Book reviews

J. Brian Benestad’s Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine (Catholic University of America Press, 2011)

Biden should read this to learn how he doesn’t follow—in fact, opposes—Catholic social doctrine.

Rod Dreher recently said in his Live Not by Lies that Catholic social justice is different from totalitarian social justice (63-4), so I read Benestad’s book to learn more about what Catholic social justice means.  (Benestad calls it “Catholic Social Doctrine” or CSD throughout his book.)

What I read convinces me that Joe Biden is far from being a “Catholic” anything, let alone a Catholic social justice advocate.  Benestad’s magnificent review of Catholic social doctrine damns Biden as an opponent of Catholic social justice, not as one of its advocates.

It’s obvious why Biden opposes Catholic social doctrine.  Biden supports abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever and wants American taxpayers to fund abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood here in the US and around the world.  Thus, Biden opposes the keystone of CSD: “the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person” (2).

Benestad’s discussion of historicism may also account for another flaw in Biden’s character and policy, his support for genocide.  “According to historicism,” Benestad writes, “truth is simply a function of the time period in which you live.  What is true for one culture may not be true for another” (52).  Biden thinks that the Communist Chinese genocide of the Uyghurs is “a cultural norm”; therefore, Biden is just another politician who doesn’t believe the eternal life-affirming truths as his Catholic faith teaches.

Benestad argues well throughout his book that no social justice effort—no policy, no program, no government initiative, nothing—can be successful if it doesn’t involve changing people’s minds and lifestyles.  In other words, “nothing in life is more important than virtue” (61).  Maybe this is why Biden opposes Catholic social justice.  The evidence against Biden being a man of virtue is obvious; consider, for example, his bribing and threatening foreign officials and his cover-up of his son’s illegal activities.

Most damning for Biden, however, is the fact that he is hypocritical when it comes to living what he thinks is his Catholic faith.  Benestad quotes St. John Paul II, who said, “The legal permission to kill the unborn is really a tyrannical decision by the strong against ‘the weakest and most defenseless of human beings’” (170-1).  His successor, Pope Benedict, noted that public officials have a duty to be “a public witness to our faith” (107).  Specifically, the pope says, “it is especially incumbent upon those who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental values such as respect for human life” (107).

Benestad offers a compelling comparison of the hypocrisy of anti-life politicians like Biden when he writes that “Catholic” politicians who say they are personally opposed to abortion are like politicians before the Civil War who were personally opposed to slavery (232).  A question that Benestad rhetorically asks readers at the end of his book is trenchant and directly relates to anti-life politicians like Biden: “How can people, especially Catholics, speak passionately of social justice and the dignity of the human person without embarrassment, when they have no problem with Roe v. Wade, which allows the killing of unborn children for the whole nine months of pregnancy?” (451).

Biden fails miserably regarding this first criterion of Catholic social justice, respect for human life.  His zealous support for abortion, especially giving American taxpayer dollars to abortion companies here and overseas, negates any respect for human life that he claims to have.

Of course, Biden fails the remaining other criteria of Catholic social justice, all of which are predicated on the first (respect for human life).  The Catholic approach to economics favors capitalism as the more effective means of eliminating poverty, criticizing socialism and communism for its opposition to biblical support for private property (318).  Catholicism considers welfare as a temporary measure (336), has much to say about illegal immigration (340-1), and asserts that states have a right to “control their borders” (340).  Finally, orthodox Catholic social justice theorists note that population control advocates believe in coercion (whether it involves forcing contraception or abortion on them); such coercion is contrary to respect for the individual’s free will and conscience (348).

Biden’s political agenda, of course, opposes these tenets of Catholic social justice.

Benestad’s review of Catholic social justice is necessary, if only to understand how leftists have distorted the ancient concepts of care for fellow human beings.  The leftists who distort Church teachings on social justice include Antifa domestic terrorists and Democratic politicians (both of whom would rather destroy the Western world that Judaism and Christianity have built instead of perfect it).  The distortion of Catholic social justice also comes from leftist clerics (including Pope Francis, who seems to care more about a straw floating in the Atlantic Ocean than he does urging all to care for the three victims of abortion: the mother, the unborn child, and the father).

Fortunately, students and ordinary readers can rely on Benestad’s book as a succinct and accurate source on what Catholic social justice/Catholic social doctrine means.  The book (nearly 500 pages) is scholarly, yet readable, and all readers will appreciate the book’s thorough footnotes and comprehensive bibliography and index.

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