Catholic Teachings on Racism and Stealing
Humans, by their very nature, are social animals and it is how society deals with these interpersonal interactions that makes the fabric of any given society or culture. There are many issues in today’s society which were paramount in society through the ages, through our modern and ancient history and as far back as biblical times. Institutions such as the Church provide some teachings as to how society should be expected to behave on various issues. For instance, the Catholic Church’s position on both racism and stealing are stances which could be adopted world-wide to help aim towards world peace, equality and justness for all.
The concepts of having respect for each other as people and for individual property are as much an issue today as yesteryear and will continue to be in the future. The Church’s guidelines remain relevant now and can help mankind in the future. It is all about the moral choices that people make. Exactly what is “moral” or “immoral” may be interpreted by different people and cultures differently. Morality is “a code of conduct put forward by society, or some other group such as religion, or accepted by an individual for his/her own behaviour” (Sirswal, 2010, p. ). Catholics have teachings laid down in the narratives of the Bible which help them to make moral choices in their lives. The Ten Commandments are a guideline to morality set down by God himself and give Catholics a guideline for their living. The pace of change in today’s world is fast and the Church also, through the Vatican, endeavours to keep pace with these changes and to inform its followers of the Catholic moral stance on various social issues through encyclicals and the catechism.
The basic Catholic law of love , loving your God and your neighbour are the linchpin of Catholic morality and seeing racism as immoral is directly linked to the concept of loving thy neighbour. Racism can be defined as “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others” (Random House, 2013). Racism is seen by Catholics as a sin as it goes directly against God’s teachings that we should all treat others the way we would like to be treated.
The Bible says that we were all formed in the image and likeness of God and that we are all one in Jesus Christ. This does not gel at all with any form of racism; we are all equal and no one (race or otherwise) is superior to another. The Bible tells us “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24) and Romans 10:12 tells us that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is the Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him”. It is about respect for ourselves and our fellow human beings.
Another issue similar to this is stealing, which involves people having respect for other’s property. Stealing is a complex issue but basically revolves around the issue of theft, “the secret taking of another’s property against the reasonable will of that other” (New Advent, 2013). It is essentially depriving an individual or group of their possessions. Not only is it seen by the Catholic Church as a sin, in most cultures around the world it is also an illegal act which is legislated against.
The Seventh Commandment states that “Though shall not steal” and is repeated many times in the Bible (Matthew 19:18,Exodus 20:15). This appears to be a clear teaching and also ties in with the Catholic doctrine that all people must respect the property rights of others. However the Church’s stance on the issue is not cut and dried. There are so many levels of stealing, in terms of the material value of what has been stolen, the intent to which the stolen item was to be put, the intent the person had when they deprived the other of that property and whether restitution will be made for the property taken.
The Catholic Church does make exception in circumstances such as where someone does not have the basic necessities of life (food, water and shelter) and the theft of such things may be condoned if they are necessary for life to continue and are taken from another’s excess. Proverbs 6:30-31 states that “Men do not despise a theft if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold; though it costs him all the wealth of his house”. It is all about compassion for fellow man.
The Catholic lore on stealing can also be difficult to interpret in modern times when not only material property can be stolen, but also intellectual property such as copyright and internet/web rights. Appendix 1 is an article regarding some American teens who, following Obama’s re-election, tweeted racist comments, including calling President Obama a “nigger” and making monkey jibes. This article highlights that despite the Bible’s teaching and the country’s moral codes, there are still some people who have racist attitudes. Catholics should have zero tolerance f racism and it is right that many people went to the teenagers’ schools to make them aware of the comments made. It should not matter whether the teenagers meant no malice in their comments or not, perhaps they just thought they were being “funny men” or were succumbing to peer pressure and following the lead of others. In modern society, where countries are increasingly multi-cultural it is important that society promotes the concept of different races and cultures living together in harmony. The Catholic teachings are a good basis for society as far as racism not being tolerated and that no race is superior to another.
It is particularly important in modern society as the world-wide web and social media means that actions and comments are shared throughout the world in an instant. Whereas years ago, a high-schooler making some comment like this amongst friends would not have spread any further, the mere typing of the words on to a tweet mean they were beamed around the world in a flash. It is great that many people complained and got up in arms about the comments. The other danger today is that such comments broadcast to millions around the world, may incite others to behave in a similar manner.
The Catholic teachings are still as relevant in these sorts of circumstances as they always have been. People do need to treat others fairly and justly and all are equal in God’s eyes. The article in Appendix 2 refers to a gang of teenagers, led by three girls, using a gun and hammers in a robbery of a takeaway store in New Zealand in 2010. They unsuccessfully tried to steal money and ended up taking backpacks full of ice creams. The whole act of violence and robbery is against the Church’s teachings. Given that the perpetrators were after money at first, it does not seem that they committed the crime out of desperation or hunger.
