Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Justice and Charity

I continue to puzzle about the nature of charity as concept and practice, the relation of the two aspects, and the relation of both to the concept and virtue of justice.  Here are some still preliminary thoughts.

Justice and Charity
          Charity was from the Church’s beginnings both the central virtue of the faith and an organized ministry to the poor and downtrodden, one involving both material and spiritual assistance. 
          One of the challenges to charity as an organized activity of the Church comes from those, especially Marxists and Rawlsian liberals, who object to charity precisely as the gratuitous self-giving for the benefit of another who is in need of help.  Works of charity or almsgiving are seen as intrinsically arbitrary, being the free gifts to which the recipient has no specific or legal claim. 
          Among Christian writers, there is a range of approaches to the question.  Wolterstorff (2006) offers a strong biblical argument for an emphasis on justice – and hence, he concludes, on individual rights as claims on the state - precisely at the expense of charity as Christians have traditionally understood it.  His work increasingly takes on the whole Christian tradition of the virtues in the name of rights and justice (Wolterstorff, 2010, 2011).  He thus provides a scholarly and biblical defense of a social-democratic theory of rights and social welfare.
Both NASW and CSWE define the enhancing of human well-being as the central purpose of social work (Adams, 2009).  Wolterstorff (2006), however, draws a strong contrast between enhancing well-being, which he associates with charity, and justice that is about rights and claims on the state.  He sees charity as “justice-blind” and, in curious contrast to traditional Christian teaching, as unable to focus of the worth of the other.  “All too often,” he says, “such love or charity comes across as smothering, not infrequently as oppressive and demeaning” (p. 135).
Wolterstorff (2006), like Marxism, also criticizes charity for its focus, as a virtue, on the giver rather than the receiver.
…if I see myself as treating you with love, charity, benevolence, rather than with justice, it is not unlikely that I will also think of myself as morally superior, and will expect gratitude for my generosity.  It happens all the time (p. 135).
From this “justice, not charity” perspective, charity is intrinsically demeaning.  The need to which charity responds, at the same time, exists because society is unjustly ordered.  The social work task, then, is one of justice, not charity.  It is to work for a justly ordered society that ensures that all citizens, especially the most vulnerable, are entitled to adequate shelter, clothing, food, and income as a matter of right, not charity.  Something like this, indeed, characterizes most definitions of the twentieth century welfare state.  Wilensky and Lebeaux (1958), for example, famously defined the welfare state in these terms. [When I finish unpacking, I’ll find the quote.]
This approach treats justice and charity as mutually exclusive.  In the tradition of Christian ethics, on the other hand, both are virtues and as such mutually reinforcing if not necessary to each other.  They are virtues of the individual or community – habits of the heart - and both find expression in social activities and arrangements.  Justice is the virtue or habit of giving all their due.  As such it involves judgments about what is due and what social arrangements can best secure it. 
          Wakefield’s concern is not to reject charity in favor of justice, but to defend clinical practice (the direct practice with individuals and families that evolved from organized charity’s “friendly visiting”), as a proper part of a social work oriented to justice.  He includes provision of clinical services in the “minimal distributive justice” to which the poor and downtrodden are entitled.  He elaborated this approach in a series of articles on the conceptual foundations of social work, using Rawls's theory of justice as a framework.  It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to say that Wakefield rehabilitates charity - the scientific charity of the friendly visitors as it evolved through social diagnosis to a psychoanalytically informed clinical practice – as a form or aspect of justice.
          Others see charity as a sub-virtue of justice, since the virtue of justice involves giving all their due (Mattison, 2008).  Both individual acts of almsgiving and social programs to assist those who are poor or oppressed can thus be understood as acts of justice, of rendering to all their due.
Charity as the voluntary assistance of the poor and downtrodden came under fire in the nineteenth century both in its sentimental and its scientific forms. 
The Charity Organization Societies (COS) emerged out of a critique of charity in its disorganized, “sentimental” forms – a critique similar in some respects to that of Wolterstorff (2006), though its proffered alternative was different.  The various existing societies for giving aid to the poor were uncoordinated, readily abused, and lacked ongoing help based on a real understanding of the specific needs of the poor families involved.  It was disorganized charity.  Among the COS responses were individualized assistance to the poor “client” (Mary Richmond’s term), with clinical assessment or social diagnosis, case conferencing, intervention in the form of “friendly visiting” (later professionalized as social casework), research, and coordination of charitable giving in the community.
The COS movement, however, aimed not only to replace “sentimental” with scientific, organized charity; it also sought to bring personal concern and friendship to the relation of giver and receiver in charity.  In a world where charity had become either a formal, impersonal, and demoralizing system of public poor relief supported by taxation or else casual and random handouts, they aimed to bring the ordered love that Christian charity entails.
One result was the professionalization of charity in the form of social work – a profession that aims to improve human well-being with particular attention to the individual and community needs of the poor and oppressed.  The process involved required such attributes of a profession as a specific body of knowledge, skills, and values, a code of ethics, and the quest for licensure by the state.  All of this required a distancing from the very word charity, whether as poor relief, sentimental giving, or even organized charity.
At the same time charity’s reputation suffered precisely from the attempt to organize it and make it more scientific.  As the poet John Boyle O’Reilly put it,
The organized charity, scrimp’d and iced,
In the name of a cautious, statistical Christ.
Charity thus came under fire from all sides, from socialists for promoting an alternative to their own class struggle for a different order (the settlement houses as competitors with the Socialist Party in Chicago and elsewhere, social casework as, in the words of the London COS, the “true antidote to Bolshevism”); from “sentimental charity” for going cold and scientific; from social workers for being unprofessional. 
Of particular interest here, because it challenges professional social work as well as charity, is the critique that charity, whether as casual almsgiving, tax-supported poor relief, or proto-social-work, was itself uncharitable.  This oxymoronic paradox is captured in the phrase of Karl Jaspers (cited by Pieper, 1997; Mattison, 2008), “charity without love.”  The phrase points to a recognizable reality and problem, yet such charity clearly is not charity in the sense of the Christian theological virtue.  Nor is it just in the sense of the cardinal virtue of justice.
So how do we resolve this paradox, this contradiction in terms that points to a contradiction in reality?  In my next post on this theme, I will take up Pope Benedict’s discussion of this theme, above all in his extraordinary first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est – God is Love.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The End of Relativism?

