Monday, September 22, 2014

Catholic Social Teaching

As an older teen I read an awful lot of Chesterton. Eventually I read What’s Wrong With The World, and changed my Political Views on Facebook to “Distributist”. I thought I might have blanked it out sometime over the last 8 years, but no. I just checked and it’s still there.
But my understanding basically stopped there. I liked what Chesterton wrote and I think I also found something deliciously iconoclastic about using an obsolete (or at least anachronistic) label to describe my position.
As an aside, I recently read this older post from Scot McKnight about Evangelicals converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. He says, “these converts search for the original-est NT church by riding the American encouragement to be anti-traditional. Yet, their restoration spirit encounters the Great Tradition of the Orthodox church as the best form of restoring the NT church so they end up being anti-traditional by being unAmericanly traditional!” Anti-traditional by being traditional is kind of sums up my whole aesthetic viewpoint, which I’m sure I mostly acquired from reading all that Chesterton!
One thing I didn’t do, for better or worse, was search out who else was in favor Chesterton’s vision. I remember googling around for distributism and not finding much. Hilaire Belloc’s name came up frequently, but I never read anything by him. I regarded Chesterton as a singular genius (and I still do) so I think I just assumed that he came up with all of his ideas in a sort of vacuum, and that people since his time had just ignored him.
So it has been kind of a revelation to me to discover that Chesterton was mostly just doing a Lewis-type popular translation of a series of papal encyclicals. I gained respect and even sympathy for Roman Catholicism from reading Chesterton, but never went so far as to read what the church itself taught. (I did think about converting, briefly, but eventually found the theology of the Reformation to be both more convincing, and still closer to Catholicism in many ways relative to my congregationalist upbringing.)
As I’ve started to get this all sorted out in my mind, I’ve begun to notice other evangelicals appropriating Catholic social theory. I just read through this transcript of a talk Tim Keller gave in 2013. This bit from the Q&A:
It’s not just social thought. If you look at Alasdair McIntyre, we don’t have any — evangelicals don’t have anybody who has written anything like After Virtue or Whose Justice? Which Rationality? or nobody like Charles Taylor, who is a Catholic as well.

We just don’t — there is just no intellectual tradition, really, and I wouldn’t say it has changed that much. I just feel like I do see glimmers of hope, but it hasn’t changed that much. We have to borrow from other traditions.
At another point he briefly describes how Protestants can differ theologically from Catholics and yet hold a common view of social justice:
And actually I wrote a book called Generous Justice, and the subtitle was “How Grace Makes us Just.” Catholicism is a very complex phenomenon, but the Medieval church that the Protestants were reacting against basically said, “If you are just, if you live a just and righteous life, you’ll get God’s grace.” The Protestants were saying, “No. If you really, really grasp God’s grace, it will lead to a life of justice,” and that is my view and that’s how I argue in that book.
So I guess I need to read more Keller.

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