Monday, October 6, 2008

The Catholic Perspective (Clark Cochran) #2: Purpose of the State in Catholic Doctrine

According to Cochran, government is the stewardship of God’s gifts. Here are the responsibilities of Government, according to Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

Government & natural order – The government is to help the flourishing of the human person for the common good. There is a restraining of evil that is valuable. When governments fail in this regard, peaceful resistance should b eordinar, but there are some times where revolutionary violence is acceptable.
Common good – Government is responsible to the good is why God grants authority to the state. This steers between individualism and collectivism. There is no fulfillment in isolation. Your flourishing is tied to your neighbor.
There is admittedly tension with capitalism here. There is a ‘universal destination of goods’ that means everyone has a share of the earth’s goods and this isn’t just national, but poorer nations have legitimate claims on wealthier nations.
Solidarity – I am my brother’s keeper. There is a common humanity, which impels action. We are responsible for all the others. This is where ‘structures of sin’ fit in – exploitation of labor, nuclear proliferation, or racial stigma. This solidarity applies within and across national barriers.
Social justice – The common good is valued and pursued. The broadest application is in the economic sphere. The poor are the test, particularly the gap between the rich and the poor in the US as well as dire poverty in the Third World. CST recognizes private property, but it has a ‘social mortgage.’ This is in tension again with capitalism. CST has no economic commitment. Key is preventing exploitation, which some conservatives and neo-conservatives think is best done in free-market capitalism. Catholics on the left disagree.
Freedom & human dignity – People are made in the image of God and this dignity is both individual and collective. People have a right to sustenance, protection, and no oppression. Democracy is the best hope for this, but not the only hope. CST universally teaches that governments are responsible to stop abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, but there is debate on war, poverty, death penalty, lack of health care, etc…
Order & stewardship – There is a tension between the need for the government to punish evil and to and pursue the common good. Government has to help allocate the limited resources and “insure the preservation of God’s gifts into the future” (p. 56).

Some good stuff here. Some other stuff sounds nice, but doesn’t fit with our standard American values/structures. What do you think?

Tomorrow we’ll look at how this church/state tension is lived out from a Catholic perspective.

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