Thomas Reese, SJ, on The Colbert Report

In case you missed it, Thomas J. Reese, SJ, America's former editor in chief and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Institute in Georgetown (who, by the way, has a Ph.D. in political science), reminds Stephen Colbert (and Paul Ryan) that Jesus did ask us to care for the poor, that the budget is a moral document by which a society expresses its priorities, and Pope Benedict XVI is for income redistribution. (The beginning of the show also covered the Ryan budget.) AMDG!


James Martin, SJ

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Thomas Farrell
6 years 8 months ago
I wish you guys at this Jesuit-sponsored venture would stop using AMDG so carelessly.

For an excellent article about Ignatius's use of the expression "Ad majorem Dei gloriam," I would urge you to read and reflect Walter J. Ong's "'A.M.D.G.': Dedication or Directive?" in the journal REVIEW FOR RELIGIOUS, volume 11, number 5 (September 15, 1952): pages 257-264. Ong argues, persuasively in my estimate, that Igntaius used this expression as a directive, not as a dedication.

Ong's 1952 article was reprinted in REVIEW FOR RELIGIOUS, volume 50, number 1 (1991): pages 35-42.

Ong's 1952 article was also reprinted in volume three of Ong's FAITH AND CONTEXTS (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995, pages 1-8).
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 8 months ago
For most of my grade school and high school, I dutifully put A.M.D.G. at the top of every paper, before I wrote anything else.

Actually, I wanted to respond to the viewing of this video with: A.M.D.G., indeed!  For it seemed to me that Fr. Reese's response to Colbert was, indeed, for the honor and glory of God.

Being interested in the works of Walter Ong SJ, I looked for what I could find online about the Ong article on AMDG that Thomas Farrell refers to above (#1).  All I could find was this:

"In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, A.M.D.G. means the moment of decision after one has searched one’s soul trying to make a difficult choice. When faced with these difficult choices, St. Ignatius directs his readers, one should make one’s decision based on which option will be ‘for the greater glory of God’. To use this expression as a dedication in a book or on a building, Ong asserted, is inappropriate, for no particular decision has been made. It is sufficient to pronounce that the book or building exists simply ‘for the glory of God’, without the addition of the word ‘greater’."

I'm still confused as to why Fr. Reese's response on the Colbert report was not a directive (rather than a dedication).
David Pasinski
6 years 8 months ago
Colbert teaches Sunday school? Appreciate him even more! Can you imagine being in his class????

 And his rub about the cost of Georgetoiwn educatin is well taken - though I know it's true for any college and university of that calibre. And that brings up whatever we can do about the costs of higher ed... another subject!

Fr. Reese stayed on point - no mean trick -and well done!
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
What Colbert and Fr. Reese are saying is nonsense and should be recongized as such. It is a pure manipulation of unrelated facts to make one's political point of view rather than any concern for the poor.  Ryan shows more concern for the poor than any of the people with SJ after  their name that signed the letter from Georgetown.  He obviously cares more for the poor than Colbert or otherwise Colbert would not beusing false logic to mock Ryan.

Both Colbert and Reese spew a series of lies that are taken as truth rather than to scrutinize what is actually happening.  Ryan is trying to help the poor more than either of the two men in this video.  The mocking is obvious and that is not something Jesuits should be associated with.  .

From another thread on this site about Ryan's budget I wrote the following to illustrate the reality of the Ryan budget.

''To use the words of the great conservative Republican president, Bill Clinton.  He said in his state of the union address in 2000 that he didn't view government as too small or that Americans were hurting because there was not enough government programs to help them and he said that the country was the strongest it has ever been.  And Paul Ryan's budget is substantially higher than Clintons in constant dollars, almost 50% higher.  And for that the wonderful people at America and many with SJ after his name have implied he is basically immoral.  The Tea Party would be ecstatic to have Clinton's budget in today's dollars.  They would disappear in a second as there  would be no need for them.'' 
David Pasinski
6 years 8 months ago
JR... While no one needs to demonize Paul Ryan, don't you think that his espousal- and then dismissal- of Ayn Rand demonstrates at least an inconsistency if not more? And while I have no way of judging if he cares about "the poor" and believes that his approach would help them more, it is hard to see that in what he has proposed to be effective.
6 years 8 months ago
Isn't Colbert Report a comedy show?  Why would anyone try to determine the best way to help the poor by watching a comedy show?  Why would a professor discuss such an important topic with someone who purposefully acts like an ass in order to get a laugh?
6 years 8 months ago
JR's ad hominnem response adds nothing to the dialogue. It would be exceedingly helpful if he could be more specific about how Ryan's budget does more for the poor than others. Good luck with that one.

