Archives for the month of: June, 2012

Answering the call of the United States Catholic bishops for a Fortnight for Freedom, on the evening of June 21, we Occupy Catholics gathered on the sidewalk at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Though separated from our cathedral by a cage of police barricades and armed guards, we held a General Assembly on Freedoms to discuss what freedom means in our faith. The bishops have identified threats to freedom of their own, but we, as part of Christ’s church, set out to ask ourselves and each other what freedoms are most urgently under threat in our society, as well as what the obedience our faith demands of us. We announced our prayerful intentions to Cardinal Dolan beforehand, but were answered only with the power of the state.

Following the assembly, we remained through the night in vigil, in a NightFort for Freedom, joined by friends—including fellow Occupiers and the homeless—until attending the next morning’s 7 a.m. mass in the cathedral with the Cardinal. We recorded the assembly and the vigil for in our minutes, our streaming video, and our tweets, and our photos. Overnight, in prayer and sleep, we reflected on the freedoms that we’d earlier discussed, which we’d come to by the guidance of the Spirit, as human beings made in God’s image and seeking God’s justice. The threats to freedom that came foremost to our minds and hearts were these:

  • Freedom from discrimination. Policies like the NYPD’s use of “stop and frisk” have the effect of criminalizing whole populations, thereby supporting a prison-industrial complex that profits from the suffering of vulnerable people. Police departments lack sufficient oversight over their increasingly militarized powers to control and subjugate. Meanwhile, women in our church are increasingly being silenced and victimized for speaking out and following their conscience in ministry. We intend to support the struggle to end such policies through our movement and in our parishes, joining with allies of other faiths and backgrounds, knowing that in God’s eyes the dignity of each depends on recognizing the essential equality of all.
  • Freedom from complicity in war and the economy of the 1%. We want to be able to love our country, but our faith does not permit us to tolerate its practice of perpetual war, aggression, and domination around the world. Life everywhere is good and comes from God, and we have no right to destroy it, least of all in wanton pursuit of profits for the wealthiest, who stand to benefit from war while the poorest are the ones who die. We stand with Pope Paul VI, who said before the United Nations, “No more war, never again war!” Our church and the Occupy movement have often been silent on the evil of modern warfare, which takes ever more insidious forms, and we will work within both to be a voice for a future of justice and peace.
  • Freedom to self-govern in our church and society. Electoral politics, and increasingly our own church, are mired in the tyranny of money and greed, which make society a mockery of its true, divine calling to serve the people, and the most vulnerable above all. The direct democracy practiced in the Occupy movement has inspired us to long for a richer, fuller self-government in our society as well as in our church. While respecting the church’s sacramental offices, we reject their monopoly over the leadership and the public voice of the church as a whole. We want to hear from one another, and encourage one another to lead, by the God-given wisdom invested in each member of Christ’s body. We will not tolerate the violence of faithful voices being silenced. Humanity needs the opportunity to grow and to let the Spirit guide us on the road of transformation.

These are not the only freedoms we discussed. There were others as well, including:

Freedom of assembly • freedom of speech • freedom from torture • freedom of thought • freedom not to kill • freedom of belief • freedom to earn • freedom of conscience • freedom from suffering • freedom from manipulation • freedom to love • freedom of movement • freedom from mass consumption • freedom from relativism • freedom from debt • freedom to live in a healthy environment • freedom to serve the church • freedom from predatory corporations • freedom from greed

We call upon Catholics and allies everywhere to join with us in speaking out about, standing for, and finally occupying these and other freedoms that God, through undying and unlimited love, entrusts to us, that we might share them with each other in our church and our movement.

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blessing

Nathan: Church = ecclesia = assembly. we’re called as Christians/catholics to reconciliation. we want to help this Fortnight for Freedom. help it get going with a more open conversation. listen to one another. more voices. speak out toward a new consensus. let the spirit move us to a new consensus on freedom

Susan: this is about listening as well as speaking. a community of listening that’s prayerful

step up, step back

progressive stack

hand signals

proposed agenda
a speakout on freedoms

some of us are planning to spend the night on the sidewalk here. we have extra bedrolls.

freedom of assembly
freedom of speech
freedom from torture

freedom of intellectual thought

freedom not to kill or contribute to killing

Chris: freedom is a nebulous thing. freedom becomes an excuse for war or pushes an agenda.

freedom to believe or not to believe in God. we cannot make ourselves believe

Russell: the bishops are using “freedom” in a politically charged way. the acknowledgement of that is one way of explaining why we’re here and what we’re doing here.

freedom and human rights

Manny: financial freedom. freedom to make a dollar

freedom from stop and frisk and other racisms

freedom through obedience

freedom of privacy of conscience

freedom from pain and suffering

freedom to disagree

freedom and accountability

freedom from war and freedom from supporting war

freedom from domination

freedom from violence

freedom from hierarchy, verticality, manipulation

freedom to self-govern (religions and political organizations)

freedom to love

freedom of movement

freedom from the idea that freedom is mass consumption

freedom from debt

freedom to healthy environment

predatory corporations function in a world where people are hungry, etc.

