Conversion and society

Society is not just desirable but essential to the fulfilment of the human vocation. But in order for this human vocation to be fulfilled, respect must be accorded to what the church calls “the just hierarchy of values”. In this hierarchy of values physical/instinctive dimensions are subordinated to interior/spiritual ones. Or in other words we must not muddle the true goals and aims of human life with the things that are needed to achieve them. The most obvious example is when people are treated as objects to achieve another goal. This is what Bl Pope John XXIII said,
Human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright light of truth, men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values; mutually derive genuine pleasure from the beautiful, of whatever order it be; always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural heritage; and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of others. These benefits not only influence, but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic, and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.     Pacem in Terris, 36 (Peace on Earth)
Problems arise when means and ends are inverted. Giving the value of ultimate end to what is only a means for attaining it results in unjust structures. For example, consider money and people in a society: in a just society money can be a means to achieve the good for people, whereas when money becomes the end and people become the means, unjust businesses will use people to achieve the goal of wealth creation. Even worse is when persons are viewed merely as means to an end. So for example when women's bodies are seen as means to gratifying one's desires, their bodies are objectified and not seen as the outward form of a person; the person has been reduced to a means from being an end. In a society with such inversions it becomes difficult and almost impossible for Christian conduct to keep with the Commandments of the divine Law-giver. We see this inversion in secular societies most clearly. In a secular society, human beings are not necessarily seen as being intrinsically good (because that is derived from divine revelation), it is more common to see human beings for the use they have (we can say that the secular society becomes utilitarian).

One of the most important things for a Christian to do, in such inverted societies, is not to separate inner conversion from finding the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they induce persons to sin. There is a permanent need for inner conversion but this should motivate one to obtain social change that will really serve. The conversion of the heart will lead one to desire social change for the betterment of all.

Without the help of grace men may lack the discernment to know the way between two opposite but disastrous paths: (1) the cowardice which gives in to evil, and on the other side, (2) the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse. The way between, which may often be narrow, is the way of charity, or we may say, love of God and love of neighbour. So Charity is the greatest social commandment for it respects the dignity of all and respects their rights. Charity requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving.
Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Lk 17:33
Fr Ian