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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 chance...to
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,
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 Gods 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 mans faith
in God, and teaches that obedience to Gods 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 ones motives, it is impossible to rise above the prevalent
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
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
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
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 Gods 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.
Justice and Mutual Charity References
- Marx-Engels-Lenin, The Essential Left, New York, 1962, p. 28.
- "Atheistic Education in the School," Sovietskaya Pedagogika,
1955, num. 5, p. 3.
- Canons of Judicial Ethics, American Bar Association, Canons 32, 25,
- Pius XII, Address to the International Congress on Human Relations in Industry,
October 5, 1953.
- Labor Day Statement, American Catholic Bishops, August 30, 1956.
- Samuel H. Woodbridge, The Overthrow of the Louisiana Lottery, 1921,
- G.A. Ellison, Bishop of Willesdon, in Moral Problems, London, 1957,
- Richard A. McCormick, "Is Professional Boxing Moral?", Sports
Illustrated, November 5, 1962.
- T.A. Gonzales, "Fatal Injuries in Competitive Sports," Journal
of the American Medical Association, vol. 146, pp. 1506-1511.
- Eugene G. Laforet, M.D., "Boxing, Medicine and Morals," Linacre
Quarterly, May, 1958.
- Inter-racial Conference of Christian and Jewish Religious Leaders, held
- Galatians 3:26-28.
- Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy of Northern Rhodesia, January
- George W. Forrell, The Protestant Faith, Engelwood Cliffs, 1961,
- Statement of the American Catholic Hierarchy, November 13, 1958.
Copyright © 2004 by Inter Mirifica