March 22, 2006


From ancient times, people have recognized the dangers of concentrated power. Countering the "usurpations" or arbitrary concentrated power of the British monarchy was the driving force behind the American Revolution. The framers of the US Constitution deliberately created a machine with lots of friction so that the different branches of government would check each others and all branches would be checked by a citizenry guaranteed basic freedoms.

Recent events have shown the wisdom of those concerns. But a dangerous trait of modern (and post-modern, if you want to go there) times is the concentration of economic power, which is now so strong that it has made the government its servant.

These issues were also powerfully addressed by the Appalachian Catholic bishops in the 1975 pastoral letter This Land is Home to Me. Here are a few excerpts that are truer today than when they were written:

"Human beings cannot be trusted
with the immense opportunities for oppression and extortion that
go with the possession of monopoly power."

"Pius XI pointed out that, our days not alone is wealth accumulated,
but immense power and despotic economic domination
is concentrated in the hands of a few...
This concentration of power has led to
a threefold struggle for domination.
First...the struggle for dictatorship
in the economic sphere itself;
then, the fierce battle to acquire control of the state, so that
its resources and authority
my be abused in the economic struggles;
finally, the clash between states themselves."

"The bishops judged then that,
an important factor making for insecurity
is the immense power and despotic domination
which is concentrated in the hands of those few
who frequently are not the owners,
but only the trustees and directors
of invested funds."

It is the considered view of El Cabrero that the bishops nailed it.



Khazouh Baszhees said...

It is the considered opinion of Khazouh Baszhees that the greatest Bishop of them all (Joey) hit it square on the head:

"Today you can go to a gas station and find the cash register open and the toilets locked. They must think toilet paper is worth more than money."

SHOCK THE MONKEY! (and all his cronies)

sonam said...

To give credit where it is due, Joe Holland did the writing on both the Appalachian pastorals. HE gets it. I am not sure the Bishops ever did.

Deacon Blues said...

In regards to This Land is Home to Me: A Pastoral Letter on Power and Powerlessness in Appalachia from the Catholic Bishops of the Region, and At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Community in Appalachia from the Catholic Bishops of the region . . .

Oh there were certainly some bishops that got it, at least some of it. Perhaps this is no longer the case. But, at one time it was. Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil called This Land is Home to Me the only Latin American document written by North American bishops. You may remember it was he who said, "When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask 'Why are they poor?', they call me a communist."

Credit for both Appalachian pastorals is due to many, not just one. And although it is not accurate to say that these documents were written by the Appalachian bishops, one must give them credit for allowing these two documents to be released on their behalf, with their signatures applied. It is difficult to imagine either of these documents being newly released by today's bishops.

I have heard many people claim to have contributed to either or both pastoral letters, yet Joe Holland usually remains quiet on the subject. Perhaps because both letters were products of many hours of listening sessions with just plain folk (unlike you and I, dear reader). The voices of the land and her people created a descant overlaid atop Joe's concert of scripture, Catholic teaching, and brilliant social analysis. When he does talk about his role Joe often says he was just putting to paper what we all heard, and was collaborating with many others in the process, including the bishops who promulgated the final product.

Of course there were some bishops in Appalachia who paid less attention to the content than we should have liked or expected. Yet there were also Hodges and Sullivan and others who championed these messages and the people from whence, and for whom, they were uttered.