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Why You Should Read Building the Free Society This Summer

We invited the authors and publishers of our Catholic summer reading selections to send us short posts explaining why their titles were worthy of your time this summer. If you haven't already voted on your top three selections, go do that now.

Rachel, Internet marketing manager at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., had this to say about Building the Free Society:

Immigration. Contraception. Abortion. Same-sex marriage. Health care reform. Economic inequality. War. Religious and intellectual freedom.

The issues facing us as American citizens in this election year truly boggle both mind and soul. As Christians, moreover, we find ourselves called to the challenging task of viewing each of these controversies not only through the often-blurry lenses of politics and culture, but also through the eyes of faith.

Thank heaven for the robust vision for public life that has been laid out over the past century and more by Catholic social thought! We are blessed to be able to draw upon a wealth of wise reflection as we sort out how to think (and how to vote) on issues relating to human rights and freedoms, the just society, international order, and more — issues which, with very little digging, we find to be at the heart of each of today’s most pressing political quandaries.

Yet Rerum Novarum, Dignitatis Humanae, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, and other important statements on Catholic social doctrine — helpful as they are in shaping a faithful approach to civic life — can be difficult to wade through without a little wise guidance.

That’s what makes Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching such a perfect addition to this election year Catholic Summer Reading program. In the book, ten distinguished scholars take upon themselves the task of contextualizing and interpreting for contemporary readers eleven important statements on Catholic social teaching issued between 1891 and 1991.

In his thought-provoking foreword to the volume, Richard John Neuhaus outlines the paradox inherent to all Christian social thought:

“On the one hand, we are to take social responsibility with intense seriousness, indeed with religious seriousness. On the other, the same imperative requires that we not take the social task all that seriously — certainly not as seriously as it is often taken by those who have only one city and one citizenship. This is the abiding awkwardness of people ahead of time, of people who have here no abiding city (Heb. 13:12).”

We are, to borrow Neuhaus’s words, “resident aliens” — living on earth and in the United States of America, but possessing citizenship in the heavenly realm.

As we sojourn here as “resident aliens,” the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching — and the insight into that teaching so helpfully provided in Building the Free Society — are resources we would do well to carry with us.

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