Ross Douthat is well-regarded across the political spectrum for his writing and thoughtfulness. As for me, I prefer writers who produce fiction to those of non-fiction. One basic test of Catholic thoughtfulness is the ability ad willingness to distinguish between charity and justice. Mr Douthat fails here. From his conclusion:
Mere religious affiliation has weakened for the poor and working class as well.
From a religious perspective, this a signal failure: A church that pays out to help the poor, but doesn’t pray with them, looks less like a church than what Pope Francis has described, unfavorably, as merely another N.G.O.
Political conservatives are largely uneasy with the alternative to charity. Justice advocacy strikes a lot of people as too “socialist” or “radical” or “uppity.” But from a religious perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to pour heaps of money into charitable efforts if the root causes aren’t addressed.
Charity is a bandaid. Real Christians would want to address why people get wounded and work to stop the bleeding at the source. Maybe that will draw disapproval from the corporate masters who employ and pull the chains of mainstream commentators like Mr Douthat.
Even if conservatives were to wangle the culturewar into the hospitals, habitat homes, and soup kitchens by preaching their middle-class morality, my sense is that without advocacy for societal change, the whole effort will be worthless. It’s fine to tell a person they shouldn’t get an abortion. Rich people have a choice, it must be said. Some impoverished pregnant women, bereft of family, job, and/or partner truly believe there is no choice. A callous society ensures that. And the Church is absent enough not to have a prayerful presence.
Before they start spouting about bad charity, perhaps folks like Ross Douthat could get involved with Catholic Charities in his diocese as a volunteer. And talk to other volunteers. And maybe pause the moralistic therapeutic conservatism playing on his tape machine long enough to encounter real people and listen to them and their needs. And not just pontificate from his ivory tower.