women cannot join the hierarchy of the church

freedom not to accept what other people think is good for themselves

freedom from violence

freedom from stop and frisk and similar policies (and other discriminations)

freedom from contributing to the war machine (and global capitalism)

freedom to self-govern (in religion and politics)

Stop and Frisk

stop and frisk is real. it’s going on

chris: it’s constitutional, as per the SC

Russell: stop and frisk (like deportations and immigration law enforcement) is an evidencing of a criminalizing of a whole population. related to the prison industrial complex

Chris: There’s also the militarization of the police (as well as the constitutional aspect)

Loren: we’re called to stand with the oppressed. the NYPD is doing a lot of oppressing in this case. it has no inspector general.

Nathan: a lot of people on the SC are Catholics (7 out of 9)

Patricia: in south America there is a side that is the catholic church that identifies with the suffering. I come from Chile, that’s the case there. some priests aligned with Pinochet and some priests aligned with the suffering people. so, there are 7 catholics in the SC…. what kind of catholics are they?

Nathan (as an action item): Occupy Catholics should continue to have a presence at stop and frisk actions

Chris (as an action item): i think the most effective advocacy is local advocacy (it’s not the UN). parish-based advocacy.

Patricia: you can reach out to the parishes of the least privelged/most persecuted. for instance Guadalupe church at 14th (?)

Steve: i was at Francis Xavier’s peace and justice meeting last week. of the 8 people that were there, only 2 even knew what stop and frisk was.

man with dark beard: the U.S. lay conference and USCCB should raise stop and frisk as a justice issue

Chris: all the good things that USCCB does gets ignored by the media. the bad things they do get in the media

Nathan: we can create a document (out of this meeting) that we try to get in the media that makes public what some catholics are caring about

Steve: petition the bishops to make a formal statement on policy

Reuters person: I’m a reporter from Reuters looking for what normal women Catholics actually think about contraception and where it stands in relation to where the bishops are saying

freedom from contributing to the war machine (and global capitalism)

John: American should be able to feel that they fully love their country but not its war policies. real Americans do not want their country to become an imperialist war machine.

Patricia: I’m opposed to war period. I’m opposed to the killing of people who are from other countries. because you were born here and not there? that doesn’t make sense. you’re not from America and you’re from a country that America has a problem with and you may wake up to a war and may die in it? What?!

Manny: I hate the fact that the 1% is making so much money from these wars, and they’re sticking me with the tab

John: we should be saying prayers at the end of mass to end corporate capitalism, as we did 40-50 years with communism

Russell: war is an example (the best example) of how we—the 99%—don’t have control. our voice is not mattering. this is not an authentic democracy.

Chris: subsidiarity is a principle of catholic social teaching. just because you can vote doesn’t mean you have freedom. That’s part of freedom being nebulous; it’s defined by the West to suit their geopolitics. NATO wars give no consideration to local decisionmaking

Nathan: the decl’n of the occupation of NYC’s 1st draft did not even mention war. Occupy to this point hasn’t really spoken loudly on militarism.

John: Pope Paul VI at the UN said “never again to war.” That’s papal catholic teaching. The present hierarchy ought to be made mindful about that and ought to be embarrassed.

Chris: the 2-party system has permeated activism. and we have to get over that. (as activists)

Russell: Occupy Nukes plug.

Steve: Rick Santorum as Catholic. a perversion of the theology that this church is about.
our church says no to war just the way willie wonka says “oh.. don’t do that.”

John: the Republican catholic and the democratic catholic constituencies are tied up in the American moneyed system and all the U.S. enterprises. Rich catholics fund the churches and fund the war machine. so the church doesn’t take the prophetic stances that it must. If it did, its funds would dry up for alienating the people with the money/power.

woman in pink: book recommendation: justified warfare or the way of nonviolence

freedom to self-govern (in religion and politics) (and freedom from the violence of being silenced)

Nathan: why did I get interested in Occupy Catholics in December? I experienced the power of the occupation, from way back to the planning meetings in August. “we the people have found our voice.” it resonated with me a whole lot. I would take a break from the Occupation to go to mass in Bk where I go and it was SO hard to do so. I had an incredible hunger to hear from the people I went to church with. to hear the gospel reflected in their experience. to play out some of the possibilities of what our Church might look like if we were informed by our own common wisdom and experience and not just the homilies of the priests.

Patricia: humanity needs the opportunity to grow and become greater. repression is the problem here. all the manipulation and violence keeps us from evolving. but repression is a futile attempt. you cannot stop the evolution of humanity. we should let go of what was and face what will be. with trust in the road of transformation.

