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Moral Theology

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Chapter X
Justice and Mutual Charity

by John A. Hardon, S.J.

The hardest thing in life is to escape from the shell of egoism that naturally encrusts every human being and consistently to live for others, in a word, to practice justice and charity. Yet everything that religion teaches and all the evidence of experience confirm the judgment that even naturally speaking true happiness consists in giving rather than in getting, and that no one is more miserable than the man whose life revolves only around himself and his own desires.

Alfred Adler, the famous Viennese psychologist, wrote a book entitled What Life Should Mean to You, in which he said, "It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring." Selfishness is at the root of all the suffering that men cause other men, and also themselves. Yet how difficult a lesson to learn, that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that not only man's salvation depends on dying to self in order to live for others, but peace of mind and achievement in the natural order are directly related to altruism.

It is not a coincidence that all the commandments of the Decalogue refer to others, first to God and then to one's neighbor; and that Christ's manifesto of virtue on which depends a man's destiny is summarised in the love of others for the love of God. In a word, the whole of Judaeo-Christianity is locked up in the single phrase: give and it shall be given you. Give to others for God's sake, and He will give abundantly in return, in full measure and flowing over. But if we close our hearts to others, He will close His to us, depriving us even now of that interior joy which only those who know how to sacrifice themselves can understand.

Ownership and Justice

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, published by Marx and Engels in 1848, the statement is made that "the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." (1) The authors argue that they have been reproached with the desire to do away with the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man's own labor, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence.

Much has happened since the Manifesto was first proclaimed, including the subjection of one-third of the human race to Marxist ideology. Unfortunately in countries not yet under the Communist yoke few people realize how closely related are the Biblical commandments, "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods," and the spread of the Communist plague throughout the world. The one is occasion for the other, because it was the injustice of those who professed to believe in the Scriptures that first evoked the Marxist reaction and that still furnishes Communism with its most powerful weapon of propaganda.

With all the fear of dialectical materialism, one motive that should appeal to all Christians is their possession of an effective antidote in the practice of justice and charity, the twin virtues on which rests the superstructure of Christianity.

The Right to Private Property. Considered as a right, property is the power that a person has to dispose of a thing and its utility according to his own will, independently of others, yet without infringing on charity or on their correlative rights. Nowadays it is imperative to know that our right to acquire and possess permanent property is divinely approved, at the risk of compromising with Marxist-inspired theory.

What God forbids must be founded on divine sanction; yet the Decalogue forbids theft, which would be meaningless unless ownership were a prior and natural right that was approved by the Author of nature. Moreover, as experience teaches, the natural law has bestowed on men the threefold right of providing for the preservation of his own life, of perfecting himself mentally and spiritually, and of developing himself through the work that he does. But none of these would be possible, humanly speaking, without the right to private ownership.

Preservation of life and health depends on a man's having the means at hand when he needs them and as much as he needs. No doubt the State has entered deeply into men's lives and taken over areas that for centuries were part of each man's personal domain. Nevertheless, unless we had a claim to possessions of our own, we would become chattels of the State in old age, or infirmity, or in any of the myriad ways that people become incapable of working and yet have to continue living (without present income) on the capital they had previously earned and saved.

More seriously the pursuit of happiness through education and culture, and especially through religion, becomes practically impossible (or at least highly precarious) if we do not have property of our own that will guarantee the freedom and leisure necessary for such life. It is beside the point that the people in Russia are denied the right of ownership and also enjoy cultural pursuits because the latter are prefabricated according to Communist standards and are no more than tools to still better condition the minds of the citizens to Communist principles. Where the means of subsistence are State-controlled, the instruments of indoctrination are ready at hand – as illustrated in the current method of teaching atheism to the children of the Soviet Union, prescribed by an official communiqué.

The Soviet school, as an instrument for the Communist education of the rising generation, can, as a matter of principle, take up no other attitude towards religion than one of irreconcilable opposition; for Communist education has as its philosophical basis Marxism, and Marxism is irreconcilably hostile to religion.
Realizing that religion is one of the ideological survivals of the exploiting social structure of the past, and that the sooner this survival is disposed of the better for the rearing of our Communist structure, the Soviet school should foster in its pupils an uncompromising attitude towards religion, a consciousness of the necessity of fighting it, an eagerness to take an active part in that fight. To express all this in brief, one may say that the task of the Soviet school in this sector of its mentality-forming work consists in educating its pupils, the future builders of Communism, as atheists by conscious conviction, active in the struggle against all kinds of superstition and religious views. (2)

Finally, if man has a right to develop himself by his mental and manual labor, he also has the right to the fruits of that which he makes or achieves. Master of his own person, he is master also of whatever he may take as his own after impressing on it the stamp of his own personality – from the field that he tills and harvests to the idea that he patents and protects from exploitation by others. All of this must be balanced, however, by the exigencies of social justice and charity. I have a right, indeed, to the fruits of my labor, but the amount of these fruits and my enjoyment of them must be tempered by the corresponding needs of other people and the right they, too, have to a decent living and the benefits acquired through personal effort.

Dishonesty and Theft. It is a popular fallacy to suppose that only a few people steal, or that ordinary people are not even tempted to take something belonging to another person against his presumed and reasonable wish. No doubt larceny, robbery, extortion and usury are exotic crimes that the average Christian reads about but seldom, if ever, commits. There are many ways of offending against the seventh and tenth precepts of the Decalogue, and in most cases the offender will not even be recognized, let alone be liable to prosecution.

