I might get the beat down for this just because “Tea Party” is in the title, but this is a much needed book, and it’s not for the title it bears. For me, it’s for the history of American Catholics that it elucidates.
Over the summer, I began developing a timeline for American Catholics, a collection of historical facts that American Catholics probably should know, especially since American Catholics really know so very little of their own history. Lo and behold! Samuel Gregg touched on many of the facts I painstakingly searched for and documented. But, he went one step further and pulled a lot of the history together into a very well-developed and insightful synthesis of Church documents on economic theory, Catholic philosophers on natural rights, and American Catholic manifestations on living as a Catholic in the United States of America.
This is a taste of some of the topics Gregg covers in his book:
- Jesus and His innovative perspective on taking divinity out of money
- Aquinas and his understanding of greed as the stifling of prosperity
- Vitoria, the School of Salamanca, and the vision of natural rights–life, liberty, and property
- Recent encyclicals and contemporary concerns from Pius XI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, Chaput and Nell-Breuning as well as recent American political movements
- Principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, liberty, and the spirit of innovation and how that differs from the very erroneous prosperity gospel
- Catholic participation in the founding of the United States of America through Charles Carroll as well as the varying roles of American Catholics who came from all over the world seen up to today
- One of my favorite saints–St. Francis de Sales! How influential St. Francis was in helping laypersons, even in the early United States, understand their responsibilities in the New World!
This book does not say everything that needs to be said about our American Catholic history, but it is a fantastic start to our history, and it has the added bonus of giving insight to our Catholic economic principles. American Catholics, I am telling you–it is a must read!
At the very least, it will get the conversation started…
Some of my conclusions after thinking about the recent controversy with the newest document by Pope Francis and American politics:
1. Teaching, translation, and further study. First of all, when Pope Francis teaches, he is not just teaching Americans. To read his document in an American-centric way would be a false understanding of the nature of the Catholic Church. Step back from political perspectives, and try to read it another way. I know that is hard for Catholic Americans, especially since having a political voice is part of our culture. That said, is it possible that we have received a faulty translation? I can only say that one of our best attributes as Americans could have been the ability to translate many languages since we are of people who come from many lands–this could have been a tremendous strength!–but since politicians in the past did not want go that route, we do have trouble understanding many languages. This weakness in language has confused American Catholics in the past. Here I am thinking of Vatican II: How many misinterpretations have we had on that one? Whose interpretation did Americans depend on? What happened to the American Catholic Church when those interpretations were believed as true? So, could translation be a problem? Sure. That’s why it is always best to be patient, prayerful, and continue to study what the Church truly teaches and to see how Pope Francis’ work fits into that heritage.
2. Abuse of the free-market system. With that, we might be able to admit that some American Catholic persons [I try to avoid detraction when I can] have used the American capitalistic system to push forward their political agenda in other countries, for instance, pushing birth control, abortion, and other ideas onto other peoples who are living in desperation. Not only is this not helpful to less-developed countries, it just furthers the control by a self-selected few who offer what is needed on condition–a conditional love; this is done by a few elitists who feel like they know better than these developing countries in addition to arrogating themselves above well-grounded Catholic teaching, un-biased research, and natural law. Rather than open the doors for another country’s prosperity, these self-selected few only uphold their own personal riches even if it hurts people’s perception of the United States and the other country whom they say they help. In the end, they help no one. This is the self-centered way to use the American capitalistic system. For evidential support that a certain political group has decided to use capitalism, after what it felt was a failure to pass on its own ideas through other avenues and in order to push forward its political perspective, I suggest reading documents in the Social Sciences.
3. Bifurcation. Granted, there are very good people who use the system of capitalism in a way that helps the common good. What we as Americans have not figured out is that there are two versions of American capitalism running at this point. One version, as said before, is self-centered and has, from some perspectives, quite possibly bought the government; that means, that the government has not only the power of the economy but also the power of the legal system as well as the power of defense. The other version, on the other hand, seeks to see human flourishing through authentic freedom and discusses the need for human virtue in order for that to happen. This bifurcation in economic thought on capitalism has occurred here in the United States, but I don’t know that many people have been able to give words to these two very different perspectives on the free-market system.
4. Subsidiarity. This is something that has not been discussed enough by American Catholics. It means, the most local person or persons who can take care of something should take care of that something. That means that mothers and fathers are responsible for their children; that husbands should take care of their wives as their wives take care of their husbands; that a person is responsible for him or herself by a certain age and to a certain practical extent; that the next people to help someone who cannot care for him or herself, if the parents or immediate family (grandmas, grandpas, brothers, sisters) cannot do so, should be the most local community–that means churches in most cases. In other cases, it means the place of employment, schools, groups, or town. It means not depending on distant government peoples to do what you can do for yourself. It also does not mean shoving off those who are in your immediate vicinity to government programs. It means being charitable to your neighbor when your neighbor is in need. Thus, not only does subsidiarity allow for individual initiative, it allows for that individual to give Christian aide to those who cannot stand on their own because of age, disability, or situation.
5. A balanced perspective. Catholic teaching has never embraced all-out capitalism, what Samuel Gregg calls anarcho-capitalism. Anarchy is not good for anybody–the powerful few always end up exploiting others in that type of system. However, Catholic teachers also do not embrace strict government control of the economy, what we know as communism. Ironically, the powerful few end up exploiting others in that type of system, too. Can we find a better way? As Catholics, shouldn’t we do this for our brothers and sisters around the world? As American Catholics, shouldn’t we do this for our brothers and sisters in this country? Aren’t we all a part of the human family?
So, where do American Catholics fit in all this controversy? Our beatings seem to come from every side on some days. Perhaps that means we are coming closer to actually living our faith.
Gregg, Samuel (2013). Tea Party Catholic, the Catholic case for limited government, a free economy, and human flourishing. The Crossroad Publishing Company: New York.