Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus was at Glen Beck’s event on the Mall last Sunday, asking people why they attended. A quote from one woman she interviewed stunned me. “…My freedoms are lost. To be able to preach anywhere we want, to have God in our schools, to drive any kind of car we want and if I want to drive a gas guzzler, I can, if I want to eat a lot of sugar and salt, and I shouldn’t be forced to buy medical care… to be able to burn the kind of light bulb I want…the list goes on.”
In other words, “freedom” to her means having her own way, no matter what the common good demands.
“Having God in our schools” probably means prayer -- with her God -- in public schools, regardless of the feelings of those of other faiths, or no faith. It means driving any kind of car and using any kind of light bulb, regardless of her carbon footprint on our planet in an age when climate change is reaching a critical stage. And although no one is stopping her from eating a lot of sugar and salt (however detrimental to health), she does not want to buy into a system that will keep medical costs down for everyone when all that sugar and salt sends her to a doctor or emergency room.
This is individualism run amuck. It’s been part of the American psyche for centuries, and so her point of view is heard often in public discourse, usually not this baldly, but often nonetheless.
What this underlines for me is the need to resurrect, and preach about, the Catholic value of the “common good.” Of course, Catholics don’t have a corner on this value… it is shared by Jews who revel in the prophets, millions of Protestants, most Muslims, and those of many other traditions. And there certainly can be legitimate disagreements about what constitutes the “common good.” But as a value, it is rarely expressed in our public discourse. Maybe that’s because it is rarely expressed, and explained, from our pulpits.