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.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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36 Responses to On Ecumenical Partisanship

  1. Bill Tingley says:

    There is a useful distinction made between financing production and financing consumption. A company borrowing at interest to purchase a machine tool to produce goods increases the amount of wealth. In this case, interest-bearing debt is not exploiting distress. Instead, it puts idle savings to work for the benefit of individuals and society.

    However, charging interest to a family borrowing money to buy groceries is exploiting either poverty or profligacy. Similarly, the government by its nature only consumes. Financing it with interest-bearing debt either: [1] exploits an empty treasury lacking the wherewithal to fund what a government properly does (which is the responsibility of the people not bankers), or [2] exploits profligate spending which corrupts government and the people.

    Financing consumption, not production, is the evil use of interest-bearing debt.

    P.S. One caveat: My defense of financing production is made against the amorality of both the capitalist and socialist reduction of man to homo economicus.

  2. Mary says:

    I add that you can not palm off the duty of charity on the government and cite your tax paying as your charity: “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

    Or, of course, you can take it in another spirit:

    “At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

    “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

    “Both very busy, sir.”

    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

    “Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

    “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

    “You wish to be anonymous?”

    “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

  3. Malcolm Smith says:

    I have two points.
    (1) Remember, in pre-capitalist societies, people did not borrow in order to make more money; they borrowed because they they needed the money right away. The law of Moses quite rightly saw that it was an offence to take advantage of another’s weakness by charging interest, and in traditional societies where this rule does not apply, the peasants tend to fall under the thumb of the moneylender. That was the original objection to usury, and the system only broke down when the age of the merchant adventurers brought in borrowing seed capital.
    (2) I have just finished watching a BBC series entitled, Living with the Amish. You should see it if it comes on American TV. Essentially, the Amish allow their youth to go out into the outside world for a while to see if they want to commit to the Amish lifestyle. The result was that a number of Amish teenagers and young adults were taken to the UK to see how they reacted to the lifestyle over there. The follow up was to bring several British youngsters to live with the Amish for a while to see how they lived. And, by gum, it sounded very much like the sort of society described by C. S. Lewis.

    • joeclark77 says:

      There is something called the Catholic Land Movement which is based on the idea of doing something like what the Amish do. As a Catholic movement, the basic outline is this: a number of interested families would buy plots of land for homesteading within walking distance of a traditionalist monastery or convent. By doing so together, they would form an intentional community, centered on parish life, where neighbors could support one another in educating the children, raising barns, etc. So far I don’t think this has gotten off the ground in more than a few cases (e.g. the Beatitudes Mission Community, http://villapacis.wordpress.com/). I’ve been reading about this idea on Devin Rose’s blog (http://www.devinrose.heroicvirtuecreations.com/blog/) and I hope that in a couple years I’ll be able to head to the fields myself.

      • Sean Michael says:

        Hi, joeclark!

        Very interesting, what you said about the “Catholic Land Movement.” The problem is, however, is that most people, Catholic or not, simply CAN’T all be farmers. In fact, the only way we could “de urbanize” ourselves would be by abandoning farming. Which would mean most of us dying in various unpleasant ways. Cities arose precisely because the invention of agriculture more and more allowed most people to seek other ways of making a living than by farming.

        As an SF fan, I am of course familiar with speculations about how technological advances creates so much wealth that practically everybody lives in material comfort. Although this was usually accompanied by a drastic decline in population. Here I had in mind Poul Anderson’s four “Harvest of Stars” books.

        Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

        • joeclark77 says:

          I’m not sure what you mean by:

          In fact, the only way we could “de urbanize” ourselves would be by abandoning farming.

          Are you saying that there’s not enough land? Or that if everyone was a farmer there’d be a lack of other things we need (factory-produced things like tools and medicines)? My response in either case is that you can have a similar movement within the city… imagine a group of interested families all moving together into one neighborhood around an old parish church, revitalizing it while at the same time creating a food co-op, a homeschooling co-op, etc, so that they can strengthen one another as a mini-community. Same basic principle.

          • Sean Michael says:

            Hi, joeclark:

            I’m sorry I was unclear. What I was trying to say is that it was precisely because of agriculture that we have cities at all. So, to abandon agriculture would mean the survivors adopting a hunting/gathering way of life.

            I certainly have no objection for groups of likeminded families deliberately seeking to revitalize old parishes along the lines you outlined. In fact, I think such experiments, if and where successful, would be GOOD for us as a nation.

