Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: A Love Affair Against the Common Good, Ctd.

April 18, 2011, 2:01 pm | Posted by

The incompatibility of Ayn Rand and Christianity continues to be a popular topic around the web.

Writing for dotCommonweal, Eduardo Penalver takes on the Catholic debate about whether prudential judgement would allow Catholic politicians to support the Ryan budget:

“While there may be a great deal of legitimate diversity of opinion concerning how best to promote the well being of the poorest, surely (on the magisterium’s view of its own authority) there is no legitimate diversity of opinion concerning the mandate to structure social policy toward that end. Thus, a Catholic politician who said that he was structuring social policy precisely because government has no obligation towards the poorest, could not be said to differ from the Church on a matter of mere prudential judgment.

It seems to me that the Ryan plan — and Ryan himself — can plausibly be accused of simply disregarding basic principles of Catholic social thought, not just prudential judgments about how best to achieve those principles. At the most basic level, the structure of his plan — cutting taxes for the wealthiest and for corporations while slashing benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable — does not square with the Church’s mandate to structure social policy in a way that is fundamentally focused on the well-being of the poorest, a kind of maximin principle.”

And Faith in Public Life board member Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite echoes this thought for Christians more broadly in her Washington Post On Faith piece today:

“I used to be a big Ayn Rand fan. I admit it. I read all her works and avidly discussed them with friends. I was in high school at the time. It became very clear to me as I experienced a call to the ministry in college that I’d I have to grow up, give up Rand’s selfish ideas, and begin to recognize that following the Gospel of Jesus Christ meant living for others.

Conservative Christians who support the Ryan version of radical conservatism based on the atheist individualist philosophy of Ayn Rand have some serious questions to ask themselves and these questions are long overdue.

Ayn Rand’s atheist hyper-individualism opposed religion in all its forms. The reason is that despite their failure at times to live up to their principles, the world’s religions all have an ethical core that teaches the moral duty human beings have to care for one another. Principled atheism and humanism, it should be noted, share this basic moral value. Rewarding the rich and denying the duty to care for the poor is incompatible with the core teachings of the world’s religions, and with many humanist values, as Greg Epstein describes them in Good Without God, and it is certainly a philosophy opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

add a comment »

Will Catholic Bishops Stand up to Paul Ryan?, Ctd.

April 14, 2011, 5:10 pm | Posted by

Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has a retort to my last post urging Catholic bishops to speak out against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal that would effectively dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. While I appreciate him taking time to engage this issue, Pope dodges some key issues and dismisses my argument as “polemical” without addressing its substance.

Pope spends considerable time going into detail about the fiscal failures of Democrats in city government, specifically the District of Columbia, and references the Washington Convention Center, Wolf Trap and other examples that meander away from the matter at hand. None of this has anything to do with my question of whether Catholic bishops should weigh in when a prominent Catholic lawmaker proposes a budget that would hurt the most vulnerable and undermine Catholic teaching about the role of government and the common good. Instead, Pope writes that my “main purpose seems more to be anti-Republican than to be proactive in suggestion specific practical solutions or particular budget cuts that are more acceptable.”

Is it “anti-Republican” to evaluate the morality of our budget choices? A Catholic lawmaker is now proposing to eviscerate New Deal social reforms that Msgr. John Ryan and Catholic bishops helped make a reality. It seems reasonable to ask if Catholic bishops might have something to say about this. Instead, Pope accuses me of “baiting the bishops.” In fact, as I was writing this response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the House of Representatives that signals their concern over Republican budget proposals.

“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” the bishops wrote. “It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”

Robert Greenstein, President of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, knows a lot more about budgets than Pope or I do. His statement about the Ryan proposal shows why we should not accept a false choice between fiscal prudence and a commitment to the common good:

Chairman Ryan’s sweeping budget plan has been labeled “courageous,” but it’s a cowardly budget in a crucial respect. It proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans — the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target– even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history… In 1990, 1993, and 1997, policymakers enacted major deficit reduction packages that reduced deficits without increasing poverty. Deficit reduction does not require the Gilded-Age, socially backward policies that the Ryan plan embodies. Those are choices that Chairman Ryan is making.

