6.25.2008

confusing the basics

Policraticus of Vox Nova says:
External pressures come to bear on moral judgment, as does the formation of conscience and knowledge of sin (basic Catholic moral teaching). If a person is found to be unaware of the moral magnitude of his/her sin, culpability is diminished, but not eliminated. As the popes have taught countless times, basic human rights (e.g., life, property, health care, economic stability, shelter) are conditions of freedom of choice. In the absence of these rights and factors, sin prevails.
Policraticus is going along quite fine until he says "basic human rights" are "conditions of freedom of choice". If he is simply saying that in the absence of basic human rights, it is more difficult to live virtuously, then he is correct. But if he is saying that freedom of choice is itself conditional on the security of basic human rights (which in my opinion is the only reasonable way to read what he wrote) then I think he is making a grave error. God always gives us the strength to say "yes" to him, and his gift is not taken away by any socio-economic conditions, however oppressive. Sin only prevails when individual souls let it prevail.

Policraticus also says that this teaching, that "sin prevails" in the absence of basic human rights, is expressed by the modern popes in social encyclicals. This may be the case, but he never provided a reference to substantiate such a claim. Do any of the readers of this site know where I might find such a statement?

One last thing - I think it is reasonable to say that human nature fairs better in relatively poor socio-economic conditions. I don't mean destitution, but something like lower-middle-class socio-economic status. We fair better when more is required of us, when more is asked of us. Our priorities tend to straighten out. It's easier to recognize our total dependence on God. This is not to say prosperity is necessarily a bad thing; it is to say that we easily delude ourselves with thinking our achievements are ours alone.

5 comments:

Tito Edwards said...

Policraticus has a reputation of crossing the line when it comes to theology. I'm not surprised that he would make such a statement.

Good catch.

Darwin said...

I'm glad you wrote about that. I'd followed a sitemeter click over and seen Poli's comments on that thread, and that particular line of thinking struck me as fundamentally flawed.

While certainly, culpability may be lessened when one is in dire circumstances, God always gives us the virtue to do what it right. And indeed, I would submit that it is often through doing what is right in seemingly impossible circumstances that we make possible our own rescue from those circumstances, by cooperating with God's grace.

While there is a kernel of truth to it, I can think of few lines of thought that have caused more trouble and confusion than the modern "social justice" idea that "for a starving man to steal a loaf of bread is no crime". Certainly, the starving man's culpability may be next to nil, and one can argue that from a certain point of view one owes the starving man his bread, and so he is only taking what is his. But the idea that morality is negated by need is quickly becomes deeply corrupting and undermines the whole idea of free will.

What ever happened to our grandparents' generation saying "we would rather have died that steal" during the Great Depression? More fools they?

Zachary said...

I honestly think he just made a mistake in writing his comment - which is fair enough, I do it all the time.

But rather than own up to it, he conspicuously ignored the criticism.

Doesn't make for good conversation.

Darwin said...

I don't think that he meant to say that sin invariably prevails when one lacks basic necessities, so I guess to that extent he probably mis-spoke a bit. But it does strike me as in keeping with his overall social justice take on things to claim that one may not really expect people to behave morally unless they have a certain standard of living -- and thus that assuring everyone a minimum standard of living (which is my historic standards inestimably wealthy) is an absolute moral necessity.

But perhaps I'm simply being uncharitable since I often disagree with Poli.

Zachary said...

Nah I think you're right. The comment was undoubtedly related to his blinding commitment to 'social justice'

It's odd... isn't he trained in theology?