A look at some weaknesses among the overall strength
I wrote last week to praise DOCAT, What to do? – The social doctrine of the Catholic Church. This gift from Pope Francis to the world and to young people indeed deserves praise. Pope Francis, in a challenge to become actively involved in the work of justice, sums up his strong message: “A Christian who in these times is not a revolutionary is not a Christian. (In a forward, “About This Book”) But the book has a few weaknesses that have made my experience with it a good one which I hope is widely shared, less than it could have been. to be.
One weakness that I already noted last week is the length of the book. While it’s appealing, I think a strong editor could have cut out maybe a third or half of the verbiage without losing anything that needed to be said. As it stands, the book is not only a reflection challenge but also a reading challenge, especially for its primary audience, young people.
Before going into more specific weaknesses, I would like to reiterate that I consider DOCAT a major contribution and a good book. I would also like to refer to another Patheos blog by Keith Michael Estrada which, in a different way from mine, highly praises and criticizes DOCAT.
Justice and charity
A great strength of the book is the frequency with which it demands that we reflect on social justice and the lack of justice in many areas of life. All the more disappointing is the fact that nowhere do we get a clear definition of social justice.
The difference between social justice and charity appears in the famous quote from Dom Helder Camara:
When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist. (p.95)
Charity responds to an immediate need, an emergency situation. Justice addresses systemic or long-term factors, including our habitual ways of thinking and acting, that cause suffering. But this crucial distinction is missing where you want to see it stated.
The book asks, “What kinds of righteousness is there? (# 109) There is distributive justice, legal justice, and commutative justice. So “social justice” sums them all up or it is an extension of legal justice. I don’t know how it can be both. What could have been pages gets a confusing paragraph that inexplicably repeats, verbatim, at the end. This is a case where more words would have been helpful.
Scripture on justice and charity
There are many references to the scriptures, but the use of the scriptures on social justice could have been more effective. DOCAT notes that Jesus loved and helped disadvantaged people. But he did more: he resisted the politico-religious system that pushed large groups of people to the periphery of society. The first is charity; the second is social justice.
In the Old Testament, kings were to “seek social justice, pass righteous judgments, render service to the poor, etc. (DOCAT # 200) But the Old Testament is getting much more precise. Rights extended to often neglected categories of people. The slaves could rest on the Sabbath. Widows and orphans received special attention. The laws protected debtors: you could take a man’s coat as security for a debt, but you had to return it every night so he could sleep. The poor could glean the grain that the reapers, by law, were to leave behind. Then there was the Sabbath, the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee Year. All of these were ways in which God’s people yearned for some kind of righteousness, not charity. Together, they help us think more broadly and provocatively about justice.
The Church dares to ask, with Bishop Camara, why people are poor and without the necessities of life. It challenges us to take responsibility for the response, as does DOCAT in many ways. But this question, and how it relates to justice, and not to charity, is unclear.
A complaint about the language
I had hoped that a document intended for contemporary youth would avoid the long-standing ecclesial habit of naming men and women as men. At DOCAT as at YOUCAT, the older, more general catechism for young people, I was disappointed.
There is a justice issue here which, at least in English, has entered into the way responsible people use the language. At least among editors and editors, to refer to the entire human race as men or man or humanity is no longer good English. I don’t know if it’s the same for original German, but translators need to be sensitive to the language they are translating into. Young people, especially in the English-speaking world, now most often hear and read “people”, or “men and women” or “humankind”. The church should have figured it out by now.
I cannot resist a nudge at YOUCAT for a particularly egregious example of “sexist” language. And the subject is sexism:
# 61. What does the equality of all men (!) Consist of?
All men are equal insofar as they have the same origin in the unique creative love of God. All men have their Savior in Jesus Christ. All men are destined to find their happiness and eternal bliss in God
Therefore, all men are brothers and sisters. (!) Christians should practice solidarity not only with other Christians but with everyone and forcefully oppose racist, sexist and economic divisions within one human family.
Then there is the horrible quote from DOUCAT from a German bishop which an English translator certainly should have deleted. Instead, it gets a big type importance:
Do as God: become a man! (p.280)
It’s ironic when with such language the YOUCAT aims to condemn sexism, or the DOCAT to condemn any kind of social injustice.
Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism
DOCAT pays very little attention to discrimination based on race and gender. Anti-Semitism is not mentioned at all, although it is one of the great failures of the Church throughout much of our history, including in the years leading up to the Second World War.
Several sections mention the rights of minorities but always in a general way without naming specific minorities or specific problems. We don’t hear about racial discrimination in housing or in the job market. There is no condemnation of how people, through the deliberate or reckless use of language, disrespect entire classes of people. We don’t hear about overt racism, racist jokes or the unconscious (hopefully) but about the systemic racism whereby law enforcement agencies kill and imprison disproportionate people of color. In this country, we would like advice on determining the obligations of an economy that has benefited from centuries of forced labor and expropriation of indigenous peoples’ lands.
Contributors to DOCAT deserve a lot of credit for taking on a difficult and important task. It presents the social teaching of the Church in a format suitable for young people or for those who are not already experts. They have assembled a treasure trove of interesting teachings, explanations and quotes from a wide variety of sources. It has some weaknesses, but it certainly deserves a prominent place in faith training programs and in the general public.
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