Why You Can't Just 'Love Your Neighbor'
Therefore, if the state embraces either evolutionary materialism or what the pope calls “practical atheism” (29), then human beings have no nature and no intrinsic purpose or natural ends. Deprived of any stable foundation for our rights or understanding of the common good, freedom has no meaning because it has no end. In other words, what’s the point of freedom, if there is no point to anything? Eventually, according to Benedict, we are forced to embrace some form of moral relativism, and this may lead to totalitarianism. Without theological anthropology, we are stuck as isolated choosers with only the power of the state to control our individual pursuits for personal pleasure, prosperity, and our subjective idea of “the good.”
But if what the Christian faith teaches about humanity and the good life are true, the exercise of true liberty requires that we recognize and embrace these truths. For without them, liberty loses its point. As Jesus succinctly stated, “Ye shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). To put it another way, someone who can make more choices out of ignorance of his own nature would be less free than the person who knows the truth about himself and then makes choices. As Benedict writes: “God is the guarantor of man's true development, inasmuch as, having created him in his image, he also establishes the transcendent dignity of men and women and feeds their innate yearning to `be more.’ Man is not a lost atom in a random universe: he is God's creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved” (29; note omitted).
An economic approach
The categories that dominate our public discourse in the United States—left, right, liberal, conservative, etc.—play no role in illuminating the Church's social doctrines or the message of Caritas in Veritate. This is why it is a fool's errand to attempt to artificially divide Catholic social teachings into its left and right wings, as if the Church's rejection of economic libertarianism and the proclamation of the principles of subsidiary and solidarity are inconsistent with support for male-female marriage and the sanctity of human life.
Benedict does argue in this encyclical that free markets and the ownership of property are the best way people can produce the wealth that is necessary for a just regime. But free markets will not result in integral human development if they are bereft of sound ethical constraints and not directed toward the common good. This is why in Catholic social teaching the state has an obligation to protect, nurture, and help sustain the natural development and proper ends of certain governmental and private institutions. These include the family, civic and political associations (such as labor unions), organizations of social welfare (administered privately and/or by the state), and schools. According to Benedict, such institutions make morally sound markets possible because they provide the social infrastructure for the achieving of integral human development. So the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from “Honor thy Father and Mother,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not steal.” Thus, the “justice” in social justice refers to a rightly ordered community, not to the ideologies of a Ludwig Von Mises or a Karl Marx. In Christian theology, you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul (Luke 9:25). To paraphrase St. Paul, that’s a stumbling block to the Austrians and foolishness to the Marxists.