Direct thievery is so obviously sinful that no one, certainly no Christian, will question the fact. He also knows that restitution of what was stolen is an essential part of a firm purpose of amendment, without which true contrition is impossible and forgiveness before God not to be expected. If restitution is postponed, even indefinitely, because of urgent personal needs that must be met, the principle still remains: unless the one who stole sincerely intends to return the stolen object or its equivalent, he stands morally guilty until this attitude has been changed.

But there are more subtle forms of stealing that may seduce the unwary and gradually dull their conscience to the wrongness of what they are doing.

Lost and found articles are familiar ground. Some people imagine that just because they found some money, jewelry or personal belongings, the items belong to them, and the common saw, "Finders keepers," reflects this bizarre notion of dishonesty. No one but the true owner has a right to undisputed possession, and the legal phrase, "an object seeks its owner," perfectly illustrates the principle.

If I find something of value that belongs to another, if I know to whom it belongs I am obliged in conscience to return it and the sooner I do so the better, even at some inconvenience to myself. In most cases I will not know who the owner is, and then my first duty is to safeguard what I have found by using the ordinary means at my disposal. I must also make a reasonable effort to discover the owner, with an emphasis on the term "reasonable." Articles of moderate value, like a medium-priced watch, might bind me to checking through the lost-and-found columns of the newspaper or perhaps running an ad of my own. But if the object is very costly, like an expensive diamond ring, it would be well to consult the civil law on the point and abide by its provisions. These may differ in different states, but the general idea is to specify how long an object must be kept in sincere possession before it becomes the property of the finder.

Business men and merchants have their own duties in the matter of honesty. All substantial defects of what I am selling must be revealed to a prospective buyer, where a substantial defect simply renders the object useless for the known purpose of the buyer. For example, if a man buys a truck for a certain type of hauling, and I know the truck cannot meet his needs, I may not remain silent and suppose that I am innocent of fraud. Minor defects that do substantially detract from what something is good for or worth do not have to be revealed unless the customer inquires about them. But in this case the price should be adjusted accordingly.

Moralists further explain that no injustice is committed, provided no fraud or deceit is practiced, to charge a higher price for articles that are rare or that are mere luxuries to the buyer; to dispose of something at a currently high price, without reminding the customer that the price will soon fall; and to ask for a higher price on something that may not be intrinsically valuable but that means a great deal to me personally. On the other hand, it would be wrong to raise the current price because I know the buyer has special need of what I sell. Though not uncommon, this practice is profiteering; it is also forbidden because the purchaser's special need is not my affair but his. It is his property, so to speak, that I cannot presume to "sell."

Abuses in business practice are common enough, and, in the competition of the modern world, become a constant temptation to those who would follow their conscience. Contractors may not do work in such a way that repairs will soon be needed, or use inferior materials at a higher price, or use expensive materials that are not necessary because of a percentage "cut," or put in time not required for the job at hand, or sublet the work to firms that are known for their sharp practices, or pretend that one's material or work is superior and charge accordingly when the facts do not warrant such claims, or to use machines and apparatus that are known to endanger the life or health of one's employees, or to be satisfied with slipshod work from the men and yet charge a price that deserves first-class workmanship.

Graft in politics is defined as the acquisition of money, position or property by dishonest or questionable means, as by taking advantage of one's official status in the administration of justice or government. As normally posed, the question is asked whether it is wrong for a politician to accept a gift from a person for whom he had done a favor in his political capacity. A man may have been appointed to the police force, a firm given a contract to build for the city, or a woman chosen to a prominent post with the board of education.

First we must distinguish a sincere gift from graft proper. There is nothing wrong if a person who has been done a favor wants to show his gratitude, and gives the benefactor a token appreciation. The trouble is that often this gift is suspect. It is really a sum of money (or its equivalent) to which the politician has no more claim than a criminal has to the ransom he demands from the rich man whose son or daughter he kidnapped. In both cases it is extortion.

In practice the difference between gift and graft is not hard to recognize. Equity requires that the best persons be chosen for a given post, without denying the right of preference for those with whom the man in public office is more familiar and friendly. But if an appointment is made in consideration of a sum of money or other benefit donated by the appointee, this is stealing under disguise and restitution should be made.

The American Bar Association recognized this risk of men in public office, here the judiciary, becoming involved in unsavory practices suggestive of graft or bribery. Its canons of judicial ethics proscribe not only bribery as such, but any semblance of dishonesty that might cause scandal and lower the dignity of the judicial profession.

