On Ecumenical Partisanship

A reader with the magical name of Robertjwizard asks:

“So I ask – what, outside of banning abortion (which many Catholics practice) does a Catholic stand for politically?”

Not to be impudent, but our kingdom is not of this world.

Politically, we want to save man from death and damnation.

The Church has existed under the Imperial government of Byzantium, under warlords in the Dark Ages and kings in the Middle Age, monarchies both constitutional and absolute, under more than one Holy Roman Emperor, under republics, democracies, sultanates, and under modern dictatorships.

We believe the free market can be corrupted and used for evil, and so to the capitalist we sound socialist. We believe the state can be corrupted and used for evil, and so to the socialist we sound capitalist.

We believe in the ‘just war’ theory. To the doves, we seem like warhawks, because we are not pacifists. We do not believe in pre-emptive surrender. To the warhawks, we seem like doves, because we do not believe in pre-emptive attacks, nor war as anything but a last resort.

We are reactionary in that we hold that the laws of morality do not change or vary any more than the laws of nature. We are radical revolutionaries in that we hold that the world is broken and corrupt to its roots and needs Herculean and immediate effort to lift mankind out of the mire.

Politically, Catholics stand for sanity, for balance, and for every man under every form of government. We are catholic, that is to say, universal.

We are the only party that stands for the truth rather than for an ideology. We are not a party at all, but a family, or, to be precise, the body of Christ incarnate on Earth, whose every member is of Him and in Him.

Let me put impudence aside and give a clearer and longer answer, quoting a man both wiser and better spoken than myself.

… the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no ‘swank’ or ‘side,’ no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would he what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls ‘busybodies’.

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced,’ but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned–perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.

Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest –what we call investment–is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or ‘usury’ as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private moneylender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilisations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.

One more point and I am done. In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need’. Charity–giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,’ if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of ‘charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear — fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.

And now, before I end, I am going to venture on a guess as to how this section has affected any who have read it. My guess is that there are some Leftist people among them who are very angry that it has not gone further in that direction, and some people of an opposite sort who are angry because they think it has gone much too far. If so, that brings us right up against the real snag in all this drawing up of blueprints for a Christian society. Most of us are not really approaching. the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or a Judge. I am just the same. There are bits in this section that I wanted to leave out. And that is why nothing whatever is going to come of such talks unless we go a much longer way round. A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.

CS Lewis, MERE CHRISTIANITY, from Chapter 13.

I quote this at some length to show two things, first, that what Christians in general and Catholics in particular believe cannot be fitted on a bumpersticker, nor explained simply, nor explained to anyone unwilling to hear it.

Second, my main annoyance with Christianity when I first converted was not their ruling on homosexuality or abortion, or other matter where I had already come around to their viewpoint, but with the ancient prohibition on usury. As a disciple of Ludwig von Mises, and a stalwart partisan of the free market, the concept of the refusing to lend money at interest seemed appallingly naive to me.

Ah, but looking at the debt clock ticking away — another ten thousand dollars we don’t have just got spent in the time it took you to read these words — the ancient prohibition on usury suddenly no longer seems naive at all.

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