Russell: we’ve just dabbled in the answers of what do to about what’s big and scary and powerful in the world. the last two lengthier remarks have been so beautiful and I’m so grateful to have heard them.

woman in pink: most of us are nonviolent catholics. “just war” is not our favorite doctrine.

John: just war is past its time. you cannot even meet the criteria for just war anymore.

Susan: what does it mean to engage the transformation in a world when different people are on different places with the transformation?

Nathan: Fortnight for Freedom is defending the Church’s autonomy. The Church is here making remarks about what democracy should look like. what do we think about the Fortnight for Freedom?

Chris: subsidiarity again: local communities know best what works for their development. give local groups control.

the structures of the church don’t allow for that control.

Chris: I’m Eastern Catholic; I’m used to parish councils operating quite democratically and I guess I didn’t know the extent to which Roman Catholic parishes are kept out of deciding their own fates.

Chris: there are 21 Eastern churches in union with Rome. we have our own Patriarchs. we do a lot of chanting.

The fact that there are no strong parish councils in the Roman Church is a way that it is closed to change and democracy.

Nathan: there are ways of preserving offices of the Church while still incorporating a democracy

Nathan: rediscovering our Social Teaching in light of the occupy movement (e.g. distributism)

Patricia (as an action item): a project I started: Occupy Within. parallel to the work that we’re doing socially/politically, I would like to add a dimension to our work that makes it personal and internal. “the world has to change, except me” is to me not very revolutionary. we have to see ourselves as being included in that which will be transformed. in many ways we are what we oppose. and we cannot change that part by a magic trick. it’s something we have to work through.

John (as an action item): to, in conversation, plant the seed that helps us and others think differently. we do this by openly expressing our dissent. that plants a seed. say, “I just disagree. I don’t want to argue. I just want to register that I disagree.”

man in green shirt: if you change yourself, that’s substantive. it changes how you behave and what you bring to the world.

let’s pick this topic up again (that is, the social revolution and/versus the revolution of the heart)

Loren: more partipatory democracy is a good thing. more horizontalism is a good thing. communities ought to be able to decide what priest they have. I’m a Catholic for whom mass is often alienating. one of the most satisfying things to me is House Church at catholic wotker communities. we took turns in leadership of this. conversation and change. not just one priest—the same one every week.

Russell: this is about looking at a way that the Church is trying to be democratic. The Church is trying to participate in this so-called Democracy in a limited way. and it can’t participate in true democracy very much or very long, because it itself is not democratic. it can’t face questions about true democracy. it wouldn’t hold up to them. That’s something to keep in mind and return to.

John: Thinking about democracy, to disagree a little bit, the majority of American Catholics would vote for war. democracy has that side of it that is majority rule, that we wouldn’t want some decisions made by “a majority of Americans.”

Loren: I’m grateful for this discussion. I don’t have these often. I’m also geared toward action. what actions can we take to move forward.

woman in pink: the written word. when we have a discussion, it is really key o make a record of that. this is how we know about franz yeberschtat (?). the record is one small way the church might change.

Maybe we should make a record of this event/conversation in four or so paragraphs and send that out to friends. and say, “this is what we were up to. It’s something you could share in / plug into.”

Nathan: we should do more work to help us all feel more comfortable praying in public (and having our prayerful voices heard). evangelical do that very well and we do that very poorly.

As a closing prayer, “an asking.”

  1. OccupyCatholic
    Our NYC General Assembly on Freedoms is only a few days away. Keep spreading the word and praying your prayers! http://fb.me/1TM6wmu9y
  2. OccupyCatholic
    @sr_simone We’ll be praying for you at tomorrow’s General Assembly on Freedoms at St. Pat’s in NYC: http://ow.ly/bItzp #prayforus
  3. OccupyCatholic
    @bexxbissell We’re not pleading to the Catholic Church; we are the church, and we love our church, and right now the church needs to speak.
  4. OccupyCatholic
    A little boy just tried to reach through the #nypd barricades surrounding St Patricks cathedral to touch a bird. #OWS #repression
  5. OccupyCatholic
    Any @OccupyWallStNYC reinforcements want to join our overnight encampment at st Patrick’s cathedral? all night. #OWS 51st and 5th
  6. OccupyCatholic
    “@melisheath: @OccupyCatholic hey, y’all are awesome. have a great night! #Occupy #OWS” thanks! Pray for us!
  7. UnderempAmerica
    @OccupyCatholic thank you for what your doing on this very hot night. It’s actions like yours bringing Catholics back to the faith.
  8. OccupyCatholic
    Friendly non-Catholic #OWS #bikebloc just found us a nearby 24-hour restroom! @OccupyWallStNYC join us all night 50th and 5th.

