Saturday, January 23, 2010

Life, Death, Theft, and Catholic Teaching: Who Said This Was Easy?

Someone in Haiti died when a few other folks broke a concrete block over his head. They were under the impression that he had stolen money. They could be right. Or, not.

The incident got me thinking about how I'd act in less-than-ideal circumstances. In another blog, I came up with this:

"Stealing is Wrong, Right?

"Don't get me wrong: there's a reason why 'don't steal' is part of what Moses carried down from Sinai.

"But consider a hypothetical situation: You survived an earthquake. The town you live in is mostly knocked flat, but at least now many of the fires are out. It's hot. You helped pull a few people out of the grocery down the street. You can tell from the smell that others didn't make it. The local police force, fire department - the whole city staff - are either dead or putting out fires - literally - on the other side of town. The people you're responsible for are wounded, sick, and haven't eaten for days.

"Is it wrong to salvage food from the grocery, while it's still edible? Maybe not.

"Is it wrong to salvage your neighbor's plasma screen television? Probably...."
(Vigilante Justice isn't Nice: Haiti," Apathetic Lemming of the North (January 23, 2010))
That "maybe not" wasn't entirely satisfying, so I kept thinking. And researching.

Stealing is Wrong: Right

There's a whole article in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on stealing. (2401-2463) Bottom line? Don't.

That section covers quite a lot of territory: including the treatment of animals, games of chance, and economic justice. Some key points, toward the end:
"'You shall not steal' (Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19). 'Neither thieves, nor the greedy . . ., nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God' (1 Cor 6:10).

The seventh commandment enjoins the practice of justice and charity in the administration of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor.

The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race. The right to private property does not abolish the universal destination of goods.

The seventh commandment forbids theft. Theft is the usurpation of another's goods against the reasonable will of the owner.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2450-2453)
Aha! It says "reasonable will of the owner"! I can take that food. Give me a running start, and I'll cobble together an excuse for taking that plasma screen television, too.

Or, not.

Check this out:
"A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving).39

The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil.

"II. Good Acts and Evil Acts

"A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting 'in order to be seen by men').

"The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts—such as fornication—that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

"It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it."
(Catechism, 1753-1756)
Okay. That's clear enough. The end doesn't justify the means.

On the other hand, I might not need to let my household starve, with a supply of food nearby.
"In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner:
"Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: 'If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.'193 Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise, all who in some manner have taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it—for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it, or received the stolen goods—are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen."
(Catechism, 2412)
I sincerely hope that I never have to make decisions like that.

I'm Expected to Not Steal: I'm Also Expected to Not Let My Family Die

I am, God help us, head of this household. I knew what I was agreeing to, when I married.
"This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,' adding at once: 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.'110"
(Catechism, 1616)
My Lord died for the sake of the Church. I'm more use to my wife and family alive, now, but if my death means that my wife lives: I die.

If that doesn't sound like the version of Christianity or Catholicism you've heard about: I don't doubt it. There have been - and are - jerks who have cherry-picked what they like out of the Bible and tradition, and ignored the rest. I've written about this before, and probably will again. (June 21, 2009, November 24, 2009, for starters)

Oh, great. I can't let my family starve. I can't salvage food and supplies, because that would be stealing. And I can't quit, either.

Decisions, Decisions

I've got choices. They can be narrowed down to two. Here's how I'd probably explain them:
  1. "I followed the letter of the law, and let my household die as a result. Wasn't that virtuous of me?"
  2. "I stole to keep my household alive. The decision was mine, not theirs. I am responsible for the theft, and died before I could make restitution to the owner's heir."
When I'm called to judgment, and get serious face time with the Lamb of God, Redeemer of the world, only Son of the Father, the incarnate Word, I'd rather be dealing with option 2, than option 1.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: Not Exactly Warm Fuzzies

That "judgment" thing sounds so - judgmental. Can't say that I'm particularly looking forward to it.
"Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.592 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul—a destiny which can be different for some and for others.593"
(Catechism, 1021)
Okay: so it doesn't give me warm fuzzies. So?

The hypothetical situation, whether or not to steal from a collapsed building, is one I'll probably never face. But unless my life ends really soon, I will have other decisions to make, and some probably won't be easy.

A sort of bottom line for me has been what I heard once: "It's easier to ask forgiveness, than permission."

Vaguely-related posts:

No comments:

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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