Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Enemy of My Enemy

Paul Ryan defends the nuns!

“I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts,” Ryan said. “Not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.”

Or, you know, not.

Last week, following an assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning “political” activity (which is what Rome calls social work).

Gary Wills defends the nuns:

Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people—which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens.

But I don't think Ryan would find that argument persuasive:

“Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government,” he said. “Those unwilling to lift the debt are complicit in our acceleration toward a debt crisis, in which the poor would be hurt the first and the worst.”
In fact, I'd have to say Ryan and the Bishops are more alike than different.  They're just arguing over who gets to own the pin the angels are dancing on.

The nuns are concerned with people.

Adding, just because I can, and just because Ryan (as Charles Pierce points out) brought Aquinas into this, something from the esteemed theologian:

Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man's needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man's needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals(Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): "It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom."  (Question 66, Article 7.)
Pierce is right; this could start to be fun.

12 Comments:

Blogger rick allen said...

Seems to me that the rush to take sides in a nuns vs. bishops smackdown misses what is going on. I support the bishops, who are charged by their office with oversight. I also support the sisters, who have been given charge of a great portion of the Church's charitable institutions. All have their place and their proper vocations. As I have commented elsewhere, these kinds of conflicts between freedom and authority are quite common in the Church, and I would go so far as to say that they are necessary to steer between schism and atrophy. It is a dynamic that largely (but not entirely)disappeared from reformed Christianity with the abandonment of both the notion of a Church magisterium and the vocation to lives consecrated to poverty, chastity and obedience.

Unhappily, many can only see these events through the lens of our bitter Presidential politics.

9:19 AM  
Blogger alberich said...

Of course:

"Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government”

is the response of Ryan and people like him to your quote from Aquinas quoting Ambrose. Yes -- we have an obligation to help the poor, but that doesn't mean government should be the instrument by which we execute this obligation.

Of course, while I understand people have vastly different opinions about this, it seems to me that if the debate IS in fact over whether the government is the best instrument to execute our obligations to the poor, I would say that big gummint liberals like me should win: after all, how well was private charity, etc., able to respond to the Great Depression or the periodic "panics" that happened until the New Deal stabilized the economy?

OTOH: “Those unwilling to lift the debt are complicit in our acceleration toward a debt crisis, in which the poor would be hurt the first and the worst.”

This is bizarre at best as it begs the question: what debt crisis? Who owes money to whom? If we have a problem with debt, why not, as the Bible instructs us, deal with debts by simply forgiving them (in Sabbatical and Jubilee years)?

12:18 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

It is a dynamic that largely (but not entirely)disappeared from reformed Christianity with the abandonment of both the notion of a Church magisterium and the vocation to lives consecrated to poverty, chastity and obedience.

Well, let's say we left it behind with Calvin in Geneva.

OTOH, the "magisterium" still exists among Protestants, but it is almost singularly aimed at clergy, who too easily find themselves between the judicatory (whatever form it takes) and the congregations (who are just a bit more "the church" than in Roman Catholic practice). It's not a pretty place to be.

And if I critique the Bishops, it is because of their stance on health insurance coverage, or what Bishop Jenky said (and has never rescinded). I understand there are nuances in what is done, and why, and even that the bishops may have a point in restraining the nuns.

I also understand power plays. I've been involved in enough of them.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Yes -- we have an obligation to help the poor, but that doesn't mean government should be the instrument by which we execute this obligation.

John Kenneth Galbraith told a story of ants rolling a small piece of dung to their nest, and going up hill they lost control of it. As it rolled away, each ant touched antennae with the next, to say: "Stop this shit!" And at this point, Galbraith waggled two fingers to simulate ant antennae.

He said in his days in FDR's administration, trying to make the New Deal function, various groups would come to meetings complaining about what the new laws were making them do, and Galbraith and his co-workers would silently waggle two fingers at each other. "Stop this shit."

If I could only waggle my fingers in Ryan's face.....

1:09 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Alberich--

Aquinas' answer to Ryan's objection would be this:

"Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man's needs have to be remedied by means of these very things."

The natural law, for Aquinas, is foundational to human law. Some might object this is putting public policy on a religious basis. But Ryan can't be so cafeteria about his Catholicism as to set this one blithely aside.

Well, he can be; but he's on very shaky ground to do so. Might as well just give up the show at that point, and admit to being a devout Randian.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

I'm with the sistahs. The nuns cared for me for the better part of the day for 12 of my most impressionable years, and they did their best by me. With very few exceptions, they were kind, caring, intelligent women, often better-educated than the parish priest. As for the bishop, he might as well have been the pope, for he was a remote figure, indeed.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I should clarify that, while my sympathies are with the nuns (the fellowship of the trenches and all), I don't presume for a moment political innocence on one side, and Machiavelli's lieutenants on the other.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory, etc., etc. Good Protestant that I am.

My real point was not to draw sides in that dispute (well, not here, anyway; in this post), but to point out the incoherence of Ryan's argument. He is, as a retired judge put it to me once, preaching it round and square. He agrees, inadvertently, with the nuns (more or less) on questions of social justice, but he'd rather side with, and have the authority of, the magisterium.

Who have their own problems, and don't need Ryan helping them.

It's always funnier when you don't have a dog in the fight.....

3:42 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Alright, I took a shot at the bishops, too.

Fellowship of the trenches, and all.....

3:43 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Disclosure: From my default position, I oppose the powers. If the contenders are unequal, I must be persuaded away from the side of the lowly with very good arguments. In this case, I remain with the nuns, even after considering both sides.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Windhorse said...

I like the phrase "...they're just arguing over who gets to own the pin the angels are dancing on..." while "...the nuns are concerned with people." 

That really puts the dispute into perspective as a power-play by the former parties and a genuine concern for the powerless by the latter.

Paul Ryan undercuts his own appeal to Catholic social doctrine as a justification for his budget a number of different ways. Firstly, his stated concern has always been about balancing the budget as a routine matter of "fiscal responsibility." He never appealed to the concerns of the poor prior to his (conveniently timed) rebuke by the bishops and it's pretty clear that his attempt to portray his budget as some kind of passive social activism is just as cynical a move as theirs.

Secondly, if his Catholicism is really that primary in his life then I would think his faith would require him to withdraw or at least radically rework his budget in favor of the poor out of obedience to his spiritual leaders. Crickets on that front. While I understand his mocking retort about "some people" thinking that they've owned Catholic social doctrine in this country was directed at the liberal nuns, it may as well have been directed at the bishops whom he is disinclined to obey.

And finally, his budget actually takes what is an historically low tax burden for wealthy and LOWERS it even more, cutting out all sorts of revenue streams the government has collected for years while balancing that by cuts to programs the poor rely on. How the hell can he pretend with a straight face that he is working on behalf of the poor when he is actually giving a preferential option to the rich? Why not maintain social programs, cut defense, and raise taxes if you have such solidarity with the poor?

So I guess this is just my long-winded way of saying that I don't take his words at face value and that I believe that Paul Ryan is a lying sack of shit who could not care less about the struggling and impoverished, at least not if their continued existence is going to sustain that irritating bugaboo of big government. 

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the charity with which you preat each other, it's no wonder atheism is such a popular choice for young people.
I am very pleased that none of you gets a dime of my money in any collection plate. Bunch of snotty old bitches of both sexes.

3:34 AM  
Blogger rick allen said...

Perhaps a little late to the discussion, but here's NCR's John Allen on the flap, suggesting a little more complexity that the standard American media break-down:

http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/notes-lcwr-overhaul

11:57 AM  

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