The following interview is reprinted from Subversive Thomism (http://subversivethomism.com). –Joan

* * *

It is an honor to present this interview with Eugene McCarraher, who kindly agreed to respond to three questions about freedom: in relation to political economy, Catholicism, and the recent bishops’ declaration.

The interview adds to the growing grassroots discussion of “freedom” leading up to the Occupy Catholics General Assembly on Freedoms set for this Thursday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In response to a controversial call by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a ”Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4, lay Catholics and others are turning to a discussion of the meaning and dimensions of freedom in contemporary society, transcending the narrow confines of the contraception coverage debate and in many cases seeking a more radical (in the sense of “going to the root”) approach to the question of freedom.

Dr. Eugene McCarraher is Associate Professor of History at Villanova University. He is author of Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse of Modern American Social Thought and has written for Commonweal, The Nation, In These Times, and many other publications. He is currently working on The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.

* * *

ST: When we think of “freedom,” one of the first things that comes to mind is the idea of the “free market.” Is the free market really “free”?

McCarraher: No, the “free market” isn’t really free. Or, to make the point somewhat differently, the freedom of the free market is like someone pointing a gun at your head and offering you the choice of your money or your life. You do have the freedom to choose to get shot.

That’s not an unfair or outlandish analogy. When people use the phrase “free market” (or a kindred term such as “free enterprise” or “economic freedom”) what they really mean is capitalism. Capitalism is one of the most mis-defined words in the language, so it’s crucial to define it correctly in order to explain why the “free market” isn’t free. Let me start by talking about what capitalism isn’t. It’s not the same thing as profit-taking or “the market” — even people on the left often use these terms very sloppily. Profits and markets have been around for at least two millennia, and as David Graeber points out in his invaluable book Debt, the earliest markets were instituted in antiquity by states bent on raising money for military purposes. So the notion that markets emerge “naturally” is just a piece of fiction trotted out by Adam Smith and other economists. (Graeber also does a magnificent job of demolishing the idea that barter characterized the earliest economies. Again, a nice story, but the problem is there isn’t a shred of anthropological or historical evidence.) Capitalism is also not “the accumulation of wealth”: all societies have accumulated wealth beyond the point of subsistence, as will, I think, any imaginable society in the future. Capitalism also isn’t “greed” or “avarice”: yes, it’s fueled by greed or avarice, but greed or avarice have bedeviled us for ages, well before capitalism.

Capitalism is also not just “private property,” and that consideration takes us to the heart of what capitalism is. Capitalism is first, last, and foremost a system of property relations between producers and appropriators. Throughout history, property relations have entailed producers and appropriators, or classes: those who make goods and services and those who control the production and distribution of those goods and services, either by owning the means of production or by enlisting overt means of coercion. Under the property or class relations of pre-capitalist economies, masters or overlords used superior political and military power to force producers to surrender some part of their surplus labor and production. The differences in these forms of coercion mark the differences in economies: in chattel slavery, for instance, producers themselves were owned by masters, while in feudalism, nobles coerced serfs to perform labor on some part of the manor and surrender a portion of their own production. Under capitalist property relations, the dominant form of appropriation is based on legally free producers who are completely dispossessed from the means of production. Slaves were owned; serfs and peasants had direct access to their own means of production (they could walk out the door of the hut and start working any time they wanted, so long as the lord got his due). In capitalism, owners determine access to the means of production; even if they wanted to, workers can’t just stroll in to the factory or the office. Unlike chattel slaves or serfs, producers under capitalism are legally free, and their surplus labor and production is appropriated by the capitalist owner by purely economic means – that is, there’s no overt compulsion in the relationship between producer and appropriator. Because direct producers are propertyless, their only access to the means of production, even to the means of their own labor, is the sale of their capacity to labor to owners in exchange for a wage. The worker has something to sell as dearly as possible, namely his capacity to labor, which the capitalist wants to purchase as cheaply as possible so as to have the maximum left over for investment.

This unique relation between propertyless producers and propertied appropriators is mediated by the market. Capitalism follows certain laws of motion that distinguish it from other forms of economic life: the imperatives of competition and profit-maximization; a necessity to reinvest surpluses in production; and a systematic requirement to improve labor productivity and to develop technology. These laws of motion are enforced primarily by the market, which serves a distinctive and historically unprecedented function in capitalism: it mediates access, not only to ordinary goods, but to the means of production themselves. Almost everything in capitalism is produced for the market; both capitalists and laborers are utterly dependent on the market for the most basic conditions of life. Workers depend on the market to sell their capacity to labor as a commodity; capitalists depend on the market to buy this capacity to labor, to purchase means of production, and to realize profits by selling the goods or services produced by workers. Thus, capitalism is by nature an inherently unstable, dynamic, and conflictual system; and thus, class struggle is endemic to it, rooted in the very nature and logic of capitalist property. It isn’t some Big Misunderstanding, or the product of envy or resentment on the part of workers. Ask Warren Buffett, who once breezily informed the New York Times that “of course there’s a class struggle, and my side is winning.”

