The Catholic term “social justice” should hardly be applied to today's secular tradition of ever-increasing government intervention, the perpetuation of government dependency, the use of redistributed funds to buy the poor as a voting bloc. Welfare, as it stands today, should not be called welfare, any more than the torture chambers of 1984 deserved the name “Ministry of Love.” Because of the welfare state, those of us who are more or less outside of its clutches become accustomed to the needy not being “our problem,” but the problem of “society” to be “solved” like a mathematical equation with tax dollars. The fact is, each person gives fairly little in taxes to the needy, and if the conservative case against the welfare state were merely about feeling robbed then it would be as absurd and heartless a position as our opponents claim. But the problem with welfare is not that my earnings are being taxed to feed the poor. The problem is that my tax dollars are feeding the poor not only material but spiritual food—and both are of a McDonald's quality. The problem is that the poor are being lined up for moral and physical corruption followed by bodily and spiritual death. Those who are familiar with the welfare system and yet demand that it be maintained are not caring people. They're the executioners of our time, every bit the scientific, professional applicators of lethal poison who once “took care of the unfit” in America during the progressive, eugenic era. And they have been assigned to the poor by a secularist state that, unlike Christianity, has absolutely no track record of caring for the welfare of the poor. The ghettos that are built and maintained by state bureaucracies for the poor have much more in common with a secularist concentration camp than with a Christian charity organization.
There are two kinds of uncharitable behavior that perpetuate these ghettos from outside: thoughtless charity, and heartless thinking. The thoughtlessly charitable keep the system going with all the heartfelt and noble intentions of the duped. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, these people need to learn that their love, their “gift of self,” should include the full and honest engagement of their minds—which would reveal to them whether their charitable giving and political alliances are in fact beneficial to the poor. The heartless thinker perpetuates the ghetto in full knowledge of how it oppresses those within it, because of what it does for the middle and upper classes outside—keeping the poor out of sight, leaving “us” in the cold comfort of a progressive suburbia. These folks need to revisit their Church history, their lives of the saints and, if they remain unmoved, their local government housing project.
Both the thoughtless and the heartless must seek to correct these imbalances within themselves, and not simply trust that others will make up for what they don't supply to the community. It's absurd for one kind of sinner to rely on the sins of others to offset his own. Christ said of those heartless men whom He called “blind guides,” “you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” But St. Paul was equally harsh with those naïve Christians who were misled by smarter men than themselves: “Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”
Whichever form of cruelty you choose, you'll be more like a member of the oppressive English party than like St. Joan and her French followers. And, as we can learn from the story of Joan and her judges, you don't have to wait for a pope to brief you on the mission to liberate your neighbors, and having bishops on your side won't necessarily put you on the right side of history—or of the judgment seat of Christ.
Stephen Herreid is currently a Fellow at the John Jay Institute (Philadelphia) and the arts editor for Humane Pursuits. He has been a Contributing Editor to The Intercollegiate Review Online and has contributed several chapters to the latest edition of ISI’s Choosing the Right College.