He might have read the NY Times piece on Ryan which appeared recently. Mr. Ryan's credentials as a economist seem to be lacking.
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
Dave P,

''While no one needs to demonize Paul Ryan, don't you think that his espousal- and then dismissal- of Ayn Rand demonstrates at least an inconsistency if not more?''

The connection with Ayn Rand is a spurious one.  One can admire Rand for ideas on economics and even on some aspects of her ideas on individuality and be as Catholic as Benedict XVI.  Her atheism is another story which I am sure Ryan does not accept.  Just to make a point, many have pointed to Marx for his ideas on economics but have not accepted his atheistic approach and justify it that they are choosing only his economics.  It just so happens that Marx's ideas on history and economics were also nonsense but I am not sure Rand's ideas on what makes an economy run better are wrong.

There is a continual bringing up the Ayn Rand connection with Ryan and the thing that irks me it is really bad logical thought which the Jesuits are supposed to be above.  Here is a discussion from over year ago on the same topic and here is a comment I made

'''Rand scorned religion and those who advocated tradition, authority,and organic community.'

Your seem to be missing the point I am trying to make. No one is advocating Rand's views on religion only that some of her views may be supportive for an environment that would not be hostile to the Church. If you don't believe that the current society is hostile to Catholicism then I think you are not looking very hard. Modern day secularism is definitely hostile to Catholicism and religion in general. If one were going to choose Rand's views which do not approve of religion but in practice are indifferent to it or the secularism that is promulgated by the Democrat Party, then it is a no brainer which is better.

I personally have no interest in the atheism pronounced by Sartre or most of his views but he had a couple ideas that I found extremely valuable in how one leads their life. So when someone says they find some of Rand's ideas useful, I agree and find these ideas no way contradictory to my faith. That one should receive the fruit of one's labors is one I agree with. Now what one then does with those gifts which ultimately come from God, is at the true essence of what it means to be a Catholic.''

''while I have no way of judging if he cares about ''the poor'' and believes that his approach would help them more, it is hard to see that in what he has proposed to be effective.''

There could be a long discussion on budgets and economics but Ryan rightly sees that we are headed for a disaster and wants to encourage private investment which is what will produce jobs and really help the poor.  Providing an even bigger safety net could be argues be even more counter productive for the poor as it reduces opportunities for productive employment.  This part of the argument could take a lot of pages but is at the basif for Ryan's thinking.  If one expands the economy then the jobs will come and the poor will be better taken care of.  Increase the budget deficists and stifle investment and the Church will have so many more poor to care for.
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
''JR's ad hominnem response adds nothing to the dialogue. It would be exceedingly helpful if he could be more specific about how Ryan's budget does more for the poor than others. Good luck with that one.''

No trouble showing that Ryan's budget helps the poor, certainly much better than anything Fr. Reese endorses.  Didn't you see my comment about the size of the Ryan budget compared to Clinton's which Clinton thought was very generous and more than enough.  So it must mean that Ryan's budget is even more generous but both Colbert and Reese imply otherwise.  They are not saying the truth in any form.  Neither one has pointed to anything about Ryan's budget other than to criticize and imply it is immoral.  So are they libeling, slandering or committing calumny?  It is one of those.  That from my Catholic education is a sin.
Kang Dole
6 years 8 months ago
Isn't Colbert Report a comedy show?  Why would anyone try to determine the best way to help the poor by watching a comedy show?  Why would a professor discuss such an important topic with someone who purposefully acts like an ass in order to get a laugh

Go as Tucker Carlson what happens when people compare unfavorably Comedy Central political humor with supposedly legitimate news media.
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
''more wealth in the hands of the the 1% is the best for the poor''

