Saturday, 23 March 2013

Justice - of the social kind

With a week of Lent to do, on to conversation/chapter 21 of Tischner czyta Katechizm, in which Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski discuss the topic of justice. I was expecting something here about the death sentence and punishing wrong-doers.

But no.

The justice discussed by Fr. Tischner and Jacek Żakowski is social justice - the balance between rich and poor. The winners and losers. Not so much why some are blessed with talents and wealth, but what to do in the face of inequality.

The notion of equality is roundly dismissed by the catechism - if everyone were equal, there would be no opportunity for displays of Christian charity. Fr. Tischner quotes St. Catherine of Siena, herself quoting Christ (who she claimed spoke through her): "I wanted people to need people, and to be my servants in passing on the gifts that they have received from me."

Żakowski notes that in the 2,000 years since Christ was around, inequality persists, glaring want in the face of opulent riches. Fr. Tischner makes the point that economic inequality is worse than social inequality; it is worse not to have bread than not to have the vote.

Fr. Tischner lists some of the Church's charitable institutions - hospitals, orphanages, refuges, that have been established over the centuries, manifestations of mercy. But Żakowski ripostes that for centuries the Church accepted slavery and serfdom. "The Church did not legitimise economic inequality," replies Fr. Tischner. But Żakowski presses on: "There was never any radical opposition to injustice! Only attempts at explaining its existence and justifying it."

Fr. Tischner points out that communism would not have been necessary [was it ever necessary? I ask] had Christianity succeeded in tackling social issues in the 19th Century.  "Today, however, the principles of private property and a vision of human labour are the starting points." He points to Christian sects - Arians, Mennonites, Hutterites, who have eschewed private property and in the name of equality have rejected the conviction that some must beg, while others must give alms. "Communist Christianity, even".

He continues: "The birth of communism in the 19th Century stemmed from the notion that all the evil in the world is the result from the 'sin' of private property. From private property grow all other sins. And economic equality between people could be enforced by violence - taking from one to give to another. An illusion that a better world is easy to build, through violence. Communism's vision of evil was very clear. It's easy to point a finger at who's bad, and who's good. It's harder to unmask evil when it resides within a person. But when you say that ownership of possessions is evil, those who have are evil, those who have much are the most evil. To deal with such evil is simple - take the possessions and divide them."

"The difference between the early Christians, who following in Christ's footsteps and communists was that those Christians gave away to the poor only that which belonged to them. Communists gave away other people's possessions. It soon became apparent that giving away what belonged to others leads to a disappearance of responsibility for building, for creating. The tendency to consume overcomes human creativity."

"Capitalist consumptionism has not even reached the ankles of communist consumptionism", points out Fr. Tischner, who, as I said earlier, had experienced rather less of the former than the latter. "In order to consume, a capitalist must first have something, create something. In communism, one consumed things one never had. Hence the unbridled irresponsibility."

This thread leads us on to the nature of work, which in the communist system was never rewarding to the worker. There was little sense in working hard, there being no personal reward in it. "Communism treated work as a form of struggle. The class struggle was conducted in the workplace. In the communist system, it was said that the worst evil was the exploitation of the working person. Today, it must be said that a far worse evil is the exploitation of the employer, pretending to work. When one lies at work, lying becomes a way of life. We have in Poland today, the aftermath of communism; people pretending to work."

A hard-hitting statement. Since those words were spoken, Poland has endured three economic slow-downs which have shaken the work-shy out of the private sector to a great degree, as have better management practices and employee motivation schemes. However, in the public sector, the idea of the full-time, regular post that requires little or no real effort on the part of the employee, persists.

Fr. Tischner continues: "Capitalism gives people a chance, but it also creates the dangers of unemployment and greater social stratification." It must be added here, that in 1990, at the end of communism, Poland had the lowest co-efficient of inequality in the world, along with Japan, just that it was poverty that was equality spread around society.

Drawing to a conclusion, Fr. Tischner states that Pope John Paul II's concept regarding poverty and unemployment tends towards social democracy. "Work is about more than earning money. The aim of work is the human good, and capital should serve mankind". All very nice, tell that to Wall Street and the City of London.

The post-Vatican Council Church has adopted then 'option for the poor', stemming from liberation theology. Having rejected the Marxist content of this strand of Catholicism, the Church focused on those passages from the Gospels - in particular the Sermon on the Mount (which include the beatitudes - 'blessed are the poor in spirit' etc), setting out its concern for the fate of the weak. "This at last allowed us to understand the words of Christ that 'what over you have done to the poor, you have done unto me'," says Fr. Tischner.

Żakowski asks about such forgotten systems that the Church toyed with at the end of the 19th Century, such as corporatism. "The moral inspiration [of the Church's social teachings] remain," says Fr. Tischner, pointing to the common use of the word 'solidarity' in the Church's current thinking on social justice. "When it comes to social problems - to issues of poverty and inequality - the word 'Solidarity' is a beautiful leaf which the wind of the Holy Spirit has blown from the Poland and tied into the heart of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is our humble contribution to the third millennium."

I found this chapter rather thin; the Church straying into areas temporal, into areas for democratically elected policy makers. Inequality will be with us always; we can strive only to limit it in ways that do not hold back the creativity and dynamism of those with most to contribute to society. Equality of opportunity, removing as many of the handicaps of those unfortunate enough to be born at the bottom rungs of the ladder, should be a greater goal than equality per se. For there is injustice in taking (via taxes) money from hard-working people in poorly-paid jobs and transferring it to those who don't wish to work.

This time last year:
Google Street View comes to Poland

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