The Catholic Thing has followed up Father James Schall's gloomy prognostication of a week ago about how Catholics were being driven to the margins of public life by legal persecution, with an essay by jurisprudence professor Hadley Arkes. Discussing the California law SB48, which directs schools in the state to give only favorable accounts of certain groups. To the protected groups already in the Education Code, SB48 adds "Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans."  Moreover, teachers and administrators were enjoined not to offer any instruction or “sponsor any activity that reflects adversely upon persons on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation.”

In other words, SB48 outlaws teaching anything like the traditional view of homosexual behavior, substituting by legal mandate a view only recently adopted on a significant scale about the moral equivalence of all kinds of noncoercive sexual behavior among consenting adults.

As Arkes argues, the issue is not one of tolerating the expression of diverse views, but precisely their suppression. Children in California are to be taught, and taught only, the view of sexual morality endorsed by the state.

Virtue ethicists such as Michael Sandel have long taken issue with the modern liberal view of morality according to which the state should remain neutral in such matters, leaving such matters to individual conscience. Courts have attempted to take this line of moral neutrality, as he points out in the case of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage (which Sandel supports)but have come off the fence, celebrating in that case same-sex marriage as a public good. Sandel's argument is not so much that the supposed neutrality of this kind of liberalism is wrong, as that it is impossible.

