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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Quote of the Day: On Justice and Mercy

Father Dwight Longenecker has a interesting post-combo (for lack of a better term) about "Peace and Justice" Catholics and "Purity and Piety Catholics." I think the point of the post is to be irenic, to reconcile both the "conservative" and the "liberal" Catholics. It's practically a work of mercy to do this, and I think he gets some things right and some things wrong:
The left is wrong and the right is wrong and the left is right and the right is right.

Peace and justice Catholics are right to take a prophetic stance against corporate greed, governments that engage in unjust war, the destruction of the environment, racism and any form of injustice. They are right to stand up for the poor, the marginalized and those on the margins of society. They are wrong, however, when they foster dissent in the church and turn a blind eye to the moral teachings and the authority of the Catholic church. 
Too often when the Peace and Justice Catholics demand peace they really mean the appeasement of evil. Too often they mistake pacifism for peace. Similarly, they too often they call for justice for some oppressed group, but never think that justice would also judge their moral laxity. Why don’t the Peace and Justice Catholics demand justice for the millions of unborn babies that have been slaughtered? 
On the other side, the Piety and Purity conservatives are all for “family values”. They are opposed to same sex marriage, contraception, abortion and divorce. However they are too often silent about the injustice in our society. I’m shocked at the anti-semitism and subtle racism I sometimes hear within their ranks. I’m worried when their conservative family values are equated with a jingoistic, uncritical American patriotism and militarism. Why are the silent about the assault on the environment, the plight of immigrants and the widening wealth disparity in the developed world? Why do we hear so little about their involvement in the fight against hunger and solidarity with the poor? Why are they so often dismissive and hateful of everyone not like themselves?

He then goes on to say that we should all strive to be "Justice and Mercy" Catholics, a point I agree with. But. It seems like in the hurry to try and appeal to both sides, these kinds of posts often alienate a lot of people. My main beef is that while he picks on two sides which do exist, one of these two sides has a lot more representatives than the other.

His "silly caricature" of the liberal Catholics actually does describe many of the liberal Catholics I know. They say that it's important to care about the poor and downtrodden, and place primary concern on "social justice," then decide that social justice is best applied to calling for open borders and in-state tuition for "undocumented immigrants" and greater government social spending (a few of the better ones do, to their credit, volunteer in food pantries and soup kitchens and the like). And perhaps just as often, while they call of the government to spend more and more to accomplish less and less in the name of their faith, they openly oppose any attempts to regulate abortions, and (even more commonly) actively support the so-called "gay agenda" up to and including spending their time calling those of us who support traditional marriage bigots (I once was called this by a liberal Catholic friend for saying that I thought the sacrament of Holy Matrimony could only be received by a man and a woman regardless of what society as a whole does).

On the other hand, I find that his "silly caricature" of the "Piety and Purity" (conservative) Catholics really is mostly a caricature. I know one or two Catholics who are like this, but most of the conservative Catholics I know still do care about (and even volunteer to help) the poor and downtrodden, even if we exclude the poorest and most downtrodden of all (the unborn, and for that matter women in "crisis pregnancies"). Perhaps it is because I don't frequent the Latin Mass.

It seems to me that there is a second problem, related to the first. Suppose we grant the caricatures (e.g. that the "Purity and Piety" crowd is surly and grumpy and looks down on others, that the "Peace and Justice" crowd openly undermines Church authority, gleefully subverts the Church's doctrines, and actively flaunts the Church's moral teachings). Which is worse? The former is bad, I'll grant, in that it turns people off to the Church. But the latter is worse, in that it turns people off to the Church while saying that the Church is not something which is worth heeding even in principle. It muddies the waters, so that those who want to figure out what the Church really does teach are left confused.

I agree with Fr Longenecker, though, that both camps have room for improvement, and I like the "Justice and Mercy" idea, though I think that a better summary would be to say that the conservatives want justice without mercy, and the liberals want mercy without justice.

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