If there is anything, which separates liberals from conservatives it is the conservative quoting of Thomas Jefferson, “He who governs least governs best.” We as liberals have problems with this quote. Thomas Jefferson never said it; Henry David Thoreau did. Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase with an executive authority never given to him by the Constitution.
The phrase, “He who governs least governs best,” needs a predicate. He who governs least governs best to do what? To argue for more government than the least is to argue for incompetence. To argue for more government than is required argues for waste and nobody argues for waste. The socialist thinks government control of everything is governing the least. The capitalist, the communist, and the anarchist believe it is no government at all. If we want to see no government at all, look at Afghanistan or Somalia. It is not a pretty picture.
We look for the solution in two quotes from the Gospel. St. Peter, whose picture adorns our mural, says it all. Matthew 17:24 provides the statement and the context:
The collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” Peter replied, “Yes.” When Peter came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” Peter said, “From foreigners,” Jesus replied, “The subjects are exempt.”
Without a predicate to guide our way, government regulation and taxation falls upon the foreigner, at least those who are foreign to us. For the rich, the poor need regulation and taxes. For the poor and minorities, it is the rich. When the liberals control Congress, they push taxes and regulations upon the rich and when the conservatives are in power, the reverse happens. We are leaves blowing in the wind, Ephesians 4:11-16. The second quote is as follows.
An argument broke out among the apostles about who was the greatest. Jesus told them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors. Among you, it shall not be so. Allow the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? It is not the one seated at table! I am among you as the one who serves.” Koine Greek has no punctuation, therefore no question marks. Context alone gives the punctuation.
As Christians, God calls us to act better. The last poll I found showed that 75% of Americans claim to be Christian. There is no reason for Matthew 17:24 applying to this great nation.
The conservatives believe that some men, corporate CEOs, and business owners are by nature good and do not need regulation. Liberals believe the writings of John Locke who noted that no man is a fair judge in his own case. That includes the corporate CEO, our religious leaders, the union chiefs, and our political leaders. We have tri-partite government because we believe everybody needs regulation, in particular the regulator. We believe that God created man in his image and likeness of God, but as St. Augustine, the man in the mural relates, we are also born with original sin. We are all imperfect.
As liberals, we believe our leaders are no different from the rest of us. We find the words in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and possess the land the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, is giving you.” The Hebrew word is repeated. The first time it refers to justice, the second time to charity. In the movie Schindler’s list, the Jewish community refers to Schindler as a Tzaddic. He violates the rules in the name of charity. St. Luke refers to St. Joseph as a Tzaddic in Matthew 1:19. He violates the rules in relation to our Blessed Virgin, in the name of Tzaddic, charity. צֶדֶק means God calls us to serve each other.
A chapter later Deuteronomy says of our leaders, political, religious, in private enterprise, and otherwise, “You may indeed set over you a ruler whom the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, will choose. From among your own kindred you may set a ruler over you; you may not set over you a stranger, no kin of yours. He will not have a great number of horses; nor make his people return to Oppression to acquire many horses. He will not accumulate silver and gold.” Our leader is to be one of us and he is to remain one of us. To qualify as leader, a person must know the price of a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, a gallon of gasoline, how many homes he owns, and how many cars and horses he owns.
We are all imperfect human beings trying to get from the cradle to the grave in one piece. God made us all in his image, as our Catholic doctrine has always thought. Simon Legree is a work of fiction. St. Augustine, whose picture also graces our mural, taught us pure evil is harmless. Pure evil repulses everyone, depriving it of its power. God made us all in his image and likeness, liberal and conservative. We are also all born with original sin. We all need regulation, including our regulators/rulers.
There is the baseball game. Seventeen kids join together to play baseball. None has ball, bat, gloves, or the other tools of the game. They are unable to play until an eighteenth player comes along with all of this. Being a wealthy child, he wants to decide the rules and writes them to his advantage. The first question is, “Who owns the game?” They all do. The second question is, “Who owns the ball, bat, and gloves?” The last kid does and he is free to take his stuff home any time he desires.