The relativist argument, according to which states should avoid such judgments and leave them to individuals, is not sustainable. As opponents of abortion rights (and Sandel) argue, the question of whether abortion involves the intentional killing of an innocent human being cannot be a matter simply of individual judgment. In the slavery, if it is the wrongful coercion of another human being cannot be a matter of individual choice. To adapt a pro-'choice' bumper sticker, if you don't like abortion/slavery, don't have an abortion or own a slave.

So the relativist argument for tolerance of divergent views is best seen as an entering wedge. It may gain toleration in law and society for a behavior that has been condemned. But the aim is not tolerance or a relativist neutrality about moral judgments, but the reverse. The ground of state neutrality, as Lincoln argues with respect to slavery, is not coherent or tenable.

Similarly, as the tenor and tone of SB48 make clear, the rights of parents or of private schools will offer no haven from those who wish to impose the state's new morality on children. I am not a lawyer and I do not know how well the First Amendment's protection of religious liberty will hold against the state's bar on what it regards as “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law.” Besides, should only people of faith have the right to dissent from the state's moral teaching? As Arkes concludes below, "The question finally is whether there will be freedom to hold back from the moral teaching being planted in the law: Will it still be legitimate in this country to call into moral question the homosexual life?"

The question, too, is not one of whether it is correct to call homosexual behavior into question on moral grounds - a question for moral theologians to debate, as well as moral philosophers or anyone else. It is whether it shall be legal to expose school students to the evident fact that teachings on the topic contrary to the state's recent ethical innovations are not so easily to be dismissed as "sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda;" They have been maintained by the great traditions of faith and philosophy over millennia - traditions from which California seeks to "protect" its students.

Here is Professor Arkes's essay:

From California: Another Front in the Culture Wars
By Hadley Arkes
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From California again we get a glimpse of the future – or the future that a political class is consciously seeking to prepare for us in reshaping the culture. During the summer the legislature enacted, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law, SB48, as an amendment to “the Education Code, relating to instruction.” That Code had already made ample provision to instruct the children of California in the contributions made by all racial and ethnic groups supplying votes for politicians. But there was an appreciation also for the contributors who were “entrepreneurs” and labor unions, and whose stories deserved to be told. With SB48 the legislature took a further step by adding: “Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.”

The schools were directed to give only favorable accounts of these groups in telling the story. But on the other side, teachers and administrators were enjoined not to offer any instruction or “sponsor any activity that reflects adversely upon persons on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation.” There is not the least doubt about the intention to enforce this law. Nor is there much doubt about the main target of the law. SB48 bars “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law.”

For religious teaching, read: any teaching offering a claim to truth rivaling the moral teaching in the law. That alternative moral teaching will be regarded as merely beliefs of a “denominational” character or a version of “propaganda.”

Make no mistake, Fr. Schall was quite right in his recent column: We are in the midst of a culture war. And a chief purpose of that war is to make it untenable to teach Catholic doctrine in public settings, or for Catholic institutions, in their work, to respect that teaching. But we would fall into a gentle mistake if we assumed that we are facing mainly the force of “relativism,” or that the appeal now is to the rights of parents to provide for the moral shaping of their children.

Yes, in part, to both. The force of relativism was felt first in teaching the wrongness of casting moral judgments, including judgments on the “styles” of sexuality. But there is nothing relativistic about the law in California. There is no willingness to tolerate the views of those who bear moral reservations about the homosexual life. The people who brought forth this law would draw on the “logic of morals” as Aquinas had it, and as it will ever be: they would commend and even require what is “right,” and they would condemn and forbid what they regard as “wrong.

Lincoln had all of this long ago: “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” He could conceivably grant then the authority to bar the abolitionist literature from the mails – if slavery were right. And if it were wrong to cast adverse moral judgments on the homosexual life, the understandings supporting those judgments could indeed be driven out of the schools.

