Peace and Justice - Fr. Benjamin J. Urmston

Peace and Justice - Social Analysis

Social Analysis

In the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, No. 3, Jesus, Way to the Father reads: "Keep your Church alert in faith to the signs of the times and eager to accept the challenge of the gospel."

As intellectual persons we need research and the gathering of data. There's no substitute for knowing the facts. If I hope to educate others, I need to educate myself. St. Ignatius decided to go back to school and become a non-traditional student because he saw education as a way of helping others and later of influencing society's culture.

Structural Analysis

I don't think we can read the signs of the times as Jesus enjoined us to do unless we engage at least in some elementary social analysis.

To get order into our world we establish structures, government, corporations, schools, currency, traffic signals, etc. Because early drivers were colliding at intersections, someone decided to put up a sign that said STOP. This was the externalization of the desire to prevent accidents by creating some form of orderly traffic flow. Structures become the "way things are, the way we do things here." We need structures to function in an orderly way. But structures become part of us and can take on a life of their own. From time to time we need to analyze the structures by which we have organized society to see whether they need restructuring. Do I love others so much that I'm willing to examine and re-examine any structure that may be oppressing human persons or causing deterioration of the earth?

Structures are the way we organize our world and our lives externally and internally. Government, corporations, the church, the family are external structures. Our values, attitudes, philosophy of life are internal structures.

In his visit to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI, stated the importance of structures: "The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist calls forth a commitment to evangelization and solidarity; the Eucharist awakens a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear witness to it in the world so as to build a more just and humane society. From the Eucharist a civilization of love springs forth that has and will continue to transform Latin America, making a Continent of Hope, a Continent of Love.

How can the Church contribute to the solution of urgent social and political problems such as poverty, the growing distance between the rich and the poor, drugs, alcohol, false pleasures? Just structures are a condition without which a just order in society is not possible, but structures neither arise nor function without a moral consensus on fundamental values, and the need to live these values, even when living God's values goes against personal interest. Contact with God is essential if Latin America wishes to find consensus on common moral values or the strength to live according to our values.

Just structures will never be complete in a definitive way. As history continues to evolve, structures must constantly be renewed and updated. . friendship with Jesus is essential if we are to bring about just and loving structures.

We need to have concern for the human community but also for the protection of the natural environment of which we are all a part.

"What must I do so that my life has meaning?" (See Origens, May 24, 2007, Volume 37, No. 2.)
(I have taken a few liberties with the translation, but have remained faithful to the Pope's talks.)

Who is making the important decisions in our community and in our world? Who is benefiting most from those decisions? Who is paying most of the cost of those decisions? Are important decisions being made in an open democratic way?

From the Xavier U. examen: "faith is a vital dimension of life, hope is a realistic stance toward the world, and love is our ultimate purpose. As a Jesuit institution of higher learning, we contribute to the life of both the Church and society by opening spaces for reflection on the most critical questions of our times."

Let's take health care as an example. Who is deciding what the per capita cost for health care is in the US? Are some profiting disproportionately from others' vulnerability? What are the operating values in our present health care structures?

I need to reflect on how I feel about the data I have gathered. In my own case, I remember walking with my mother through her last illness. Granting that her care was uneven, I don't think she deserved the hassle she had.

Does scripture or the Judaeo-Christian tradition say anything about the information I have gathered? My research and analysis can't be merely a secular exercise.

Decisions can be good decisions in themselves but not timely. "There is an appointed time for everything. . a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant." Reading the current signs of the times can become part of spiritual discernment. To read the signs of the times I think we need at least a basic understanding of social analysis.

The Thirty-second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus included social analysis as part of the joining of faith and justice. Jesus spoke of reading the signs of the times. The Second Vatican Council repeated this injunction of Jesus. "The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel... The people of God. . labor to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs, and desires in which this people has a part along with other women and men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifest God's design for our total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human." (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, 4,11)

The Thirty-second Jesuit General Congregation suggests new ways of loving our neighbor. Like the corporal works of mercy, social service meets immediate needs, as for example the Red Cross when it helps victims of a flood. Social action engages in social analysis and tries to analyze the causes of suffering. Is it strip mining that is the origin of sudden flooding? If it is, we engage in social action. When dialogue with the coal companies gets us nowhere, we lobby for strip mining legislation. Both social service and social action are necessary and complement one another. But social analysis and social action moves us beyond social service. We need to love our neighbor so much and so well that we're willing to examine and re-examine any structure that may be oppressing her or him.

