May 14, 2005

Is it really all that bad?

"Liberals and conservatives disagree on most everything, but they both agree at least on one thing: America is going to hell in a hand-basket" - so says an article in this week’s Economist magazine (subscription required). I agree – about how both extremes of the political spectrum think America is in such a bad state. What I don’t agree with is that America is going to hell in a hand-basket.

The article goes on to state some positive social indicators – the proportion of black (‘black’ is the word they used; I don’t know what’s politically correct these days) children living with married parents is increasing; the number of stay-at-home moms is increasing; teenage pregnancy rates and abortion rates have decreased by a third in the past 15 years; child poverty has decreased; juvenile crime, drug use and alcohol use are down; and 73% of teenagers say they are hopefully optimistic about their future. The author didn’t cite references for these indicators, but the magazine is reputable and I don’t have a reason to doubt it.

So are we going to hell in a hand-basket? I don’t think so, but I am an Upbeat person, so maybe that’s just due to my nature. Do we have things to work on? Sure, and we need to keep a good focus on justice and compassion. But I’m not convinced it is as bad as the far-left and the far-right make it out to be. Good news doesn’t make the headlines and doesn’t circulate in the blog-world at the same pace as bad news. Crisis-mongers get disproportionate amounts of attention.

So what does this have to do with Catholicism and Catholic social teaching? In a word: Hope.

Hope is an integral part of Catholicism, it pervades our liturgy and worship. And ideally, hope is a driving force behind our persistent efforts to affect positively the dignity of the human person in society. A hopeful person recognizes the good that does exist while working to resolve the injustice that remains, and envisioning the positive future that is possible. Hopeful people, I think, are uniters, not dividers. They press forward and make the world better while the crisis-mongers are busy feeling sorry for themselves.