The classic cases on the rights of parents and education were Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925). In Meyer, the Supreme Court struck down a statute that forbade the teaching of any language but English to students in grammar school. In Pierce, a statute in Oregon barred students from attending private schools between the ages of eight and sixteen. Justice McReynolds insisted that there was no “power in the state to standardize” children in this way, and that “the child is not the mere creature of the state.”

But people tend to forget that McReynolds insisted at the same time that the State had a legitimate authority to regulate all schools, public and private, to insure, for example, that teachers are of “good moral character and patriotic disposition,” and that “certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught.” And so, the people governing the schools of Massachusetts point out that same-sex marriage is now part of the law: Students should come then to understand and absorb the moral understandings contained in the law.

The state has, after all, the rightful authority to insure that any firm or association under the laws is formed on legitimate terms for legitimate ends. It will not give a license to Fagin’s school for pickpockets, and it will not even license certain marriages. Anyone who takes education seriously will have to be attentive to moral education, including the moral ends of a “technical” education. (“For what purpose are you designing those trains: to speed people to their legitimate work – or to gas chambers?”)

This question will not be solved then simply by unfurling the banner of the “rights of parents” and private schools. The legislature of California has already noted that the new law would apply to “any aspect of the operation of alternative and charter schools.” If Catholic schools continue to teach doctrines now regarded as subversive, parents will not find a path of escape by moving into the enclave of Catholic schools.

The question then is not mainly about the rights of parents and schools. The question finally is whether there will be freedom to hold back from the moral teaching being planted in the law: Will it still be legitimate in this country to call into moral question the homosexual life?

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:
Retrieved September 27, 2011 from

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Legal Persecution

A gloomy prognosis of the growing legal persecution of the Church in the U.S. by one of our leading intellectuals.

Legal Persecution

By James V. Schall, S. J.

Catholics have little legal future in this country except as a narrow, strictly defined sect. Catholic law schools, lawyers, and politicians have proved mostly ineffective or indeed abettors in the process by which “human rights” are used, step by seemingly logical step, to eliminate Catholics from the public order. Much has already occurred. The “Catholics” who are the prime target are those who hold and live the central teachings of reason and faith. Those who do not, matter little.

Addressing a new Health and Human Services mandate concerning availability of abortions, contraceptives, and other such items, the Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, Barry Knestout, wrote:
In implementing the new health care reform law, HHS issued a rule that would require private health care plans nationwide to cover contraception and sterilization as “preventive services” for women. The mandate includes abortifacients, which have the capacity to terminate a pregnancy in early weeks. Never before has the federal government required private health plans to include such coverage.

The District of Columbia Human Rights Commission has interfered in the Catholic University of America’s policy of same-sex dorms for college students. This policy is “sex discrimination,” not permitted in the District. These and other governmental initiatives are only the beginning.
Almost everything is now in place for a full-scale legal persecution of the Church, all concocted under the aegis of government protection of “human rights.” The meaning of “rights” the government itself defines in the name of “freedom” and “equality.” It is noble-sounding, but as Plato said: “Entreaties of sovereigns are mixed with compulsion.” This admonition includes democratic sovereigns.

World News Daily (September 17) reports that PayPal investigates Christian Internet sources said to be involved in “hate language” because of their criticism of certain gay activities. Addressing this issue is not affirmation of a “right to speak,” but a subject of state investigation. Certain central teachings of Christianity will be legally prohibited as threats to “human rights.”

A situation analogous to that in China can be foreseen: an “official” break-away church that follows government decrees and an underground church that still maintains the central truths of reason and faith. One suspects that the degree of hatred for the Church is more widespread and deeper than we like to admit. The situation, however, is not so different from what Scripture would have us expect.

Things change almost too rapidly for us to appreciate their scope. With legalized same-sex “marriages,” as they are equivocally called, in which children are adopted, we will have mandates to educate them in Catholic schools as if no problem exists. The children, legally deprived of a mother or a father, will be presented as from “normal” families. Several writers have suggested that parents teaching children that problems exist with homosexual life or adoption will be investigated for “child abuse.”

