A little while ago it was anounced that the budgets of the Vatican State and the Papacy (they are counted as two different budgets) were back in balance (after some years of deficits). And this got me thinking about what this institution is – in terms of political economy. And this led to other thoughts about other matters.
In some countries there is still a church tax – although (as with Germany) one can normally choose what church it goes to and (just by filling out a form declarling that one has no religious beliefs) one need not pay the tax at all. So whether it can really be understood as a “tax” (in the normal sense – other than a tax in the time and effort it would take an athiest to fill out the form) is a difficult question.
However, the Vatican (and the Papacy) are not supported by taxation. The Vatican state supports itself by selling stamps and by charging admission to its museums (and so on), but no one has to go to the Vatican – and there is no charge for just entering the Vatican State (or leaving it). So is it the ultimate example of free enterprise (A. Herbert style taxless voluntary state) or is it socialism (as the state owns everything) or is it something else? And do we make a mistake trying to put everything in the world of human interactions into neat little boxes with labels on?
And there is the Roman Catholic Church itself…… the international Church.
Ask a Western “liberal” about the Catholic Church and their first words are likely to be “child abuse”. However, sex crimes are hardly the full story – although there may well have been increase in them with the laxity of oversight that came with the changes to the Church brought by Vatican II. In that while there were, doubtless, always terrible sex (and other) crimes going on (as with any institutions made up of human beings – sinners) the removal of any real attempt at oversight and discipline from Rome (in the name of “humanizing” the Church and “local autonomy” – i.e. letting local Bishops and so on sort things out, or cover things up, without anyone checking on them) may well have increased these crimes.
Even leftist Hollywood has entertained this possibility – as the film “Doubt” makes clear, the destruction of old systems of checks and balances (in the name of reform) may have done evil as well as good. It may well be that people who were disturbed by Vatican II on political grounds (the opening it, unintentionally, gave to the Marxism of “Liberation Theology”) should have also been concerned with the opening it gave to non political perversions.
However, even in its darkest days and in its darkest places the Roman Catholic Church was about vastly more than the sins of some its priests. A huge network of schools, hospitals, homes for the old (and so on and so on) were and are maintained by the Church – without (in most nations) any form of taxation, just the voluntary gifts (of money – and time) of believers and the profits from Church investments.
The libertarian writer (and leading Von Mises Institute man) Thomas Woods often tells the story of how he spent his youth looking for an alternative to the state – something that was interested in learning and culture, and in the poor and the sick, in education and in health. And also was on a sufficient scale to actually make a difference in these areas.
And then one day he suddenly understood that what he had been looking for (a nonstatist alternative for people who could not pay for their own education, health, old age….) was staring him in the face all along. The Catholic Church.
Now I am not saying that Thomas Woods was or is correct – but he is no fool (as his writings show) so what he says needs to be taken seriously – even by athiests who hate Christian theology in general and the Roman Catholic Church in general.
Of course there is also a special American factor here. Originally Protestant “fundementalists” were not antiscience – indeed some of the authors of the orginal early 1900′s essays on the “fundementals” of Christiainity (from which we get the word “fundementalist”) were leading natural scientists – including evolutionary biologists (hardly the buck toothed morons of Hollywood depictions of “fundementalists”). Their foe was not science – it was the disguised socialist collectivism of the “Social Gospel” (with its “theological” message that the collective is God – and its practical result of tyranny).
The Fundementalists simply listed the fundemental beliefs of Christians – the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus… and so on. And asked if the Social Gospel supporters believed in these things – and demanded straight replies (not the mists of words that the Social Gospelists tended to give people).
The Fundementalists also (by stating the core, fundemental, beliefs of Christians) also (by implication) stated what were NOT the fundemental beliefs of Christians – “Social Justice” (i.e. plunder and tyranny – I know the term “Social Justice” can have other definitions, but the implications of the collectivist use of the term are clear), the extermination of all dissent from the self appointed representatives of the collective……and so on.
Now the Fundementalists were not Roman Catholics (far from it – America had no need for some professional virgin in Rome, as they might have put it – if politeness had not forbidden it), but they were learned men, they were devoted to science and learning, and they were politically (as well as theologically) basically sound.
However, over time things have changed (indeed, famously, even by the 1920s things had changed).
Now (according to David Barton the Texas educater and Conservative Protestant) about half of all American Conservative Protestants do not believe in basic science – for example in evolution.
I must be plain in what I am saying – I am not saying that they claim that God picked evolution as the method of creating human beings. I am saying (following Barton and others) that half of American Conservative Protestants do not believe in evolution at all.
Turn on any of the “religion” stations on your television service (if you have one) and look at the output of the Protestant American stations.
The passion is there certainly, the faith is there. But is there any learning? Outside the narrow learning of the text of the Bible itself?
I am not saying anything bad about the study of the text of the Bible – but I am saying it is not enough to study the text of the Bible. It will not tell you about biology, or physics or any other science – and those who claim it does are just flat wrong.
Now compare this output on the Protestant American stations with the output of EWTN (the American Catholic station), the coverage of such things as physics is of the highest quality – without any feeling that their are hidden athiests (Liberation Theology types) at work. Learning is respected – and not just biblical learning.
Now I am not a Roman Catholic many things such as the authority of the Pope and the demanded celibacy of the ordinary parish clergy (as opposed to the Regular clergy – the monks and nuns, who are quite differnet in Christian tradition) hold me back from that. But there is a clear difference between the quality (the very atmosphere) of the Catholic conservatives (in the sense of anti sociaists) and many Protestant ones (in the sense of Protestant ministers broadcasting) – at least in the American context.
An understanding that one can reject the philosophy, (and theology), economics and politics taught by the secular education system (and media) without rejecting learning in general, including scientific learning.
No conclusions – just things to think about.
However, even as a non Roman Catholic I am convinced that the victory of anti socialist (or “anti liberal” as Americans would say) forces over socialist ones within the Roman Catholic church is vital for the survival of Western Civilization – both theologically and spiritually, and in terms of practical political economy.
For Thomas Woods is right about the following – the Church is, overwhelmingly, the most important non state insitution that exists. Without it (should it be destroyed or corrupted from within) hope fades for the West.