Where is our sense of the 'Common Good?'

Two items have recently renewed my interest in the importance of resurrecting the “common good” as a central value in the social teaching of Catholicism.

First, I was shocked to learn that a fire department in South Fulton, Tenn., stood by and watched someone’s house burn down because they had not paid a $75 fire fee! The family lost not only all its possessions, but four family pets: three dogs and a cat. (I wonder what the fire department would have done had a child been in the house? Let the child burn?) Where, I wonder, is the sense that “we are all in this together?” When someone’s house burns, tax money that supports such life-saving services should pay for putting out the fire, not a separate, privately paid fee. I was appalled.

Then, I read Bill Moyers’ speech to the 40th Anniversary Dinner of Common Cause in which he talked about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the political “war” the financial class is waging to keep its economic privileges at all costs. He makes clear that this widening wealth and income gap is a threat not just to the future of our economy, but to our democracy itself.

Moyers says, “Democracy in America has been through a series of narrow escapes, and we may be running out of luck… The great American experiment in creating a different future together has come down to the worship of individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power, with both political parties cravenly subservient to Big Money.” This is all too true as we look at this year’s midterm elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending. We need renewed efforts to restore sane limits to the process.

But most of all, we need a renewed sense of the “common good.” This is a bedrock Catholic value, and it is embraced by many other faith traditions. Perhaps we need more preaching on the “common good,” more parish discussion groups, more exposure for the idea generally in the media.

This need is illustrated by the story of a person who railed regularly against government programs. Yet, he had gotten his education through the GI Bill after World War II, secured an FHA loan for his house, drives regularly on the Interstate Highway System and now uses Medicare.

Of course, not every government program promotes the common good. But when I hear people rail against “taxes and big government” without any context or even an awareness of how they themselves have benefited, it underlines the fact that we need more discussion of this Catholic, and indeed – interfaith – value.

To read Bill Moyers’ remarks, here is the link: 40TH Anniversary of Common Cause.

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