insurance plans that are consistent with Catholic teaching, said whichever candidate is elected probably would make little difference to his company in the long run because “there has never been a federal regulation around which intelligent people cannot do what is right, do what they want and/or profit.”

Although his firm obviously would take issue with any regulation requiring health insurance plans to provide abortion coverage, for example, Williams said, “Such a blatant trampling of religious freedom would not deserve to stand.

“In the end, business owners in this country — and whether that business owner is a Catholic diocese, Catholic hospital, or an individual who believes abortion is wrong — that business owner should not be required to fund something which is diametrically opposed to his faith.”

Judy Roberts is a freelance journalist based in Graytown, Ohio.

Business is social

There’s a lot of talk lately about social entrepreneurship and social business — the idea that business should be more focused on society and less on profit. Just this year, Nobel Prize winner and founder of the microcredit Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, published a book arguing for a social business model to fight poverty in the developing world.

The idea of “social business” is fantastic marketing. What an inspiring concept: to use your business skills for the betterment of society. People are excited by the idea of imbuing their business life with social significance.

The problem is that business already has social significance. The term “social business” is redundant. Business, by definition, is social. Sound surprising? Think about it. What is a business? It is a group of individuals who work together to make goods and services that meet human needs and wants. Business must be social for it to succeed. If a business produces a fantastic product that no one wants, it won’t sell because it doesn’t have a social value. A business person must be “other directed.” The business person must be looking to the needs of individuals and families within society or he will not succeed.

John Paul II affirmed this idea in his encyclical Centesimus Annus where he stated that the purpose of a business “is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs and who form a particular group at the service of the whole society” (#35).

Businesses do many things for society. In addition to producing goods and services, entrepreneurs invent new technologies that help grow the economy, create efficiencies so people can spend more time with their families and develop innovations that actually save lives. Business is also an important force in building a stable community where people can raise their families. Think of the disastrous effect on a community when one of its major companies goes out of business.

Working in business also helps people develop virtues that are important in social life. Think about the virtues necessary to be successful in business: perseverance, collaboration, patience, courage, charity and so on — and imagine social life without them. Perhaps the most important social contribution business makes is with regards to the family. As John Paul points out, there is a close connection between work and the family since, in one sense, work and one’s salary make family life possible.

These social benefits are not the result of some “corporate social responsibility” outreach or volunteer or charity program. This is just what happens when people do business. Business is social.

So, why are people talking about social business or social entrepreneurship? On one level, people just don’t realize the social value of their work and are looking somewhere else to find it. Now of course, some aspects of social entrepreneurship are quite good. An entrepreneurial culture that encourages innovation and addresses problems at the lowest level is a great improvement over bureaucratic approaches. However, there is an insidious element to looking outside of business for social value — a suspicion of the social import of the business enterprise that somehow sees business as fundamentally greedy.

When Muhammad Yunus advocates social business as the solution to poverty, he may be very well intentioned, but he does some damage as well. It is important to remember that business — especially within the context of a competitive market economy — is the world’s most powerful force for lifting people out of poverty. Government programs do not create prosperity, businessmen do. Yunus recognizes that foreign aid is not the answer. Billions of aid dollars are funneled into the developing world, yet poverty remains. Often, aid money makes poverty worse.

What helps a country get out of poverty is not aid; it is the institutions of the free economy: private property, rule of law and free exchange. These are not new ideas. You can find them in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and theologians like St. Bernadino of Sienna. Free exchange — a free market economy under rule of law — works because it allows people closest to the needs of others to meet those needs. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has pointed out that the developing world has no shortage of entrepreneurs; it lacks the institutional framework to enable those entrepreneurs to create wealth.

Business leaders need to be wary of asking the government for protection. Instead, they should use their economic, social and moral authority to help developing countries establish those building blocks of a free economy. This will enable the millions of men and women in the developing world to unleash their entrepreneurial talents and create value and high standards of living like we have done here.

Michael Miller is Director of Programs at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. This article draws from Miller’s forthcoming book “Christian Theology and Market Economics” to be published by Edward Elgar Press in 2009.