A judge should not accept any presents or favors from litigants, or from lawyers practicing before him or from others whose interests are likely to be submitted to him for judgment.
A judge should avoid giving ground for any reasonable suspicion that he is utilizing the power or prestige of his office to persuade or coerce others to patronize or contribute, either to the success of private business ventures, or to charitable enterprises. He should, therefore, not enter into such private business, or pursue such a course of conduct, as would justify such suspicion, nor use the power of his office or the influence of his name to promote the business interests of others; he should not solicit for charities, nor should he enter into any business relation which, in the normal course of events reasonably to be expected, might bring his personal interest into conflict with the impartial performance of his official duties.
A judge should abstain from making personal investments in enterprises which are apt to be involved in litigation in the court; and, after his accession to the Bench, he should not retain such investments previously made, longer than a period sufficient to enable him to dispose of them without serious loss. It is desirable that he should, so far as reasonably possible, refrain from all relations which would normally tend to arouse the suspicion that such relations warp or bias his judgment, or prevent his impartial attitude of mind in the administration of his judicial duties.
He should not utilize information coming to him in a judicial capacity for purposes of speculation; and it detracts from the public confidence in his integrity and the soundness of his judicial judgment for him at any time to become a speculative investor upon the hazard of a margin. (3)

Labor and management relations bristle with problems of ethical import that often have no easy solution and yet whose principles and general application are not difficult to find. Labor unions have two basic functions: to protect the rights of workmen by insuring just wages, reasonable hours of labor and conditions of work that are consonant with human dignity; and to secure benefits for employees that are not strictly obligatory but which the management may be legitimately asked to give. Other functions of labor unions are peripheral to these two, for example, setting up housing and educational programs.

Moral specialists hold that workmen must first use the ordinary means of bargaining with the management before they have recourse to the drastic means of striking. Moreover the strike itself must be conducted in a just and equitable way. Above all deliberate use of violence and physical force must be avoided.

Correspondingly even the most ardent defenders of labor are reminding their leaders to caution the rank and file members of the trade union movement to give a fair day's work for a fair day's pay and to warn them not to abuse the well deserved benefits which the unions have been able to negotiate with their employers in recent years. The organized labor movement, it is pointed out, has reached maturity, and the average union member should readily accept reasonable and constructive advice from his leaders about the necessity of increased efficiency and the importance of respecting the rights of employers and consumers.

On their side, employers have the duty of controlling their own organizations and of bringing moral pressure to bear upon those of their associates who may be guilty of harassing the labor movement or of impeding necessary progress in the field of labor-management relations or in the field of legislation. Employers are reminded of the heavy charge imposed upon them by the late Pius XII, when he addressed an international conference on human relations in industry.

One expects to find in the employer an intense desire for true social progress. Many people show no lack of good will, but it must be observed at times that an overwhelming attachment to economic advantages tends more or less to blind men to a perception of the want of equity and justice in certain living conditions. Your Christian instincts will urge you to overcome this obstacle and to exercise your authority in a manner conformable to the ideals set forth in the Gospel. (4)

Needless to say, these ideals involve not only justice but also charity; they call upon motivation that springs not only from equity and giving every man his due but also from love for one's fellowman as a child of God and heir of heaven. A fair summary of the ideals of Christian justice and charity in labor-management relations might cover a number of searching questions.

Will the worker who performs the same task, day after day, as part of a gigantic organization, often controlled by people he never knows or sees, be able to maintain his strength as an individual with all that that implies in terms of principles, convictions, hopes and ambitions?
Will our people, if conditioned to regimentation both in the factory and at home through mass media of canned communication, become uncritical victims of any propagandist who happens to gain control of the airways?
Will managers consider a worker's personality as a matter for their concern as well as his material welfare and company profit?
Will organizations of workers continue to protect the individual worker in his dignity and pride from becoming only part of a mass, about whom negotiations are made at contract time?
Will the future conduct of our economy be illuminated by justice and individual dignity, so that each man finds full satisfaction in his daily task? Will the American worker preserve his identity as an individual of dignity? Or will we allow technology to change our country so that we lose sight of every goal except those which are material? (5)

Perhaps nowhere else is it more true that justice cannot stand alone and hope to restrain man's inveterate avarice and envy, avarice to obtain what he does not have and envy over the possessions of those who have. It must be strengthened by Christian generosity and animated by the spirit of giving without asking for a quid pro quo in return. A single problem like the living wage in today's economy includes issues that call upon more than strict equity to solve. When families in America have shrunk to a minimum, those who would rear the children that God wants to send them are faced with the hard dilemma of compromising with conscience or going along with the tide. Unless those in management and government recognize the dilemma and are willing to help solve it, they become partners in the sins of others because they failed to rise above the bare demands of justice. Justice alone can be cruel, and, unless tempered by charity, can be unjust.

Sometimes the sin of injustice arises from causing damage to another person's possessions or property, and in the complexities of modern life this creates innumerable problems. A secretary may accidentally spill a bottle of ink on a sheaf of papers she is typing, and then have to retype the whole lot while being paid by the company. A workman carelessly fails to check the machine he is inspecting and several thousand dollars' loss in damaged product is the result. A watchman sleeps while on duty, and thieves take away the complete shipment of refrigerators he was supposed to be guarding. These are typical of the myriad situations where damage or loss is caused by someone else then the owner, and where difficult cases of conscience therefore demand a solution.

First of all restitution or repair of the damage done becomes obligatory only if actual harm is caused. Neglect or even deliberate intention to harm someone would not obligate to restoration, until (or unless) the owner suffered actual loss. Secondly it must have been my own action which caused the injury, not someone else's. As a lawyer I give my client a certain set of directives on how to proceed in a legal problem and get paid for my services. Later on I find that the person did not really follow my advice, or misunderstood it, and as a result lost a considerable sum of money. I am not required to make good the loss sustained by my client, because it was his mistaken action and not my advice which directly caused the damage. And most importantly, I must have been morally responsible and guilty in causing the injury before any duty of restitution will arise. Accidental breaking of a window, or getting into an automobile accident with somebody else's car, or losing another person's book or watch do not, in themselves, obligate to restitution – unless other factors enter the case.

