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Catholic Reads Before Election Day: Part 1 (4501)

From our Sept. 23 issue: Americans are sifting through issues and candidates for national and local offices. Many Catholics and other conscientious citizens will find themselves making difficult decisions that involve considerations of what is best for the country, best for their families and best for issues such as life, marriage and religious liberty. In this issue and a succeeding issue, we offer a few examples of books that might help voters in their discernment.

09/22/2012 Comment
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DEFENDING THE FREE MARKET

The Moral Case for
a Free Economy

By Father Robert Sirico

Regnery, 2012

256 pages, $27.95

To order: regnery.com

(888) 219-4747

Economics 101

By Father C.J. McCloskey

Father Robert Sirico could not have written a timelier book than his latest, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.

Father Sirico is a co-founder of the Acton Institute, a research institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., devoted to the study of free-market economics and religion. He is perhaps best known internationally for his moral-based argument that the free market economy is the economic model most compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church and sacred Scripture.

Why do I say his book is timely? Because we are mired in the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, one that is all the worse for being global and that shows indications of worsening in the years ahead. All of this follows by a mere couple of decades the almost total collapse of Marxism throughout the world, with the fall of the Soviet Empire and its dependents.

As it turns out, many of the countries that were most responsible for the death of the Soviet Union (including the United States) have given themselves over to consumerism (in spite of warnings by Blessed John Paul II) and turned to neo-Keynesian economic policies that only produce widespread unemployment and (in increasing cases) the possible bankruptcy of entire countries. These formerly prosperous but currently struggling nations reached their current state by abandoning a market economy that was free, government spending that was frugal, budgets that were balanced and taxation that was low. In short, they encouraged what John Paul II referred to as a "circle of productivity" that, like "a rising tide," helped raise all boats. His encyclical Centesimo Anno presented convincing economic social teaching upon which Pope Benedict XVI has built his own social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

Father Sirico has written a delightful book that is in part autobiography. Readers will be surprised and perhaps startled by his itinerary from Brooklyn to California (where he became a student radical), to his return to the faith, ordination to the priesthood, and equally complete reversal in his economic views as he absorbed the teachings of the Church, free-market economists such as Mises, Hayek and Friedman, and simple common sense.

This book draws deeply on Scripture and the social teaching of the Church, beginning with Rerum Novarum near the end of the 19th century and proceeding to recent teaching by Pope Benedict. The book abounds in anecdotes and observations that bolster Father Sirico’s argument that the free market is the economic system that is most just, best at achieving prosperity and, in many cases, a means of growth in holiness. After all, according to Genesis, God created us to work and presumably to work freely for the good of all mankind and to God’s glory with freedom.

Father Sirico quotes Alexis de Tocqueville — perhaps the greatest observer of the unique character of America — who observed, "Freedom is, in truth, a sacred thing; there is only one thing else that better deserves the name," and that is virtue. And then he asks, "What is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?"

Both Father Sirico’s masterful endeavors at the Acton Institute and this book contribute needed guidance to help our country reclaim its status as "exceptional and virtuous."

Father C. J. McCloskey III

is a graduate of Columbia University in economics,

a Wall Street veteran and currently research fellow

at the Faith and Reason

Institute in Washington.

WHY CATHOLICISM MATTERS

How Catholic Virtues Can Reshape Society in the
21st Century

By Bill Donohue

Random House, 2012

304 pages, $22.99

To order: randomhouse.com

Virtue Is Key

By Leticia Velasquez

The purpose of Why Catholicism Matters, according to author Bill Donohue’s recent interview on EWTN’s The World Over, is to help those who would defend the Catholic Church with the facts, lest pride stem from mere tribalism; for those who are in danger of drifting away from the faith, that they may return; and to dispel some of the black legends leveled against the Church, like the Inquisition and the Crusades. It would be hard to find a timelier book for these times.

Donohue is widely known as a feisty, good-humored defender of the Church who never shies from confronting slander or blasphemy in the media, arts, entertainment, academia and government. Yet few know him as an academic capable of a scholarly book. With a doctorate in sociology, Donohue draws his facts from respected academic and ecumenical sources, and his ideas are fleshed out with an expansive knowledge of history, sociology, Church teaching and social policy.

Why Catholicism Matters contains a wealth of quotations useful in those discussions on the Church, where ordinary Catholics find themselves needing to defend the faith in the workplace or even after Mass in the parking lot. Because his book is so well cited and clearly written, it can be used by students of social sciences and theology. His citations are worth following as well: He uses unbiased, scholarly sources that reinforce Catholic social and moral teaching. There is no refuting Donohue’s solid logic, as he makes the case repeatedly that not only did the Catholic Church promulgate the ideals which made Western civilization possible, but she continues to assert those same eternal principles that would rescue it from the brink of self-destruction — if intellectuals and political leaders would refrain from jeering long enough to listen.