The greatest increase in wealth for the richest Americans took place in the late 1990's under that great Republican president, Bill Clintron.  Funny I didn't see one liberal complain at this massive increase in wealth among the richest of Americans that happened at this time.  The reason why, because they thought that it was liberal policies that accounted for it.  But the truth was that it was conservative policies that led to this increase in prosperity for the 1% and well as the remainding 99%.  Something that Paul Ryan is tring to accomplish.
6 years 8 months ago
#12 What are you smoking? You should venture beyond your comfort zone -Briarcliff ? The ultimate deceit is the belief that one's success was a result of their own efforts alone. I bet even you JR got some help along the way. This myth of rugged individualism is just that-a big MYTH!
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 8 months ago
Steven Colbert uses satire as a way to encourage critical thinking and challenge the cult of ignorance and partisan ideology that threaten meaningful public debate.

In the video above, Colbert took the opposing argument - and he did a pretty good job of echoing the economic view that JR proclaims almost daily on this blog: that the economy will thrive and thus help the poor if the rich are coddled.  Fr. Reese did a good job, as well, of countering that view, claiming that Gospel (and Catholic) value does not support scewing the wealth of the nation toward the rich, quoting Benedict.

It seems to me that a truly Catholic way through this political wasteland would challenge us at a deep level - ask something of us, personally.  Not that we would have to give up something, but that we would have to CHANGE something in ourselves.  An attitude toward the poor, toward what it means to have more and more money. Toward the honor of serving the poor. How that might heal us of our fear and greediness.  I wish Fr. Reese had said more about that.
J Cosgrove
6 years 8 months ago
Mr. Clarke,

''You really need to tone it down.''

Have you read some of the hysterical stuff you have published here on the budgets?

''It was Rep. Ryan who brought CST and his faith into this discussion.''

Do you not think that Ryan was reacting to things published about him?  What was he going to say?  That the budget is not in synce with Catholic Social Teaching when in fact it probably represents better CST than anything adovcated on this blog or by any Jesuit I have seen recently.

''You insist on the false premise that the nation must accept the cuts in spending on food stamps and other social services suggested by Ryan's plan''

What cuts?  No one had put up any numbers and compared them to past budgets.  Don't you think disparaging Paul Ryan with the rhetoric budget cuts until there is actual numbers to compare to past budgets are available is the real slander here.

''It is a false premise Ryan promotes as well. It is not ''calumny'' to point that out (nor is it ''libeling'' Rep. Ryan to refuse to assent to his odd take on CST).''