One factor that may enter is a provision of the civil law or the decree of a judge in court which specifies that damages must be paid even though the action which caused damage was not deliberate or morally responsible. The reason behind this provision is to insure public order and the common good, and to prevent irresponsible conduct among the citizens. If there was no risk that my negligence may cause another man serious harm, many people would become utterly reckless in the use of state and public property, and in taking care of what does not belong to them.

Betting, Gambling and Boxing

Gambling may be defined as the staking of money or other valuables on a future event, chance, or contingency, which is unknown or uncertain to the participants.

As commonly understood, the essential feature of gambling is wagering, or the act of staking or hazarding as such. In gaming, the future event is the outcome of a game of chance, or of mixed chance and skill. To the extent to which the outcome can be predicted by knowledge of the strength, skill and dexterity of the contestants, the element of pure chance is normally increased by odds in favor or, or by handicaps against, the probable winner.

Gaming is closely related to divination, through which certain lower religions sought to forecast future events. In fact the instruments used for one purpose were often employed for the other. However gambling is more inclusive than gaming, because wagers may be placed on any uncertain social or physical contingency, like the outcome of an election or a football game, or the amount of precipitation during a given month or season. The lottery is one form of gambling in which prizes are distributed by lot or chance among persons who have paid for the chance to win.

Moralists distinguish gambling from other forms of speculation and insurance in that the latter perform useful social services by stabilizing the market and by shifting the incidence of loss or gain due to economic changes which would take place in any event, whereas the former increases instability, creates risks which serve no corresponding economic needs, and adds losses to some and equivalent gains to others which would not occur in the absence of the gambling transaction itself. Nevertheless, speculative transactions may become a form of gambling when the intention of the parties is that no deliveries of commodities or securities shall ever be made, and that the whole price shall never be paid, but that the difference in value shall be ascertained at some future date and the excess or difference shall be paid directly from one party to the other.

Gambling has a long and eventful history. Ancient civilizations in the East and West, and the highest cultures of Greece and Rome, show that the gambling instinct in inveterate in human nature. In analyzing why men gamble, perhaps the best answer is: because they enjoy it. They gamble because it gives them amusement, a certain amount of recreation, coming from the thrill (as they see it) of getting something for little or nothing. They do it because for many people life is drab and they want an outlet for their pent-up feelings of weariness and distress.

In the United States, certain groups of religionists who considered gambling intrinsically evil managed to have the government pass stringent laws against the practice. New England Puritans had agitated against games of chance almost from the time they landed in Massachusetts in 1620. But the campaign against public gambling on a national scale did not become organized until the nineteenth century, in opposition to the Louisiana lottery which was chartered by state legislature in 1893, but the lottery interests were so powerful and widespread that nothing short of a strict national law was considered adequate to curb this "dangerous socially entrenched activity."

Spearheaded by the clergy of Boston, the anti-lottery crusade enlisted the cooperation of the highest church officials in the country, including thirty-eight bishops of the Episcopal Church. Passed by the Senate, the bill was held up in the House until intensive propaganda in the religious press of the country finally managed to have the Anti-Lottery Act passed by Congress in 1895. The opening clause of the Act forbids "any paper, purporting to be a ticket...dependent upon the event of a lottery...offering prizes dependent on lot or be brought into the United States, or carried by the mails of the United States or transferred from one State to another," under heavy penalties of fine and imprisonment. (6) Those who oppose all gambling as immoral believe that no event in American Church and State history has more effectively served the interests of the nation.

Moral theology carefully distinguishes among betting, lotteries and gambling. And though the basic principles governing each are not different, their application is not the same.

Betting may be described as a sort of agreement in which two or more people contract to give a prize to whichever one correctly guesses some future fact or event. Betting on race horses is well known. Given that betting is not illicit in itself, it may become so if certain conditions are not fulfilled. All parties to the contract must clearly understand the conditions of agreement in the same way; they must be sincerely uncertain about the outcome of what is to take place; they honestly want to pay (and can do so) in case they lose the bet; and the bet cannot be an encouragement to do something sinful, like taking a chance on driving at sixty miles through a crowded downtown street, or insulting a prominent person to his face.

While there is nothing wrong with betting done in moderation, it is not easy to control oneself and avoid getting the "betting urge," with grave consequences to personal integrity and the welfare of those who depend for their livelihood on the gambling addict. Some years ago a series of moral problems were submitted to high-ranking Anglican churchmen, and their answers were later published and widely publicized. One prelate was asked: Are football pools an evil? His reply is a complete study of the psychology of gambling together with an incisive condemnation of the practice from a Christian, if not Catholic, viewpoint.