A structure is the way things are, the way we do things. Although society once had barter, now we use currency. Since there were not many horseless carriages in the beginning, automobiles managed on their own. Now we have stop signs and traffic laws.

Business corporations today are structures with a life of their own. Corporations become objects that live on long after their founders have died. Yet the courts have judged them to be persons. Today we have schools, advertising, sports, forms of government, attitudes, cultures that have become social structures. Present structures can be graced social structures or sinful social structures or mixed with some of both graced and sinful. Racial segregation in the United States was a sinful social structure. Small social action communities are graced social structures. Advertising can be a mixed social structure. There is an advantage in letting others know what you have for sale and the quality and price of the product. But the almost frantic push for greater profits leads 5th Avenue to put greater emphasis on material possessions than on personal relationships.

To examine social structures, society needs social analysis. Jesuit training and education can engage in this analysis of the signs of our times. The Thirty-second General Congregation recognizes that one of the strengths of the Society of Jesus has been its training in spiritual discernment. Retreat work has always been a priority. Now spiritual direction can give the resources to discern what direction small social action communities can take. We need the courage to see the evil in ourselves and in our world.

Decree Four of the Thirty-second Jesuit General Congregation advises Jesuits therefore to deepen their prayer life, to practice discernment, to analyze the structures, and to work to promote the basic rights of all, especially the poor and the powerless.

Decree Four also calls Jesuits to theological reflection, "carried on in a context which is both interdisciplinary and genuinely integrated with the culture in which it is done." This I think leads Jesuits to peace studies which is now in several Jesuit Universities.

Not only does the Thirty-second Congregation list goals but a way of proceeding, communal apostolic discernment, "a transformation of our habitual patterns of thought through a constant interplay of experience, reflection and action." (no. 40) Jesuits need to be involved in the lives of the poor in order to know their joys and hopes, their grief and anxieties. Jesuits need to use intelligently social and cultural analysis. If Jesuits are faithful to the process, "we will then understand better how the service of faith and the promotion of justice are not two juxtaposed, much less conflicting, goals but a single commitment which finds its coherence and deepest expression in that love of God and love of neighbor to which God calls us in the One Great Commandment.? "One cannot act justly without love. Even when we resist injustice we cannot prescind from love, since the universality of love is, by the express desire of Christ, a commandment that admits of no exceptions." "To attain this universal love, we must continually learn how to seek God in faith, both for his own sake and as the abiding source of all justice and love." (no. 45)

Truly we are technological giants, but are we moral infants? The Jesuits at the Thirty-second General Congregation again and again point to our free choices as the true cause of injustice. It's not the laws of economics which we have freely created. It's not our human nature. It's not our lack of intelligence. It's our lack of will. That's a spiritual problem.

"The grace of Christ enables and impels us to seek "the salvation and perfection of souls"--or what might be called, in contemporary terms, the total and integral liberation of humankind, leading to participation in the life of God. . .the local Jesuit community is thus an apostolic community, not inward but outward looking, the focus of its concern being the service it is called upon to give others."(Decree 2, 11 and 17)

A small but classic book that helped me is Joe Holland, Peter Henriot, S.J. Social Analysis, Linking Faith and Justice. Another help for me was Fr. Fred Kammer, S.J. Doing Faithjustice, An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought, Chapter five.

Social analysis is, I think, the modern way of reading the signs of the times. My life is not an isolated one. My graced story, my community's graced story happens in the context of the larger story of my country and of the world. Social analysis outlines the context in which a decision for action can be made. Social analysis is a diagnosis, not the treatment. We need social analysis to organize our experience and research. After we analyze the data, we synthesize it. We try to formulate a statement the group can agree on. Our synthesis might be: "We need the single-payer system on a state or federal level to insure that each person has basic health care." Or my favorite: "It is neither tolerable nor necessary that we live in a world with poverty and war. We need an effective democratic global authority; international courts to settle disputes in a non-violent way; but freely chosen and with decentralized decision- making to avoid domination by a few."