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  4. As usual, Mr. Wright, your words sound better than the person you quote. But let me pick a little.

    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.

    Is this a loose, general way of describing Catholics? Is there some source that would back up such a description? If you bring up Catholic and free market (in any positive sense) in the same sentence, only you come to mind. My exposure may be limited.

    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.

    What is a silly luxury? What is good (may be easier to decide what is garbage)? Determined by whom? Determined by whom that we must

    always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates,

    For instance, what of space opera yarns? My father certainly thinks science fiction is silly, he walked out of the room when my brother and I were watching Star Wars once because a robot was talking. How about those “silly” comics you love so much?

    Pretty silly thing to waste one’s time on when there is so much suffering in the world I can hear your magistrate say. Needless to say the examples could be enumerated ad nauseum.

    Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong.

    Is that an order?

    …if man does not work, he ought not to eat.

    Heh, I would not be so cruel. How about if a man is able to work and does not, he ought not to eat? Or is that implied? I’m certainly not going to make a man go hungry merely because he is bound to a wheelchair or something.

    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.

    I’m assuming that was a quip on your part. There are legitimate forms of usury such as he mentioned. Our debt has more to do with fiat currency and insanity, literally, than on proper usury. We couldn’t do this on gold.

    I will give Lewis kudos on the last sentence. He’s got you all on the rails with that one.

    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.

    Who wants to give up his toys?

    • All I can say, sir, with no offense, is that I used to carry the same chip on my shoulder as you do, the burden of pride, and it was not until I put it down that I found it had been a crushing, crushing load. I was the most disobedient of men. Then I found an authority whose judgment I trust more than I trust my own.

      When I looked into the grave, and saw no exit, I was willing to give up such toys as pride.

      No, no quip. I am seriously wondering if usury is like strong drink. In moderation, some men can handle it. But drunks destroy themselves.

      • Not offended, thoroughly confused. I do not know what chip on the shoulder is represented by inquiry. It reads like a total non-sequitor to me.

        And here I am questioning the words of a single man. Lewis is not interchangeable with the Church, is he? He is not, you can question him too without worrying about pride. If accepting even Lewis (and, one would assume countless others) as an unquestioned authority is part of your creed, I can safely say I reject it entirely out of hand. Call it pride if you wish, I don’t, I will say thank you, but I cannot accept the words of another man without judgement.

        What is a silly luxury? Who determines it? What if it is something you love like anime, comics, or even your own writing? These are luxuries, especially historically. Some would find them silly. Food, shelter, clothing – these are necessities.

        Would you obey such an edict? Since he never defines silly luxury, we are left to guess what they would actually be.

        Obedience is not a very American sentiment.

        And, yes, my hackles do rise when I hear the following statement,

        Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society:

        I’m not predicting what the actual mood of that society would be, and neither is he, he is prescribing it. My natural response is “Or what?”

        The toys I was talking about were quite literally… toys.

        • Here is the pride: when someone says, “in a truly good society, we would not waste money on luxuries, we would not support parasites but neither would we let beggars starves, we would be obedient to our betters and be filled with good cheer and good will” is it pride and nothing but which prompts the response: “Oh, yeah? Who says so? What if I don’t want to be cheerful? What if no one wants to give up his toys? Who says what is a luxury — the authority will always be abused and I don’t trust my betters. In fact, I don’t have any betters! I am the equal of any man, and better than most!”

          Now, I ask you if this is the spirit behind your reply, which was similar in wording? If so, your first reaction was one of suspicion, as if you thought such talk was a preliminary to an expropriation or theft of your stuff, and one of disdain.

          Is that not pride? I am an American too, and so my hackles stand up whenever the Wesley Mooches of the world start talking about the public good or the good of mankind.

          But keep in mind his lies would not be lies unless there was such a thing as a real public good, a real good of man, that is, a time when selfish desires must give way to what is best for the nation or the human race. The whole point of the Liberarian and Classical Liberal philosophy was a realistic and pragmatic recognition that the selfish impulses were never going to be expunged, and were sometimes useful to the public good, so that selfish impulses could be tamed to serve the public good by a clever system of private property, rule of law, clarity of title, standardized currency, within a contest of limited government hemmed about by checks and balances. At no point was the idea to abolish the public good for the sake of selfish impulses.