I want to underline two aspects of capitalism here: the coercive nature of its property relations, and the competitive character of the social life it generates. The mythology of capitalism abounds in the language of freedom: we speak of “the free market,” the creation of “opportunity,” the proliferation of “choices,” the “opening” of countries to trade. Yet we also speak of “market forces,” and forces are about compulsion. What I think needs to be clarified is that the distinctive and dominant characteristic of the capitalist market is not opportunity or choice but, on the contrary, compulsion. Despite the appearance of freedom and equality in the wage bargain, for instance – the worker is “free” to choose or reject the terms of employment offered by the owner – the owner’s complete control over access to and use of the means of production puts him at a decisive advantage. Under slavery, your master chose you; under capitalism, you choose your master. (There was a reason why workers in the 19th century referred to wage labor as “wage slavery.” It’s a language we need to speak again.) By the same token, the capitalist imperatives of competition, accumulation, and profit-maximization mandate that owners acquire and seek to enlarge their control, not only over the means of production, but over workers themselves. No matter how affable or cultivated they are, they must resist or break unions; they must utilize technologies that render workers either obsolete, cheaper, or more pliable; they must oppose any effort on the part of the state to regulate the conditions under which they extract as much surplus as they can out of workers, regardless of how inhumane, socially irresponsible, or ecologically destructive those activities are. The only justice and equity that workers have ever achieved in capitalist nations have been acquired, painfully and often against great violence, through unions, left-wing parties, and a generous welfare state. They have not been granted by tender-hearted capitalists, which is why “socially responsible capitalism” is pure ideological twaddle.

It’s essential to point out that capitalism did not appear in history as the free decision of uncoerced men and women. The history of capitalism is a long and ongoing tale of dispossession and violence, beginning with the confiscation and sale of monasteries in the 16th century; the enclosure of commons, meaning the eviction of peasants from land, in the 17th and 18th centuries; the imperialist invasion and forcible transformation of numerous societies, beginning with Ireland in the 16th century. The creation of American capitalism required the removal and destruction of native American tribes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the trade in African slaves provided considerable start-up capital for North Atlantic manufacturing, and plantation labor serviced the commodity markets in London and Amsterdam.

Understanding capitalism as a system of imperatives also helps explain why, far from being some sort of anomaly or perversion, our current economic turbulence is a textbook case of capitalism being capitalism. The media focus on the Bernie Madoffs and Jamie Dimonds of the world obscures the fact that this is not a “financial” crisis or the result of “bad apples,” but rather a systemic tremor that’s been in the making for the last four decades. Beginning in the 1970s, corporate capital remade the system in a way that landed us in the mess we’re in. Rising energy costs and increased international competition both forced and enabled corporations to do something they’d wanted to do all along: dismantle the New Deal arrangements which had characterized the U. S. economy since 1945, and which had contributed to the longest and most equitable expansion of productivity growth in the history of capitalism. The introduction of computerized production and communication technologies enabled management to accelerate automation and introduced more intensive labor practices. New management and production practices emphasized the “flexibility” of labor – i.e., weaker or non-existent unions. The result? In the 1990s, productivity per worker hour rose four times as fast as the average hourly wage – in manufacturing, twenty times as fast. With weak unions and strong bosses, productivity growth showed up in the pockets of executives, stockholders, and bank creditors. Meanwhile, mutual fund directors and other institutional investors virulently reasserted stockholder claims; mergers and acquisitions put financial over productive prowess; financiers acquired a historically unprecedented role in corporate governance.

So the “free market” is really a latticework of coercions that operate under the name of “freedom.”

ST: Should “freedom” be an important value for Catholics? It seems like an Enlightenment ideal: is that okay?

McCarraher:  The fact that “freedom” under capitalism is really about a network of coercions makes the answer to your second question a tricky issue. Yes, freedom should be an important value for Catholics — certainly in the traditional Catholic, Aristotelian sense, which I understand to be the ability to fulfill one’s nature, to pursue one’s telos. I would emphasize that, by that teleological standard, capitalism actually stands in the way of full human flourishing by defining freedom in terms of property ownership and market competition. If our telos involves, as Aquinas understood it, friendship and beatitude, then the imperatives of capitalist property relations are almost perfectly designed to thwart these ends.

If you look at the matter in historical terms, the notion of freedom that we have in liberal capitalist societies derives, in large measure, from Roman law. The English word “free” stems from the Germanic word fremden, or friend. Hence, to be free, in this view, is to be able to make friends and live in community. But the way we understand freedom is more akin to Roman jurisprudential notions of dominium and libertas, both of which entailed the right to do anything with anything that one possessed. Freedom, in this understanding, is simply more or less unfettered power.

