November 30, 2012

The Patriotic Lies of an American Nun

Credit: Health Policy Solutions

By Addie Darling

In a talk right before Thanksgiving, Sister Simone Campbell used her speech for the Louisiana Teacher’s Conference not as an opportunity to promote the necessity of a solid education for the flourishing of the human person, nor the need to improve education in impoverished areas, but instead as a bully pulpit for the values of political liberalism and leftist economic policies. Towards the end of her closing words, she accuses a number of Americans of promoting an “unpatriotic lie” that promotes individualism and, as she hints later, shelters and promotes “the 1%” at the expense of others.

While the sentiment that people ought to fight poverty and exploitation of the poor, is honorable and correct, Campbell’s characterization of the situation is hyperbolic and fundamentally at odds with a Christian understanding of the world. Sister Simone presents the situation in such a way that the only moral, patriotic solution to the current state of affairs is direct government care for the poor. Furthermore- and more disturbing- is the supreme importance Sister Simone places upon this issue. She states: “it’s more than – no I can’t say that it’s more than faith- it’s faith for me,” thus placing government programs on the same plane as the sacraments and core doctrine of the Catholic Church.

There are two real issues with Sister Simone’s approach here. Firstly, she may be very mistaken in calling individualism “unpatriotic”: one need only to look at our country’s social creed of libertinism and individual preference in community structure, sexual ethics, and moral code to argue that individualism is an American value.  Indeed, the question of whether or not America’s heritage is inherently one of individualism and license is currently being discussed among Christian intellectuals as we speak. So, while it may be that when some political conservatives extol the goods of economic license and lack of accountability, they may in fact do so in a uniquely patriotic manner.

Furthermore, this atomized society, divorcing man from God, his family, his community, leaves those who fall upon tough times with no one to turn to. Thus, there is no one to step in to help the poor and the needy save for the government. However, instead of remedying the situation, ultimately this precedent of passing on responsibility from the people to the state just continues to weaken our communities. This cycle of both the political left and the right cleaving individuals from one another means that both individualism and government intervention are our patrimony, and are, in a twisted way, “patriotic.”

The second major issue at hand here, as previously mentioned, is the misguided attitude Campbell takes towards charity and government action. Most Christians would firmly agree that one should work against unjust systems that prey upon the poor. It also is non-controversial and very Catholic to suggest that increased community involvement and support would benefit the persons of our nation.

Yes, the Christian faith requires that we love our neighbor, and Christian charity calls that we care for the sick, that we clothe the naked, sacrifice our time and resources to help the poor.

However, Sister Simone forgets that we are not our brother’s keeper only once every four years, nor only from the voting booth, nor only on the political stage.  We Christians are our brother’s keeper every day, in every aspect of life.

Christian charity is not the sole responsibility of the 1%, and its enforcement of equality before Caesar the supreme act of faith in the Lord. To equate the Christian faith with political activism as Campbell does marks a prioritization of our political heritage and identity over our Christian one. Christians ought to remember that the City of God and the city of man will always be in tension with one another; while the Christian is called to transform the world, one ought to be wary of transforming Christ to achieve worldly ends.

It is a patriotic lie to say that it is acceptable to divorce man from the structures and support of family, community, and God. It is equally American and false to claim that man’s success and salvation will come on the wings of government programs. Installing government aid as a virtue, as faith, itself dethrones Christ as King. In its place “Mundus renovatus est A ordinatio liberallis regnante.

23 Responses to The Patriotic Lies of an American Nun

  1. dover1952 says:

    Praise Jesus for the Catholics!!!

    That sure is a lot of college student malarkey Addie, but it has never really appeared to me that Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals give a flying “you know what” about the “least of these.” Their party line has always been that a perpetually angry God, who remembered to take his medicine for only 33 years, is coming back to butcher mankind and torture billions of people forever and ever—and that they are on an emergency rescue mission that makes everything else in the Bible and the world shrink to the microscopic in significance.

    I agree with you that everyone should help the “least of these,” including the church as a whole. The fundamental problem is that the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evamngelical churches—and other churches—do not have enough money to do the job. The problem vastly outweighs the means, which is why the government intervenes.

    Often, when I pursue this question further with assorted Christians in my own life here in my hometown, I soon learn some things of which I was not aware. For example, when I bring up the subject of the chuches being unable to meet the level on need with their own finances, I quickly learn that this is not what they really have in mind. Instead, they are hoping that federal and state government can be cajoled into turning over its vast entitlement program funds in enormous block grants to the churches so they can do the work instead of the government—something I would call a make-the-churches-suddenly-wealthy-beyond-the-dreams-of-avarice scheme. Bearing in mind that money is power and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, I have to wonder where that would lead in a geographical area like mine where building his own megachurch is the luxury dream to which every baptist preacher aspires—like my own former pastor who wished he made enough money to live the hot tub life.

    In addition, I have learned that my local Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical neighbors have some very unusual ideas about what it means to help the “least of these.” I hear it all the time, and people write it in their letters to the editor of our local newspaper. They want to be able to offer people help contingent upon cleaning up their lives. It works something like this:

    “Okay, you are obviously the world’s most disgusting and decrepit sinner or you would not be so down and out. Everyone knows that poverty is caused by a failure to please God. I am going to give you some food next week, but I want to start seeing you clean up your life in return for it. If we see progress in your life, then we will continue to feed you. If we do not see progress, and especially if you do not accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior as a direct result of this church program, then we will withdraw the funds and ensure that you starve to death in the streets.”

    Their theory is that if the church gives the “least of these” a choice between life reformation on the one hand and certain death on the other hand, the person will be most highly motivated to reform rather than die in the gutter. They earnestly believe that failure to treat people in this draconian way is the great weakness and failure of government entitlement programs and the great strenghth of those who follow Jesus.”

    Just come on down to Knoxville, Tennessee, Addie and learn about all of the great and compassionate plans local Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have to help “the least of these” when billions of taxpayer dollars are turned over to the churches. They will also teach you how to start every sentence with “Weez ones is…”

    • russedav5 says:

      Your nonsense condemning “fundamentalists” & “evangelicals” you don’t really know beyond a few examples is just baseless hypocritical hyperbole from someone who doesn’t know those he condemns, me for instance, with a scarcely hidden filthy mouth no less. You merely minimize other parts of the Bible which makes you no different, as I said, hypocritical. Your pretense that somehow enabling addicts without standards is superior in compassion to those who have some is at best ludicrous and at worst criminal negligence of those for whom Christ weeps. God save us.
      PS See for a stellar example of those you’d label “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” who are surely doing far more for Christ & His gospel than you are, including being a powerful worldwide mission sending base both at home & abroad.
      Russ D.

    • Addie Marie says:

      I agree that many Christians (myself included) don’t do enough to help the poor (though I would disagree that it’s because there’s not enough money- it’s because we are not actually acting like Christians and giving our money- but more than that our time and ourselves.) I’m also from the South and have seen the kind of “charity” you talk about in action.
      The issue is when the gospel and Christian teaching is re-invented to fit beliefs and ideas. This goes on on both the right and the left- and includes fundamentalism and prosperity preaching as much as it does revisionist conceptions of social justice. Really, both the phenomenon you discuss and the re-imagining of Christian charity that Sister Simone employs are two sides of the same coin- it is individualism gone awry.
      Perhaps my new article today may clear things up a little bit?

    • JM says:

      It is neither appropriate nor prudent to ask Addie to answer for all of the heresies and prejudices of fundamentalist Tennessean Evangelicals. Moreover, to invoke some pretended Christian monolith under which Catholics are ideologically, structurally, and morally identical to those Christians toward which you bear such animosity is to commit a grave error. I grew up in Franklin around many of the same kinds of people I’m sure you’re familiar with, and I’ll tell you – Catholicism, robustly understood, is something so distinct and so completely other from those forms of Christianity you find so abhorrent that to lump them into the same pile is completely nonsensical.

