The Church and our Common Life

I think it is the case that the Church, in her social teaching, critiques philosophical extremes. The Church generally critiques disordered social life and in an abstract way. Here’s what (I think) I mean: The Church condemns a society that is isolates us from each other. The Church condemns economic life detached from morality. The Church condemns ideas that threaten the authentic and true anthropology. The Church condemns human life that’s ordered to only material concerns (profit, etc). The Church says that the government should play not just a negative role in limiting human activity, but a positive role in promoting human goods, in what capacity is reasonably possible.

But these social conditions that the Church critiques do not really exist in reality. We do not live in a completely free market, untethered by morality. We do not live in a totally socialist country, yet. We are not completely isolated from each other. We do have a society that cares about the common good, to some extent. These things are in fact true. It’s easier to learn this by experience, but for now my cheap assertion will do.

Morality has a lot to do with business, and businesses are learning that morality actually has something to do with success. In fact, some business can actually cultivate certain human virtues by requiring excellence, even spiritual excellence (be it intelligence, discipline, or even beneficence and humility in working in a team). This is just one example, but I think it is an illustrative one.

The Church provides a basic outline of the just society based in Gospel truths. It helps us to see where we cannot go and where we ought to go in our common life together. It does not tell us how. It does not give us the specific plan. It guides us and teaches us the principles we need for the flourishing of the common good. It teaches us about justice and about the insufficiency of justice.

We spend all this time dressing up these complicated theories and I think the takeaway is always very simple. The Gospel is simple and to the extent that social teaching is part of the Gospel, it too is simple. Life, even social life, must be lived in love. Love is not “luv” but Love, a love that is simultaneously mercy and justice. We should serve the poor, we should have good laws, we should live in common, we should cherish each other, we should be attentive to our local communities that we know best, and we should have an eye towards the greater social community. We should work against injustice, we should fight against evil. We should also learn to appreciate the wisdom of our elders, including those elders who are outside of the Church who have made great contributions to political philosophy and our knowledge of “how we ought to live our lives together”.

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