When a friend of mine sent this clip from the Colbert Report — a chat between Steven Colbert and Georgetown’s Father Thomas Reese on why Paul Ryan’s budget bothers Catholics — I expected to like it. I like Colbert. I like Jesuits. I like Father Reese. Though I’m not a Ryan “fan” he seems smart, and I like the idea (the very novel idea!) of an actual budget being proposed within our government.
And yet, I found myself not much liking the clip at all.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Paul Ryan’s Budget – Thomas Reese|
Why didn’t I like it?
Well, there is a kind of smugness to it that’s too easy; “we two smart men will, by our shallow analysis, tell you why this budget by another smart man is not only imperfect but possibly evil — let’s all jeer at it and be above it — but have nothing to offer as an alternative.”
It’s all well and good to pick apart Ryan’s budget; there’s plenty worth picking at (as there is in any budget) — but the alternative cannot be “keep as we are” because “as we are” is neither working nor sustainable.
Tim Geithner said to congress, “we’re out of ideas, we just know we don’t like yours.” Okay, fine. But there must be an alternative, and one is not being presented, has not been presented for three years. Obama’s last budget was rejected unanimously by the congress and Reid won’t even bring his new one up for a vote. I don’t much care for Messers Ryan or Boehner (or Reid or Obama) but it seems to me that Ryan is at least acknowledging what others won’t: that a job-poor economy and a government whose books are a shambles will not be able to sustain effective help for the impoverished — which is part of the concern being expressed here — no matter how much we want to pretend it will. Something’s got to give. Hooting into the wind about this budget plan might feel satisfying, but it solves nothing. Where is the alternative we need?
The primacy of Catholic social teaching emphasizes the life and dignity of the human person. There is no dignity in needing to rely on government handouts as anything but a temporary measure.
Conversely, there is no dignity in need that goes unaddressed, either. Somewhere in between these two extremes is the answer to the question of just how much we should depend upon the government, and how much upon each other, within our own communities.
The urgings of Christ for us to love each other, and the example of the early church in voluntary — not forced — redistribution, are meant to bring forth something meaningful and real from the individual. To “love one another” is meant, I think, to urge us toward a personal openness, part metanoia, part simple (and sometimes, yes, fear-filled) trust for and extension toward other person. I don’t see government entities as a satisfactory substitute for individual growth in this urgent area of love, and frankly while we spend more than ever before on social programs, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that this has helped to foment a more loving society; if anything, we are more polarized and resentful of each other than ever.
Too many of us (myself certainly included) tip away from love too frequently, and it’s easy to call on the government to take care of the poor and consider that you’ve therefore done your part. “Message: I Care” and now, I can just get on with my own life.
Love, unfortunately, cannot be legislated, mandated and codified. Expecting the government to do the bookkeeping for our love might be efficient, but it’s cold and impersonal, and I am not entirely sure it’s what Jesus had in mind. Government solutions see units and measures; a more local effort — reflecting the principal of subsidiarity — sees humans, touches humans, relates to human beings, enlarges human beings.
I’ll submit this video as evidence Look at what one young person has managed to pull together in assist the poor:
The example of Jesus was not to make sure the government was checking off the needs of the poor so we don’t have to think about it. It was to share our lives with them, as Jesus did when he “set his tent” with us.
Here’s another example of what that means; it’s church-based and offered to anyone, regardless of creed, gender, race, and precisely the sort of outreach and mission that the government currently would disallow under the present HHS Mandate:
“The Sisters of Life [came] with a desire not just to provide pregnancy services and counseling but to share their very lives with women . . . These expectant mothers, who are not practicing Catholics, describe their experience of the Sisters [like this]: ‘It’s so peaceful here–not like where I live,’ Teresa says. ‘You can relax with them,’ Nyala agrees. ‘They weren’t what I expected. They don’t judge you’…
‘[O]ur apostolic approach is based upon entering into a relationship with the one God calls us to serve,’ Mother Agnes explains. ‘The first effort is to come to recognize in the other an icon of the living God, and to experience within myself the gift that the other is to me. Only then can I become for her a mirror in which she can see and identify with the truth of the goodness, strength and beauty within.’
Caring for those in need by seeing Christ in them; the government cannot do it. It’s what we’re called to, and it has nothing to do with Paul Ryan’s budget.
Am I saying there should be no social programs? Of course not, but I do think the best social plan is one that yes, feeds the hungry and clothes the poor, but moves beyond merely giving to the poor by helping lift them from poverty, via jobs, because a job — any job — provides the self-sufficiency needed for people to discover their gifts and pursue their God-given potentialities.
It’s easy to jeer at private sector “trickle down economies” but is government also supposed to create all the jobs? If so, why haven’t the these past years seen the sort of park-building, roadway-enhancing projects that bring paychecks? Why was the stimulus spent on crony-capitalism endeavors if capitalism doesn’t work?
Perhaps in this polarized-unto-paralysis moment within our government and our society, the Holy Spirit means for us to ponder this: that loving our neighbors means solutions for the poor should come from us, through ideas born in our communities and our churches, meant to address the needs of the people living around us, and not from a vast, generalized, impersonal, inefficient federal government.
That is how we both insure the dignity of the human person before us, who we are to see as a human person and not a category or a unit, and find a connection to joyful gratitude, which is borne of service.
I guess I’m disappointed that neither Fr. Reese nor Stephen Colbert, in all their smartness, thought to mention it.
More thoughts, from Ryan over at Hot Air
UPDATE I: William McGurn writing on the budget and quoting Dorothy Day.
UPDATE II: USCCB is saying the proposed cuts fail a basic moral test
UPDATE III: Ed Driscoll is subbing for the vacationing Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit, and he links to here. Thanks Ed!