Class Conflict

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Editors: Michael L. Coulter , Stephen M. Krason , Richard S. Myers , and Joseph A. Varacalli
Date: 2007
Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy
Publisher: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Class Conflict

The Church rejects for various reasons the inevitability of class conflict emphasized by Marxism, while still recognizing the legitimacy and necessity of engaging in the struggle for social justice as an expression of the preferential option for the poor (cf. CSDC # 306, 449). The positive agenda that the Church offers to replace the class conflict is one based on the principles of cooperation and solidarity for the sake of the common good, “effectively ensuring conditions of equal opportunity for men and women and guaranteeing an objective equality between the different social classes before the law” (CSDC # 89-91, 144, 145, 268).

The Church’s positive agenda begins with a realistic appraisal of the power of personal sin to infect social structures. As noted by then Cardinal Ratzinger, this recognition is crucial, “for it is precisely personal sin that is in reality at the root of unjust social structures. Those who really desire a more human society need to begin with the root, not with the trunk and branches, of the tree of injustice. The issue here is one of fundamental Christian truths, yet they are deprecatingly dismissed as ‘alienating’ and ‘spiritualistic.’”

The fundamental Christian truth is that society is sick and fallen due to sin that in the economic and social sphere is concretely related to greed, avarice, and pride. The poor know intuitively that they are viewed in many cases as subhuman by those who are more privileged. Sometimes this disdain by the privileged is intertwined with racial, linguistic, ethnic, or religious disparagement. The plight of Catholics in Ireland is a well-known example in history, as is the evolving situation of African Americans in the United States. At root, the problem is a lack of charity, the charity to which St. Paul called all Christians who form part of a new family: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27–29).

Thus, in historically Christian societies, the privileged are called by their Christian heritage to view the poor as their authentic brothers and sisters, not as the disdained. In turn, the poor are to view the powerful as potential brothers and sisters in Christ who need to be challenged with the truth in a nonviolent way that recognizes the human dignity and conscience of all involved. In this sense, the American civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., provides a striking example of a peaceful yet assertive campaign for social justice effectively conducted without dehumanizing one’s opponents.

In non-Christian societies, Christians struggling for social justice are also called to the Pauline perspective of solidarity because the Gospel is addressed to every human being and thus every human being is a potential convert. In a surprising twist, it is precisely the Christian imperative of evangelization of all men and women everywhere that precludes class hatred and class conflict in the Marxist mode (cf. CCC # 618, 1934). The Christian evangelistic imperative views all men and women, regardless of social class and background, as potential brothers and sisters in Christ. This evangelistic view is inconsistent with dehumanizing members of other social classes and seeking to eliminate them. It is perhaps the rejection or neglect of the traditional Christian imperative for evangelization that has led some Christians to substitute the Marxist template of class conflict.

Yet, in certain situations, the Church does recognize the right to resort to armed force in the struggle for justice. Armed resistance to oppression by political authority Page 203  |  Top of Articleis not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: (1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; (2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; (3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; (4) there is a well-founded hope of success; and (5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution (CCC# 2243).

Thus, the Marxist claim that religion can be only an opiate for the masses is wrong. Catholicism for her part recognizes the legitimacy of armed resistance to aggression in certain situations. Yet, at the same time, Catholicism rejects the motive of class hatred and elimination as part of inevitable class conflict. Instead, the Church combines the necessity for an assertive social struggle for justice with the recognition that all involved share the same human dignity precisely because Christ died for all mankind.—Oswald Sobrino


Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. The Ratzinger Report. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985; See also LIBERATION THEOLOGY ; MARX, KARL ; MARXISM

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3281000165