The child-abuse cases themselves have shown how to undermine the financial stability of the Church. In addition to properly investigating malefactors, legal procedures have permitted lawyers to make enormous wealth from Church funds. Ironically, since most of these abuses were rooted in homosexuality, not pedophilia, the corporate Church on the one side is required to pay for the abuses and on the other is forbidden to say that anything is wrong with this form of life.

The legal undermining of the family as a favored, natural union of wife and husband is far advanced. Abortion is an established “right.” Few really care about the millions of human infants slaughtered. Opposition to this system is considered “inhuman” and, again ironically, “against women.” What is defined as “human” is now solely a matter of civil law. Relativism is the established religion of the realm, backed by force.

Unlike other churches, which have made their obeisance to the state on these questions, the Catholic Church is mostly isolated. It has been a “brilliant” display in making it so. This undermining man’s normal being has been carried out in the name of “human rights,” in the very language the Church has insisted on using in order to protect human life and family.

Bishop Knestout recommended sending e-mails to HHS to protest the imposition of these standards on Catholics by the federal government. The issue is really more massive. One wonders if the bishops should not be preparing people for much more positive and aggressive persecution of which the legal step is but the first.

Constitutional assurances of free speech, free exercise of religion, and limited government no longer carry much weight against entrenched “democratic” ideologies, something both John Paul II and Benedict XVI foresaw. Few of us like to think this way about America, no doubt. We recall the Polish bishops before 1939. But our “invasion” does not come from the outside. It comes from within our souls, as all disorders of polity do.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
Retrieved September 22, 2011 from

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Conscience and Truth

“Conscience” in a Culture without Truths?
By Hadley Arkes

In the Republican debate in South Carolina, Professor Robert George raised the critical issue of protection for claims of “conscience.” That question has cut most deeply, of course, on the matter of abortion. The Hyde-Weldon Amendment was brought forward under federal law to protect doctors and nurses who did not wish to become accomplices in abortion. But with Obamacare, the administration has issued regulations that notably weaken those protections, both for the provision of abortion and contraception.

And now, with the movement toward same-sex marriage, another front has opened: Once same-sex marriage was established in Massachusetts as part of the fundamental law, agencies of adoption were compelled to place children with couples of the same-sex or leave the field. Catholic agencies, faced with the challenge, chose to leave the field rather than comply.

But as Walter Olson has pointed out, these developments have moved apace even when the states have not established same-sex marriage. It has been quite sufficient to have laws barring discrimination based on “sexual orientation.” Those laws are enough to impose sanctions on photographers who express their unwillingness to take photos at a same-sex wedding.

But behind the arguments over claims of “conscience” there is an eerie truth that dare not speak its name: The understanding of “conscience” has been deflated in our current law, along with the understanding of “religion.” John Paul II reminded us forcefully that “conscience” involves an appeal to an objective set of moral norms outside ourselves. The trend in the law, however, has been to accept as claims of conscience any beliefs personally and intensely held.

As Justice Scalia has remarked, we are at the risk of backing into a system in which “each conscience is a law unto itself.” The laws on conscientious objection were once aligned with the God of Christians and Jews. But that gave way over time to the test of “belief in a Supreme Being,” and even that had to give way. The Supreme Court eventually came to uphold the claims of young men who were professed atheists, but held to political or ethical beliefs that the judges were willing to treat as the equivalent of a “religious” conviction.
With this dispensation, we could imagine a state of affairs in which the laws forbid abortion once again, but a band of practitioners assert their claims of “conscience” to perform abortions as a matter of their own firm beliefs. They would assert the religion of irreligion.

Years ago, in the seminars arranged by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, we would bring together lawyers litigating over religious freedom, and some of them bridled when they were asked to explain how they would rule out such claims to religious standing. We had, after all, the union of prostitutes in California under the banner of COYOTE: Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics. What if they claimed to be a religious sect?

