Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The initial motivation for this project arose during my fifteen years of work (1983-1998) as a pastoral minister in various parish settings in the Midwest. I was often surprised by the Jack of knowledge possessed by parishioners regarding social justice issues. They were unfamiliar with the responsibility of believers to effect justice in society based on principles provided by Catholic social teaching. Even more disheartening was the high level of negative response to Catholic social teaching once they learned it. Their response was more than just individualistic, borne of the prominent philosophy of the economic system and culture. It was a response that raised up the private, autonomous life and rejected religious, or any other "meddling," in any sphere the individual deemed private. I began to wonder why. This experience of parish life occurred against the background of an American society that in the 1980's I saw fragmenting into ever-smaller communities of interest, with ever-narrower foci and a more enhanced sense of self-interest. There seemed to be Jess regard for love of others and less regard for the welfare of others unless regard for others resulted in a benefit for the individual. My own faith experience, and the teachings of the Catholic tradition, convinced me that this trend toward self-interest as an all-defining norm for life was clearly misguided. I asked, had cultural individualism and the privatization of an increasing number of spheres in peoples' lives become so entrenched in the American psyche that there was little hope for the revival of the genuine notion of the common good in American society? Furthermore, as an educator, I wanted to know how the consciences of Catholic Americans could be jarred so as to move them into appreciating the positive aspects of American society while identifying and eliminating the negative aspects. More immediate motivation for this work was provided by my own extended family of uncles, aunts, and cousins, many of whom farm. One uncle and a good friend each lost a farm to foreclosure, not because they weren't hard workers, not because they weren't cautious, and not because they weren't providing a necessary product to society. They lost their farms because they could not make a large enough profit on a moderate
-sized farm given the various controls and incentives provided by the government. This, I have thought, was unjust. Given the important service provided by farmers to the nation and the world, why were their needs ignored and their way of life slowly eliminated? Furthermore, why did so few people seem to care? Under the circumstances, I am led to question whether the United States, a society that claims to promote the welfare of all, can truly claim to be a just society. Furthermore, the experience of economic tragedy in my own family and the increasing privatization and individuation of life in the United States led me to question how Catholic Christians could be motivated to become more involved in creating a just society. I am under no illusions that this work represents a definitive answer to how one transforms the individualized and privatized culture in the United States. I do believe that Catholic social teaching and the revival of a healthy and more expansive notion of sin can be a starting point. While this work is only a small contribution to the discussion of what constitutes a truly just society, it is my hope that it will generate vigorous and passionate discussion about what it means for Christians to be "leaven" in society with the promise of future transformation of that society.