Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Social Prejudices—and Social Work

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 04, 2009

It is a curious problem. Many of those who do not agree with the strongly pro-life political positions taken by accuse us of being intellectual hostages of the right, and of not caring about the poor. No matter how strong the Catholic principle upon which a particular position is based, we are dismissed as being selfish Republicans. For example, my opposition to the federalization of health care because of the likelihood that abortion will be funded and medical providers will be forced to participate in it has given rise to new accusations that is motivated not by Catholic social thought but by conservatism, which is invariably hostile to those in need.

Such accusations are based on two monumental prejudices.

The first prejudice is that it is impossible for authentic Catholic social thought to arrive at any political position which is not dominated by the desire to give greater governmental support to the poor. If I state my opposition to material benefits for the poor whenever they are linked to increased support for abortion, then according to this prejudice my position is not genuinely Catholic. It must instead be motivated by selfish, materialistic, money-grubbing conservatism, because a truly Catholic position can be stated only as follows: “I sincerely believe abortion is immoral, and I hope it will be kept to a minimum, but I understand that it would be very wrong to let my concern about abortion lead me to oppose any related legislation which might provide greater material support to the poor.”

The second prejudice is that one’s attitude toward government programs is the sole determinant of one’s selfishness quotient. According to this prejudice, it is impossible for an unselfish person to conclude that a governmental program that purports to help the poor might do more harm than good, and it is equally impossible for a conservative person to have a genuine and deep desire to help the poor in other ways. It goes unnoticed, for example, that personal giving to charitable causes is substantially higher as a percentage of income among conservatives, who typically distrust federal programs, than among liberals, who tend to favor them. No, all conservatives are selfish. It’s just the way things are.

Now there may be (and almost certainly are) many illogical reasons for the strength of these prejudices. The mainstream media is dominated by secularists who do an excellent job of making opposition to abortion appear doctrinaire and mean-spirited. The sentimental fallacy demands that we expend more emotion on the visible poor than on invisible principles (or, indeed, on the invisible poor). And it takes far more energy to attempt to build a just society from the ground up than to abandon one’s responsibility to government bureaucrats, however corrosive their influence might be.

But there is also this: The widespread and long-term failure of entrepreneurial America to generate a cohesive social order which takes the needs of its weaker members to heart. A very large number of Americans feel deeply uneasy about this, and it would be a most unCatholic thing indeed to fault them for their concern. To the contrary, clearly needs to do a better job of articulating what a genuinely cohesive social order looks like.

This is outlined in the social teachings of the Church, but it is very hard to find a concrete reference point that can make these teachings seem practical and real. So partly we face prejudices because those of us who are drawn strongly to theological principles have so much more work to do. The Culture Project is just the place to do it. Clearly, we’ll have to roll up our sleeves.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.