The lawyers were impatient with these questions; they preferred to assume that we all knew what we meant by “religion.” But of course the law must be in place to represent a distinctly moral concern and have a filtering effect: The laws will not stand back and permit widows to be burned on funeral pyres under the name of religion, or even permit parents of Jehovah’s Witnesses to withhold blood transfusions from their children. There is no way for the law to avoid the question of what truly stands as a legitimate religion.

The law had a firmer clarity when it could simply take its bearings from James Madison’s understanding of religion: “the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it.” That Creator was of course the God of Israel, and the duties were bound up with the Laws that sprang from that Lawgiver.

With that understanding the law was anchored, not merely in beliefs, but in truths held with conviction about the Author of the Laws of nature and the moral force of those laws. The problem before us now is just what claims of “conscience” mean when they are detached from that body of truths.

We are flying an important banner when we unfurl the cause of “conscience,” but we are flying that banner in a culture that no longer understands us as we understand ourselves. Most people around us think we are simply invoking intense, personal beliefs when we invoke claims of conscience on abortion.

And so Nancy Pelosi, resisting the Hyde-Weldon Act on conscience, recoiled from the notion that people could invoke their “beliefs” in a manner that frustrates the right to abortion. “This is the law of the land,” she said, “a constitutional right could simply be ignored.” She has hold of the problem: The law must find its ground in reasons that would be valid for everyone who would be bound by the laws.

No religious group has claimed an exemption from the laws of homicide on the strength of “beliefs” that the victims are not really human. That radical claim to “belief” has been made mainly by the religion of secularism in this country.

And what the other side cannot understand then is this: When we invoke rights of conscience in relation to abortion, we are not asking our “beliefs” to be honored. We are planting in the law the premise that the right to abortion has been founded in the most grievous errors of reason.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Retrieved September 13, 2001 from

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

7 reasons for good cheer after Madrid

Michael Cook | Monday, 22 August 2011

Last year at this time the Catholic Church was licking its wounds after its biggest public relations shellacking in many years. Newspaper columnists sneered that the scandal caused by a few priest paedophiles was the beginning of the end. Its followers were so disgusted that they were said to be turning in their membership cards.

But if that pessimistic reading of the tea leaves was true, how do you explain the presence of two million young people in Madrid over the weekend to listen to an 83-year-old German Pope? They were all aware of the vile actions of a handful of rogue priests but these had not shaken their confidence in the Church or its leader.

So, if you are a Catholic sympathiser, World Youth Day 2011 gave abundant reasons for hope. Here are 7 of them.

The younger generation gets the Church
The 2 million young people who attended made an impressive effort to back up their convictions. While most of the pilgrims came from Spain and nearby France and Italy, there were hundreds from countries like Australia and New Zealand. About 150 came from Russia! The sacrifice of paying for a long trip and uncomfortable accommodation shows that they were firmly committed to being part of the Catholic Church.

Contrast that with the World Youth Summit organised by the United Nations in New York. Admittedly UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has the charisma of a wilted lettuce, but this worthy gathering drew only a few hundred people. Whose ideas are going to be passed on to the next generation?

Benedict XVI is setting the moral agenda
Last week Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to the riots in London and other big English cities by decrying moral relativism. “What last week has shown is that this moral neutrality, this relativism – it’s not going to cut it any more.” Exactly. A free set of steak knives if you can name the first major world figure to hammer away at the “tyranny of relativism”!

Benedict XVI. The Pope has made it respectable to reject the political correctness which undermines moral striving. Obviously world leaders are listening.

Remember Cameron’s farewell words to the Pope after his state visit to the UK last year? “You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think,” he said. It looks like Cameron sat up and thought. His response to the riots came straight from Benedict’s playbook.

A one-man think tank works for free
A fascinating essay in last week’s New York Times by film critic Neal Gabler lamented the death of in-depth thinking: “we are living in an increasingly post- idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.”

