The Gospel Imperative vs. Cultural Despotism
by Omar F. A. Gutierrez
It was announced by the Apostleship of Prayer that the Holy Father will be praying that “all peoples may have access to water and other resources needed for daily life.” This is announced as many millions of people suffer without water, food or proper shelter in the Horn of Africa which has seen the worst drought in a generation, one made significantly worse by the warring of radical Islamists in the region.
The Holy Father desires, like his predecessors, that nations of means are able and willing to help nations like Kenya and Somalia in situations such as these. The idea is that we help these people gain and maintain access to the basic goods of human life, goods to which they have a right by virtue of being alive and being human persons. This is the very meaning of solidarity and justice.
While many recognize this great need, folks on both sides of the aisle fail to see the need or value of this sort of international aid. Ron Paul tweeted last October that
Foreign aid is taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries.
That’s a cute slogan and all, but for the fact that there are actually great organizations out there, Catholic Relief Services being one of them, that really do help save the lives of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children. Also, poor people in this country tend not to pay taxes that end up in foreign aid.
Mitt Romney said the following about foreign aid when asked about it by Anderson Cooper in what I think was debate number 173 in this never-ending Republican primary. Goodness but that was so many debates ago. Anyway, he said:
I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid.
That’s cute too. Why indeed are we borrowing money from China to help other people when we are so woefully in the dumps, right? Well, consider first that in 2011 Americans spent something close to twelve billion-with-a-b dollars on veterinary trips for their pets. If that weren’t enough, Americans spent around $73 million on gifts for their dogs last year. Why, then, are we borrowing from the Chinese when we can afford this lavish care for our animals, while people in East Africa are starving? I’m not anti-pet, but a gift for your dog? Seriously?
Second, Mitt and the rest make it sound like we’re bankrupting ourselves trying to support people in other countries. A recent poll of Americans asked them how much they think the U.S. spends on foreign aid. Half thought that we spent at least 10% of the U.S. budget on such. One in five American thought that we spent closer to 25% of our budget on international works for the needy. What’s the real figure?
Of that, because of course it’s the government, maybe about three quarters or less actually makes it to the poor in foreign countries. Corruption does exist. Surprise! We live in reality. But the answer is not, as Ron and Mitt argue, to forget the poor and just move on. Actually, it was Rick Santorum who said that he’s seen with his own eyes the good our foreign aid does, and he made the wonderful point as well that when Americans do that sort of stuff, we actually build for ourselves a reputation of being the good guys. This helps dampen the wills of the same Islamists who cry death to America. It’s harder to burn an American flag when that same flag is on the package of oatmeal you just fed your kids. Get it?
But the right is not the only group to have this whole foreign aid bit wrong. Back in December the Obama and Clinton state department decided that they would start using foreign aid and “diplomatic means” to get nations to end discrimination against homosexuals. Though unwilling to give details, the obvious point is that our government will be telling the poor of other nations that they either toss their cultural and religious notions to the side or they don’t get money.
This is not cute. It’s evil.
In fact this is how the AP reported the story:
In unusually strong language, the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton compared the struggle for gay equity to difficult passages towards women’s rights and racial equality, and she said a country’s cultural or religious traditions are no excuse for discrimination.
Yup, for the relativist crowd in Washington, truth is what we make it to be and your own culture and faith be damned. This is one of the great dangers of globalization, and of course one of the great dangers about which the Holy Fathers have warned.
In Caritas in veritate Pope Benedict XVI said there were two main dangers. The first is the kind of hodgepodge conjoining of cultures which does not really take into account the traditions and people that make culture. This leads to a kind of relativistic cultural insensitivity, where cultural expressions can just be interchanged like parts in a machine.
The other danger is the outright squashing of cultures. He writes in paragraph 26:
Secondly, the opposite danger exists, that of cultural levelling and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles. In this way one loses sight of the profound significance of the culture of different nations, of the traditions of the various peoples, by which the individual defines himself in relation to life’s fundamental questions [Centesimus Annus, 24]. What eclecticism and cultural levelling have in common is the separation of culture from human nature. Thus, cultures can no longer define themselves within a nature that transcends them [Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 33, 46, 51], and man ends up being reduced to a mere cultural statistic. When this happens, humanity runs new risks of enslavement and manipulation.
The very same people, then, who decried the economic sanctions against Iraq because of the harm it did to the civilians of that nation, would punish the people of Africa, for instance, for not bending to the cultural notions of the American people. This is nothing short of cultural despotism. And it’s disgusting because it is enslavement and manipulation.
Now some might argue with me by pointing out that some of the crimes against gays and lesbians in foreign countries are truly heinous. Yes, of course they are. In some cases they are downright inhuman and should be condemned, but let’s bare in mind a couple of things.
First, recall that the stories about abortion in the days before it became legal were largely exaggerated and in some cases totally fabricated. Remember that Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, lied about being gang raped. She was told to lie by the feminist activists who needed to use her, use anyone, in order to get what they wanted. The truth didn’t matter. So you’ll forgive me if I’m not entirely convinced that all the stories we hear are true or are at least as common as Hillary would have me believe they are.
Second, note that the language references cultural and religious mores. The administration wants to change religions not just the extreme manifestations of the same. And anyway, for an administration that is keen on getting Catholics to reject our own religious mores, is it too far a stretch to imagine that they want to change the way Catholics or Muslims in other countries think?
Another objection might be to ask if I would withhold aid from a nation that was mandating abortions, or that was, like South Africa, systematically oppressing a people based on the color of their skin. My response to that would be to remember the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great who said that when we give food to the hungry, we are not engaging in charity but rather in justice. Why? Because they have a right to that food. They are alive. They need to eat. We can help them. So we must. That is the Gospel imperative.
One of the pressing issues in Washington these days is the drive to cut foreign aid. Why the political right is so adamant about it I’m not sure. Most likely it has something to do with the fact that it plays well to American audiences who don’t know the facts about the budget while simultaneously not really cutting anything significant. It’s 1% folks. If anything, we need to increase foreign aid significantly.
Do consider, then, pressing your Representative and your Senator to increase or at least maintain foreign aid levels where they are at. I know I will be. Later this week I’ll be on the road to D.C. for various meetings. Next week I’ll be meeting with my reps. So blogging will be light, but I’ll try to keep you all posted and will be responding to comments. In the meantime, donate to Catholic Relief Services and their work to help the starving in East Africa.Watch the short video below to learn more about what CRS is doing there.
Of course don’t forget either to remember to pray with the Holy Father that “all peoples may have access to water and other resources needed for daily life.”