The Social Gospel no Gospel

The attitude that puts social justice at the center of moral life is anti-Catholic.

One of the special strengths of Catholic Christianity is that it deals unflinchingly with the problem of evil. The visible focus of every Catholic church is the Crucifixion—God abandoned and tortured to death. The point of the image would be lost if evil could be managed and made innocuous. Hope may be a theological virtue, but worldly optimism is not.

Moral evil exists because man—every man—is free to err and so do serious injury to himself and others. Without that freedom man would lose his dignity, and since the freedom is real it will sometimes be acted on. Such considerations impose limits on attempts to make the world better through social reform. Such attempts may often be prudent and right, but it’s a serious mistake to make a religion of them.

To say that sin is a matter of social structure is to say that evil can be managed away, but it can’t. Oppressive social arrangements—those that make it harder for man to live and be as he should—are the consequence of man’s individual sinfulness. To say the contrary, that it is sinful social arrangements that come first, is to say that at bottom others make man what he is, and so to turn him simply into the creature of those in power. Human dignity thus requires that social injustice be fundamentally derivative.

Insistence that social structures are fundamental is natural for those who wish to justify their ambition for power through claims that people need nothing beyond what rulers can deliver them. Even if you ignore the huge suffering such views have led to, they are valueless for those they pretend to benefit. What the Gospel of Social Justice tells the poor and suffering is that the truly human life is the life of secure comfort. How does that give hope and comfort to those—in the end, all of us—who have nothing? When we lack all else we need God’s immediate presence. It is the Crucifixion and the Eucharist and not utopian fantasies that give that to us. Whatever the value of concern with social arrangements it cannot be what constitutes the Christian life.

2 thoughts on “The Social Gospel no Gospel”

  1. You need to consider the
    You need to consider the three things that morality is concerned with: character, behavior and community and the dynamics among the three, one’s character is expressed as well as affected by the community as well as the character of one affects the community, to deny the existance of sinful social structures is to deny that slavery is sinful, for while it was accepted as a norm many were opposed to it, so with racism and other unjust ways that were and are considered to be the ethos of a nation or people. Any unjust community in effect supports and constructs a sinful social structure.

  2. The issue I was concerned
    The issue I was concerned with was not the existence of sinful social structures but their relative priority compared with individual sin. Catechism 1869:

    “Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.'”

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