Football pools are an evil: and for the following reasons. (They) constitute the occasion for the transfer of large sums of money on the grounds of luck, and they breed in those who participate the mentality which relies on chance in all its dealings and rejects the over-ruling providence of God.
This is the outlook on life which regular participation in football pools creates in people. It is directly in contrast to the Christian view, which believes that the universe is controlled by the loving providence of Almighty God, our heavenly Father. The first duty of man is therefore to learn what is God’s will, and to be obedient to it. Anything which suggests that our lives are controlled by "luck" is therefore an evil thing, for it undermines man’s faith in God, and teaches that obedience to God’s laws does not matter.
The football pools teach a radically false idea of the way in which we should value and use material things. The pools provide a tempting opportunity to get rich quick and without any creative effort.
The football pools are anti-social. We have all come to learn that society cannot tolerate great inequalities in the possession of wealth...And yet, at the very time when we are learning to accept this truth, we permit a system to flourish which is designed to do the exact opposite. For the pools are the means by which large amounts in small sums are collected from millions of people and, after the promoters' commission and overhead expenses have been subtracted, the remainder is distributed to a comparatively few people. The pools are creating a new race of plutocrats when responsible legislators are trying to abolish wide differences of wealth! (7)

The Catholic attitude is far less uncompromising. The Church has consistently called for moderation. It has never condemned gambling outright, any more than the theater, for all its transgressions or the screen or television, for all their potential follies, or sports, with their threat of overindulgence. The American craze for money making through stock investment is as much a form of gambling as those types which frankly advertize themselves as such. A case might also be made to support the idea that if the nation has suffered harm, the harm that occurred has come more frequently and grievously from unwise investments than from gamesters at a table or bettors at the race track.

Nevertheless, gambling may become a sin and even a serious sin, when it goes to an excess that would destroy personal honesty, or expose a man to loss so great as to jeopardize society, and above all, his family dependents. Sound Christian morals follow the rule of reason, not condemning outright what is not evil in itself, yet strongly reprobating the abuse of an otherwise good (or at least indifferent) thing.

Unfortunately the same balanced judgment cannot be attributed to the record of civil government in dealing with betting: inconsistencies between one state and another, and within a single state; sanctioning one form of betting and outlawing others; admitting on principle that betting is licit, yet denying the use of this right for millions who consider it lawful; leaving huge loopholes in the law for government officials to profit from people's aleatory instinct, while imposing huge fines on the legal offenders.

Lotteries are in the same category morally as betting. Technically they are a contract to receive a share of other people's money if a person's ticket is drawn by lot from among many others that made the same contribution, as for example the Irish Sweepstakes. Some distinction should be made between lotteries sponsored for a charitable cause, where only a small fraction of total receipts comes to the winner, and standard lotteries run professionally or by the government. In any case, however, they are permissible if there is no deception and if some proportion exists between the hope of winning and the amount each contributor pays. It would be less than honest if a home worth ten thousand dollars were raffled off, at ten dollars a chance, and number of tickets sold amounted to fifty or more thousand. But if the lottery is sponsored for some social benefit or to finance a worthy charity, participants understand there is little chance of winning and their contribution is more like a donation, no matter how many tickets are sold.

Gambling is also permissible by Catholic moral standards, provided the one who gambles with the stakes really owns them, if there is no fraud involved, and if all who participate have the same basic chance of winning or losing. The last item is specially important because of its practical value. Normally an amateur poker player, for instance, may not be licitly invited to join a game with an expert, where stakes are involved and where there is no equality of risk. But if the amateur knows whom he is taking on, and still wants to play the game, he implicitly passes up one of the conditions required for legitimate gambling.

Professional gamblers may take a share of the "earnings" from their customers, and people who frequent gambling houses practically waive their right to equality of opportunity between themselves and the house. But it is hard to defend those who gamble regularly. When respectable citizens encourage gambling institutions by attending them, they scandalize others who do not have the same self-control, and they help foster one phase of recreation that is closely tied in with gangsterism and other social crimes.

A new moral issue concerns the status of professional boxing, on which an increasing number of theologians has been writing and converging on a single conclusion: the professional boxing as it is today cannot be defended on moral grounds. (8)

Those who defend professional boxing look upon it as a science that requires skill, strength and discipline. They argue about the opportunity for physical development, alertness, poise, confidence, sportsmanship, initiative and character-building that boxing affords. They also point out that statistically boxing is not as dangerous as other sports. A thirty-year period in New York City was analyzed on the number of fatal injuries resulting from playing in various sports. The results were: baseball = 43, football = 22, boxing = 21, basketball = 7, handball = 3, soccer = 2, wrestling = 2, and cricket, golf, polo and relay races each one apiece. (9)

Aware of these claims, earlier moralists did not hesitate to support boxing on ethical grounds, arguing that there was nothing inherently wrong with the sport provided it was kept within reasonable bounds. But in the last decade the medical reports have been so searching and conclusive that the former leniency is giving way to a much stricter view of boxing. Without gainsaying the benefits of the sport, the prevailing judgment now sees it as basically brutish, as less a game than a contest which seeks to incapacitate the opponent, and therefore indefensible in the light of Christian moral principles.

Theological criticism of boxing is based on a combination of moral principle and factual evidence. It centers around three main areas of ethical import: the nature of the sport as it has developed in modern times, and especially in the United States, the intention of the contestants which greatly determines the morality of what they do, and the effects or at least circumstances under which prize-fighting takes on serious moral dimensions.