          If I mug my neighbor and carry off his cow without swapping him the horse he wants, I am ‘up’ by the price of the cow minus the cost of the violence and vengeance, mitigated by the uncertainty of his vengeance. If law and order has come to the prairie, however, then the price of vengeance is much less uncertain. The Sheriff is sure to show up, with a posse big enough to make me regret my cattle rustling. So in a civilized society, I swap his cow for my horse, I am ‘up’ the price of a the cow less the price of the horse, with relatively little uncertainty. This is the system that, by and large, puts selfishness at work for the public good. You know all this. You’ve heard this all before a zillion times.

          But what you have not heard is that it is better for me not to steal my neighbor’s cow, nor even to covet it. The calculation given above is not sufficient to create and maintain the social order. The moral sentiments of the cattle rustler and his neighbor must be engaged before the question of self interest is addressed. The cattle rustler must either, on an emotional level, feel sorry for the weeping cowboy who has lost his cow, or, on an intellectual level, see that cattle rustling is evil in and of itself, before he can turn to a calculation of the benefits to his self interest of civilized behavior and respect for private property. He must see it is cruel and wrong to steal before he ever gets around to forming a system of laws and punishments, officers, elections, legislation, and other ceremonies and oaths needed to force his self interest to serve the public good.

          So, likewise, here, when someone says, “It would serve the public good if everyone were filled with good cheer rather than sullen, backbiting, suspicious, selfish, and sardonic” that moral sentiment comes before any discussion of any forming a custom, or any discussion whether any enforcement aside from social opprobrium were needed to support the custom.

          So the reaction of being sardonic, and suspicious, and saying, “We’ll I’d rather be selfish than cheerful” springs from pride. A humble man, one whose thoughts did not dwell on himself, would not have it.

          Let me use an example to show this. Imagine a lover with his true love. Being truly in love, he wants to please her above all things. He realizes that it worries her if, doing his wooing and lovemaking, he acts sullenly and suspiciously, or is overly touchy about his rights and privileges and proper forms of address, his possessions, and all things centered on him. If his realization is a true one, and the beloved is not putting on an act to trick him, his love for his beloved would urge him to change his ways around her. There is no way a man who knows the humility and unselfcenteredness of love, in that situation, would walk up to the girl and snap his fingers and announce, “You want me to be more cheerful and less selfish around you? Or else what? Just try to make me! Just try!”

          Lovers don’t talk that way.

          If you say my example is no good, because mankind is a bunch of filth yahoos, and we neither love our nation nor love mankind, I say, even from my Houyhnhnm point of view, that it is in the weal of the nation, and in the weal of man, that men do learn to love such things, be patriots, and be philanthropists.

          Patriotism and philanthropy are among the most powerful sentiments in the human breast, after the erotic and romantic sentiments which lead to marriage, and the familial sentiments of family and clan. They are potent. This is why the enemy — and your enemy is the same as mine — has spent endless years of effort distorting, corrupting, and abusing the public opinion about eroticism, patriotism, and altruism.

          The wholesome eroticism of marriage was attacked by the sexual revolution, and now we have less sexual and more sexual diseases and sexual perverts and fewer happy families. The wholesome patriotism of civic pride was attacked by the nauseating nationalistic madness of the Nazis and other nations seeking economic autarchy, ethnic and linguistic unity, and, in sum, the whole modern notion of the nation state replacing older and more universal and federal notions. The wholesome philanthropy of the Church was replaced by the Communist movement, which perverted even the name of altruism to the point where Ayn Rand nearly uses it as a swear word, and uses selfishness as a compliment.

          • Here is the pride: when someone says, “in a truly good society, we would not waste money on luxuries,… we would be []… filled with good cheer and good will”

            vs.

            Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong.

            See the difference? Your wording is completely different than his and thus the meaning. If it is not a different meaning, he should have been less sloppy in his formulation. Yours reads like a theorem or a conditional statement: “given such and such circumstances the people would be cheerful. “Would be” is different than “it is to be”. That is clear as day. He reads like a Christian who is hopped up after discovering Plato’s Republic and Laws.

            This would be the same if your therapist were to say, “if you practice behavior X, you would be happier.” As opposed to the therapist who would say, “practice behavior X, and you are to be happy.” You would stare at your therapist in confusion, “if I could be happy, I wouldn’t be here to see you!”

            I restate that your words again are more sound than the people you quote. Lewis reads like an in-house writer, meaning if you are already a member of the club, you get it; if not, not.