They have breached another person’s right to their property and their right to earn a living from their labours, The store owner also had their personal rights of safety and security breached having a gun brandished in his face. Apart from the fact that such stealing is illegal in terms of New Zealand law, the Catholic Church’s teaching would also apply here. Modern day society is becoming more and more materialistic and more than ever people need to abide by the Church’s teaching of Thou shall not steal”.
Social issues such as drugs and alcohol abuse may also make some people more prone to resort to stealing to feed their habits and practices. Despite all of this everyone needs to get back to the basics of the Church’s teaching and to respect other people and their property. The concept of Love Thy Neighbour should be more applicable than ever. What does the future hold for both these issues and the Catholic viewpoint on them? We do not and never have, lived in a perfect society and Catholics cannot lay claim to their teachings giving rise to a perfect society.
However, if more people embraced some of the Catholic teachings in relation to the issues of racism and stealing, it would be a big step in the right direction. Our society today is more nomadic than ever, with people regularly travelling to other countries around the world and experiencing more and more cultures. People settle in new countries and Australia is a good example of a multicultural society. The key to all these races and ethnicities living as one has to be the same as the key to Catholic teachings, the love of one’s God and one’s neighbour. There has to be racial equality and justice for all around the globe.
The golden rule of do unto others what you would want done to you still applies today, even with all the mod-cons and technology at our disposal. The days of social media mean our actions and words as an individual can be viewed and judged by others all around the world in a split second. Catholics and indeed all people need to respect the rights, individualities and property of all others. The whole concept of “property” itself needs to be reconsidered as it does not necessarily mean only material things can be stolen, but also intellectual property, thoughts and ideas of others are to be respected as belonging to them.
In its simplest form this means “Thou shall not steal”, however it is also important to have compassion and to follow our duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves. A person’s understanding of morality may stem from a code of conduct set down by any number of institutions, such as government in the form of laws and religion. It is about how one grows into adulthood and forms their own set of personal and faith based guides to living life, in the bounds of the law of that society. The teachings of the Catholic Church, via the Bible, its beatitudes, encyclicals and the catechism all still have relevance in today’s society.
The rapid and ever-changing face of modern society could lead some people to question the relevance of the long-standing Catholic Church and it’s moral code in light of how the world has changed. On the contrary though, the basic moral concepts upon which the teachings are based remain as relevant as ever. In terms of racism and stealing, the Catholic Church’s stance of loving one another, treating everyone as equals, having respect for one another’s property and the Ten Commandments could be adopted all over the world in an effort to somehow work towards the attainment of world peace, equality and justice for all.
There is something to be said for the moral doctrines of the church and Christianity in general and in the end, no matter what one’s religion, boils down to following the moral codes set down by whatever faith and whatever society we live in, coupled with an individual’s use of common-sense, practical judgment and compassion for all. REFERENCES About. com, 2013, What is Racism, viewed 3/3/13, http://racerelations. about. com/od/understandingrac1/a/WhatIsRacism. htm Archdiocese of Chicago, 2000, Moving Beyond Racism: Learning to See with the Eyes of Christ Brothers and Sisters in Christ, viewed 3/3/13, http://www. rchchicago. org/catholic_values/catholic_teaching/moving_beyond _racism. html Bible. org, 2013, The Sin of Stealing, viewed 8/3/13, http://bible. org/print/book/export/html/155 Clarke. edu, 2013, Definitions of Racism, viewed 3/3/13, http://www. clarke. edu/media/files/multicultural_student_services/defintiionsof racism. pdf Dictionary. com, 2013, Racism Definition, viewed 3/3/13, http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/racism eHow. com, 2013, Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Bible Stories, viewed 8/3/13, http://www. ehow. com/print/info_8236130_principles-social-teaching-bible-stories. tml Jezebel. com, 2012, Racist Teens Forced to Answer for Tweets Abut the ‘Nigger’ President, viewed 3/3/13, http://jezebel. com/5958993/racist-teens-forced-to-answer-for-tweets-aboutt-the-niggerpresident. html New Advet. org, 2013, Theft, viewed 8/3/13, http://www. newadvent. org/cathen/14564b. htm Random House Dictionary, 2013, Racism, viewed 3/3/13, http://dictionary. reference. com/brose/racism Sirswal, DR, 2010, Professional Ethics and Morality, PG College for Girls, viewed 3/3/13, http://drsirswal. webs. com/documents/Professional%20Ethics. pdf