Boxing by its very nature is said to lead to serious and unjustifiable injury to those who participate in the sport. The knock-out itself is an indefensible mutilation of the rational faculties because its purpose is to render the victim unconscious. But even more grave is the preliminary softening-up process, with deliberately inflicted external lacerations and damage to internal organs. While other types of injury are common and often serious, craniocerebral damage has been receiving most attention from the medical world. Doctors explain that the human brain weighs about three pounds; it is fluid-packed but not secured within the skull. When the head is struck, the brain wobbles and bounces back and forth inside the cranial container. When the blow is moderate, the brain strikes against the sidewall of the head, but severe blows cause the brain tissue to hit the bony ridge of the skull and produce selective damage to the frontal lobes. Bleeding or bruising are the usual result. Nerve cells may be destroyed in the process and permanent damage is inflicted.

Studies made of boxers reveal that sixty per cent of them after five years in the ring develop mental and emotional changes that are obvious to anyone who knows them. Medical experts declare that no head blow is taken with impunity, and each knock-out causes definite and irreparable damage. If such trauma is repeated for any length of time, nerve cell insufficiency finally occurs and the boxer becomes both physically and psychically impaired.

Statistics on boxing fatalities are deceptive. The former chief of the Division of Physical Education and Health Activities of the U.S. Office of Education stated that "professional boxing is eighty-three times more deadly than high school football and fifty times more deadly than college football," both of which sports are notoriously dangerous to bodily integrity.

The second reason why boxing is being outlawed as immoral is that the direct object of the prizefighter's intention is to cause these injuries. Only a naive unrealism would allow us to say that the boxer merely permits but does not immediately want to hurt his opponent. Those who would apply the principle of the double effect to boxing, it is argued, do not understand the sport.

Prizefighters themselves and boxing fans would be the first to admit this is so, even though they might scoff at the moral implications of their admission. Winning by a knock-out (K.O.) is considered superior to winning by a technical knock-out (T.K.O.), and the latter is in turn preferable to winning on points. And as for the mere "giving and parrying of light blows without any intention of striking the opponent severely or inflicting injury" – such an exhibition would be booed lustily out of any fight arena.
Since in boxing, even more than in other sports, the object is to win as decisively as possible, it follows that the scoring of a knockout is greatly desired by boxers. Failing this, a technical knock-out may be sought by attempting so to disable an opponent that continuation of the bout would gravely imperil his health even in the judgment of a non-medical observer.
To this end the attack is often concentrated on an already injured area (e.g. a supra-orbital laceration or a peri-orbital hematoma) in order to compound the injury and secure a technical knock-out. That the infliction of injury in this fashion is encouraged over proficiency in the science of boxing is indicated also by the not uncommon occurrence of a fighter who is far ahead on points losing a bout by a technical knockout. (l0)

Lastly and logically from the preceding, prizefighting is condemned because it caters to the lower instincts and tends to demoralize participants and spectators. The howling approbation of a blood-thirsty mob watching a slug-fest is a spectacle that we might associate with pagan Rome and the gladiatorial combats in the colosseum; but this can hardly be squared with the demands of Christian prudence or the elevated teachings of the Gospel.

Race Relations

It is a matter of history that the single largest influence in bringing about the abolition of slavery in America was the concerted action of about a dozen religious denominations during the first half of the nineteenth century. Feeling over the question ran so high that it caused a permanent split among the Baptists (1845) and the Presbyterians (1861), and a Methodist schism that lasted ninety-five years (1844-1939), dividing that church into the Northern and Southern denominations.

As early as 1787, the Presbyterian synods of New York and Philadelphia recommended to all their people "to use the most prudent measures …in the counties where they live, to procure eventually the final abolition of slavery in America. The American Anti-Slavery Society was established in 1833 by representative churchmen, with the avowed purpose of "influencing Congress" to do away with slavery. Nine days before the first Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln received a delegation of clergymen who believed that "the country is now suffering under Divine Judgments for the sin of oppression," and favored "the adoption of a memorial to the President of the United States, urging him to issue a decree of emancipation." In the light of its background, it is not surprising that the final proclamation was couched in religious terms, invoking "the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

However, in the century since the Negro slaves were legally emancipated their progeny has been suffering from social liabilities that remain the single worst stigma on American culture. Millions of Negro people are deprived of such elementary rights as the franchise, attendance in public and private schools, access to welfare agencies, and the use of such ordinary facilities as restaurants, hotels and housing projects. Sparked by a historic decision of the Supreme Court, outlawing segregation in the public schools, Negro leaders have obtained numerous if reluctant concessions (notably in the South) and the prospects for the future are more hopeful than any time in the past hundred years.

Yet only the beginning is under way, and unless those who believe in Christian principles also see their implication for solving the race problem, the Negro question will continue to plague America and contribute heavily to denigrating its ideals before a multiracial world. Irresponsible journalism has much to do with creating a distorted image of the United States, which Communists and others are exploiting to the full in their propaganda schemes. But the basic fact remains that grave injustice is being committed against people whose only crime is a difference of skin and racial stock; and even those officially charged with public welfare and social morals are often implicated in perpetuating the injustice. A conference of religious leaders from Jewish and Christian bodies recently declared that they and their people are partners in racial discrimination and segregation: "In our houses of worship, religious schools, hospitals, welfare institutions and fraternal organizations we have often failed our own religious commitments. With few exceptions we have evaded the mandates and rejected the promises of the faiths we represent." (11)

Catholics have had the norms of racial justice spelled out for them repeatedly in papal documents, declarations of the hierarchy, and a library of periodic and volume literature that leave nothing important unsaid about "the most crucial problem of our times."

