Help Us Tell Monsignor Ryan's Story
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 09:02:10 AM EST
Monsignor John A. Ryan was a leader in  the development of Catholic economic thought who also greatly influenced the New Deal -- an economic paradigm that a small but influential group of Catholic neocons and economic libertarians has been trying to destroy.

Now, Walter J. Collins and I have started a production company, Social Impact Films in order to create socially conscious documentaries.  Our first effort will be to set the record straight about Catholic economic teaching by telling Monsignor Ryan's story. But in order to get this project off the ground, we need your help.

My articles here about the Catholic Right have detailed, among other things, Michael Novak's and George Weigel's infatuation with laissez-faire, Robert P. George's goldbuggery and Deal Hudson's economic libertarianism.   I have written about how certain GOP-sympathetic bishops have dissembled on the concept of subsidiarity -- the concept that "issues be treated at the lowest level possible, that is, at the level closest to the individual" -- in order to sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act.  Although they seek to present themselves as modeling authentic Catholic economic thought, their views aer actually diametrically opposed to  Church teaching on  Social Justice.  They have jettisoned Distributive Justice in favor of a form of buccaneer capitalism that pummels the middle class and certainly, in Pope John Paul II's words makes no "preferential option for the poor."

Their views have nevertheless entered into the mainstream of the political discourse.  In what may have seemed improbable a generation ago, they have made it possible for Mitt Romney to denigrate 47% of the American people as freeloaders and for him to choose in Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) a running mate who at each campaign stop attempts to cloak his Ayn Rand economics within the guise of Catholicism.

Angus Sibley, the Scottish Catholic who writes on economics, may have best described the contradiction of this proposition:

Libertarian economic theories develop and extend the work of "classical" eighteenth-century economists ... Since that time at least, the world of economics has never lacked thinkers averse to state regulation, redistributive taxation, and strong trade unions. But whatever their failings, these institutions have helped us achieve fairer, more civilized economies.  Beginning in the late 1970s, libertarian economists saw their opportunity to reinstate the "progrowth" policies of the early nineteenth century, policies that had profoundly harmful consequences. Given the totalitarianisms Hayek observed in his youth, one can understand why he wanted to see the state stripped of as much power as possible.

 Sibley then explains the contradiction:

From a Christian perspective, however, many of his ideas seem seriously misguided. We need an economic philosophy that, far from undermining the state, recognizes the vital importance of good government, the need for judicious regulation of capitalism, and the malignancy of extreme inequalities. All these principles can be found in the church's teaching. We Catholics should not be shy about what distinguishes our recipe for the good society from that of libertarian theorists. We should not be afraid to insist that the health of communities and the demands of justice should take priority over the growth of markets.

They view wealth as an end in and of itself, not as a means to living a right, reasonable life.Their is an outlook that defends the economic insatiability of the privileged few while ignoring the needs of the many. They turn a blind eye to the teachings of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and John Locke who, while having expounded upon the importance of private property reminded us that it is not an absolute concept, having attached to it a social mortgage. Their's is a paradigm that ignores humanity's social nature, that treats workers as commodities about as dispensable as a bundle of cotton or a pile of bricks.  Sadly, these men have the highest visibility in the Catholic world on economic matters.

That must change.

And to help to make that change, Walter and I decided we needed to tell the story of Monsignor Ryan.  And to do it, we are going to make a documentary film about  Ryan and the Catholic idea of Distributive Justice. We call it Saving Monsignor Ryan.  It is a call to save the legacy of a religious man whose often uphill fight for social justice, and to preserve the true  history of modern American Catholic economic teaching while serving as a stern rebuke to those who slander reform with the Marxist moniker while giving cover to those who would plunder at the expense of the General Welfare.

Several  noted scholars are participating in the film.  Dr. Harlan Beckley, Director of Washington And Lee University's Shepard Program and author of  Passion For Justice: Retrieving the Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr;  Dr. Maria Mazzenga who has written extensively on Catholic Social Teaching, including a recent article that contrasts Monsignor Ryan's economic teachings with that of GOP vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan; The Difference a Century Makes: A Tale of Two Ryans.  Also helping us explain Monsignor Ryan's theories are family members who knew him as an uncle who imbued in them the desire to continue his quest for social justice.

The ideas of a living wage and workers rights have taken a beating for the last thirty years. Any attempt to reform capitalism in a way that empowers labor has been stonewalled by a well-funded barrage of misinformation. But a bigger problem for the goals of economic justice are that those of us who aspire to them, have not been able up to the challenges of making our best arguments.  But Walter Collins and I believe that saving the legacy of Monsignor Ryan from obscurity, we can show how the principles of Distributive Justice are as alive and relevant as they were in the halcyon days of the New Deal.

Please help us bring  Saving Monsignor Ryan into our national conversation by visiting us at Kickstarter.

We intend on marketing it to an outlet such as PBS or CurrentTV.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 09:04:13 AM EST

Monseigneur Ryan is one of many great thinkers that the dominionists and their partners-in-crime would bury out of sight if they could.  That would be a great start... and it would also be a good way to help educate people.  I think it would "sell".