Social analysis is a tool for getting at how things are related structurally and in our experience. It can help identify what forces are moving to shape a situation, a person, an institution. It can give us an idea of where those forces are in conflict with each other and where powerless people can intervene and make a difference. It assumes a common goal: that we can all use our skills, imagination, and creativity to decide how we want to shape the economic, political, and ideological situation we are in. Three basic questions to ask are; Who is making the decision? Who is benefiting? Who is paying most of the cost? The table below is a picture of how structural analysis can be made. It puts the results of my own reading and thought in pictorial form. Our society today lacks economic democracy which throws the other layers of society, the political, juridical level and the cultural ideological level out of kilter. The second table below uses this same basic analysis applied to food and farm problems. The first table makes a general analysis of ethical theories like lifeboat ethics. The world's resources are limited. Lifeboat ethics says only a few can fit on the lifeboat so we have to use the oars to beat off those who might want to climb onto the lifeboat and capsize it. Originally a medical concept, triage is thus applied on an ethical level. Some neighborhoods, some people are beyond help. Some areas and groups don't need help. Thus government's efforts should be for the middle class. This ignores the teaching of Jesus and of the main line churches that each human person is important. We are living in an age of technological abundance. I support those who feel there is enough and more than enough for everyone.

The table below shows what can happen if there is a lack of economic democracy at the base, the social economic level. Imbalance at the social economic level causes anomalies at the political, juridical level and the cultural, ideological level. Our courts can be unfair if only the upper class can afford lawyers and have the time to wait for the court process to reach its conclusion. Congress can be unduly influenced by those who own the means of production, legislators tend to favor the corporations. Our elections can be dominated by those with excessive wealth and by those who control the media. Our cabinet appointments are often taken from the corporations that government is supposed to regulate. Our media does not tell adequately the story of labor, environmentalists, independent farmers, the poor, peace advocates because we fear to offend the wealthy. Since there are perhaps only a small percentage of the people in the United States who are full capitalists in the sense that they can live off their investments and are not dependent on their labor, do present forms of capitalism give economic freedom to only a few?

I understand capitalism as private ownership of most of the means of production. By socialism I understand government ownership of most of the means of production. At the bottom of the table below, I indicate that the means of production can be privately or publicly owned in either a centralist or decentralist system. Capitalism owns the means of production privately; socialism owns the means of production publicly. Until the present, both capitalism and socialism have tended to be a centralist system. What is needed, I think, is a combination of all of the elements, the present need being an emphasis on more decentralist and democratic systems.

Both tables below indicate the need for Ignatian spirituality or some other process of discernment at the cultural, ideological level to offset excessive individualism. I don't think we should blame the victim, "those lazy people on welfare" "farmers need to accept changing times" It's not reasonable to yell at a cripple to get up and run. Nor do we want to reward excessively those at the top. Right now we have a winner-take-all mentality. Scripture and the main line churches stress solidarity, community, sharing, and democracy.

We tend to paper over reality with happy sentiments. Small groups using Ignatian spirituality can help the group to be reasonably open and to have the ability to minimize rationalization at the cultural, ideological level.

Table 1. Relationship between layers of society

  • Cultural Ideological Level

1. Ideological level: Legitimates the situation, says that it is good and that we are happy with it. (Lifeboat ethics, triage, is not compatible with the dignity and value of each human person. Jesus is not satisfied with well being of 99 sheep. (Extreme individualism blames the victim, rewards excessively those at the top.)