            So the reaction of being sardonic, and suspicious, and saying, “We’ll I’d rather be selfish than cheerful” springs from pride. A humble man, one whose thoughts did not dwell on himself, would not have it.

            Sardonic? No, punchy, perhaps, even, impulsively reactionary. I never said, “We’ll I’d rather be selfish than cheerful”, I didn’t mention myself at all.

            Suspicious? Oh yes, absolutely. Anybody, and I mean anybody who talks about how society should be is going to have my full lens of skepticism beamed on him. I question every dot, adjective, verb and comma. Even Ayn Rand herself got the same treatment. I had over a dozen journals of me picking her apart at one time. So Lewis gets no pass either (especially the way he talks).

            If that you call vice, it is one I will take (with pride!) to the grave.

            But my greatest concern was none of the above, but in Lewis’ concept of “silly luxuries”. So I ask again.

            What is a silly luxury? Determined by whom? By what standard? Should your family have its DVD player, but Bill Gates not his yacht ? On the one hand it would seem an indulgence since Gates does not need it for necessary travel; he does not use it for a meeting in Belgium. On the other, does your family need the DVD player when you can be clothing the homeless at a shelter?

            • Darrell says:

              Mr. Lewis is using to be in the sense of a revealed promise or prophecy of what the future holds not what someone is going to force someone to do. So when Mr. Lewis says that the NT hints there are to be no “silly luxuries” he means just that — there will be no silly luxuries. He may have had an opinion or guess as to what those silly luxuries are but only someone living in that posited post -ressurection world would know what they were, and then only by their absence — even then though, these “silly luxuries” would not be missed because they would not be desired.

              • By post-ressurection world do you mean the second coming?

                I ask, in all honesty, because a few posts down you say the following,

                As such, orthodox Christianity might be best understood as striving for utopia while recognizing that it can never be obtained until the Resurrection.

                Since orthodox Christianity is still Christianity, it strikes me as obvious that you would believe there was already the original Resurrection since without it Jesus was just some guy who p’d off some ancient royal dudes and got whacked. You’d be Jewish. So I have to deduce you are referring to a second resurrection, I assume that is what is called the second coming.

                So you are saying that Lewis is merely daydreaming about what a post-Apocaplyptic world would be like? The world at the end of the world.

                I don’t really get that from the selection Wright provided, but it was the middle of the 13th chapter of a book I know nothing of.

                But if that is it, well it is all innocuous enough!

                If I’m completely off here, well, my attempts at trying to understand this stuff usually has pretty laughable results!

                • Darrell says:

                  do you mean the second coming?

                  Yes, I mean the period post parousia or, to quote the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, “I look for the Resurrection of the dead.”

                  C.S. Lewis is one of those odd ecumenical individuals who everyone seems to quote so I must admit, as he was a heretic, he could have believed that the Bible promised what a fully Christian world would look like even prior to the Ressurection. I doubt that however as Lewis was a careful writer and rarely strayed so far afield of orthodoxy — which is partly why he is so generally well regarded.

                  Also, when I was using little-o orthodoxy I was trying to describe a tradition shared by the more liturgical churches such as Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity. The further a tradition moves away from Orthodox Christianity the less likely I am to get its theology correct — which is why I am always throwing out tidbits on my understanding of Roman Catholicism because sometimes it and Orthodox Christianity seem very close and other times there seems to be a huge gulf between them.

                  Orthodox Christianity, while it shares some superficial traits with communism, is almost the anti-Marxism (and now that I think about it, I wonder if Marx could be considered an anti-Christ) in that it maintains that man and society are not perfectible prior to the Ressurection. This world is corrupted by death and no amount of social engineering can fix it, so for Christianity individuals are an end rather, than like Marxism, a means-to-an-end for a utopian society.

                  In other words, Christianity is not supposed to be utopian oriented and seeking to create perfect mini-societities divorced from the greater world such as those of the Shakers or Amish. Christianity is a medicine for the world and so must exist within it.

                  • Ah, man, I’m glad. I was kind of laughing after I posted that, half suspecting you would think I was retarded or something. I’ve never been religious and don’t really have a natural inclination for it so sometimes I can really garble up what I read.

                    And I understood what you said above, thanks!

                    • Darrell says:

                      I am glad that I could be of service.

                      I would guess that my ability to garble what others are trying to say is much greater than yours as I’m still not clear on many (surprisingly many) Roman Catholic’s use of “he or she is not a real Catholic.” I have several ideas as to what they might mean but whenever I pursue one of theses ideas I either unintentionally come off as snarky or I become even more confused by the responses I receive. I assume it is because, as a former atheist, I don’t have the proper background.