All of which is to say that the question of whether or not Catholics — or Christians in general — should seek to value and preserve liberal freedom has to have a complicated, ambivalent answer. Has liberal democracy, for instance, been a great step forward? Obviously yes — when liberalism was born, whole groups of people were excluded from genuine participation in political life. Liberalism has also cultivated respect for individuality and an iconoclastic attitude toward authority, both of which are invaluable and I hope imperishable contributions to human flourishing. So, in my view, Christians need to cherish and affirm many features of liberalism and liberal democracy. I must say that I’m troubled by an increasing tendency among Catholics, especially but not exclusively among our more conservative brethren, to vilify liberalism, the Enlightenment, and modernity as though they were the spawn of Satan. Most Christians who wail and lament about liberalism and modernity have only the most notional and sentimental conceptions of what life was like for most people before modern technology, modern communications, representative democracy, freedom of speech and religion, feminism, etc. — all of those and more, defining features of modernity.

But I also think that we have to see liberal democracy and liberal freedom in historical, contingent terms — in other words, they were necessary moments, but not sufficient for human flourishing. We have to realize that liberal democracy is, in the end, a more or less regulated struggle for power, a contest of wills. In liberal societies, what matters first and foremost is not what you will, but that you will. That’s why the liberal nation-state can’t really claim to be a polis, or a community, or even a democracy. As Chuck Mathewes once pointed out, liberalism is really profoundly anti-political: if you define a political community or polis as a group of people who seek a common good, liberal democracy is by definition not about a common good but about the clash and orchestration of individual goods. (That’s why liberal democracy inevitably tends, I think, to plutocracy. Reform movements such as the New Deal inexorably succumb to the logic of capital and the ideology of the unfettered individual.) Does that mean we should seek something other than liberal democracy? In the end, yes — contrary to what Americans believe, liberal democracy does not exhaust the meaning of democracy. We’re not going to achieve anything approaching a genuinely democratic polis — and therefore achieve the genuine freedom of living among friends in community — until we both nurture a different understanding of “freedom” (one that preserves the best in the liberal tradition) and create a new, post-capitalist economy. As the wonderful Dominican socialist Herbert McCabe once put it, our model for society and freedom should be friendship, not a competitive market.

ST: One thing that struck me about the USCCB statement “Our Most Cherished Liberty” (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm) is that it calls Pope Benedict XVI “a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom.” Some might read this statement to be implying that defending America with military force amounts to defending “freedom.” Would that be problematic?

McCarraher: It certainly would be “problematic” — indeed, such an enlistment of the Pope “in defense of freedom” would be insidious.

First, let me just say “Our Most Cherished Liberty” is problematic on a number of levels. First, it’s understanding of religious liberty in America is historically challenged. The common conception of the history of religion in the U. S. is that because we’ve had a legal disestablishment of religion, that therefore religious liberty has reigned. This simply isn’t true. As David Sehat demonstrates in his indispensable book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Christianity has always enjoyed a de facto cultural establishment which has had enormous legal and political implications. All kinds of religious groups have suffered discrimination and violence in this country’s history — I would offer native Americans as an example, but since we have a Mormon running for President, I’ll instance the Latter-Day Saints. There’s no way you can read their history without being struck by the overt and violent attempts of the U. S. government — aided and abetted by ordinary citizens — to repress and destroy the Mormons. You’ll never hear Mitt Romney talk about any of this, of course, because he and most other Mormons embrace the “exceptionalist” nonsense that other Americans believe, including the bishops.

Given all that, I think that “Our Most Cherished Liberty” is, among other things, a cri de coeur from Catholic bishops who, along with other paranoid Christian leaders, are witnessing the slow cultural disestablishment of Christianity. They used to receive the immediate and uncritical deference of their flock and of others, and now they don’t — for a host of reasons, many of them traceable to their own duplicity, authoritarianism, and moral mediocrity.

The mediocrity is evident in the phrase you cite: “friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom.” Jesus, this is the state of Christian eloquence? They sound like President Obama, delivering yet another one of his sonorous banalities before he orders the next round of drone strikes. Speaking of which, have you heard of any of our courageous shepherds expressing outrage at the practice, or at the revelation that the President has a “kill list”? Of course not, and you won’t at any time in the near future. By and large, the Catholic bishops, like most other religious leaders in this country, have been bought and paid for — they are, as Mike Budde once termed them, the imperial chaplains. They earnestly desire, as they say very clearly in the very first paragraph, to align our identities as Catholics with our identities as Americans. I’m sure that, much of the time, there’s no problem there. But to the extent that “American” means the idealization of liberal capitalism and the sanctioning of military force to “defend” our essentially Roman, capitalist romance of freedom — well then, we do have a problem.

