The Occupy Wall Street movement has been the big story of the last few months. What fictional “Wall Street” movie character Gordon Gekko called the NINJA generation (No Income, No Jobs, No Assets) is gathering together in major urban centers to protest growing income inequality, a lousy economy in which there are few available jobs, and the feeling that our nation is ruled by a plutocracy of bankers and financial speculators.
How should Catholics respond?
Like its fraternal twin, 2010’s Tea Party movement, OWS has elements of a truly populist uprising. Although neither movement has a specific set of political goals, there is definitely a sentiment across the political spectrum that something is wrong.
Many people no longer believe that democracy works for them or for the common good.
But each movement correctly identifies only half the problem.
The Tea Party recognizes that Big Government too often imposes the arbitrary rule of tax-loving bureaucrats who stifle authentic liberty and strangle entrepreneurism in a mass of red tape. Big Government also tends to usurp responsibilities that should be performed by individuals, families, businesses, churches and other institutions of civil society.
On the other side of the coin, OWS recognizes that Big Business (particularly financiers and the military-industrial complex) have enriched themselves at public expense, often conspiring with politicians to do so through tax breaks, corporate bailouts and legal regimes that funnel capital into usurious loans and other forms of financial speculation that do little else than provide massive profits for a select few.
And when the financial house of cards collapses, the average Joe gets stuck with higher taxes and fewer jobs to make sure GM and the banks don’t “fail.”
Further, poverty is on the rise, a record number of people are receiving food stamps, and homelessness is now common in the suburbs, not just the inner city.
People are, understandably, upset.
Only part of the picture
Neither movement, however, gets the full picture, which means the answers they suggest will do little to solve the underlying problems.
The answers provided by the political action groups who co-opt these movements still typically fit in the same old left-right divide and are essentially capitalist or socialist.
But the false religions of “market fundamentalism” and statism will only further empower what G.K. Chesterton called “Hudge and Gudge,” the co-dependent relationship between Big Government and Big Business.
Hudge and Gudge are empowered by greed and the “libido dominandi” — the lust for power. Hudge encourages Gudge to create regulatory regimes that favor the pursuit of profits and the elimination of competition. Gudge obliges, on the agreement that Hudge keeps Gudge in power.
Not surprisingly, the leadership of Hudge and Gudge splits time between both.
So when Tea Partiers call for more freedom and lower taxes, the public gets less regulation of banks and corporate tax breaks.
When OWS people call for more regulatory oversight and income redistribution, the public gets corporate subsidies and legal regimes that favor big businesses and harm small ones.
And if OWS isn’t satisfied with these brussels sprouts and continues to occupy your city, the police will eventually be sent in to restore “order.”
We are left with the $64,000 question: “What is to be done?”
Do we believe that the answer is to sit out in the cold complaining about “the system” with a bunch of kids wearing Guy Fawkes masks?
Sacrament of charity
As Catholics, the first thing we should do is occupy our local eucharistic adoration chapel and sit in the presence of the sacrament of charity.
As Mother Teresa said, “Prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will save the world from destruction.”
Transforming a broken world must first start with transforming ourselves because there is no political solution to what is fundamentally a moral problem. There is only a spiritual solution — one that starts with repentance and conversion.
When we gaze upon the Lord, we will better see him in the face of others. And when we do so, we will gain a renewed sense of solidarity — particularly with the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed and the immigrant looking for work.
This heightened awareness of the needs of others will lead us to not just think about but also act to build a more just social order.
Spending time with the Lord will also help us see the world in a more integrated way, get at the root cause of problems, and begin to develop solutions that serve the common good, not just the narrow interests of a few.
Over the coming months, this column will periodically outline the moral principles and ethical framework the church offers us to reconstruct a broken social order.
But for now, we have to rebuild the broken person that is all of us.
Occupy the chapels!
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Category: Faith in the Public Arena