Peter Maurin: It’s John Calvin’s Fault

From our friends at Radical Discipleship, another one of Peter Maurin’s “easy essays.”

Peter Maurin, co-founder of Catholic Worker Movement

1. When John Calvin
legalized money-lending at interest,
he made the bank account
the standard of values.

2. When the bank account
became the standard of values,
people ceased to produce for use
and began to produce for profits.

3. When people began to produce for profits
they became
wealth-producing maniacs.

4. When people became wealth-producing maniacs
they produced too much wealth.

5. When people found out
that they had produced too much wealth
they went on an orgy
of wealth-destruction
and destroyed
ten million lives besides.

–Peter Maurin, Easy Essays

Shelley Douglass: ‘The Gospel is Dynamite’

Shelley and her husband author Jim Douglass are elders in the movement for justice and peace. This year they mark 20 years in Birmingham offering radical hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition.

Below is an excerpt from the seasonal newsletter by Shelley from her location at Mary’s House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, Alabama.

She reflects on a recent Vatican program to improve the Catholic image. It’s known as the “new evangelization.” It’s purpose is to “re-propose the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.”

“For months now I’ve been reading articles about the new evangelization. Usually they are proposing wasy to spread the message–through social media, or better texts for theology in Catholic Schools, or more careful adherence to doctrinal purity, or better art and music at liturgies, or any number of ways to make Catholicism more attractive and better understood. Now I love beautiful music, and I’m all for clarity (and brevity) in teaching. I have nothing against twittering and tweeting, although I don’t know how myself. It does make me wonder though: how on earth did Jesus manage to spread his message without all our modern advances in communication? Or how did Dorothy Day and the early Catholic Worker community evangelize before the internet?

Peter Maurin used to say that the message of the Gospel is dynamite, cloaked and hidden by theological language. For him, a new evangelization would be to uncover the social teaching of the church, and put it into practice. For Dorothy and for Peter, evangelization was to begin to live the good news themselves, by practicing the works of mercy in daily life. For Jesus, the good news was simple: the Kingdom of God is at hand! Change your lives, and live as though it were true!”–Shelley Douglass, Mary’s House Catholic Worker (Magnificat, January 2013)

P.S. I’ll be leading the Mary’s House Lenten retreat in Birmingham, Alabama, March 15-17, 2013. Come join us! To find out more information, email Shelley Douglass (shelleymdouglass at gmail dot com).

What’s a Personalist and How Do I Become One?

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin

New Hope Catholic Worker Farm and Agronomic University in LaMotte, Iowa, is hosting its second week-long intensive on “Growing Roots: Peter Maurin & Economics” July 17-23, 2011.

They included the excellent article Distributism: Ownership of the Means of Production and Alternative to the Brutal Global Market by Louise and Mark Zwick as part of the reading list. Below I’ve highlighted a few sections, but I commend the full article to your reading.

On the Catholic Worker View of Economics

It is very much in the tradition of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin to write about economics. Under the editorship of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker criticized an unbridled capitalism which put the majority of money and resources in the hands of a few big corporations and individuals. The Catholic Workers not only disagreed with industrial capitalism on a massive scale, but presented an alternative economics called distributism-a person-centered economics.

As personalists, Catholic Workers believed there had to be a better way than to have the world run by Standard Oil, General Motors and Henry Ford (today we have the global market, giant corporations, sweatshops, maquiladoras).

Peter and Dorothy recommended the works of G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., on distributism and R. H. Tawney on capitalism, and their ideas were published in the paper. These writers insisted that all people were created in the image and likeness of God, and should not be treated like cogs in a machine or made to work twelve hours a day in back-breaking work as wage slaves (in coal mines, for example), while large corporations and their directors became fabulously wealthy.

Chesterton, theorist of person-centered economics and critic of the excesses of capitalism, shared the views of the Catholic Workers. He knew that the opinions of Henry Ford (who said that most people preferred the mechanical action of the assembly line and were only fitted for it), were against Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person. Ford made it clear that most people were not smart enough to do anything except repetitious work. As Chesterton put it in The Outline of Sanity, “It will be noted that Mr. Ford does not say that he is only fitted to mind machines.”

Chesterton argued that the Catholic Church taught that every human being was worth saving. He insisted on “respect for the humanity and dignity of ordinary, shabby, ignorant people.” (Margaret Canovan, G. K. Chesterton: Radical Populist, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 9).

On “The Invisible Hand” of the Market

Since Adam Smith, the proponents of wealth creation have promised heaven on earth if their ideas were followed: Just believe religiously in the market and allow it absolute freedom, then salvation will come. It is hard to imagine a heaven where one’s creativity and destiny are squandered working on an assembly line or at McDonald’s.

Pope Pius XII went so far as to call the idea that the invisible hand of the market will on its own rather like fate control the world, a “superstition. (Dorothy Day, “Distributism vs. Capitalism,” Catholic Worker, October 1954).

What Are We Talking About When We Say “Capitalism”?

Chesterton knew that when most people spoke of capitalism, they had in mind something quite different than a few very wealthy people controlling everything. To clarify for his readers what he was criticizing, he first described the situation where a few people hold the wealth and all others struggle: “When I say ‘Capitalism,’ I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: ‘That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.” He emphasized that others had something quite different in mind when they spoke of capitalism: “The word… is used by other people to mean quite other things. Some people seem to mean merely private property. Others suppose that capitalism must mean anything involving the use of capital.

“If capitalism means private property, I am capitalist. If capitalism means capital, everybody is capitalist. But if capitalism means this particular condition of capital, only paid out to the mass in the form of wages, then it does mean something, even if it ought to mean something else.

“The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital.”

Read the whole article.