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.“