Fundamental Values: Putting it All Together
(Part 7 in series on Fundamental Values)
This seven-part series of blogs owes a great debt to Most Rev. George Speltz, Bishops of St. Cloud, Minn. (1968-87), who retired for health reasons, but continued his committed concern for farmers and rural communities until his death in 2004. This series of blogs focused on his studies during the 1990s and his treatise “Agriculture with a Human Face: A Value System to Sustain an Agricultural Rural People”written on behalf of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
The basic or fundamental values he outlined for an agricultural people in the Catholic tradition still resonate with many of us today: (1) community solidarity; (2) strong family ethic; (3) reverence for the natural environment; (4) proper appreciation by the farmer of the dignity of their life and work; and (5) acceptance of a rural life style of moderation and simplicity.
“Just as the values and practices of sustainable agriculture are necessary to sustain the land and the natural environment,” Bishop Speltz concluded, “so a true human culture is necessary to sustain a rural people.”
The contrast he was making — and which we still continue to do at Catholic Rural Life – is with current industrial society’s inordinate preoccupation with production and consumption, its uncritical acceptance of high technology, and its hypnosis by economics. These material values are pursued with little regard for the values and rights of the human spirit, as Bishop Speltz would remind us.
We recognize, of course, that a social change back to basic values — which means getting back on track where we really should be in order to move forward in true life — will be difficult. Why? Because on the economic level our fundamental social and religious values will be opposed by powerful forces that have overtaken agriculture and food production.
Giant agro-food conglomerates, including their alliances with “life science” (seed & chemical) companies at one end and retail grocery outlets at the other, are really the ones shaping agricultural policy at the expense of rural families, communities and the land. We are now seeing a widespread social response to this in the form of environmental and local food movements.
But to help push this along, I believe we need a greater or more pronounced Church response: we need bishops and pastors to voice aloud the fundamental values articulated in this series. The social teachings of the Church are there; we need to find a new way to carry these out in practice.
Just as necessary, I dare say, is a call for tough economic reforms. Local movements can only go so far; public policy changes to erode or neutralize the “agricultural-industrial complex” are urgently needed.
Role of the Government
What indeed is the role of government? What is its proper sphere of influence when it comes to agriculture and the economy? As Bishop Speltz clearly saw during his time, values alone will not restore our declining rural population or depleted soils and waterways.
Catholic Rural Life members will know we have been closely following the 2013 Farm Bill. This is our opportunity as citizens to advocate our values to Congress as they reauthorize this multi-part legislation, reviewed and renewed every five-to-six years.
Our federal Government has the responsibility to ensure that people have adequate food security, that the land and environment be preserved for future generations, and that justice be secured for the wide range of farmers and ranchers who produce this most essential product: our food. In order to do so, our elected officials need to change decades-old policies in farm, food and rural development.
If industrial agriculture continues as is, then family farms will continue to disappear from the countryside. Those who remain must follow a logic of agricultural production that is driven by economic forces, and that means turning away from fundamental communal and stewardship values.
“Care of the land and environment, cooperation with neighbors, sacrificing for the sake of community, sacrificing temporary gain in support of a cooperative effort in marketing — these are luxuries most farm families feel they cannot afford.” That’s how Bishop Speltz put it. As the 20th century came to an end, he feared that economic determinism had prevailed. Rural life was now the survival of the “strongest” — which meant those most highly capitalized.
The Way to Hope
Perhaps in this new century we can find a way to hope again. I previously mentioned the widespread interest in local foods; that might be a first step. We must build on that in order to sustain our rural communities and agricultural people in significant numbers. We must find a way to join our fundamental communal and stewardship values, that which we hold within, with sound public policy and greater economic empowerment, that which we must grasp outright.
What is at stake is a way of life which the Church and our nation’s Revolutionary founders have always regarded as an important sector of America. To replenish the land and its people, something on the level of the human spirit is needed. Bishop Speltz was very clear about that: he called it a spiritual renaissance.
As the National Catholic Rural Life Conference recognizes its 90th anniversary later this year, let’s see if we can indeed ignite a spiritual renaissance for rural life.
Question Gabriel | Monday, October 28, 2013
Would it be possible to make Bishop Speltz’s treatise “Agriculture with a Human Face” publication available on this website? Is it available elsewhere?