  • Political, Juridical Level
  • (How much justice can you afford? - PAC's, money control elections. President's Cabinet come from corporations and return there.)
2. Political level: originated to provide institutions to meet people's needs. Now can operate to keep the economic status quo. Don't rock the boat too much. Just fine-tune the system. Don't ask radical questions about powerlessness.
  • Social, Economic Level
  • Who owns the means of production? Who has control?
  • Base
3. Social/economic level: how we produce goods for survival and the relationships among people involved is the base of society. Since the need for goods and love/respect are the basic individual and social needs, there will be tension throughout society if there is tension at this level. Tension will arise from people's having no power over the processes at this level. Too great disparity here shows lack of solidarity, lack of sharing and erosion of democracy.
How many are full capitalists, living off their investments, letting their money work for them? Capitalism - private ownership of most of the means of production. Socialism: state ownership of most of means of production.

Fr. Art McGovern, S.J: Democratic Socialism and Democratic Capitalism would be pretty much the same thing. Now both systems tend to put too much emphasis on centralist control

Food and Rural Issues

We all need to eat. Will the world have enough safe, affordable food for tomorrow? What is the condition of the land and the environment? Do we have an adequate fresh water supply? Are we in solidarity with the farmers and farm workers who produce our food? If economic democracy ignores food and farm issues, it neglects the base of the world economy.

Many consider United States agriculture to be a model that other nations should follow. They are proud of US capital-intensive, energy-intensive farms and the abundant yields of the green revolution. The superfarm is making a lot of money.

A growing number of people in our country has a completely different point of view. To them it is essential for US political democracy that we have democratic control of the land. They opt for appropriate technology and organic farming which is regenerative, sustainable, and safer for the consumer.

The term 'sustainable agriculture' was introduced in the early 1980's and has since gained wide recognition. It is used to convey the concept of a system of agriculture that is ecologically, economically, and socially viable, in the short as well as long term. Sustainable agriculture represents the end-goal of developing a food production system that: yields plentiful, affordable, high-quality food and other agricultural products; does not deplete or damage natural resources (such as soil, water, wildlife, fossil fuels, or the germ-plasm base); promotes the health of the environment; provides a good livelihood for farmers; supports a broad base and diversity of farms and the health of rural communities; depends on energy from the sun and on natural biological processes for fertility and pest management; can last indefinitely.

I once said to a student that I was concerned that the land would not be fit in the future to grow healthy food. The student replied that he wasn't worried. If the land was no longer able to grow food, he would just go to the supermarket. We are so caught up in the rush of our culture we have lost contact with the source of our food. If the farmers lack fertile land, our supermarkets will be empty. At any one time we usually have about a two-week supply of food. A blight or a man-made disaster like a nuclear war would empty our stores in a short time.

Large food manufacturers in the US provide feed, fertilizers and chemicals to farmers and ranchers, trade meat and grain, and produce packaged foods for consumers. There is excessive concentration of power in the food industry. The Alliance for Democracy feels that many corporations in Agribusiness lack corporate accountability and are the antithesis of sustainable agriculture. One large agribusiness had sales in 1996 of $24.82 billion; earnings of $545.2 million. Six cents of every dollar spent on food went to one corporation. In 1996 this corporation's return on common equity (profitability) was 24.3%. If you invested $30,000 in this corporation's stock in 1974 and sold it in May, 1992, it would have been worth five million dollars! In 1994 this corporation agreed to pay a total of one million dollars to settle an Environmental Protection Agency allegation that they wrongfully distributed a contaminated crop-production product. (Wall Street Journal, 11/24/92) With three other companies, this corporation agreed in 1990 to pay a total of $69.5 million to clean up contaminated ground water near a former Beatrice facility in Woburn, Massachusetts.

In 1996 the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of this corporation made $900,695 and received a bonus of $1,350,000. Another President and Chief Operating Officer of a food giant made $528,120 with a bonus of only $395,400. Three other presidents of various divisions had similar compensation. When I read the number of companies that are subsidiaries of one food giant, I am breathless. If the principle of subsidiarity needs to be applied in the economic sphere, it certainly needs to be applied to agribusiness.

