Sunday, May 3, 2015

Beaver Cleaver and the Common Good

I grew up in the 'good old days,' when many Americans enjoyed the seemingly-secure middle class lives of the Cleavers and Andersons.

Some parents, mine included, remembered that there's more to life than wealth: so I never considered running away to a commune.

But I understood why some folks my age, and a bit older, decided that buying stuff you don't need with money you don't have to impress people you don't like — made no sense at all.

I didn't have the horror that some older folks had for places like Drop City. It seemed to me that 'those crazy kids,' with their 'un-American' talk about peace, love, and brotherhood, had decided to take at least some of my Lord's values seriously.

That was a sharp contrast with venom-spewing radio preachers who hated commies, Catholicism, and rock music — which helped me learn to love rock 'n roll, eventually led me to become a Catholic, and that's another topic.

The Universal Destination of Goods


Disaffected youth of the '60s weren't the the first to try communal living:
"All who believed were together and had all things in common;

"they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need."
(Acts 2:44-45)
My faith doesn't demand that I forsake worldly goods and live apart. But there's a long tradition of monks and hermits who took that path. The vowed, folks in religious orders, are part of the hierarchy: one of three kinds of vocation. (December 11, 2011)

Most of us are part of the lay faithful: folks who "...participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)

For us, ownership of private property should be part of our life. (Catechism, 2211)

Private property is a good idea: it helps maintain our freedom and dignity, and gives a measure of security. But the right to private ownership isn't absolute.

That's because this world is God's gift to humanity. (Genesis 1:27-31)

It's for all of us: not just whoever has the biggest club, or owns the most corporate stock. "The universal destination of goods" is what we call the idea that God trusted humanity with stewardship of this world's resources: for our reasoned use. (Catechism, 2401-2406)

Divvying up those resources gives each of us a particular job: managing what we have, to use for ourselves and others. That's where justice and charity come in — or should. Differences in abilities and wealth aren't the problem: misusing these differences is. (Catechism, 1937-1938, 2402-2406)

Shoes and Carnegie Libraries


Sometimes folks with immense wealth don't do their job.

The shoe collection of Imelda Marcos may be an example of that. Or maybe not. Manufacturing and storing some 3,000 pairs of shoes provided employment for some folks: and helped stock two museums. Look me up after the Last Judgement, and we can see how that balances out.

The 2,509 Carnegie libraries, on the other hand, are almost certainly a good use of wealth. One of them is on Main Street in my small town: yet more topics.

Andrew Carnegie became a good sort of troublemaker, eventually giving away about 90% of his fortune and upsetting a few apple carts. Joggling them, anyway.

More recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation became the largest private foundation in the world. Bigger isn't necessarily better: but I don't see a problem with goals like saving lives and narrowing the gap between rich and poor.

Humanity's Troubles


America wasn't the only place with troubles in the '60s - - -
"...social unrest has gradually spread throughout the world. The acute restlessness engulfing the poorer classes in countries that are now being industrialized has spread to other regions where agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. The farmer is painfully aware of his 'wretched lot.'(9)

"Then there are the flagrant inequalities not merely in the enjoyment of possessions, but even more in the exercise of power. In certain regions a privileged minority enjoys the refinements of life, while the rest of the inhabitants, impoverished and disunited, 'are deprived of almost all possibility of acting on their own initiative and responsibility, and often subsist in living and working conditions unworthy of the human person.'(10)..."
("Populorum Progressio," Pope Paul VI (March 26, 1967))
- - - and humanity's troubles didn't start in the 20th century.

Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" of 1891, Saint Augustine of Hippo's "City of God," and Sirach 4:1 addressed social and economic ills.

Today's world isn't perfect, either. Unreasonable, unjust, inequalities in wealth and power still exist. That's wrong.

If I thought "Happy Days" America was the perfect society, I'd be trying to drag the world back to that era. Nostalgia is fine, but my memory's too good — the 'good old days' weren't. (August 29, 2014)

Practical Justice and Charity


Exodus 20:15 and Deuteronomy 5:19 say "You shall not steal."