They have been told what racism means. It is the error which holds that any one of the different branches of the human family is inherently superior or inferior to the others. Racism therefore denies the essential unity of the human race, the equality and dignity of all men arising from their common possession of the same human nature, and the participation of all men in the divine plan of redemption.

One of the fundamental doctrines of the Church, then, is that the human race is one. The fact of its oneness is not changed by any secondary differences in color or in the various families that compose mankind. Christianity teaches that all men are descended from Adam and Eve, and so have the same origin, the same nature, the same basic rights and duties, and the same supernatural destiny.

Furthermore the whole human race is united in a common brotherhood in Christ. "Through faith in Jesus Christ," wrote St. Paul, "you are all now sons of God. All you who have been baptized in Christ's name have put on the Person of Christ; no more Jew or Gentile, no more slave and freeman, no more male and female; you are all one person in Jesus Christ." (12)

If the human family is essentially one, then all men possess the same human rights. Every man receives these rights with the infusion of his soul, which makes him at once rational and free, and therefore privileged to participate in certain inalienable rights that no one has a contrary right to deny. In a memorable letter of the Catholic bishops of Northern Rhodesia, the principal rights have been clearly identified. The list is highly relevant on the American scene because it was drafted by prelates who represent the Negro people and directed against racism that other religious leaders had defended on theological grounds.

The right to life and bodily integrity.
The right to the necessities of life and to a decent living.
The right to worship.
The right to the normal development of his faculties.
The right to private property and ownership.
The right to sojourn and movement.
The right to marriage and to family life.
The right to give his children the education of his choice.
The right to associate with his fellow men. (13)

Since these are God-given rights, the Negro should be assisted by the government in securing and retaining what is due to him. He may never be deprived of what society owes him, and any laws that contradict or militate against this obligation are unjust.

One of the most familiar arguments in favor of segregation, or at least of retarded integration, is the claim that Negroes are unable to fulfill their duties to society. They are considered naturally inferior and therefore denied a priori the opportunity of developing their native talents. To meet this prejudice something more than cold justice or statistics are needed. Unless charity comes to elevate one’s motives, it is impossible to rise above the prevalent mood.

Yet few words are more misunderstood than "charity" and "love." Christian love is not the emotion we feel towards those who are dear to us. It means to wish our fellow men well and to take a genuine and active interest in their spiritual and material welfare. Some people think that only hatred is contrary to the laws of Christian charity, whereas indifference to the welfare of our neighbor is equally uncharitable.

In the last analysis the key to solving the race problem is charity, not in the condescending sense of bending over to help a lesser mortal in need, but in the higher sense of rising above one's natural feelings and subordinating prejudice to the love of God. That is why experts in race relations are coming to recognize the indispensable role that religion must play in the race crisis, at the risk of perfectly diagnosing an illness and then remaining helpless to cure it. Nothing less than faith animated by Christian love can dissolve generations of bias and misunderstanding, and inspire the generosity needed to remove every single barrier that stands between the white man and the Negro.

Protestants are also becoming conscious of their duty to remove racial discrimination from their ranks, and are disarmingly frank in admitting the part that their own religious tradition has played in conserving, if not creating, the myth of white superiority over the Negro.

One's nationality or race has no theological significance. The Church of Christ is not "white" or "colored," American or European, and such distinctions must not be allowed to divide the Church. In other words, the Church of Christ is by definition "integrated."
Though Protestantism in America has undoubtedly tended to organize along national and social lines, the assertion of the universality of the Church makes this type of organization not only useless and actually godless. To the degree to which the living Christ is the Lord of the Protestant churches, the universality of the Church will also be realized. This is the reason why the conflict over racial integration in the churches is of such profound significance. While in other institutions segregation may be harmful or expensive, in the Church segregation is subversive to its very nature. A medical school which advocates segregation may remain a good medical school, but a church which does the same ceases to be the Church. (14)

The Christian ideal is a multiracial society, where the different groups are permitted to live together in harmony, to cooperate in schemes for the common good, and to share the same political, social, educational, professional and cultural facilities. This is the only kind of system which will safeguard the requirements of human dignity and secure equality in human rights for all its citizens.

The mere physical juxtaposition of Negro and white zones is a perversion of the term "multiracial society," and it cannot build up a society or a nation. There is no multiracial society as long as the various sections of the population are compelled to live segregated from each other.

If some barriers were justified in the past, they are no longer justified today. If any barrier is to be retained, its only justification should be the common good; it should not be erected for the benefit of the white people only.

On their part, Negroes also have duties to cooperate with others in advancing this multiracial society. Too often the race question has been viewed as exclusively a white problem; it is likewise on the conscience of the Negroes themselves. Social scientists suggest that Negroes try to find honest answers to three questions, and then set about answering them with zeal. (15)

What are these white people afraid of? Why do they begin to move out of neighborhoods as soon as Negroes move in? Why are so many desegregated schools becoming "resegregated" as white parents withdraw their children?
How much of this fear is rational, and how much is simply blind, unreasoning prejudice?
What can be done to remove the reasons for such fear, whether reasonably founded or simply due to prejudice?