A group of rural activists were able to agree: "We believe that the dominant values in our society today have led to dispossessed farmers, steel workers, miners and many others, along with their support systems, causing injustices also to those still working in these areas. They have led to the collapse of the small town and the increase of poor and hungry people in all segments of society. We recognize the pain which results from these values: the pain of families in disarray and despair; the pain of alcoholism, suicide and abuse found in these families; the pain of the poor, the hungry, the homeless in a society which places a higher value on the proliferation of arms and weapons than on people. We call victims to self-respect, to recognize their dignity, worth, and value. We call all others to affirm this value and worth; to reach out to correct injustices where possible; to heal pain when possible; to comfort when necessary. We call all to listen; to listen beyond the cries of pain; to listen beyond the insulation of rationalizations which blame the victim and excuse all else; to listen instead to the reality of God's Word which calls us to create a Spirit-filled world."

Not all consider US food to be safe. Food safety is a fundamental concern and right. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has said. "Our food supply is contaminated. From Daminozide on apples to antibiotics and growth stimulants in our meat, from Salmonella in poultry to sulfites in shrimp--invisible chemicals and germs permeate our food supply. Some of these contaminants are known carcinogens. Others, such as some pesticides, are nerve poisons that have never been tested for neurological effects. The widespread use of antibiotics in animals threatens the value of these medical miracles for fighting human diseases. Chemicals not only harm consumers, but also endanger farmers and the environment. Pesticides and drugs cause poisonings, birth defects, and cancer among farmers, farm workers, and their families. They also poison our groundwater, rivers, and lakes; kill wildlife; and trigger the spread of bugs and weeds that are resistant to pesticides."

Some still consider the family farm a high value. The family farm has a family living and working together. The family farm is good for the soil. The hired hand or absentee landlord has no long-term commitment to the land. The family farmer knows every inch of her/his land and wants to preserve the land for following generations. (Compare the story of the good shepherd in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John. The hired hand leaves when the wolf comes). The family farm is good for the farmer who can become close to the rhythms of nature and close to the Creator of those rhythms. The family farm is good for rural towns. The superfarm often has distant suppliers and distant markets. Many rural towns have become ghost towns. The family farm is good for the consumer. If the food supply becomes concentrated in the hands of a few, those few can determine the price of food. The family farm is good for young farmers who should be free to pursue a noble vocation. The family farm is more efficient in regard to yield per acre for labor and capital invested. Even if it were not, human and environmental costs should take preference.

Agriculture is an industry that is absolutely essential for our continued existence. The entire food industry, including the processing and transporting of our food, provides one-fifth of all employment in the US. Agricultural industries constitute the largest sector of the American economy, accounting for 20% of the GNP and employing more people than the steel and automobile industries combined.

Food and rural issues are a basic moral and social action issue. I think we need to make food and farm issues our first priority. When Pope Paul II visited Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 4, 1979, he began his remarks with the words of the offertory prayers at Catholic Mass: "Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made." Wheat is planted in the earth, harvested, and made into flour. Flour is baked into bread and brought to the altar. The earth, our work become the Eucharistic Christ. But we have to grow a better grade of wheat and bake a better loaf of bread before Christ will come and consecrate the world fully into His body. If we bring the loaves of our efforts to Jesus, Jesus can multiply the loaves.

Are the present farm structures graced or sinful? I think I could make a case that the present system is sinful. During one of the rural plunges that I went on with students, one of the farmers in the area committed suicide. The common misconception is that if someone doesn't succeed in this great country of ours, it must be her/his own fault. I submit that the cards may be stacked against them. But the present structures can be changed. The following table is a summary of reading that I have done on food and farm issues. It follows the notion that economic considerations influence the structures in the United States and the world. If there is imbalance in the economic base of society, this imbalance tends to affect the other structures, the legislative, judicial, executive branches of government, and also the ideological/ cultural structures, the schools and the media. As a society we tend to lack the spiritual and psychological freedom to examine our economic base. Since we are inclined to find our security in an economic base that works for us, we are afraid to question economic structures and rationalize that our present structures are the best. Although land-grant colleges were originally designed to help the family farmer and still have great influence through state extension agents, many land-grant colleges today cater to agribusiness. In government the Secretary of Agriculture is usually not a family farmer but an executive in agribusiness.

