Friday, November 4, 2011

Why The Dorothy Option Won't Work

Vox Nova recently posted an article by a guy named Mark Gordon regarding the current state of political and economic affairs in the US. In a nutshell, he rightfully decries the left-right paradigm and how Catholics have splintered into one or the other faction.

I used to engage in these war games, and enjoyed watching others engage in them. I fought under the conviction that the soul of the Church – at least in America – was being contested. Don’t get me wrong: my intent is not to trivialize or dismiss either the importance of the issues contested or the legitimate passions of the contestants. It is true that from a Catholic perspective there is a fundamental problem with a party that aggressively supports both the killing of the unborn and a revolutionary redefinition of marriage. And it is also true that from that same perspective there is a fundamental problem with a party that aggressively seeks to dismantle the social safety net in the name – acknowledged or not – of a Darwinian economic ideology, and which uncritically celebrates war, torture, and empire.

For the purpose of this post, we'll overlook what appears to be the standard problem of placing abortion on the same level as these other concerns. Let's assume that he's not doing that and is merely pointing out that both sides have pretty big problems if one is to profess Catholicism. Catholics in general should abhor abortion, but they also understand that subsidizing corporate interests to create oligopoly and monopoly at the expense of people is bad, too (along with war, etc.).


To remedy this, Mr. Gordon proposes what he calls "the Dorothy (Day) Option."

The “Dorothy Option” is not about retreating into isolated enclaves like Ave Maria, Florida, or indulging in the kind of spiritual navel-gazing that so often marks New Age and fundamentalist Christian communities. Instead, it means a deeper, more radical engagement with the world through a life centered on service to the poor and marginalized. It also means resistance – including the use of non-violent civil disobedience – against systems that generate violence or offend the dignity of the human person. Dorothy was no socialist. She mistrusted the concentration of state power and even opposed the erection of a bureaucratic welfare state, which she thought was violent at its core and dehumanizing in its effects. But, of course, she was no capitalist either. She equally mistrusted private concentrations of power, especially corporations, which she believed commodified human persons and impoverished the many for the sake of a few.

Sounds good. The problem is that it omits, and maybe not even purposefully, the thing so often left out of Catholic social justice discussions. Why are we engaging the poor and marginalized? The paraphrased error of the liberation theologians is to say that we do so because we should be pushing for the realization of the Kingdom here on Earth. Many Catholics have swallowed and digested this until they think that taking care of the poor is the Church's primary end. This is false. The Church's mission is to save souls. All Her work in charity, or social justice, or whatever you want to call it is subordinated to that goal.

You can "radically engage" the poor in whatever extreme method comes to mind, but it will never catch on unless people understand why it should be done. It's because we love God first, and then His creatures on account of Him. In all of the Dorothy Option discussion, there is no call to evangelize these poor people. There isn't a push to win souls for Christ. There's only a list of things that could come from anywhere. Anybody can ladle soup, get arrested, or publish a newspaper. Where will they get their ideas of justice, though? Do they understand where justice places a limit on those they are protesting AND their actions and demands as protesters?

They won't unless they understand why all of this is important. Unless they are taught to listen to the voice of Mother and Teacher. Pope Benedict hit on this very theme a lot in Caritas in Veritate. What good does all this talk of charity and justice do unless it's tempered by Truth? Absolutely none. Even if temporal successes are realized, what good does it do for such those receiving assistance to be ultimately without Christ? I suggest none. Tending to people's material needs while letting them continue under a distorted idea of what charity and justice are is only going to make things worse by (a) leading those assisted to think their ideas are correct or at least acceptable and (b) confusing Catholics as to what is correct or acceptable.

Let me give an example. I was recently in New York City and passed by the Occupy Wall Street crowd. In one corner of their encampment, there was a quasi-marked off area with two cardboard signs. One said "Community Altar" and the other "Sacred Space." I'm not sure exactly what was going on. Perhaps some sort of pagan marriage ritual. Two people were standing in the "Sacred Space" while a woman waved feathers and incense around them in some kind of pattern. These people might very well be poor and marginalized. Helping them might solve those problems. Their real problems run much deeper, though. Unless Catholics use the Truth to separate themselves from any of the innumerable other groups who can provide assistance, we aren't really helping.

1 comment:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

"Many Catholics have swallowed and digested this until they think that taking care of the poor is the Church's primary end. This is false. The Church's mission is to save souls. All Her work in charity, or social justice, or whatever you want to call it is subordinated to that goal."

At the church where I've had to go for Mass these past Sunday's, the homilies never touch on the supernatural or anything eschatological. It's always about helping the poor and the needy, about "being nice", but the priest never says WHY. He says that Jesus has saved us, but he never mentions from WHAT. In fact he never even uses the word "sin".
Talk about "immanenitizing the eschaton". Such preaching leaves a hollowness within.