If we are the uncle of this last child, aught we to act on behalf of the other seventeen? The true answer is yes and no. We do not act to protect the other seventeen. We act to protect the family name and the proper moral and ethical development of our nephew/or niece. We do act. Further, we act with the understanding that it is not our game. We have no claims to the game, or to the tools of the game. Government acts as an outside to the game, but as in insider in reference to his nephew/niece. We call our government Uncle Sam. Because all are citizens, nieces and nephews, government serves to protect us all. Government officials and employees are just citizens themselves. They are also only nieces and nephews, neither greater nor lesser than the rest.
We all like to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands. Catholics need to define just what we mean by a republic. The definition we learned in high school is that it is any form of government not a monarchy. This is really no definition at all. St. Augustine gives Catholics, a far better definition in his City of God, Book 2 chapter 21:
As among the different sounds, which proceed from lyres, flutes, and the human voice, a conductor maintains a certain harmony, which a cultivated ear cannot endure to hear disturbed. He elicits this in full, absolute concordiam by the modulation of voices unlike one another. Where we allow reason to modulate the diverse elements of the state, we obtain perfect concord from the upper, lower, and middle classes as from various sounds. What musicians call harmony, is concord in matters of state, the strictest bond and best security of any republic, and which by no ingenuity can be retained where justice is extinct.
St. Augustine agrees that running a state is about harmony. In matters of state, he calls this concordiam. Going on to quote Cicero, who quotes Scipio he writes, “A republic is the good of the people. The people, is an assemblage associated by a common acknowledgment of law, and by a community of interests.” A republic is a group of people with a common understanding of what is right, and who work together to promote the interests of all.
We are all in the game of life, a very serious game, but a game nonetheless. All bring to the game are resources, knowledge and skills. We all come to the game to get something out of the game. Some requests are reasonable; some are not. The job of St. Augustine’s orchestra conductor is to make sure the tuba does not drown out the flute. That is precisely what we see not happening in America today. The results are staggering.
In 1968, the poorest 50% of the population brought home 27% of all income, per the US Department of the Census. Today that figure is 19% and dropping. In in 1968 the richest 20% of the population brought home 56.1% of all income. Today that figure is 71.3% of all income. In America, 45,000 people die each year as a direct result of not having adequate healthcare. Eight thousand die in the first year of life, half pre-born, from a lack of adequate neo-natal care. Fifty.2 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 17.2 million children. Twelve.2 million adults and 5.4 million children lived in households with very low food security.
We also look at the crooked governor of Wisconsin who slashed salaries of teachers and firefighters, who locked the doors of the state capital with people inside, much as happened at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory and at the Hamlet chicken factory. We see the voter suppression in states like Florida, Wisconsin, and throughout the conservative south. We see the conservative governors supporting tax and budget cut madness, all in the name of minimalist government.
It becomes clear. Supporting minimalist government supports a culture of death. As Catholics, we support a culture of life and love of neighbor. The Hebrew word for Father is Abba. The Hebrew word for the one who is to come is Haba. The Hebrew word for love is Ahabbah. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus uses the Hebrew construct case to say, “‘I am the God of Abraham/ E Pluribus Unum, of Isaac, and of Jacob’? He is not the God of death but of life.”
Deuteronomy 30 speaks to the subject. This Mitzvah, which I am giving you today, is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.
This mitzvah is not found in great inductive logic, or old-fashioned deductive logic. It is not found in some “illative sense.” It is found in our hearts.