The table below uses the latter analysis in regard to food and farm issues which I think are the most important structures in our society and world. Since we all need to eat, food and agriculture are the primary businesses in society. (The Catholic Bishops of Kansas emphasized this in February, 2001.) The table summarizes the inordinate power had by agribusiness, the suppliers of seed, feed, energy, fertilizer, pesticides and machinery that are necessary for the production of food and fiber. The table also pictures the inordinate power of those businesses who buy the food and fiber, process and transport them, and later sell them to the public or export them overseas.

The third column, desired outcome, sketches possible solutions to our present immoral structures. Local and dispersed ownership of land is an important part of economic democracy. Community ownership of agribusiness is another essential aspect of economic freedom. In Laborem Exercens, On Human Work , (No. 14) Pope John Paul II states that the moral title to ownership is legitimate only if capital and land serves the people, is democratically controlled, and is treated with responsible stewardship. Progressive taxation, land use and zoning laws, strong anti-trust laws would move society toward economic democracy in food and farm issues. (See section on "economic democracy")

Although I recognize the importance of economic structures, I also feel a society that shows respect for each human person is crucial. Economic structures and respect for the dignity of each person is related because inadequate economic structures erode human dignity. This is especially true of the family farmer since the farm is so intimately connected with his life. The farmer doesn't go to work and then come home. He lives his work. His home is his farm. Likewise, our sense of the importance of the human person and of human work should lead us to have more humane and democratic economic structures. The number of suicides and mental breakdowns among family farmers since the 1970's is, I think, a scandal and a disgrace. The churches have tried to assist the family farmer, but their resources are inadequate and their power limited. Who listens to the problems of the family farmer? Fortunately the Alliance for Democracy is addressing food and farm issues.

The table below on food and farm structures is similar to the more general table above. These two tables could be studied together. Their purpose is simply to put in another form what I have said.

Table 2. Food and Farm Structures

Desired Outcome
He who survives is the most efficient. (Rather has most economic power) Land-grant colleges think bigger is always better.
  • Ideological/cultural (schools/media)
  • We can rationalize our present economic structures.
Title to ownership is only legitimate if capital (land) serves people, is democratically controlled and is treated with responsible stewardship.
Laws favor large farms. Those with most money can wait out decisions of courts, hire expensive lawyers, invest in PAC's. Cabinet usually picked from executives of large corporations.
  • Legislative
  • Judicial
  • Executive
Tax laws progressive, according to ability to pay, land use and zoning laws preserve prime farmland and underground water supplies, anti-trust law strong and enforced. Moderate-sized and small farmer favored. Mandatory production controls.
Too much power is had by in-put suppliers of seed, feed, energy, fertilizer, pesticides, and machinery. Too much power is also had by out- put buyers of food and fiber, and those who package and transport food. Large producers with economic power can wait out boom and bust cycles. Fewer, bigger, heavily industrialized chemical, farms, using bio-engineered seed..
  • Economic
  • We tend to underestimate how economic ways of thinking and acting influence our decisions in other areas of life. Need for food and fiber is so basic there will be tension throughout society if there is fundamental imbalance of basic human needs. (Need for love and respect and dignity also basic.)
Credit and training available to young farmers who grow safe affordable food with responsible stewardship of our natural energy resources. Small farmer has equal power with in-put suppliers and those out-put buyers of food and fiber. Local and dispersed ownership of land. Food organically grown.

At Des Moines in 1979 Pope John Paul II concluded: "In Christ all creation is restored to its proper order. Come to Christ. He is the bread of life. Bring with you to Christ the products of your hands, the fruit of the land, that 'which earth has given and human hands have made.' At this altar these gifts will be transformed into the Eucharist of the Lord. Bring with you your efforts to make fruitful the land, your labor and your weariness. At this altar, because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, all human activity is sanctified, lifted up and fulfilled."

There are also internal structures in all of us, our attitudes, our values, our philosophy of life. Do we have an attitude of sharing or of hoarding and grasping?

Do we value community, love of others, the earth, animals? Is God the center of our lives?