      So whatever your assessment of modern fundamentalist Evangelicalism may be, to assert that Catholics ought to be understood along the same lines as those folks is utterly misguided. Here’s the gist of what Addie’s arguing – of course, as a prudential matter under Catholic doctrine, governments may need to step in with programs for social support to fill gaps that civil society cannot. However, to substitute personal charity with government bureaucracy to the extent that Sister Campbell does- to ascribe the same moral urgency to supporting federal entitlement programs that one normally would to giving a homeless person half of your lunch or volunteering at the local food bank – is idolatry and scandal of the highest order. It’s a complete subversion and hollowing out of how Catholic orthodoxy understands charity, rightfully criticized in this post.

    • Clement Williams says:

      The ‘evangelicals, fundamentalists and conservatives’ you are talking about are there for sure. There ARE TWO testaments, the Old and the New. In the old, humanity was very, very young and just like little babes need ‘Don’t do that’ to help them learn that it will lead to harm themselves, the older one gets, the less need for ‘Don’t do that’. This is where the New Testament and Jesus Christ who brought the Positive New Testament with “Thou SHALT love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength AND Love thy neighbor as YOURSELF”. Our society has not progressed in either Darwininian or Social Evolution, perhaps even regressed, has need for BOTH the Old Testament Covenant and Ten Commandments (the ‘Thou SHALT NOT’ ones) AND the New Testament with the New Covenant with the ONE (in Luke’s Gospel) Commandment (The ‘Thou SHALT’ one). Two centuries of baggage is going to take some time to shed. That is why there is a 50/50 split in our country, those who do not want to shed the baggage and those who want to shed it and advance from the place we should have been advancing from. Only you decide which one you are.

    • Eric Lytle says:

      What, pray tell, is wrong with conservative churches making charity contingent upon people “cleaning up their lives”? Our wonderful nonjudgmental government tries to be value-free – which, last time I checked, pretty much gives lazy self-destructive slobs encouragement to remain lazy self-destructive slobs. Cleaning up lives used to be considered a good thing – in fact, a Christian thing. For me, it still is. How could it be a Christian act to leave a sinner in his self-destructive, degraded life and say, “That’s fine, bud, stay right where you are – I don’t judge! Depend on handouts, screw your life up royally, mistreat everyone around you – I don’t judge!”
      The Victorians (yeah, I know that’s a dirty word – but it shouldn’t be) understood the concept of the “deserving poor.” Someone who is poor but trying his best deserves more consideration than the sort who think they “deserve” to be supported by someone else. So I give a thumbs-up to those evangelicals in Knoxville that the compassionte dover apparently despises. They must be awfully nice people for him to despise them so much.
      And, btw, since dover is chronically fact-challenged: evangelicals are not all rich, not by a long shot. As a general rule, the evangelical churches lower on the economic ladder are very generous with their time and money, probably because they actually mix and mingle with people who have fallen on hard times.

      • Donnie says:

        Thank you! This is the exact reason why I buy food for the homeless, or give to the local homeless shelter. Giving money directly to the homeless is not usually a very good idea. At least if you buy them food, or support the food banks/shelters you know your money went to the right place for the right thing.

      • Mark says:

        Eric, you hit the nail on the head. Marvin Olasky covers this topic very well his his book “The Tragedy of American Compassion.”

  2. Ben Welliver says:

    Wasn’t there a time when nuns stayed in the convents, taught children, and engaged in acts of charity?

    The RCs have gotten way way too lax on these are-the-cameras-rolling sob sisters.

  3. Mark says:

    In fact, the most comprehensive statistics to date indicate that conservative Christians are more charitable than liberals, whether or not the liberals espouse Christianity.

    Being charitable with other people’s money is not true charity.

    The notion that most conservative Christians think “that poverty is caused by a failure to please God” is not just prejudicial but patently absurd. Unfortunately, it is the kind of nonsense that we regularly hear from modern liberals, and it’s repeated enough times by a sympathetic media that many people believe it.

    This excellent article is yet another argument that liberal Christianity is really indistinguishable from liberal politics.

