Envy: Why Catholics Should Care

My most recent post, “The Democrats’ Deadly Sin,” elicited a number of comments from readers, for which I’m grateful. One particular reader, however, had a couple of objections that I think merit a response. The reader objected that my post seemed too partisan and had little to do with Catholicism.

On the first point, I don’t know that my post was “partisan.” For example, I stressed that both Democrats and Republicans, presidents and Congresses alike, are responsible for the unbroken 44-consecutive-year annual rise in federal spending from 1965-2009. I also noted that prior to 1965—the watershed year when federal spending became an outright addiction—both parties were capable of occasionally cutting spending and balancing the budget. I even extended kudos on that score to big-government liberals like President Woodrow Wilson and President Franklin Roosevelt. Sure, I stressed that the spending problem is suddenly worse than ever under President Obama, who is a Democrat, but I don’t think that observation makes my analysis partisan. The fact is that such is the grim reality we’re now grappling with.

Perhaps the reader meant that my focus on Democrats employing class envy was partisan. But again, the fact is that it’s the Democrats who employ class envy. They are notorious for engaging in blatant, transparent class envy as a perverse, ongoing, systemic political strategy. They have done it ever since I started paying attention to politics. It’s awful. I cringe every time I hear it. It’s wrong. They need to stop it. Alas, I doubt they will because they get political mileage from such rhetoric, even as the mentality it fosters is downright destructive to individuals.

That brings me to the reader’s second objection: How does this relate to Catholicism?

Well, I thought that was self-evident, but maybe I need to make it more clear. The effort is worthwhile in light of this terrible problem—or, that is, this vice.

Envy is indeed a vice. It is, as the title of my post implied, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I opened the post with a quote on envy from Fulton Sheen, who, of course, was Catholic.

(I should add that I also noted that the reckless spending by our public officials—creating unimaginable debts they are passing on to our children and our children’s children—shows them to be extremely poor stewards. Being a bad steward is un-Christian. But back to the envy point….)

To begin with, envy is a violation of God’s commandments. It is about coveting what your neighbor has. Our Church and theologians have noticed. Dante characterized envy as a perversion of one’s own good; a “wish to deprive” others of their own good. Augustine deemed it “the diabolical sin.”

The Catechism (2539) devotes time to this sin, describing it as: “Resentment or sadness at another’s good fortune, and the desire to have it for oneself.… [E]nvy is contrary to the tenth commandment.”

The USCCB, in its United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, includes a glossary definition of envy: “One of the Capital Sins; it is the inordinate desire for the possessions of another, even to the point of wishing harm on the other or rejoicing in another’s misfortunes.”

One of the better explications of envy comes from Father John A. Hardon (S. J.) in his excellent, widely used Pocket Catholic Dictionary (Doubleday, 1985). Hardon defines envy as: “Sadness or discontent at the excellence, good fortune, or success of another person. It implies that one considers oneself somehow deprived by what one envies in another or even that an injustice has been done.”

It is this particular manifestation of envy that I’ve long encountered among everyday Democrats, and more so lately given the rhetoric of President Obama and other Democrat politicians. Every time I write an article on how America needs to get its fiscal house in order, and must reduce this habitual, immoral, out-of-control generational debt spending, I immediately get nasty emails from the Democratic Party faithful—clearly incited by the words and teaching of the Democratic Party leadership—blaming the whole mess on “the rich” for not paying enough taxes.

In one case, I emailed back and forth probably 30 times with a man from Philadelphia. Even after finally conceding that our federal government has a serious spending problem that must be subdued, he was enraged at those who dared to have more money than he had. He will not rest until he sees some sort of revenge. He wants the rich taxed hard, at higher rates still, and he wants them hurt. He views their higher income than his as a grave injustice. His heart has been taken by envy, and his class hatred has been fostered by the poisonous rhetoric of his party.

This man is just one example of many I could give. I grew up in a blue-collar Democrat (and Catholic) environment. I have long watched envy of wealthy people channeled into outright bigotry. Class hatred (which Marx and the communists mastered) is a pernicious form of hatred. It also drags down and holds down the envier. It isn’t healthy.

Yes, envy is a sin. It fosters anger and resentment and hatred and misery. Our Church has been saying so for centuries. Catholics should care about it. And, yes, one particular party engages in it relentlessly: the Democratic Party. It should be stopped.

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.



  • Peter O

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article. It amazes me how modern Democrats need such intensely powerful irrational rationalization to validate continuing as a Democrat- especially a “Catholic” one. Not only does the Democrat party breed vice and discontent, but breeds “cafeteria Catholics” who fall prey to the Liberal idea of relativism, picking and choosing what they want to believe. They ignore everything else and for some reason overly-focus on providing dependency programs, not “safety net” programs, for the poor. They have some economic hangups with conservatism, but then they ignore the 90% of the Democrat Party platform that is antithetical to Catholicism. This is very obviously a result of Envy.

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