                      One point I should clarify, as it is confusing, is that I suggested that orthodox Christianity is both utopian and anti-utopian. By this I meant that it is believed the post-ressurection world will be utopian because of theosis and the absence of death while in the pre-ressurection world utopia is impossible and its pursuit will likely, if not inevitably, end in tears.

              • Mary says:

                Of course, in one respect, discussing the life in the world to come is pointless for political discussion. It’s like discussing post World War II during the Occupation. The Resistance can keep each other’s spirits up, keep locales as free as they can from Nazi authorities, listen to the radio from the lands that remain free, and occasionally commit acts that will help the war. Fundamentally, however, things will remain as they are in many respects until D-Day.

    • Mary says:

      I assure you that if a man does not work, let him not eat was not invented by Lewis.

      I observe also that “wheelchair bound” and “unable to work” are very different. Though we can agree that there are those who can’t, they are rather fewer than the disability rolls would indicate.

      • Yeah, I know, it is from Paul.

        I was going to go back and delete that part of my original post once I realized my gaffe, but the allotted one hour to edit had already expired.

        I notice also the newer versions of the Bible make this distinction clear, but I only own the Jewish study bible and a pretty old King James Bible.

        So consider that expunged.

    • gray mouser says:

      “…if man does not work, he ought not to eat.”

      “Heh, I would not be so cruel. How about if a man is able to work and does not, he ought not to eat? Or is that implied? I’m certainly not going to make a man go hungry merely because he is bound to a wheelchair or something.”

      Oh, goodness. You are certainly a better man than St. Paul, then as he was the one who told the Thessalonians that. Indeed, it was an example he lived when he was among them, supporting himself by working. He goes on to tell them, “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” So, as you can see, Paul’s problem is certainly not with someone who is physically handicapped and unable to work, but rather with those who are unwilling to do so. Which is also why St. Paul says nothing contrary to the Corporeal Works of Mercy that Christ lists, one of which is “to feed the hungry.” It wouldn’t be CHARITY if they just refused to support themselves, after all.

      As for your question about whethr it is an “order” that a Christian society should be joyful, well yes in some sense it is. St. Paul again exhorts his reads in Philippians and 1 Thessalonians to “Rejoice always.” Likewise, Christ is quite clear that worrying is useless (“Which one of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span?”) We are commanded to be joyful, just as we are COMMANDED to love one another. These aren’t simply emotional responses but acts of the will which can be commanded.

    • Darrell says:

      Mr. Wizard/Loki

      I think that you are misunderstanding C.S. Lewis. The driving idea behind orthodox Christianity is that of theosis — attainment of the likeness of God. As such, orthodox Christianity might be best understood as striving for utopia while recognizing that it can never be obtained until the Resurrection.

      C.S. Lewis is creating an image of what he believes a truly Christian society would look like while recognizing that such a society is impossible on the Earth that we now know. The belief is that because of theosis the concerns that you rightly put forward would fall away and disappear. The orthodox Christian goal is not supposed to be to change the world but to liberate individuals to a recognition of the truth of Christ. It is through the individual pursuit of theosis that transformation occurs.

      What I wrote is very simplified because I have largely ignored the central role of grace and community within the Church but I didn’t believe either added much to trying to explain Lewis.

  5. JoeCool says:

    I used to call myself a Republican, but didn’t like how I had to defend politicians with an (R) after their name, no matter how corrupt, and demonize politicians with a (D) after their name, no matter how noble.

    Then I called myself a conservative, but didn’t like how I had to defend policies that were right-wing, no matter how immoral, or resist policies that were left-wing, no matter how beneficial.

    Now I just call myself a Catholic, and am free to call good “good” and evil “evil”.

    A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar. The bartender says, “evening, your eminence.”

  6. I have a question(s). (not snarky, not leading or anything, I genuinely am curious about this stuff and seek to correct ignorance)

    1) What is the view on voluntary usury? Say I have $5 extra on hand and several guys come up begging me to loan it to them. All things being equal, one of those guys says that if I loan him 5 today, he’ll pay me back 7 tomorrow. (obviously I would like his offer more than any competing ones) Is this usury allowed or disallowed?