Why Catholicism Matters is organized into sections by virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. "If Catholic social thought meshed nicely with the needs of the individual and society, offering a realistic approach to the attainment of the good society, in order for these teachings to be efficacious, they must offer concrete guidance," Donohue explains. "It is not good enough to say that we must thwart those behaviors proscribed by the Ten Commandments; we need to know what to prescribe. That’s where virtue comes in. In other words, the Ten Commandments tell us what not to do; virtue tells us what to do. To secure the proper answer, we need only turn to the cardinal virtues of the Catholic Church."

Give American society instruction on the virtues? This is not as farfetched as it sounds. It seems that as a society we have tired of making an increasing number of laws to curb aberrant behavior; it’s time to attempt to instill some internal self-control in our citizens.

In this book, Donohue demonstrates his gift for explaining in simple terms the principles of Catholic social and moral teaching and discussing their application throughout history with an emphasis on present-day social problems.

Catholicism matters, he argues, because it makes people happy today, not just in eternity; virtue is its own reward, according to Cicero. As a society, we are happier when the poor are treated fairly, workers get fair wages, babies have a right to live, women are treated with respect, and we do not live in fear of our government limiting our right to freedom of religion. These are the principles our nation was founded upon; it was assumed by the Founding Fathers that Americans had internalized a Judeo-Christian morality. This is no longer the case, and this book seeks to explain that the Catholic Church alone contains the remedy for this dilemma, quoting people like Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Damian of Molokai, St. Katherine Drexel and Dorothy Day. Donohue’s familiar chatty, confident tone makes for an absorbing read.

As Catholic and Christian organizations and individuals fight the Health and Human Services "contraceptive mandate," the urgency of understanding what we could lose if the Church is intimidated out of public life escalates. Donohue’s description of the immense contribution of Catholic religious women to the social welfare, hospital and education systems of this nation serves to dispel any claims that the Church is anti-woman. His writing reveals affection for the Church, a powerful intellect, an inclusive embrace of different faiths, and, most of all, his famous passion to defend his Catholic Church. This book is an attempt to spread this passion among his fellow Catholics in the United States.

Leticia Velasquez writes from Canterbury, Connecticut.

DEBATING SAME-SEX
MARRIAGE

By John Corvino and
Maggie Gallagher

Oxford University Press, 2012

281 pages, $16.95

To order: oup.com

(800) 451-7556

Marriage on The Rocks

By David Yves Braun

"Boyd and Josh walk down the aisle hand-in-hand. Everyone’s smiling. Were it not for the absence of a bride, you’d have a hard time distinguishing the scene from any other wedding."

Maggie Gallagher writes: "My jaw drops when I read this sentence." Most readers’ would. Indeed, the test of our cultural collapse may well be whether one finds nothing particularly askew that a bride is an optional extra in a "marriage."

Same-sex "marriage" is very much on this year’s electoral agenda. Notwithstanding 31 straight defeats whenever the public has been asked about it, the incumbent president has plighted his political troth to the idea, and four states will hold referenda on it this November.

John Corvino, a philosophy professor, and Maggie Gallagher, the co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, have teamed up to produce this point/counterpoint book. Both first make extended cases for (Corvino) and against (Gallagher) homosexual "marriage." Then each offers a follow-up essay responding to the other’s arguments.

Does marriage have anything intrinsically to do with sex, and does sex have anything intrinsically to do with marriage? It is the nexus between marriage and procreation that same-sex "marriage" would legally sunder, with vast cultural consequences. Gallagher puts it this way:

Gay marriage undermines the presuppositions that marriage is sexual, is sexually exclusive, presumes joint parenting, is therefore inappropriate for family members, and requires two and only two people. Redrawing the boundaries of marriage in order to make same-sex unions part of "marriage" makes these presumptions less intelligible, less coherent and harder to defend. An institution with deep roots in human nature and human necessity becomes contingent and arbitrary, a product of will and politics, as the rational connections between its component parts are severed because we cannot both affirm these connections and also proclaim "marriage equality" to be our highest marriage value.

Some readers might object: Why do I need the pros and cons of this debate? I know where I stand. Perhaps, but do you know why? We stand at a critical juncture in American law and culture. Even St. Thomas Aquinas knew and engaged his opponents’ arguments, because, like St. Peter, one must "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." We need to engage those arguments in ways that are not only right, but also appealing, because marriage entails "the sense of participating in the great chain of being itself, rooted in a natural call that is larger than any one person’s desire. That is what you lose when you take the woman out of the wedding."

Readers have two good advocates to examine what’s at stake and how it might be spun. How will it turn out? Trusting in God, but using the last words in the book: "We shall see."

David Yves Braun is the pseudonym of a writer who wishes to remain anonymous.

Filed under catholic books, election 2012