There is one thing I want my readers to know, on this terrible news day with so much trauma and anxiety in it.
I want you to understand that it is wrong to treat Catholic social teaching like a pizza.
I’ve been seeing a lot of that the past few days.
A pizza is an object of a certain surface area, and once that surface area is filled, you have no more room. You need to make decisions about what goes on that surface area in the space available– and then, you have to decide how to distribute the pizza slices among the people you’re feeding, and then the pizza is gone and will not feed anyone else. Maybe you choose to order sausage and pepperoni on half the pizza because you know that your immediate family likes that, but you order the other half with nothing but cheese for your uncle the vegetarian– knowing full well that your weird aunt who loves ham and pineapple won’t get what she wants best but that’s okay, because sausage is her second favorite. And once the pizza comes, you and your family split it up, the crust goes to the dog, and then if a hungry beggar goes knocking at the door, you have no pizza left to give him. You don’t have infinite space to top your pizza and you don’t have infinite pizza to distribute. That’s how pizza works.
It is not how Catholic social teaching works.
Lately, I have seen a lot of people treating Catholic social teaching in just that way. They act as though they have to look at their priorities and divvy up how they’re going to value their fellow human being: eighty per cent of their attention has to go to the abortion issue– by which they mean that there are several ways of helping save unborn children but they choose this or that pet means and act like everyone with a different notion of how to help is disingenuous and secretly a “pro-abort.” And then they have twenty per cent of their Catholic pizza left over for putting money in the poor box and helping their elderly neighbor get to Mass or something. That leaves zero concern for people in a foreign country who might be hurt by America’s bloodlust and severely bloated military, and zero for whether climate change can be mitigated or even whether it exists. Those concerns simply aren’t real and anyone who expresses them is crazy, because they’re busy worrying about abortion right now. Or, even worse, I’ve seen people act as if environmental destruction is necessary and war is a good and masculine and exciting thing, because abortion is evil.
In my time I’ve seen this kind of thinking go the other way as well, of course: people who think unborn babies just aren’t important because they’re busy trying to stop war. But this week, the people yelling at me in my comments are the opposite. They think that people who hate war and environmental destruction relish the thought of dead babies.
I was called crazy for worrying about Australia and pointing out how apocalyptic it looks. I’ve gotten some very angry, offended remarks because I reminded people that Just War Theory forbids revenge and genocide– yes, even if the people you’re committing genocide against hate you. Even if you have some kind of classified information about the country you’re bombing in vengeance. Even if the country is full of evil people whose religion tells them to lie, cheat, and steal (and I don’t believe that about Islam, for the record, BUT even if the Muslims living in Iran were every bit as evil as my combox tells me they are, genocide against them would still be grave sin). There is no circumstance under which genocide can be tolerated. People didn’t like to hear that.
I have been watching my spam filter and deleting the most unhinged conspiracy theories and the most dangerous misinformation if I notice it, but what’s left in there is still pretty awful. You’d think that stating Catholic just war theory and applying it to the public statements of a Republican politician made me hate babies. When I reminded people that there are a lot of innocent unborn babies in Iran who will be ripped apart if we go to war, I was told that again. I was even accused of “flicking my boogers.”
To me, it’s just a day in the life. I get feedback like this all the time and it doesn’t worry me too terribly much. But I try to dialogue with public objections publicly, and I want to publicly address what looks to me like a very misguided notion of Catholic social teaching.
It seems to me, that these people are suggesting that since abortion is bad and one political party in our country opposes abortion, or at least claims they do, that means that we have to put that political party on a pedestal and excuse everything they do even when it flies in the face of Catholic social teaching. As if Catholic social teaching is a pizza on which you can either have conservative toppings or liberal ones, “traditional” toppings or “progressive” ones, pineapple or sausage. As if Catholic social teaching is a food you can eat one slice of and give a slice to a pregnant teenager and the lady who runs the crisis pregnancy center, but then when the country of Iran and koalas from the Australian outback come knocking you’ll have no Catholic social teaching left to give them.
This isn’t how Catholic social teaching works.
You must not take one teaching of the Church and crown it the whole teaching of the Church, claiming the rest is lies. That’s downright heretical. You must not be so disgusted by the sort of sins that democrats are fine with, that you discount the sins that republicans commit and celebrate.
There is nothing pro-abortion about condemning war with Iran, or condemning any of the other evils in our world today. There’s nothing anti-baby about stating just war theory, or about recognizing that ecological sins exist. There’s nothing pro-life about celebrating war or slandering Muslims. The universal call to love those who hate you didn’t suddenly become obsolete when Roe versus Wade was decided (by Republicans, by the way). And that goes for every teaching. Ecological sins aren’t hogwash just because other kinds of sins exist. The death penalty isn’t a good thing just because murder is bad. The universal destination of goods doesn’t stop being real because the right to private property also exists.
Our Catholic faith demands that we treat every human person as infinitely valuable, from conception until natural death. Infinity can’t be divided. We are not to treat our moral lives like a pizza and divvy them up in pieces, leaving nothing left over. The reality of what we have to do is much richer and much more terrible than that. It isn’t babies versus other sorts of human beings; it’s everybody.
That is the obligation we face as Catholics. The word “Catholic” means “universal,” and that refers to all kinds of things. But we can also apply it to social teaching: either we apply it universally, or we fail.
Pizza is pizza and that’s great as far as it goes. Catholic social teaching is Catholic social teaching, and it’s even better than pizza. Pizzas are zero sum, Catholic social teaching is not. Don’t confuse the two.
(image via Pixabay)
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