What if "Social Justice" Demands Small Government?: Interview with Robert Sirico, Part 3
Sometimes self-identified religious voters (especially leaders) do not wish to be affiliated with a political party, perhaps for concern that it will pollute the message and witness of Christ in the world. Analogously, couldn't the same concern be applied to 'religious support' for capitalism or other economic models and systems?
I generally concur with this concern, which is one of the reasons that I am not a member of a political party and have never been one as a priest, and even for a long time before my ordination. To politicize the Gospel is to imply that the Gospel lacks power or credibility in itself and is in need of augmentation.
This is an important point that merits a fresh hearing today. So, how might the values of the Gospel do 'work' in our politics and economy?
I think we need to build a society and its politics and economy out of the values of the Gospel and not the reverse. In fact, historically this is what happened, though this is generally forgotten in many circles today. Theologians (especially those in Salamanca, Spain in the mid-16th century) laid the foundation for what would become economic science. After all, the Church is not a sect; she is in the world, even if not of it, and it has largely been from her understanding of the human person that these institutions which protect the vulnerable, teach, and give aid and comfort to those in need. To have respect for the disciplines of various hard and social sciences does not mean one abandons the priority of the Gospel.
Do you have an example of someone who has models this priority?
I learned a great deal from a French philosopher, Etienne Gilson, who once said, "If one wants to practice science for God's sake, the first condition is to practice it for its own sake, or as if for its own sake, because that's the only way to learn it." He went on to say, "It's the same thing with an art. One must have it before one can put it at God's service. We are told that faith built the medieval cathedrals. No doubt, but faith would not have built anything had there not been architects and craftsmen. If it be true that the west front of Notre Dame is a rising of the soul to God, that does not prevent its being a geometrically composition as well. To build such a façade that will be an act of charity, one must first understand geometry." And then he concluded with this memorable observation, "Piety is never a substitute for technique."
Another common perception (by Protestants and some Roman Catholics) is that the social doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church advocate reasons for a kind of command-and-control form of government and economy. But the teachings of the church are much more nuanced than that, aren't they?
Joseph E. Gorra is the Managing Editor of Philosophia Christi, the peer-reviewed journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has also interviewed other philosophers, theologians and other theorists on virtue, economics and the free society for EPSOCIETY.org. At Patheos.com, he recently interviewed Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, about her research regarding evangelical religious experiences. Follow him on Twitter @GorraResearch.