The seventh commandment applies practical justice and charity to ownership. Letting someone who earned the 'fruits of labor' keep it is reasonable. (Catechism, 2450-2453)

It's part of natural law that's reflected in the Code  of Hammurabi, Minnesota Statutes, and every other legitimate legal system.

Sometimes we need to share, though.

Food, shelter, clothing are immediate, essential needs — during Minnesota winters, anyway. I couldn't fault someone for breaking into a shed to survive a blizzard, even if they "stole" fuel to run a portable heater. (Catechism, 2408)

Taking essentials to stay alive, squaring accounts later — if possible — is okay.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be allowed to steal my neighbor's new television: even if laws allowed it. (Catechism, 2409)

"Legal" and "right" should mean about the same thing, but sadly that's not always the case.

"Keep Warm, and Eat Well"


Our job, part of it, is building a better world. (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

The basics are simple: love God, love my neighbors, see everyone as my neighbor, and treat others as I'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

Living as if that's true, and important: that's hard. So is changing a society's cherished traditions, when they don't conform to those basic principles.

Matthew 25:34-46 make it clear that caring for the poor should be a very high priority. Defining poverty isn't necessarily easy, though.

Some folks in America are in genuine need. Others — well, my household has been at or near the 'poverty' threshold quite a few times, but we've never had to miss a meal.

We've always been "rich," by one standard. We've had a roof over our heads and more than enough food to last the day.

Not everyone has been so blessed.

I'm convinced that nobody should lack the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, medical care. What's essential and what's not depends on when, where, and how folks live. (Catechism, 2208, 2408, 2524)

There is no one 'correct' culture. We're not all alike: and that's how it's supposed to be. There are, however, guidelines that apply to everyone, no matter where or when we live. (Catechism, 1901, 1915, 1928-1948, 1957)

Then there's knowing what's right, and acting as if it matters.
"6 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

"If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,

"and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?"
(James 2:15-16)
And that's yet again another topic.

Some of my take on justice, charity, and all that:
Background:

5 comments:

umashankar said...

Those days of yore seem to have vanished from most societies, when families were families, people were people, always larger than the money and the consumerism that besots the current times. Thank you for the philanthropic message.

Tiffany Sanders said...

I think that one of the big challenges people face in this regard is that everything has grown so large. It's hard to see someone as your neighbor when you have never encountered him, and much easier to condemn statistics than actual humans standing in front of you. But, the size of our towns, the size of our workplaces, the fast pace of our lives, etc. makes it harder and harder to see one another.

When true communities do form, they're often formed around a common core (church perhaps being one of the most common) which by its nature creates a rather homogeneous group which, despite the best of intentions,still leaves a chunk of that society in need outside the "walls" and unseen.

Brian Gill said...

You have a point, Tiffany Sanders.

On the other hand, I wouldn't know a fraction of the folks I do - if we didn't live in a big world, one with increasingly-available Internet connectivity.

A common core of the folks of my online acquaintance is that we all understand written English, *or* share an interest in art. The latter permits visual communication across language barriers. Readily-available online translation software, an appreciation of its occasionally-hilarious limitations, and a smattering of knowledge of several languages helps.

Another common thread is that, with a few exceptions, we have tacitly decided that it's okay if we don't all look alike - worship alike, or worship at all - have the same economic status - or most other demographic factors.

Maybe that sounds idyllic - or like I'm bragging. My intent is to share my experience - - - that folks can, if make we a few decisions, form diverse communities: even in a big world.

Maybe even *particularly* in a big world.

Am I excluding anyone? Yes - in the sense that there are more than 7,000,000,000 folks I haven't met yet.

nothingprofound said...

The way I see it, Brian, you can't live in the past or the future. So you better make the best of things as they are now.

Brian Gill said...

Agreed, nothingprofound.

And sorry about you comment not appearing until now. My fault, but Blogger's spam filter helped. Thanks for taking time to read & comment.

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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.