Catholics of good will can surely disagree over specific solutions to our nation’s fiscal challenges. But the debate over Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal is about fundamental questions. Will we continue to provide critical support to our most vulnerable neighbors or ask seniors and poor families to pay more for health care so we can give tax cuts to millionaires? Can we have a leaner, more effective government without abandoning core values and ideals that make our nation great? The Catholic social justice tradition offers a powerful compass to guide us during these challenging times. It’s good to see the bishops once again speaking up for the budget as a moral document.

add a comment »

Will Catholic Bishops Stand up to Paul Ryan?

April 11, 2011, 4:17 pm | Posted by

johnaryan.jpgRep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the intellectual darling of the Republican Party, has proposed a 2012 budget plan that would end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it. Ryan frames his dismantling of bedrock social safety nets as a “moral imperative” to save us from spiraling debt. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, pushing the plan this weekend, callously argues that “we have a safety net in place in this country for people who frankly don’t need one.”

Simply put, seniors and vulnerable families are being used as pawns in an ideological agenda whose end game is nothing less than wiping away the New Deal. Given that Ryan, a Catholic, has claimed the moral high ground, I’m challenging Catholic bishops to revive the legacy of another Ryan and speak out against this draconian proposal.

In 1919, the U.S. Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John Ryan, a Catholic priest whose thinking on labor and social inequality were widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction – a bold plan for what at the time were visionary social reforms: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The bishops’ proposal and Ryan’s rising star in Washington laid the groundwork for New Deal legislation proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the following decades. Time magazine described the “Right Rev. New Dealer” as “U.S. Catholicism’s most potent social reformer.” Where is this Catholic voice today?

Bishops were influential (and controversial) actors during recent legislative battles over health care reform. They clearly have the stomach for tough political fights. Will they now take on Paul Ryan and a Republican Party pursuing a radical agenda that is antithetical to a Catholic vision of the common good?

Photo credit to the John A. Ryan Institute at the University of St. Thomas

add a comment »

Latino Catholics Support Gay Rights

March 29, 2011, 11:49 am | Posted by

The US Census Bureau reports the Hispanic population is rapidly growing. It accounted for more than half of population growth in the United States in the last decade. 1 in 6 Americans now identifies as Hispanic, as do 1 in 4 American children. And since the vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic (with a growing segment identifying as evangelical or Pentecostal), it’s also important to note that Public Religion Research Institute recently found that Catholic support for gay marriage and civil unions is on the rise.

Conventional wisdom says that while the Hispanic population leans progressive because of immigration, their Catholicism makes them, as a whole, more conservative on social issues. The census report finds otherwise. Latino Catholics support marriage equality more than their white counterparts and far out pace white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, and white evangelical Protestants.

Latino Catholic Marriage Support.jpg

The one caveat is that support for civil unions among Latino Catholics is relatively low, demonstrating a divide between those who support full marriage rights for LGBT couples and those who prefer no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. But on the whole, Latino Catholics are more supportive of marriage rights for LGBT couples than any other religious-ethnic group. Going forward, their opinions will be increasingly more important in determining national policy on this issue.

add a comment »

Account from the Front Lines of the Health Care Crisis

March 24, 2011, 4:35 pm | Posted by

mary ellen howard.jpgToday’s Detroit Free Press features an op-ed from Sister Mary Ellen Howard, RSM, executive director of the St. Frances Cabrini Clinic of Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit. In the piece, which Faith in Public life worked with Sr. Howard on, she describes first-hand how the health care law is already improving her community:

Detroit, the oldest free clinic in the country, I’m on the front lines of our national health care crisis every day. Our doors are open to a steady stream of this city’s sick and most vulnerable who lack insurance.

I know that the more than 50 million uninsured Americans are not statistics. They are mothers, children and grandparents who deserve to be treated with dignity. In the wealthiest nation in the world, it’s a moral scandal that our broken health care system has left behind so many for so long.

This is why I’m hopeful that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is charting a new course. Because of this law, fewer patients will face dire circumstances. Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. This means a young girl with cancer or another serious illness can’t be denied the care she needs.

add a comment »