What false premise?  Whose CST?  Because someone says so?  If what Ryan proposes helps the poor more than what those at Georgetown recommend is that then an odd take on CST.  I don't think so.
teresa jorgen
6 years 8 months ago
JR, that's it for you on this thread. You have had your say and then some. Consider yourself warned that if your frequent, uncharitable posts continue you will be suspended from the blog.
Rick Fueyo
6 years 8 months ago
Fr. Reese alsos shows a great sense of humor in his interview.  My understanding based upohn other profiles is that Mr. Colbert is a catechist.  he seems to be a good man.
Robert Galvin
6 years 8 months ago
The Ryan budget, which sends shudders down the spines of so many, is not even balanced.  This year the federal government, which already owes more than $16 trillion, spent another $1.4 trillion more than it took in.  Is it just to spend money on ourselves today which unborn generations must pay back?
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 8 months ago
Tim Reidy,
Apparently JR's comment #16 went over the top of America's uncharitable scale, resulting in his being censored from the thread. No question, earlier JR objected to Fr. Reese's highly partisan engagement in political satire, treating a very important subject in a simplistic and, in my opinion, comic manner. That is totally ok for Rush or Olberman or Maher or Colbert, but is that the proper posture for a distinguished Jesuit such as Fr Reese? And the issue for which Ryan was lampooned is far from settled, as JR suggested in his reference to former President Clinton, who removed millions from the welfare rolls, over a hundred thousand from the federal government ranks, cut government spending severely, lowered the capital gains tax rate more than Presidents Bush/Obama did, and in the process reversed the deficit, increased government revenues, lowered unemployment, and generally increased the national prosperity in the process.  Would Fr Reese say Clinton acted contrary to Church doctrine when he accomplished these things by kicking so many off welfare? Such a simplistic position on such a complex and debated issue as the effect of the tax rate upon the economy, with Colbert playing straight man to Fr Reese, tends to make it appear that America is engaged in partisan campaigning rather than seriously addressing an important issue, as some bishops have been criticized for doing.
This appearance would be eased if America was less partisan in selecting issues extremely important to the poor. For instance, Fr Reese rightly states that the Church requires that we assist the poor. No one questions the importance of education in social and economic improvement of our less fortunate citizens. Jesuit's very own Loyola Marymount has just completed a study that concluded graduates of the LA public school system are 15 times less likely to graduate from high school on schedule than their comparable parochial school counterparts. Yet President Obama, apparently more motivated to please union supporters than provide access to the inner city poor chronically deprived of decent education, has continued his fight against providing the access vouchers would offer to these needy children and their parents who desire such a choice. Is America so beholden to President Obama's reelection campaign that it can pass on his denying the needy poor access to the Catholic education that Jesuit's own Loyola Marymount has demonstrated so benefits them? 
Likewise Kevin Clarke oversimplifies an issue concerning Rand. I am no fan of hers, but one of her central points is that each person is finally and ultimately responsible for himself, his own actions, his own life. What could be more in accord with the final position of each and every Christian, who before God and judgment will be totally and solely responsible for his life for eternity? For both Rand and the Christian, we finally have to walk that lonesome valley ourselves, as no one can walk it for us. 
Kevin is understandably perturbed by JR's angry, yet not without valid cause, response to America and its Jesuit constituency. I think Kevin has a point about the the angry, perhaps even uncharitable, tone. Yet a commentator here has satirized the Pope for wearing traditional papal garb in public functions, ridiculing Pope John Paul II and Benedict for what he apparently considers their affected, dandyish dress, not unlike what Georgetown professors and graduate students wear, with the robes and colored shawls and funny headwear in a nod to an ancient tradition. Is that not charitable? Is ridiculing John Paul II, who was gutshot and risked his life every time he went out in public in his effort to move 20 nations from Soviet oppression into democratic freedom, not uncharitable and over the top? Is it not OK to speak uncharitably to Jesuits but OK to do so to the Pope?
What are your standards here? 
At times it appears to at least one observer that our editors may have an amplifier in one ear and earwax in the other. 
Rick Fueyo
6 years 8 months ago
Mr. Mattingly:

Perhaps I am reading your post incorrectly, but you seem to suggest that the statements of Fr. Reese should be imputed as the official positions of America Magazine. As the original post makes clear, he is a former editor, due to unfortunate circumstances well-known but not worth recounting.

But I would imagine that there is justifiable pride in the fellow Jesuit brother being on a national show, exhibiting a fine sense of humor and stating his positions with respect to the budget constitutes a moral document.

Surely Fr. Reese is at least entitled to state positions. Hopefully he will not be silenced again, as he is certainly not stating anything substantively different than the official position of the USCCB.

