Over the years I’ve fussed a lot about religious platitudes. In liturgical composers’ circles, we’re often urged to take out all the religious clichés and see if there’s anything left. (Often, there’s not.) In my own writing I’ve talked a lot about deadly generalizations in how we talk about the faith. When you talk big picture, everybody can get on board, because it doesn’t actually challenge us. It’s when we get into the nitty-gritty specifics that we start feeling defensive, which is not a guarantee, but at least a warning sign that we might be guarding an idol.
“The dignity of the human person AND THE COMMON GOOD,” Pope Francis says, are more important than coddling the comfort of the privileged people of the world.
I doubt most of us recognize ourselves as those privileged people, but I can just about guarantee that every person reading this right now is a member of that group, just as I am. I know my audience is basically white American and middle-class or higher. We don’t see ourselves as privileged, but we are. Living with oceans to protect us from the vast bulk of outside violence is a privilege. Living in a place where we have the right to go to church is a privilege. Living in a place where we have a government willing to step in and rebuild our homes in the face of increasing climate events is a privilege. Living in a place where we trust the police to be on our side is a privilege (and that one, not even all Americans share).
Giving up “comforts” could mean any number of things. It could mean paying more in taxes so as to better support education, social security, or a host of other things our faith calls us to support. It could mean curtailing certain gun rights so as to better protect the common good. It could mean something as simple as turning off your car while waiting in grocery store parking lots and pickup lines, and thereby accepting that you may have to sit under a tree and be hot in the heat, or turning off your car and just bundling up in the winter. It could mean being willing to live in proximity to people who make us uncomfortable. (People of different races, people of different education levels, people with disabilities, people who are poor or even homeless…you get the idea. Someday I’ll do a post about solidarity.)
I’m aware that everything I listed there is a challenge to conservatives. Anyone who would like to comment and leave parallel comforts to those who lean left, please feel free. I am trying to cram a lot of things into my days right now, and I don’t always have time to do real justice to these reflections. 🙂
2 Replies to “Dignity vs. comfort”
With regard to challenging a bit the more liberal contingent of our society, we might mention the moral need to give up resorting to abortion in order to protect the freedom of having sex without a lot of consequences. We might warn against the easy route of demonizing people who have concerns about aspects of the liberal agenda as “racists” or cold-hearted without the hard work of adequately trying to understand their point of view. In light of Catholic social teaching about subsidiarity, we might mention the need to work harder to promote responsibility in ourselves, our families, and our local communities, as opposed to relying too much on higher levels of government to sort out our social problems (which leads to all the inefficiencies and harms of running things by large and distant bureaucracies).
There’s plenty to go around on all sides! 🙂
If only we could listen to each other. I grew up very conservative and I see no willingness to recognize within conservative circles the institutional problems that exist alongside the questions of personal responsibility–or to recognize that government actually has a legitimate role in many areas. Both of these things left unacknowledged are 100% in line with Catholic teaching, but are usually brushed off or dismissed. I have a tendency to hold conservatives to a higher standard (and be proportionally more upset about failure to do so) because conservatives are the ones who most often claim God as their reasoning for their beliefs, and often fail to recognize the ways in which those beliefs are opposed to the Gospel. Progressives have the same failure to listen and recognize the complexities of the issues, but they generally don’t do it in God’s name.
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