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Monday, May 7, 2012

America's Religion (3)

Roman Catholic raised and educated, I became an advocate for and practitioner of the "social teachings of the Church."  I was active in the Bishops' Campaign for Human Development which provided resources to communities to educate and organize themselves for social justice.  Poverty is defined by CHD not merely as economic deprivation, but also as lack of political power.

We worked with Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and other congregations to assist low and middle income neighborhoods and regions achieve the power of assembly, speech, and action to better their communities taking on local institutions and government.  Our focus was economic, political, racial justice over charity. While only a small minority of  clergy and parishioners participated in this focus, we felt we had the backing of strong, ecumenical religious leadership.

But by and large, leadership and laity became more concerned with "family values" and the purity of dogma in a closed belief system.  The churches and their schools became the means to assimilate families into the upwardly mobile aspiring suburban middle class and the American religion of success through the pursuit of wealth.  My Divinity School teacher, Gibson Winter, wrote about this in his Suburban Captivity of the Churches.

Ken Auletta's article on Stanford U, "Get Rich U," in a recent New Yorker Magazine says well what great institutions in America achieve and others, even religious ones, aspire to.  Stanford was founded by Railroad Baron Leland Stanford not as an Ivy Tower but to "qualify its students for personal success, and great usefulness in life."  It has achieved its objective admirably as the engine, workshop, incubator of the tech industries of Silicon Valley which have fed back into the campus with financial support, consultation,  instruction, and employment.  It models the quintessential American institution.

I taught at a Jesuit high school that prepares young men for college and success in business and the professions with the same value orientation of a Stanford.  Many of the graduates are successful in their accumulation of wealth, have developed a local club through which they can give each other business, and often support the school that encouraged their success. Catholic parishes and institutions, once defenders of immigrant and worker organization and power, now are beholden to their wealthy parishioners and alumni for support.

With some notable exceptions, religious institutions promote acts of charity for the deserving poor rather than voluntary organization of working, or want-to-be working, poor fighting for public policies of social justice.  Most of all, as Weber and other sociologists demonstrated, they enshrine the values of "making it" economically and providing more for themselves, their families, and perhaps their tribe or cult over vague considered notions of the "general welfare" or "common wealth." As a model for seminarians, the waterfront priest has given way to the wall street priest.*

Now the 10 Commandments of the true American civic religion:

1.  One God, no strange gods before: private pursuit of wealth, other values later.      
2.  Don't take name in vain:  keep oaths (see #8) especially with partners and stockholders
3.  Keep holy days:  go to church or temple to learn and sanctify the American creed..
4.  Honor father/mother:  self/family interest first; respect authority.
5.  No killing:  except in war to achieve and protect property (for God and self-defense).
6.  No adultery:  family values first (sexual mores over social justice).
7.  No stealing:  honor individual private property rights.
8.  No false witness:  maintain trust, contracts.
9 & 10.  No coveting neighbor's wife or goods:  Property rights above all (within the clan).

Nothing against the first amendment here.  Post the tablets in any civic place.


*Note: I am referring of course to Father Corridan (or Jack Egan, Geno Barroni, Dan Berrigan) and C John McClosky (or John Cronin, Archbishop Dolan, Robert Sirico).  


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