Deuteronomy 30 goes on, “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”
This last passage is one of the 613 Mitzvah of Jewish law, but what would it mean for this to be a Mitzvah? The command is to choose life. The answer per a Jewish sage I once read is that all life is life in potentiality. Deuteronomy 5 relates the temple was to have no steps. We are either going up the latter or down in promoting life. We are either promoting life to its fullest, or we are decreasing it, for ourselves or for others. God calls us to promote life for each other. Our debate is not about when life begins or when it ends. Our Pope has already decided that, if we did not already have the answer in Torah. The question is what life is in the meantime. Are we means of production, which our Catechism condemns, or are we made in the image of God. If the latter, as we treat each other, we treat the image of God within each of us.
The conservative candidate likes firing people, according to ABC News, from January 9 of this year. The Washington Post reports how this candidate put his Irish setter on the roof of his station wagon for 12 hours. When one abuses animals, it is not long before he also abuses people. The conservative candidate for president was the high school bully. The New York Times from 10 May of this year reports how this candidate engaged in bullying.
This candidate brandishing a pair of scissors led other boys on a hunt for a Mr. Lauber, teasing him and holding him down while the future candidate snipped off his long locks. When confronted, the candidate reported that he could not remember all of the harmless pranks he did as a kid. Mr. Lauber is no longer alive, the New York Times reports. For this candidate, this is a harmless prank. He cannot remember all the harmless pranks he pulled. This implies there are others, many others. My debate opponent likes inductive logic and illative sense. That is a fancy way of talking about probability. There is a trend here. It is a trend toward the culture of death.
There were 1,238,490 workplace injuries in 2009, not counting 5,000 deaths. The conservatives want minimalist government, which means cutting regulations and allowing these figures to increase. As liberals, we must ask the conservatives, how many lives must you waste before it is enough? We are not asking you to defend a pro-life position. We ask you to defend the culture of death.
We all remember the Deep Water Horizon Fire and the deaths coming from it. We all remember the conservatives apologizing to BP for re-implementing regulations to keep it from happening again. Minimalist government also contributed to the Monongah Mine Disaster of a century ago, which resulted in hundreds of deaths. In the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, hundreds of more dead, more recently the Hamlet fire of ’92, with dozens dead. This is the result of minimalist government. The illative sense speaks to us very strongly to us here.
None of this promotes a republic, a people with a common understanding of what is right, who work together to promote the interests of all. None of this promotes life lived to its fullest potential for all people. Nation comes from the same root as nativity. A nation is a group of people born together, by common heritage, if not geography or blood. In our Pledge of Allegiance, we speak of one nation under God, not two, one black one white, one rich one poor, one enslaved by poverty, and one enslaved by its wealth.
We must ask just who is in the republic of which we speak. Our Pledge of Allegiance speaks of Truth and Justice for all. Deuteronomy 6 has an interesting quote:
When your son asks you, “What do these witnesses, customs and judicial precedents mean?” which the Personal Name, our Mighty Judge enjoined on you, you will tell your son, “We were once menial labor of Pharaoh in Oppression, but the Mighty Judge brought us out of Oppression with a strong hand… He brought us from there to bring us in and give us the land he had promised on oath to our ancestors. The Personal Name commanded us to do all these customs looking to the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, always to have the satisfying life as we do today. This is our Tzaddic before the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge: to do carefully this whole Mitzvah he has enjoined on us.”
Jesus tells us in Chapter 5 of Matthew, “Unless your charity surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The Jewish tradition coming from Deuteronomy 6 sets a very high standard.
From this comes the Jewish tradition of the four sons. Two of these sons apply to this conversation, the wise son, and the Russia son, the one who thinks himself first. The Russia son asks, “Why do you do these things?” The key word is “You.” He cuts himself off from the community. The wise son asks, “Why do we do these things.” We are all members of the community. We are all working people, striving to play the game of life.
The Ten Commandments begin with a prologue, the Prologue the Jewish community refers to as the first commandment: Moses summoned all those who struggle with God and told them, Hear, you who struggle with God, the customs, and judicial precedents, which I proclaim in your hearing, this day, to learn them, and guard to do them. The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, made a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name make this Social Contract, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day… I am the Personal Name, who brought you out of the land of Oppression, the house of menial labor. You will not have other mighty judges beside my face.
