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The Ryan Catholic Non-Dilemma

by Josh Hedtke | UCLA

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: August 15, 2012
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Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor for Huffington Post, recently penned an article titled “The Paul Ryan Catholic Dilemma” wherein he states that Ryan’s Path to Prosperity budget plan contradicts the newly announced Vice Presidential candidate’s own Catholic faith. The title suggests that the dilemma Raushenbush speaks of is a given truth. It’s not – there is no dilemma.

Nuns on the Bus is, as the name suggests, a group of nuns driving around the country on a bus. They, too, are vociferously opposed to the Ryan budget plan and have taken to the streets to show it.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan plan fails a “basic moral test.”

Gary Weiss of CNN weighed in that Ryan’s “fascination” with Ayn Rand puts him at odds with the values of his Catholic faith.

A whole slew of Georgetown professors made public their disapproval of Ryan’s budget sometime ago.

At one of the recent “Nuns on the Bus” rallies, this excerpt from the Bible was shared:

“Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.” Isaiah 58:7. Notice the verse does not read “share your neighbor’s food with the hungry.” Nowhere in the Bible does God require that a collection of people give to the poor. God requires individuals to give to the poor.

Individual people giving out of the goodness of their hearts is a wonderful thing. Just last year, Americans gave nearly $300 billion, or about 2% of GDP.

I don’t mean to say that the nuns or the bishops in America misunderstand the Bible. However, I do mean to say the way in which they apply their beliefs to public policy is misguided.

One of the nuns from Nuns on the Bus was quoted as saying “Question austerity!” and “The only way out of this is to raise revenue.” Apparently she doesn’t know much about Europe.

The thing those who oppose the Ryan plan on religious grounds misunderstand is that the government cannot pay for anything. Only people can pay for things; and when the economy’s growth is dismal, the ability of government to pay people with other people’s money diminishes.

The nun states the only way out of the period of slow growth we’re in is to “raise revenue.” I suppose she’s unaware that Barack Obama has himself acknowledged that cutting the capital gains tax has, in multiple instances in the past, increased revenue. Does she realize that there is absolutely no existing consensus that raising taxes during a recession will necessarily raise revenue (though the natural experiment currently underway in France should shed some light on the issue)?

Question austerity? The welfare states of Europe have taken the path Nuns on the Bus wish us to go on, and they’ve suffered for it. How are the poor faring in Greece now?

I don’t understand how furthering the compulsion to give to the poor is in line with Catholic social teaching.  Likewise, I don’t understand how the Ryan plan’s alleged lessening of the compulsion to give is at odds with Catholic social teaching.

2 Corinthians 9:7-8 reads:

“Each of you must give as you have made up your own mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” As it happens, we’re currently short on blessings, yet we’re being compelled by the likes of Nuns on the Bus to give more and more.

Because of my Christian beliefs, I’ve always thought that tax breaks for charitable donations are wrong. We should be “cheerful givers” of our own accord. Where are the religious leaders protesting against policy that encourages people to give in expectation of receiving something in return?

Ryan’s budget does not create a “Catholic dilemma.” In fact, I’d argue it’s more Catholic than Nuns on the Bus’s plan to create an entitlement society where citizens are more subservient to government than they are to God.

Josh Hedtke Josh Hedtke Josh is from San Diego

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