    2) It was my understanding that a lot of usury/interest rates could be understood as “renters fees”. Just as a neighbor might pay me $10 a day that he borrows my tractor, so the bank might pay me a little something to borrow my dollars. So is this bad usury? By that, does that mean all renting fees are sinful? Or is it just the renting of money?

    3) Has anyone set up alternatives? If not, why not? For instance, I “bank” with a credit union. I like credit unions and as someone pointed out once, they were started as… well as competitor to banks and their paradigm. Likewise, has any catholic set up or created a competing system to beat out usury? (Bank of the Vatican or something) It seems to me that there’s nothing preventing that and it would be the best way to move society to it. And heck, if we abolished usury overnight, (and in the interest of fairness, took all the profits that were ever made from it) we’d have thousands, if not millions of new poor people overnight. They might need somewhere to work, may as well hire them for the new system.

    • joeclark77 says:

      If you remember the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), it is hard to see Christianity as totally opposed to lending money at interest. In the parable, the master gives a few talents (a unit of money) to each of three servants. The faithful servants invest it and double the money. The faithless servant buries his talent so that he won’t lose it, and when the master returns he says:

      And his lord answering, said to him: Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed: Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents.

      Now we know the parable is really a metaphor about the importance of using the gifts (talents, aptitudes, etc) that God gives to each of us. But it would be ludicrous to believe that our Lord would use the example of putting money into the bank to earn interest, if that were an evil thing to do.

      Your interpretation of this riddle is as good as mine. My guess is that exploitation of the poor is a sin, but honest investment is not.

      • My guess is that exploitation of the poor is a sin, but honest investment is not.

        That is my guess, too, but if I were a good Catholic, I would look it up in the Catechism, and find out exactly what the Church teaches on this point.

        • It is delightfully vague, although the subject is expounded further in the Compendium.

          Here is Pope Benedict on usury.

          “The heart of this fidelity to the divine word consists in a fundamental choice of charity towards the poor and needy: ‘The good man takes pity and lends … Open-handed, he gives to the poor” (vv. 5, 9). The person of faith, then, is generous; respecting the biblical norms, he offers help to his brother in need, asking nothing in return (Deuteronomy 15: 7-11), and without falling into the shame of usury, which destroys the lives of the poor.’”

          If I were in the money lending business I wouldn’t necessarily not loan money to a poor person. It would depend on the person. Not all poor people accept nor would accept charity, and that is probably the poor person I would loan to. But the faceless, government backed loan officer whose loans are backed by a government pressure to put everyone in a home would loan to anyone, what’s the risk?

      • Darrell says:

        It depends on what you mean by usury .

        Usury is sinful and, if I recall correctly, is listed along with theft and abortion in the Septuagint and was condemned by both Ecumenical Council and, of interest to Roman Catholics, St. Thomas Aquinas.

        If money is lent with an expectation of the eventual return of the principal and a percentage of the profits realized then that is not usury but investment. If money is lent where interest (in addition to the principal) is required to be returned regardless of profit or loss then you have engaged in usury.

      • gray mouser says:

        Exploitation of the poor is, indeed, a sin. Two of the sins that cry out to heaven for vengence are: defrauding the laborer of his wage (not necessarily someone who is poor, but having to do with how one treats their employees), and the cry of the poor (or oppressed).

        Interestingly, about a parable not using bad behavior as an example, that is exactly what he does in the Parable of the Unjust Steward (in Luke 16). I’m not saying saving money in a bank is sinful. It’s not. But Jesus at times holds up one aspect of people’s behavior (in the case of the steward, shrewdness) as something to emulate even while other aspects of it should be avoided.

  7. wlinden says:

    Also see Lewis’ “Meditation on the Third Commandment”.
    http://web.mit.edu/bcf/www/BSJ97/cslewis.html

  8. Nostreculsus says:

    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.

    Put your mind at rest. The exorbitant public debt of the United States may indeed be immoral, but the the immorality has nothing to do with usury, the exaction of abusive interest rates upon borrowers.

    On the contrary, the interest rates on government borrowing is zero, or as close to zero as to make no difference. The November 16 WSJ article “Treasury Bonds Fizzle” lists a 2 year yield on treasuries of .238%. Lending, without any real interest, is deemed virtuous. So, when China lends their hard-earned currency to the United States, expecting the repayment to be unchanged or even reduced in real terms, they are either our vassals or they are charitable.

    Or they need to prop up their largest customer, who is now insolvent, to keep their factories churning out products.