We stand before the Eucharistic altar. Little Flower parish makes the scene a little clearer. One descends from the back of the church until they reach the steps to the altar. At our Cathedral, we also see steps. This reminds us of our trip to Mt. Sinai, and our trip to the transfiguration. We walk up and down hills and valleys until we arrive at the promised mountain. Mt. Sinai is a volcano, and we represent this with incense.
We hear in the words, “The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, made a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name make this Social Contract, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day…” The Jewish community has the concept of the Physical Presence. For the Jewish community this Physical Presence is the escape from Oppression, through Passover. Our Eucharist commemorates the words behind the curtain, the Last Supper. Jesus broke that bread and passed the cup during Passover. We both celebrate the Physical Presence during the same feast.
We look up to the upper right in our mural. Pope Pius X leads working people to the Lamb of God. We look to St. Joseph, a carpenter. When we say we are no longer working people, we cut ourselves off from the greater community. The Ten Commandments no longer apply to us, but neither does the reward, eternal life.
We look to our Liturgy of the Hours, with the Magnificat and the song of Zachariah. Just how has The Mighty One done great things for our Blessed Virgin? “He dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with nobility and the rich he sent away empty.” Those were revolutionary words then and they are revolutionary words now.
Zechariah tells us, “God promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: salvation/Jesus from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers, to be mindful of his holy Social Contract and of the oath he swore to Abraham/E Pluribus Unum our father, to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies, we might give public service/Latria to him without fear in divine law and Tzaddic before him all our days.
There is a condition to our rescue, just as there was a condition to the rescue from Egypt. We, as a nation, and as individuals are to be Tzaddic, charitable. In Mark 10, Jesus quotes the Ten Commandments, at least the last six, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear vain witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” Jesus starts with the last five, and then moves back to grab the fifth commandment, as he understood them. If Jesus combines our last two, how does he come up with ten? The first one is the one listed above. It is the call to community, personally remembering what oppression is like, and then taking action when we see others suffer. Ultimately, it is the call to Eucharist and all that it means.
This brings another complaint we as liberals have with conservatives. Conservatives define our heritage in terms of economic prosperity. As liberals, we define it in terms of the words on our Statue of Liberty. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” As liberals, we look to our Battle Hymn of the Republic, as the place to look for our heritage:
“In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.” Our participation in the transfiguration transfigures us. It causes us to be willing to die for others, to make them free, free from slavery, Freedom of speech and expression, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear. This is what being a liberal means and I am proud to be a liberal.
In a sense, we have come to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today America has defaulted on this promissory note. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given us a bad check, which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in this nation. We come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We refuse to believe there are not sufficient funds to pay a living wage to all people working full time jobs. We refuse to believe there are not sufficient funds to allow our children the highest quality education. We refuse to believe not all people can have life lived to its fullest in safe and comfortable housing, and in workplaces that are physically, mentally, and psychologically safe.
Do liberals have everything right? We are also human beings, in need of regulation. When we are wrong, we also need correction. Our focus is ready and our focus is sure. As I finish this statement one fact is sure, we cannot begin to discuss issues until we define who we are as human beings and as Americans. When we accomplish that, we come to cash that check.
We also do not want to hear about picking the worst of two evils. Our Encyclical Humanae Vitae tells us, “It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it to do evil in the hope good may come from it,” in Section 14. The Pope quotes Romans 3:8. In logic, there is the logical fallacy called false dilemma. We have 250 Catholic colleges and universities and 26 law schools, combined, graduating 70,000 students each year. There may well be lawyers watching this debate. Why do they not run for public office, supporting all of Catholic moral teaching? From this, we cannot find 535 willing to run for Congress and for President? We cannot find one? Are our universities failing that badly? Where are the Catholic/Christian candidates?