September 25, 2009

Back to Nature

By Dr. William Luckey *

There are a number of Catholics, thankfully not too many, who believe that it would be more pleasing to God if we all gave up our highly technical lives, or money, vacations, etc., and lived on a subsistence level. These same folks are always championing "Western Civilization." They never ask what made Western civilization possible. The existence of great writers and thinkers does not make a civilization. A civilization is made up of all those people who have learned and accepted the values of the great thinkers of that civilization, and in the West, the teaching and contribution of the Catholic Church, not all of which is doctrinal, but intellectual as well. Notice that it is not just the teachings of the Church that made up Western civilization, but the accumulated wisdom of that whole civilization. Even the Church in its theological debates uses philosophical language and concepts developed by the great, and frequently pagan, thinkers.

But how did this wisdom get around? It got around because some folks had excess wealth to finance the development of schools to educate thinkers. The early Church Fathers were very educated men. The money of dedicated people sponsored schools which they attended. Think about it: one cannot spend time getting the required learning if one has to put food on the table. Learning requires leisure. Leisure is purchased for the student by someone else. That someone else gives that money to the student or the school, or both, so that the student and teachers do not have to spend their time putting food on the table by farming, or working in an asphalt plant (as yours truly once did) and the like. This means that someone in the society has to have discretionary funds. If we all lived in a subsistence mode, there would be no discretionary funds, and there would be no learning, no churches, no artists.

Nor is that all. The reader might notice that the life expectancy of people in the West has taken tremendous leaps since the 1800s. Why? Because in the West the free market system has discovered ways to create wealth. Much of that created wealth goes into the paychecks of households and is spent on medical care. But where did the medical care come from ("Take out two pints!"—Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber)? It comes from the fact that some people and the "evil" corporations take their discretionary income and save it. This money is then used to develop diagnostic medical equipment, medicines, and surgical equipment, and support medical schools which train practitioners who are able to use these great things for the health of every patient. The households pay these practitioners to keep them healthy. It is nice for the healthy 20-year-old to talk about living on a subsistence farm or owning a small shop, like you see in the movies—until he contracts cancer, or gets hit by a car. He does not run (or crawl) to old Theodoric (above), but he goes to the oncology department of a good hospital, or the trauma center of the same hospital, none of which would exist if these "back to nature" folks had their way.

Those people who think "small is beautiful" need to think how much of a disservice they are doing to the rest of us because of their fantasies disguised as Catholicism. If it was up to them, we would all die at 25 years of age. We would have little sanitation, little medical care, no education, and the creativity of mankind would be stifled, or limited to painting pictures on cave walls.

Dr. William Luckey is the former chairman of the department of Political Science and Economics at Christendom College, where he is currently a professor.  He holds advanced degrees in Business, Economics, Political Philosophy and Systematic Theology. He was married in 1971, has four children and 12 (soon to be 13) grandchildren, and is a Lay Dominican.

You can visit his blog entitled Catholic Truths on Economics at:

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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