    But it gets worse. And even more corrupt. A loan, even with usurious interest rates, needs the consent of both parties. Now, the Social Security Trust Fund takes your Social Security taxes and purchases these same treasury notes. They have an interest in demanding better terms from the treasury. But they accept a zero return. Why? Is it their Christian condemnation of usury? Hardly.

    The single largest buyer of Treasury Bonds is the Social Security Trust Fund, which holds, together with other government entities, about 50% of the national debt. The Social Security Trust Fund is willing to pay more for these bonds than other market participants would. This is a great deal for the government, because high bond prices translate into low interest rates, but it hurts all Social Security participants because low interest rates entail low returns on Trust assets. A key reason why the Trust is willing to overpay for Treasury Bonds may be that the Secretary of the Treasury is also the chairman of the Board of Trustees.,

    -Martin Gremm

    Don’t blame usury for this. This is the opposite of usury. This is a borrower, the Treasury, who intends to repay much less than he borrowed. This is a lender, the Social Security taxpayers, who were compelled to make this fraudulent loan. And the disposition of their funds is entirely in the hands of the borrower-in-chief.

  9. Tina In Ashburn says:

    John, interesting read. Thanks.

    Perhaps this succinct Encyclical will help: http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_be14vp.htm,
    Vix Pervenit, Pope Benedict XIV, On Usury and Other Dishonest Profit, Nov 1, 1745.
    Read carefully, many of our excuses are covered here. Yes, its painful to read as we are so inebriated, so inculcated with today’s environment, we take umbrage at such a concept. Remove the emotion and follow the logic.

    Interesting your attachment to von Mises – not a good influence for learning the Catholic support of monarchies and nobility. Capitalism promotes envy, class warfare, social climbing, ambition, money-is-power. Oh. Yea, “capitalism” is a term coined by the Marxists. Why not? No God needed!

    • Remove the emotion and follow the logic

      Advice I am always willing to follow. Rest assured, I am not an Ayn Randian, by which I mean, I have no personal affection for the concept of capitalism as a moral structure. Honest and free trade is a set of rules for dealing with strangers at arm’s length, not for dealing with family, friends, loved ones, or dealing with the poor and needy. I believe capitalism has a great power to tame and restrain greed, a sin, into a useful and productive channel, in much the same way that a limited government of checks and balances can tame and restrain political ambition, also a sin, into a useful and productive channel. Neither one makes the sin a good thing, and neither is perfectly effective.

      However, there is a separate argument to be made about the nature of economics. A man who argues that leading money at interest is making a moral argument, and he must make his case using the mental tools of a moralist in the mental landscape of a moralist. But a socialist who argues that lending money at interest is economically inefficient is making an economic argument, and he must make his case using the mental tools of an economist in the mental landscape of an economist. Ludwig von Mises, I say, defeats the socialist argument utterly and with an airtight case. My admiration for him does not extend to anything he says about the moral argument, where he is careful enough not to go. I frankly don’t care about his personal opinions, which are no more noteworthy than my own.

      Am I clear? Ayn Rand’s philosophy says it is moral to lend money at interest. Ludwig von Mises’ economics does not say so.

      • Tina In Ashburn says:

        John, “Remove the emotion and follow the logic” wasn’t directed at you specifically but to anyone willing to read the uncomfortable admonishments in the Encyclical, including myself LOL.

        “Ayn Rand’s philosophy says it is moral to lend money at interest. Ludwig von Mises’ economics does not say so.” “Am I clear?” Yup.

        The economics when monarchies and nobility were the societal structure are so different from our experience today, that we can barely grasp what it all must have been like. That was my meaning behind the opinion expressed about von Mises. A complex comparison for which I don’t have the patience to make right now – there is a huge difference between today’s economy and that former economy controlled by the [unjustly stigmatized] nobility. Capitalism as imagined by the Marxist is not supportive of the moneyed gentry, nor of the Catholic concept of social order. Hence, our spiral into the morass we find ourselves today.

  10. Tina In Ashburn says:

    Oh PS,
    “Politically, Catholics stand for sanity, for balance, and for every man under every form of government.”

    Yes Catholicism roots for every man in any circumstance, no matter what form of government, desiring to lead every man to turn his Will towards His loving Creator.

    As an aside, Catholicism supports the monarchy as the prefered form of government. The destruction of the monarchy is at the root of most of society’s ills today[you also could say the ills of society killed off the monarchy].

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