Maybe in New York, but not in Rome. Gabler obviously hasn’t read much of Benedict XVI on morality, philosophy, aesthetics, economics and social responsibility. But many of the Pope’s young fans have. In a world where ideas no longer sparkle, his explode with possibilities. And they’re free. Any bets on what the next generation will be thinking?

A way out of the global financial crisis
Benedict got there first. With the world economy on the verge of meltdown, people are looking for answers. Surely at the root of the crisis is something more than mismanagement of economic levers. Surely economics is about more than statistics and money.

Well, that is exactly what Benedict (and his predecessors) have been saying. As he told journalists in a press conference in the flight from Rome to Madrid: “[We see] confirmed in the present economic crisis what has already been seen in the great preceding crisis: that an ethical dimension is not something exterior to economic problems, but an interior and fundamental dimension. The economy does not function with mercantile self-regulation alone, but it has need of an ethical reason to function for man.”

A thumbs-down to dehumanising sex and consumerism
The greatest question of the last 200 years is: what is true freedom? To do whatever I want? Or to live according to the truth? What our society offers young people is the freedom to consume until their credit cards max out, to have sex whenever they want with whomever they want, to live undisturbed in a solipsistic bubble. But this vision of man degrades him, Benedict says. Happiness comes only from discovering the truth. Many young people are disillusioned with the South Park culture they live in and what the Pope says makes a lot of sense to anyone who wants to build a better world.

“The discovery of the living God inspires young people and opens their eyes to the challenges of the world in which they live, with its possibilities and limitations. They see the prevailing superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalization of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption. They know that, without God, it would be hard to confront these challenges and to be truly happy, and thus pouring out their enthusiasm in the attainment of an authentic life. But, with God beside them, they will possess light to walk by and reasons to hope, unrestrained before their highest ideals, which will motivate their generous commitment to build a society where human dignity and true brotherhood are respected.”

Truth is more powerful than number-crunching
Benedict’s most memorable speech in Spain was to university lecturers at that jewel of Spanish architecture, El Escorial. As a professor himself, he spoke with passionate conviction about the need to offer students more than training in the nuts and bolts of professional work. “As Plato said: ‘Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp’. This lofty aspiration is the most precious gift which you can give to your students, personally and by example. It is more important than mere technical know-how, or cold and purely functional data.”

Universities, he said, should be a sanctuary from ideology or “a purely utilitarian and economic conception which would view man solely as a consumer”. What could be more attractive to young people than seeking the ultimate meaning in the universe and striving to understand what it means to be authentically human? If there is one bold passé idea, it’s utilitarianism. And Benedict offers an alternative.

World Youth Day is still the world’s best-kept secret
A journalist friend of mine wrote an op-ed piece for a newspaper in Sydney. But the editor wasn’t interested. “We had one of those in Sydney three years ago. That just about filled our quota,” he was told. The New York Times – the touchstone of elite opinion in the US – barely reported World Youth Day.

Really, this is peculiar -- a gathering of 2 million young people is not news, especially after a few hundred in the same age bracket trashed London? Isn’t anyone out there connecting the dots?

But why kvetch? The media and the intelligentsia are good at froth and bubble, but abysmal at deep undercurrents. Did they predict the rise of militant Islam, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the fizzling of the Population Bomb or the Global Financial Crisis?

The biggest stories are the hidden stories. Benedict XVI knows this. As he told journalists, “God's sowing is always silent; it does not appear in the statistics, and the seed that the Lord sows with World Youth Day is like the seed of which the Gospel speaks: part falls on the road and is lost; part falls on stone and is lost; part falls on thorns and is lost; but a part falls on good earth and gives much fruit.”

Unnoticed by the media, 2 million young people have embarked upon a journey which will lead many of them to infuse their home countries with their deeply held Christian beliefs. Slowly the world is going to change. Thirty years from now, the media is going to have one hell of a surprise.

Retrieved September 7, 2011 from

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