In 1991, Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical called "Centesimus Annus." It is a sweeping and fascinating discussion about socialism, capitalism, the welfare state and the nature of free society.
The encyclical is a deeply thoughtful and courageous document and it is something every American, of every religious persuasion, should consider taking a few hours to read and think about. It touches in the most serious way the major issues about individual freedom and the role of government with which we Americans struggle every day.
It's hard to read this document without concluding that we cannot compartmentalize and separate how we think about government from the way we relate to the rest of our lives. There is a clear message that the abuse and misuse of politics and government is itself a moral problem.
This is relevant to all Americans. But at this moment I'm thinking about African-Americans.
If intensity measures religiosity, then African-Americans are the most religious of all Americans. A survey done by the Pew Center a number of years ago showed blacks responding at higher rates than whites that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives. Yet churchgoing blacks continue to overwhelmingly support welfare-state politics and politicians.
I believe African-Americans mistakenly, and destructively, disconnect the way we express our religious convictions on Sunday and what we do in the voting booth on Tuesday. In church we express our conviction that our lives reflect and are the result of our faith, our choices and our responsibilities. Yet, we then buy a political message that government is the place to turn to solve our problems.
Here is what John Paul II had to say about the welfare state:
In recent years the range of such interventions has vastly expanded to the point of creating a new type of state, the so-called "welfare state"... Malfunctions and defects in the social-assistance state are the result of an inadequate understanding of the task proper to the state.
By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social-assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.
The welfare state is, of course, our limited version of socialism. Here are John Paul's observations about socialism: