Monday, August 6, 2012

Rights, Duties, and Ideas: Good & Otherwise

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

I've started another chapter in "Caritas in Veritate." The chapter heading says it'll be about the development of people; rights and duties; and the environment. I got started in this morning's post, along with an explanation for why I'm writing 'in installments' this time:

'Rights,' Real and Otherwise

Benedict XVI points out one of the disconnects we've got these days. He calls this an "inconsistency," and I think he's right:
  • Alleged rights get taken seriously, even though they're arbitrary and non-essential.
  • Elementary and basic rights are violated, or remain unacknowledged, in much of the world.
    ("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
My native land, America, isn't at the bottom of the heap in terms of violated rights. But we could do a lot better: particularly now that the national government has sanctions against the practice of my faith. 1

Affluence, Excess, and Ethics

My household has never lacked food, clothing, or shelter: but we've been in the lower half of America's 'wealth spectrum' for decades. No complaints: it's the result of decisions I made as a youth. I knew what I was doing then, and have seldom regretted my choices since.

For a long time we were in the 'lower middle class,' at best: by contemporary American standards. On the other hand, by the standards of my forebears we've been insanely wealthy. I've heard that for a very long time "wealthy" meant that a household had more than one day's rations on hand. That we have had, many times over, and in abundance.

What got me started on wealth and reminiscences was this bit:
"...A link has often been noted between claims to a 'right to excess', and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
I'm not going to dump the contents of the freezer because it's 'too much wealth.' For one thing, my wife wouldn't like that. For another, poverty isn't virtue. Neither is wealth, and I've been over that before. (August 4, 2011)

Attitudes, New and Old

Taken by itself, that excerpt from "Caritas in Veritate" looks like conventional anguish over:
  • New style
    • 'The decadent West'
    • 'Bloated capitalists'
  • Old style
    • Ill-gotten worldly riches
    • Honest poverty
Wealth, money, isn't the problem. What gets us in trouble is loving money:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)
The issue is idolatry: which is a very bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2112-2114, for starters)

Breaking Links: Bad Idea

If affluence, by itself, isn't bad: why do some affluent societies act badly?

Benedict XVI says that:
"...The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
Basically, breaking links between rights and duties makes about as much sense as bypassing circuit breakers. It may save a few trips to the breaker panel in the short run: but there will be consequences.

Balance and Limits

People having rights isn't wrong: it's what folks do with that basic truth.
  • Rights
    • May be overemphasized
    • Overemphasized rights lead to disregard for duties
    • Are part of a "framework"
      • Anthropological
      • Ethical
  • Duties
    • Set a limit on rights
    • Point to the framework which includes rights
    • Prevent rights from becoming excuses to do something wrong
    ("Caritas in Veritate," 43)

Rights: and Duties

Duties aren't opposed to rights. Without duties, rights are in trouble:
"...Duties ... reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to be undertaken in the service of the common good. Otherwise, if the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to respect and pursue them fades from the common consciousness...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
No, Benedict XVI isn't against democracy or freedom. He's just pointing out what happens when folks forget that we don't control the ethical underpinnings of reality. I've posted about natural law before.

No Objectivity: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

There's an appeal of sorts to the notion that we can decide what's ethical and what isn't. The problem is that natural law, the ethical rules woven into this creation, are just that: basic laws.

An act of Congress can no more change natural law, than the Supreme Court could declare the law of gravity "unconstitutional."

Actually, the Supreme Court could do something like that. Or Congress could add a 'no gravity' amendment to the Constitution.

But their actions wouldn't have a practical effect on that facet of reality.

When governments and other institutions lose track of objective reality, bad things happen.
"...the authentic development of peoples is endangered[108]. Such a way of thinking and acting compromises the authority of international bodies, especially in the eyes of those countries most in need of development. Indeed, the latter demand that the international community take up the duty of helping them to be 'artisans of their own destiny'[109], that is, to take up duties of their own...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
I've harangued about old and new notions about 'natives' before. In the interests of your patience and my blood pressure, I'll just put links at the end of "Related posts."


"...The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights."
("Caritas in Veritate," 43)
I agree. Emphatically.

Related posts:

1 The current administration's rules which force employers to support a legal sort of murder is a serious violation of religious liberty, at least for practicing Catholics:

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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.