C Walter Mattingly
6 years 8 months ago
Rick Fueyo (#21).
I attempted to communicate in my post that while public comedic ridicule is fine for professional satirists such as Colbert, Rush, Beck, Olberman, Maher, and company, it might not be the best format for America to promote on such a crucial and serious subject as the economic future and welfare of current and future citizens of the country. Others may disagree.
Of course much else was also covered. That a Catholic publication concerned for the poor should be out front in the campaign to make the benefits of a decent parochial school education more widely available to the inner city poor suffering from chronicall failed public schools should hardly even need mentioning. And though I agree that Ryan is correct to state that the individual Christian is personally obligated to support the needy, I don't think that will work in the current US secular liberal environment, especially since liberals, who, as Nicolas Kristof has chastized in his NYTimes article, Bleeding Heart Tightwads, give 60% less in both financial and volunteer support than the average (church/synagogue/mosquegoing) conservative. Ryan's insight may apply to the actively involved Christian or religious person, but not the general American populace.
Some other comments in this thread, when examined, seem to circle back to the same factors. For example, Kevin Clarke mentions that "adjustments" to defense (cutting defense expenditures) and tax policies (increasing taxes) would obviate this dilemna. As 62% of defense spending comes from personnel costs and compensation, and as I'm certain none of us want to send troops into future conflicts with inferior equipment and training, making them more likely to perish from their sacrifices on our behalf, where are these cuts going to come from? As Secretary Gates said, health care costs, especially of retired military, are killing the defense budget. So that means cutting the retirement benefits and healthcare costs of former military, which of course are government employees. I agree with Kevin, but should we just address that segment of government employees, or the $40K plus benefits packages of the typical government worker as well, almost twice the poverty level of a family of 4, not taxed a dime? The president's bipartisan panel recognized that social security, and especially medicare and medicaid and their projected growth rates, are the greatest issue and recommended accordingly. Even were the current demagogic tax increase proposals for the 1% fully activated, 95% of the problem would remain. Much of the rest has to come from the middle and upper middle class tax increases, and most of all from reducing the growth in medicare, medicaid, and social security expenditures.
At least Ryan's proposal seriously addresses the deficit problem. We all need to get serious.
Rick Fueyo
6 years 8 months ago
Thank you for your civil reply. I will attempt to respond in kind.
First, I wholeheartedly agree that it would be inappropriate for America Magazine to adopt a Colbert style satire in its editorial pronouncements. I just don't think that consideration is implicated on these facts.  As noted, Father Reese is no longer affiliated with the magazine, and I don't believe an embedded video in a blog is the same as being placed in the magazine. The formal editorials on the same subject matter had been much more measured and appropriate for a magazine with such a storied history.  I just don't see a blog entry with an embedded link as having the same potential damage to the dignity of the discussion. Just my opinion.
As for the susbstantive discussion, we disagree on many points. First, most significantly, I don't think the Representative Ryan’s proposal is remotely serious in addressing
the deficit problem, however elevated it may be on our list of national priorities. Just the opposite. It would only make the deficit grow. It has very specific tax cuts for the wealthiest, along with supposedly unspecified compensating loophole closures, which he has stated repeatedly, when asked, that he will never specify. It has no chance to do anything except make the deficit issue worse.
Even with respect to his entitlement "reform", which I think is a highly disingenuous moniker, which he claims he is upholding the preferential option for the poor by supposedly  reducing their debilitating dependency, this is both a misdirection and, in my opinion, an immoral act.  I think Fr. Reese is correct that budgets are moral documents in establishing our priorities, and Rep. Ryan has shown his primary priority - greater tax cuts for the rich that have benefited so much over the last few decades.
And even by your framing of the issue, with respect to the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid issue, I first disagree that they should be viewed jointly. Both Social Security and Medicare are subject to a dedicated tax funding stream, and it is especially misleading to couple Social Security with Medicare, given that Social Security is far from being an actuarial crisis, and can be made fully solved with a very minor adjustments. It is the anticipated rate of health care inflation, which far outpaces inflation for the remainder of goods and services, that represents the primary fiscal threat to our nation. And in that regard, Rep. Ryan has no suggestion.  He proposes to voucherize in Medicare, with vouchers not increasing at the rate of medical care inflation, depending upon seniors to negotiate with healthcare providers if any savings are to be realized.
Also, with respect to his premium support provisions, similar provisions with respect to Medicare plus program has shown to be more inefficient than the status quo. In no sense is this likely to “bend the curve" on healthcare costs. To the extent this system ever realized, which will be difficult politically, to only be realized by simply reducing the amount of care that seniors receive. That's not a conclusion I agree with in the abstract, but if it is the right goal, it should be debated honestly, not by pretending that a mechanism that will have that effect will not. Again, Rep. Ryan is not a serious participant in any discussion to reduce the deficit.
Social Security and Medicare should be viewed differently, because they are very different, and the primary problems is rising medical costs.  That is where the focus should be and has been, and where those like you are trying to profess to be concerned about the budget are trying to move the discussion away from.
And I don't see anything demagogic about tax increases on the 1%. Just the opposite. I acknowledge that they will not go far in resolving our fiscal issues, but they are the minimum you should do, and are also required as a matter of fundamental morals. One person has realized a tremendous share of the increase in national income over the last 30 years and more significantly in the past half-decade. I find it disturbing and immoral to express objection to raising their taxes.  


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