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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

The Social Security question is one that will have to be answered within the next couple of years as more baby boomers reach retirement age. Each party knows changes are needed, but no one seems to know what those changes should be exactly. I thought Day's opinion from 1945 (emphasis mine) could provide some insight. May we all strive to replace the government as the lifeline of the poor and elderly.

"We believe that social security legislation, now hailed as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion. It is an acceptance of Cain's statement, on the part of the employer. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Since the employer can never be trusted to give a family wage, nor take care of the worker as he takes care of his machine when it is idle, the state must enter in and compel help on his part. Of course, economists say that business cannot afford to act on Christian principles. It Is impractical, uneconomic. But it is generally coming to be accepted that such a degree of centralization as ours is impractical, and that there must be decentralization. In other words, business has made a mess of things, and the state has had to enter in to rescue the worker from starvation." ...
"Peter Maurin likes to talk about the treason of the intellectuals. With the expose of waste and inefficiency on the part of government, of graft and the spoils system ("You take this job in return for the help you gave me in getting elected") I should say that not only advertising men, not only the manufacturer robs and cheats the poor, but also the government. How quickly graft and scandals are forgotten! In Russia graft, corruption and waste in government circles are considered treason, and men have paid for it with their lives. And our Catholic employers and politicians speak at Communion breakfasts, and as long as they prosper they are held in honor; as long as they are in power they are respected. They go to Communion, they go to Mass. You must not judge them. If you speak ill of them, you are being uncharitable.
Yes, the poor have been robbed of the good material things of life, and when they asked for bread, they have been given a stone. They have been robbed of a philosophy of labor. They have been betrayed by their teachers and their political leaders. They have been robbed of their skills and made tenders of the machine. They cannot cook; they have been given the can. They cannot spin or weave or sew-they are urged to go to Klein's and get a dress for four ninety-eight.
Bought and paid for? Yes, bought and paid for by their own most generous feelings of gratitude. Of course, they feel grateful. In spite of their talk about taxes and justice, they are grateful to the good, kind government that takes care of them. St. Teresa said that she was of so grateful a temperament she could be bought with a sardine. St. Ignites said that love is an exchange of gifts. The government gives its paternal care and the people give their support to that particular governing body. Naturally they do not want change.
But who is to take care of them if the government does not? That is a question in a day when all are turning to the state, and when people are asking, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Certainly we all should know that it is not the province of the government to practice the works of mercy, or go in for Insurance. Smaller bodies, decentralized groups, should be caring for all such needs.
The first unit of society is the family. The family should look after its own and, In addition, as the early fathers said, "every home should have a Christ room in it, so that hospitality may be practiced." "The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor." "If your brother is hungry, it is your responsibility."
"When did we see Thee hungry, when did we see Thee naked?" People either plead ignorance or they say "It is none of my responsibility." But we are all members one of another, so we are obliged in conscience to help each other."
"More About Holy Poverty. Which Is Voluntary Poverty."
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, February 1945, 1-2.