If fear is somewhere near the center of American racism, it needs to be ferreted out and removed as far as possible, otherwise all the high motivation addressed to the white population will remain sterile.

Statisticians agree that as the proportion of Negroes in a community grows, the crime rate generally rises sharply. In Chicago, when Negroes represented less than twenty per cent of the population, they accounted for sixty-five per cent of prison inmates; in Detroit the proportion was twenty-one and eighty per cent, and in Philadelphia nineteen and fifty-eight per cent respectively.

The immediate reply to these figures is to say that Negroes are poorly educated, and that if only they have a chance at equal educational opportunities their crime rate will drop accordingly. This is quite true, but it is not the whole answer and, above all, it does not take stock of a present, and pressing social phenomenon.

Neighborhood deterioration is another common fear among white families. Often this fear is simply unjustified, as the house-pride and civic consciousness of numerous Negro families prove. And again education, employment and cultural inequities partially explain the phenomenon; but they do not remove the source of irritation nor absolve offenders from doing something to remedy the situation.

Civic apathy is still another complaint and ground for fear. In many towns the Negroes are (perhaps mistakenly) not considered community-conscious. "Few of them," it is charged, "seem willing to invest time and effort in the web of civic, political and voluntary organizations which holds every American community together." In Northern cities, for example, they are usually quick to react when even accidental segregation is practiced in local schools. Yet how seldom do they attend meetings formally sponsored by the school, and how active are they in the school life?

The voting habits of Negroes have been taken to task by their own people. A Negro newspaper in Detroit pointed out that a third of the city's qualified Negro citizens never even bothered to register, and another forty per cent of those who registered did not vote. Actual figures are available for the Harlem district in New York, where only about a fourth of that area's Negro citizens vote even for candidates of their own race.

Moral irresponsibility is similar to the high index of misconduct that causes white people to fear. Illegitimacy among the whites is about two per cent nationally; it is over twenty per cent for Negroes. And almost three times as many Negro children are living in broken homes as children of white parents, with comparable ratios for families on relief.

Emphatically these very fears are an effect of racism, and the object of distrust or dread is itself a creation of that false sense of superiority which for generations has deprived Negroes of a chance to better their lot in America. Nevertheless it would be the height of unrealism to dismiss what white people fear as unimportant, or not take positive measures to solve the problem from both sides.

Christianity offers the Negro motivation in many ways. It gives him an assurance of belonging to a society whose Founder was poor and despised and misunderstood. It shows him the means necessary to cope with prejudice and race pride, in giving him the sacraments by which strength is specially received from God. It offers him the promise of peace of mind in this life and of life after death if he patiently accepts the trials incident to his status while prudently working towards the eventual and complete freedom of his people.

One of the tragedies of racial oppression is that the evils deplored by the whites are being used as excuses to continue the very conditions that so strongly fostered such evils.

Today we are told that Negroes, Indians and also some Spanish-speaking Americans differ too much in culture and achievements to be assimilated in our schools, factories and neighborhoods. Some decades back the same charge was made against the immigrant Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, German and Russian. In both instances differences were used by some as a basis for discrimination and even for bigoted ill-treatment. The immigrant, fortunately, has achieved his rightful status in the American community. Economic opportunity was wide open and educational equality was not denied to him.
Negro citizens seek these same opportunities. They wish an education that does not carry with it any stigma of inferiority. They wish economic advancement based on merit and skill. They wish their civil rights as American citizens. They wish acceptance based upon proved ability and achievement. No one who truly loves God’s children will deny them this opportunity.
To work for this principle amid passions and misunderstandings will not be easy. It will take courage. But quiet and persevering courage has always been the mark of a true follower of Christ. (15)

Race relations in the United States offer one of the most graphic opportunities of proving the viability of Christian morals, that what human pride and folly have created can yet be healed by the grace of God.

Chapter X

Justice and Mutual Charity References

  1. Marx-Engels-Lenin, The Essential Left, New York, 1962, p. 28.

  2. "Atheistic Education in the School," Sovietskaya Pedagogika, 1955, num. 5, p. 3.

  3. Canons of Judicial Ethics, American Bar Association, Canons 32, 25, 26.

  4. Pius XII, Address to the International Congress on Human Relations in Industry, October 5, 1953.

  5. Labor Day Statement, American Catholic Bishops, August 30, 1956.

  6. Samuel H. Woodbridge, The Overthrow of the Louisiana Lottery, 1921, pp. 1-2.

  7. G.A. Ellison, Bishop of Willesdon, in Moral Problems, London, 1957, pp. 108-110.

  8. Richard A. McCormick, "Is Professional Boxing Moral?", Sports Illustrated, November 5, 1962.

  9. T.A. Gonzales, "Fatal Injuries in Competitive Sports," Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 146, pp. 1506-1511.

  10. Eugene G. Laforet, M.D., "Boxing, Medicine and Morals," Linacre Quarterly, May, 1958.

  11. Inter-racial Conference of Christian and Jewish Religious Leaders, held in Chicago.

  12. Galatians 3:26-28.

  13. Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy of Northern Rhodesia, January 6, 1958.

  14. George W. Forrell, The Protestant Faith, Engelwood Cliffs, 1961, pp. 215-216.

  15. Statement of the American Catholic Hierarchy, November 13, 1958.

Copyright © 2004 by Inter Mirifica

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