In advance of the June 21 General Assembly on Freedoms, Occupy Catholics sent the following letter to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archdiocese of New York

Your Eminence,

In response to the USCCB’s call for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” some of us involved in a network called Occupy Catholics will host an open discussion about freedoms — we call it a “General Assembly” — on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It will take place on Thursday, June 21, at 6 p.m. Our purpose is to help ensure that ordinary, faithful people of our church can play a participatory role in this important campaign, especially in helping to define which freedoms matter to us most and speak to us as Catholics, Christians, Americans, and human beings — made in God’s image, seeking God’s justice. As you and the bishops have called us to action and anchored it to that day which, in 1776, the Continental Congress issued their Declaration, we feel privileged to exercise our rights of assembly and speech to discuss and debate the breath of our religious freedom.

We write to inform you of our gathering, so you know that we gather as part of one church, in enthusiasm for the call to action that you have promulgated. Especially in light of the repression against the Occupy movement’s freedoms of speech and assembly by the New York Police Department over the past year, we hope that you will help ensure that our event can proceed peacefully and prayerfully.

The following morning, many of us look forward to sharing the Fortnight for Freedom mass with you.

Asking the blessing of Your Eminence, we are Yours respectfully in Christ,

Occupy Catholics

Download a 4-to-a-page .pdf file.

Details and RSVP on Facebook.

On Thursday, June 21, in New York there will be a General Assembly at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to discuss the notion of freedom. Although I am unable to attend, these are my preliminary considerations:

by Dave Kovacs

Since we are taking the political notion of religious freedom into a wider context of the religious notion of political freedom, I am going to first say what I take freedom to mean within the context of our Catholic tradition. Then I am going to say something about how the role of the state and political institutions play into freedom. After that, if I can tie those two strands together, I will stop writing and consider my endeavor successful.

Our spiritual ancestors celebrate their freedom at Passover. We read similar passages from the Old Testament during Lent and again at the Easter Vigil: We read of an enslaved people forced to work for low wages. And we hear of their plight when the management insisted they begin doing more work for less pay. This should already sound familiar. But let me be so bold as to highlight some other echoes from our salvation history.

The Book of Exodus also tells us that the enslaved Israelites grumbled but did nothing. As their conditions worsened, they seemed content. Even the ineloquent Moses, confronted by God, was afraid that he could not bring the people to rise up and depart from the injustices of their oppression. But even when the people were willing to be slaves, God desired better for them.

God chose one man, the unlikely criminal from a privileged class, to lead the people from bondage and into liberation. The man, Moses, was incredulous. He was cynical. In his comfort he thought, “But I am one man with little talent! They will not believe me, nor hear my voice!”

But in the divine plan defeat was not an option. The greed of the oppressors had to be overthrown. The people had to be free.

Moses and his brother made an appeal before the politicians. But Pharoah would not listen. Finally, as we know the story: Moses, with God’s help, took the people out of the corrupt system and into freedom. The rulers unleashed chariots and charioteers, but behold, the spirit which animated the freedom of the oppressed was stronger than any army, and we read that God clogged the wheels of the chariots. The very sea meant to prevent the workers from escaping became the enemy of the rulers; the armies were overrun by their own greed.

These stories, which are at the heart of the Jewish liturgy to this day, are recalled again and again in the New Testament. Just as the Jewish people were freed from slavery through water, so we are freed from vice and pride by Baptism. Just as the Jewish people were destined to receive a liberation beyond worldly imagination, today the Spirit calls us to a liberation beyond the corporate and secular imagination.

But our freedom does not require us to abolish the state or abandon society. Rather, it is in the midst of our society and with the aid of human law that we can come to bring people to true freedom.

This is not statism.

Allow me to cite St. Thomas Aquinas’s first article in Q. 95 of the Prima Secundae found in the Summa Theologiae. What, he asks, is the purpose of human laws? And he cites the authority of the Latin Father Isidore in finding three tasks for human law: To curb human audacity, to protect the innocent from the wicked, and to use the threat of force to stop greedy people from harming others.

Is this not what the Occupy movement is about? Do we not seek to curb the most audacious human behaviors, the audacity of those who would send our soldiers to war unnecessarily, that would hold up the violence of the death penalty because it’s politically expedient, the audacity of those who would accept large bribes from the very criminals they claim to stand against? Has the Occupy movement not shown that the audacity of the bailouts, the audacity of austerity, and the audacity of inequality must no longer reign? Have we not stood against the audacity of polluters and the audacity of retirement pension looters?

The Occupy movement represents the first significant movement in a generation to protect the innocent from the wicked. As high school students innocently sign for the student loans that they believe will improve their lives, we stand to protect them from bankers who see student loans as another chance to enslave them. As innocent parents try to raise healthy children, we stand to protect them from marketers who see young faces as profitably potential addicts. As innocent families struggle to make ends meet, we stand to protect them from the forces of foreclosures. We have been and must continue to be, as Jesus was, the voice for the innocent in a world of wickedness.