An exploration of (of all people) the life and times of Marx - showing what he observed and how he came to the conclusions he did, might dispel some of the myths regarding his theories and thinking (and show how dated it is today).  That might be a bit hard to sell in today's rabid capitalistic society, however.  They've forgotten the importance of balance (which regulation brings).

I've not read Ryan (my main exposure has been through your writing), but I wonder if he ever touched on this idea: that the rich have forgotten that wealth and power mean responsibility and not privilege?  That their wealth can and should be a source of strength for OTHER people, and not to isolate them from the rest of society?

That's my take on much of what I read in the Bible regarding economic justice.  Of course, that also includes my cultural worldview and personal thinking.

(BTW... a science fiction writer - from what he says he's also Roman Catholic, Christopher Stasheff has incorporated the idea of using media to educate in some of his books.  I don't know why I'm mentioning him, except that I get a strong feeling that I should.)

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 10:35:47 AM EST

should be the focus of a film that explains the origin of Marx's and Engels' theories, not to mention other reactions by William Blake (dark satanic mills, etc) and other poets and novelists, miscellaneous reformers, clerics.

by NancyP on Tue Oct 30, 2012 at 12:50:28 PM EST

I pledged. :o) I think with all the religious figures today that are supporting Objectivist Economics, it is really important to point out that it was not and is not universally accepted by religious thinkers, and that a strong thread of social justice has run through Christian culture for a long, long time. I'm not a Christian, myself, but I respect the Catholic tradition of caring for the poor.

Since Alternet often republishes T2A stories, what are the chances of getting some exposure over there or at RD?

Good luck on the funding! It's a lot of money in a short time, and a lot of folks are tapped out from political contributing.

by phatkhat on Sat Oct 27, 2012 at 06:34:33 PM EST

Frank this sounds like a very worthy project. I hope people check your article (clicking on Monsignor Ryan's name) for more detailed information. The thing which troubles me, is the disconnect within the American Church community - both Catholic and especially the Evangelical community from the core of their message to focus on hot button issues. The core of the church's message has always been good news -- to the poor, the sick, the lost, those crushed by the injustice of life. To aid the message the members have always sought a personal commitment to often conservative personal lifestyle (moral) choices. Today's Christian often expresses a personal laxness in personal morality, while calling for a strong imposition of personal morality on others, often at the loss of the prime focus of an expression of Good News. Evangelical leaders around the globe, often seen better at expressing the basic message. Avoiding the emotions of American Politics their writings are a fresh expression of old truth. From the outside it appears that Catholic's around the globe -- missions and monastery's seem to have avoided much of the American toxic political agenda, and continue to focus on mission. I hope your effort meets with wide acceptance.

by chaplain on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 01:00:22 PM EST
And it is that "disconnect" that this project intends to correct.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 04:57:32 PM EST

has always been (in my experience) "You're responsible for what happens to you!"  or "Sin is brought on by suffering - what did you do to bring your misery on you?"

That's why I despise the mainstream churches along with the dominionist ones.  They too tend to blame people for the ills that befall them (which are far more numerous when you're poor and powerless), rather than help - or if they do help, it comes with plenty of strings attached, like some sort of promise to give a big chunk of your income to the church if you ever do start doing better, or to finance some ministry, or something like that.  At the least you're asked to to give a minimum 10% tithe plus offerings and so on, as soon as any money comes in - and to keep it up.

Even more offensive is the differential treatment based on income.  The rich get the best "positions"... the thanks (even when they didn't do a damned thing - I've seen that too many times), while the poor are relegated to grunt labor and grudging thanks at best.  It's very offensive, for instance, to provide a thanksgiving dinner (as we did one year when we were doing better - even cooked it) for the church ("liberal-leaning" Episcopal), only to be asschewed by the priest because you wanted to sit down and rest (been going for nearly 20 hours) rather than nonstop work and clean up afterward - and then never hear ONE SINGLE DAMNED WORD OF THANKS.  That same year the richest people in the church were brought before the altar and given gifts and a big thank-you  "for their service to the church" - when a lot of the people doing the work in that church knew they'd done nothing but give money to the priest.

Then there is the encouragement to "have Faith", and after hearing that you learn that others in the church were blocking employment because you're "supposed to get a real job!" - even in spite of health issues and while you're told to "have Faith" - in another mainstream (Episcopal) church.

They need to read Job, and meditate on Job's words.  After all, the voice of authority, "God", said that Job spoke only the truth.

The real operative word is "Repent"!

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 09:34:57 AM EST

it should read "Suffering is brought on by sin".

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 10:29:00 AM EST

and when the "Good Christians" torched my electronics workshop after threatening my parents and preaching against me, the mainstream "Christians" as a general rule said things like "At least you still have your life" and so on.  I even heard "Get over it!" from one, and others who didn't believe it happened.

The pagans and atheists???   At least they were sympathetic.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 09:38:43 AM EST

I will sign up at Kickstarter.

by khughes1963 on Tue Oct 30, 2012 at 05:23:37 PM EST

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