Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Caritas in Veritate: Charity Isn't Just a Good Sentiment

Section 4. of Caritas in Veritate continues the discussion of truth.

I'll admit to a bias: I think that facts exist; and that there is an objective reality. (July 17, 2009) While it's true that matters like when to use a fork, or whether to use forks at all, are 'good' or 'bad' only within a specific set of cultural values; there are some acts that are good or bad, no matter where you are. Which is another topic.

One more point: I've criticized the reduction of this encyclical to sound bites; but I'll be doing something like that from here in. Starting with this post, I'm going to quote relatively brief excerpts, provide links to the encyclical, and let you read the whole document on the Vatican's website.

Back to Caritas in Veritate, section 4.

This section starts by saying that charity is filled with truth. Truth makes it possible for people to see reality; not just their subjective impressions, opinions, and cultural standards.
"...In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development. A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance...."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 4)
That's not to say that charity is supposed to be a cold matter of facts and figures, without human relations.
"...Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 4)
(Praxis: practice, translating an idea into action. (Princeton's WordNet))

I think most cultures practice and promote charity in some way. The trick, as I see it, is to remember that charity isn't limited to how the culture we grew up in defines the term.

And, although it's fine if being charitable gives you the warm fuzzies - that's not what charity is about.

Truth and charity are linked.
...Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the 'economy' of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth...."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 2)
Caritas in Veritate seems to be spending a lot of time, discussing truth and charity, and how they're related to each other. I suppose that's understandable - and probably necessary - in a world where phrases like 'that may be true for you, but not for me' pass as wisdom, and the word "love" has been reduced in some cases to a set of gooey sentiments, and in others to a limited collection of appetites.

I don't see taking an objective approach to facts when practicing charity as being particularly 'cold' or 'unfeeling.' Rather, it seems a good way to ensure that the acts of charity actually help their objects.

A lack of that sort of common-sense appraisal can lead, I think, to possibly-well-intentioned government programs which provide 'safe' hypodermic kits to drug addicts; or exchange money for guns, no questions asked. The latter actually is helpful, in a way: as described, money-for-guns programs seem to be a way of making the fencing of stolen firearms both safer and (potentially) more profitable for thieves.

That last paragraph brings up two points, one of which I've already discussed in connection with Caritas in Veritate.
  • Caritas in Veritate is not a detailed how-2 for every culture now in existence
    • It is certainly not an 'American' document
    (July 18, 2009)
  • Catholicism doesn't conform to American values: conservative or liberal (November 3, 2008)
I'm trying to understand Caritas in Veritate in a Catholic context. Based on previous experience, that'll sound like a liberal world view in some spots, like a conservative way of thought in others.

Related posts:
Links to other posts about my study of Caritas in Veritate:

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.