    Anyone interested in educating themselves on this topic may want to investigate this well-researched book:

    • Eric Lytle says:

      Mark, that is so true, but liberals prefer to deal with straw men, not real evangelicals.

      In my experience, a liberal is much more likely to leave a small tip for a waiter than a conservative is. They are always for the working man – in theory. In practice, they are slow to take money from their own pockets and give it to an actual human being. For them it’s all a pose. they talk compassion, which relieves them of actually having to put it into action. I know there are some exceptions, but as a group liberals are amazingly stingy with their own time and money.

    • dover1952 says:

      Great. Another tome written by a right wing nut job ideologue—no thanks. I will stick with my position until the cows come home. I would bet you one other thing too. If you were to dig deeper, I bet you would find out that the conservatives give so much more—if they really so—because they are well off finnancially and give out of their abundance, meaning extra money that they do not really need, rather than giving sacrificially. When a fat cat gives up his Mercedes, settles for a tin can Chevy instead, and gives the difference in cost between the two cars to charity, give me a call.

      • Alecto says:

        Please remove the log from your eye before you point out the splinter in another’s eye. Your salvation, dear dover, is not predicated upon others. What are you doing? What are you contributing? Why are you focused on everyone else?

        Unfortunately, I have come to understand the entire basis of the Left in politics and religion is borne of one of the deadly sins…envy.

      • bftucker says:


        I don’t suppose “facts” have any influence on your conclusions but, if I am mistaken, I refer you to Putnam and Campbell’s “American Grace” (2010) for statistics on “conservatives,” rich and poor, and giving (443-492). Dig deeper and even an ideologue may be surprised.

      • Jim Eckland says:

        I work in probably the richest town in Massachusetts. Both Liberals and Conservatives drive Mercedes..

    • Ray Bannister says:

      Politics IS their religion. If you scratch beneath the surface of liberals, words like God, Jesus, faith, etc have no real meaning for them. I’ve never met a liberal who could discuss the Bible intelligently. They don’t read it because they know that what they do is in total opposition to it.

  4. Mark says:

    Dover, your comments betray your supposed commitment to facts. And your characterization that this is “Another tome written by a right wing nut job ideologue—no thanks. I will stick with my position until the cows come home” shows your hate, intolerance and incivility. Get a clue, my friend. And, please, stop the hate!

    Now, back to the facts, which are independently verifiable from sources in the book: “Of the top 25 states where people give an ABOVE AVERAGE PERENTof their income, 24 were red states in the last presidential election.”

    For a person who is going to “stick with my position until the cows come home” (sounds a lot like those fundamentalists that liberals hate) facts may not have any sway, but you may want to have a look at this article:

  5. darling2 says:

    Addie Darling, your sometimes pretentious stile serves you quite well to twist the facts, but there is the same sense of altruism in this article as is in the Rand-ian generosity of the oh so true christian paulryan-ites. You try to inculcate the idea that nuns should stick their heads in the sand when it comes to social issues. However, there are many thinking that the present state of affairs in America require people (and yes, even nuns) to speak up. To use notions like “bully pulpit” in this context serves nothing, but trivialize true bullying; it sets an unnecessary dramatic tone, which discredits your commentary.
    You blame sister Simone Campbell for using the conference for her “agenda”, yet us, the readers, see your whole article, with forced constructions and deconstructions of arguments, as just another “agenda”.

    Please watch “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” and come back with an original commentary (and when I said original I meant non-randian-regurgitate); I know you can do better.

  6. Fred Garvin says:

    Why are the Tea Party and these “Progressive” nuns both so overwhelmingly white? I thought these sisters wanted to “represent the multicultural future of the church” and “celebrate our diversity”? What happened?

  7. Jacob says:

    Churches have become social clubs were old folks nurse their diseases.

    Too busy for all that talk about Christ!

  8. ron a. says:

    This woman is a materialist, plain and simple. She would like to make the Church in her image. But that would be the same lie that she embodies. “My Kingdom is not of this earth.”

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