And we must be willing to use the instruments of law to prevent the wicked from harming others. We must be willing to end wars which kill thousands of people overseas. We must be willing to stand with the workers as their basic rights to collective bargaining for fair wages and decent working conditions are threatened. We must be willing to stand with the sick when the insurance companies seek to harm them by denial of coverage. We must be willing to stand with the teachers when the politicians layoff in the name of tax-cuts. We must be willing to stand with every person who is threatened by the harm of an inherently unjust system.

This is an inherently unjust system because it thrives on greed and human competition without boundaries. The myth of capitalism is that the vice of greed will make society better; in truth, the vice of greed can make only a vicious person and a vicious society. It makes few free and makes many slaves. It makes us slaves to avarice.

And so we must change the system. We must change the minds of the people. And to do this we must rely on something greater than any of us. Like Moses fearful that he could not change the hearts of the oppressed, we must rely on the staff that the Lord has entrusted to us. This staff will part the waters of oppression and apathy.

This staff is the Spirit which continues to inspire all people toward freedom and genuine liberation. This is the staff of spiritual enlightenment. And just as Moses had to be held up, we must hold each other up. We must never give up in this mission, for it is a divine mission, and it is a mission in which we will learn to hold each other up on the left and on the right. We will hold each other up, every one of us, and together we will lead each other to freedom: To economic freedom, to political freedom, to social freedom, and to spiritual liberation. May we never fail to realize that our institutions are only good so long as they help us move toward these freedoms. May we never stop organizing for better and more virtuous institutions capable of this holy quest. May we never stop loving one another with the love God has for us as he hearkens us out of slavery and into freedom.

by Cesar Chavez

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I will know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me the courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.
Amen.

“Freedom! America! Roman Catholic!”

The USCCB has called for a Fortnight for Freedom to be celebrated from 21 June to 4 July.  They have also developed a political advertisement about American Catholics voting for values this November.  Finally, they have written a Statement of Religious Freedom that asserts that “we are Catholic and we are American.”  All of these statements are poorly veiled calls to vote Republican in the fall.  The political advertisement that asks us to vote for values occurs in a political culture in which “values” are associated with the Republican party, and the cry for a Fortnight for Freedom stresses the value of freedom of religious liberty — a negative freedom, not a positive one — the state will not interfere with our religious freedom.

The USCCB makes its primary mistake, however, in identifying themselves as Catholics and Americans!  Today’s America is not Christian, much less Catholic.  People in the US idolize the dollar and death.  So when the bishops state that we have values other than gas prices or a faltering economy they miss the point.  They are fighting over dollars not over life.

For true freedom — Catholic freedom — insists, not only on a protection of the right to non-interference in my life, but to protection of a positive right to life.  Freedom is essential to that positive right to life — but it is not simply a freedom from; it is a freedom, in the words of Paul VI, “To do more, to learn more, to have more.”

I say, let us join with the USCCB — let us rejoice in freedom, but let’s be Catholic about our freedom.  We should have freedom

  • of conscience — which means, not only the freedom to follow my conscience no matter what as the Catachsim demands, but freedom to form my conscience through a quality education supported by taxes.
  • “On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.”  The Catechism of the Catholic church, quoting from Vatican II’s “Gaudium et Spes,” notes, ”Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (1795).
  • of self-determination — which means, not only non-interference, but freedom to learn who I am through education and freedom to pursue who I am through progressive taxation.
  • of love — which means, not only non-interference in living a loving life, but freedom learn to love in a culture that does not condemn me for who I love.

Those are truly Catholic freedoms, but they require us to reject American society, to reject a culture of death, and to reject political parties which do not honor all of our freedoms.  The right to life is the fundamental right.  Anything that demeans or degrades or unfairly treat that life violates that fundamental right.  Justice is not something separate but something integral to the right to life, and until Catholics — bishops and priests, religious and lay — embrace tat integrity we will forever be divided and un-Catholic and, much more sadly, un-Christ-like.

Originally published at Subversive Thomism.

Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter:

Joining the ranks of established church reform organizations were members of the newly formed Occupy Catholics, a group that is an exciting sign of new life for the church justice movement.

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street’s phrase, “We the people have found our voice,” Occupy Catholics is dedicated to challenging the institutional church to uphold its social justice teaching. More than half of the group is made up of young-adult lay Catholics.

Nathan Schneider and other organizers from Occupy Catholics came to the cathedral to support the vigil.

“The people in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are speaking as Catholics,” said Schneider, a writer and activist in his late 20s. “It looks like a protest, but there is actually something deeper going on here. This is a part of the church acting as a part of the church.”

Although the groups were united in a common hope that the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith would stop its investigation, some have differing hopes about the outcome of the LCWR’s struggle with the Vatican.