We continue to work through the authoritative Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church on the topic of the Political Community. In this part we will look at what happens “When Government behaves badly”. From the Compendium paragraphs #383 and #383:
382. When human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, it makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission; it becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, an image of the power of the imperial persecutor “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev 17:6). The Beast is served by the “false prophet” (Rev 19:20), who, with beguiling signs, induces people to adore it. This vision is a prophetic indication of the snares used by Satan to rule men, stealing his way into their spirit with lies. But Christ is the Victorious Lamb who, down the course of human history, overcomes every power that would make it absolute. Before such a power, Saint John suggests the resistance of the martyrs; in this way, believers bear witness that corrupt and satanic power is defeated, because it no longer has any authority over them.
383. The Church proclaims that Christ, the conqueror of death, reigns over the universe that he himself has redeemed. His kingdom includes even the present times and will end only when everything is handed over to the Father and human history is brought to completion in the final judgment (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-28). Christ reveals to human authority, always tempted by the desire to dominate, its authentic and complete meaning as service. God is the one Father, and Christ the one Teacher, of all mankind, and all people are brothers and sisters. Sovereignty belongs to God. The Lord, however, “has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence”.
The biblical message provides endless inspiration for Christian reflection on political power, recalling that it comes from God and is an integral part of the order that he created. This order is perceived by the human conscience and, in social life, finds its fulfillment in the truth, justice, freedom and solidarity that bring peace.
It is said that ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, and we find many examples of big-time and small-time tyrants in the study of history and in a survey of modern-day realities around the globe today. I won’t waste time spilling ink over the obvious examples of Nazis and Communist dictatorships (where the religious and the innocent are openly persecuted), but it is interesting how the pursuit and maintenance of political power in even our American system, causes many to seemingly lose their proper moral/religious perspectives.
For one thing there is so much pressure within the major political parties here in the U.S., to be a true party loyalist- if one wants to work up through the ranks to achieve a high standing in the party. This is a problem for most completely honest souls, because it is not hard to recognize that the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, are hardly entitled to call themselves the Party of God. The human ideologies that inspire the political movements and policies in both parties are obviously fallible and oftentimes quite inconsistent (both Repubs and Dems contributed to the financial Federal Reserve meltdown, the Iraq War, NAFTA-economics, widespread Abortions and so forth). Catholics are called to be critical members of any and all political parties- but it seems many political Catholics are not always critical enough in my estimation.
It is also apparent that too often the fights between Republicans and Democrats are not ones of good versus evil/ right versus wrong, but one group of well-connected persons and special interests versus another group of well-connected folks and various other special interests. There are oftentimes very important moral issues confronting the political powers-that-be, but the fight for a particular policy usually involves an unhealthy degree of partisanship, not an overriding sense of service to the common good. Careers and reputations are often deemed more important than what the natural law and common good would demand (witness the Supreme Court). Pick pretty much any issue out there and you will find a strong contingent of party regulars who act as if the ultimate goal is to make the other party look bad, so that the pendulum will swing in the favor of their party. It is a kind of flawed moral reasoning that allows one to do what is wrong in order for a [supposedly] larger good to emerge.
There are those Catholic politicians on the Left and Right, who seem content to be true to their political allegiances and ideologies over even the clearest teachings and guidance offered by the Church. We need to call these public Catholics out since they obviously are in a position where they can mislead many little ones, and do particular harm to the mission of evangelizing the Church’s social doctrine. JFK set a very poor precedent in promoting the idea that Catholics should not be influenced by the Pope or Magisterial guidance in one’s public role as an American political leader. The better view is that the greatest gift we can bestow upon American politics is the content of our Church social doctrine’s moral principles for good governance and Christian humanism. I am very, very wary of Catholic politicians who make too much of their ‘conservative’ or “liberal” bonafides. It is possible to read and study the Church’s social teachings and commentaries and conclude that being “a conservative” or “a liberal” is the way to go- but my own study has found that embracing these labels too intimately is a mistake for our Catholic unity and public witness. This is my own subjective view- I am not anyone’s bishop.
We shouldn’t allow the obvious failures of many public Catholics on the modern American political scene to cause us to take a cynical and overly partisan societal viewpoint. We are called to overcome evil with good, not just stay at the sidelines and issue cat-calls and derisive jokes. Politics is a noble profession, currently dominated by many unworthy [my viewpoint] leaders who came to power as ‘yes’ men and women to party establishments. But politics and public service is something God intends to be a societal good- not a necessary evil. We should not continue to give over to these weak Catholic leaders posing as faithful stewards of the common good; we should seek to replace them. We have a good system of governance set up here in the U.S. The system only fails because the majority of American elders (particularly Catholics) fail to take up their responsibilities as informed and moral citizenry. It’s a tough road ahead of us- but we begin and end with prayer, with God nothing is impossible. That is the only attitude acceptable for a Catholic.