I’ve had a bee in my bonnet for a while now on this topic and I want to explore it a bit further. With elections and what not coming up it is important for us, as a nation, to take stock periodically and decide for ourselves, in a deliberate manner, where we, as a nation, want to go. What sort of people do we want to be? What values do we wish to foster and what traits do we wish to discourage?
I have in the last year fallen completely off the Christian social agenda bandwagon. It no longer makes any sense to me to try to have the State govern in a way specifically designed to favor Christian preferences.
There are a number of reasons for this. One, who gets to define Christian preferences, Catholics or Baptists? Two, how do we equitable uphold our egalitarian principals when other faiths make up a large percentage of the population that falls under the State? Three, do we really want the State to define morality when who controls the State can so easily change, changing the definition of right morality with them? Four, where in the Bible does it say the rules that govern others behavior as dictated by the State is something Christian’s are supposed to give a damn about?
Take, for example, how the Catholic Church got hoodwinked in the Depression era into backing the whole litany of social do-gooderism labeled the New Deal and it’s follow-up programs. Convinced they were helping provide for the very real needs of the poor Catholics and many Protestants backed government programs that used tax money to provide for the basic needs of the indigent and working poor.
But, what did they give up to get this greater good? I would argue a whole damn lot. In order to lay this out in an understandable way I am going to juxtapose how I see charity working with how I see welfare working in a number of areas.
1. Charity is voluntary, welfare is coerced. Charity begins in the heart. We see a need, we have a surplus and we feel led to give, of our time, our money, or emotions, our goods, whatever to succor those in need. We do this, perhaps for the hope of heavenly rewards, but, if it is genuine charity, with no expectation of any sort of payback. We do it from the goodness of our souls. Welfare, on the other hand, is taken from us at the point of a gun. Don’t believe me? Try not paying your taxes. Eventually, the law will come and remove you from your home, confiscate by lien your paycheck and every other thing you own. If you resist, you will be imprisoned or shot. How is that not coercion? There is no opt out if you object to welfare or any other use your taxed money may be put to. Some may make the argument that you benefit indirectly because of the lower crime, etc that would otherwise occur if your neighbors went without their welfare. Leaving aside for the moment the validity of the argument that welfare reduces crime and otherwise benefits the general society, how does having the direct benefit of me having my money that I earned taken away by force and then magically given back to me indirectly benefit me again? What if that isn’t a trade I am willing to make? What gives my neighbors the right to vote to have their way with me, regardless of my wishes?
2. Charity is commanded by most religions, but it was never intended by the Constitution. Most major religions command their followers to conduct some sort of charity, alms giving, aid, etc. The exceptions I can think of are Satanism, which is wholly consumed with self, and atheism which can only commend charity if the individual senses some benefit in a rational manner. Even “neutral” religions such as the Eastern philosophies and Wiccans believe in Karma or the rule of threefold return. On the other hand, the U.S. Constitution is, as our current administration has lamented, a constitution of negative rights. It is DESIGNED to keep the State from doing things to you, not to allow it to do things for you. If you believe that it is the State’s job to do something for you, what is to keep them from doing something to you at the behest of doing something for someone else?
3. Charity is direct, welfare is indirect. In the 25th chapter of the book of Matthew Jesus invites in believers with these words: 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Nowhere in the Bible of which I am aware does He command us to give money to another entity in order to have them do these things for us. We are not to hire these tasks out, we are to go out and do them personally. There are practical reasons for this. Spending time rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi brings us down a notch or two and keeps us humble and grateful for what we have. If I meet someone and can do something for them, that is direct and personal. I can judge for myself whether their circumstances warrant my aid, be it time, money or goods. You can fool me for a while, but eventually I will stop giving to you if you refuse to learn and grow out of your situation. It is very hard to pull off an entitlement mentality if I see the life you are choosing over time. Likewise, for those receiving aid, there is a personal sense of responsibility to someone who has helped you to do what you can to get yourself in a position to no longer need their aid.
But, in a welfare situation, none of that applies. There is no great motivation to improve one’s lot, just the need to fool the bureaucracy into believing you remain in need. Likewise, those who have their wealth confiscated and used to provide are not enlightened in any way by the giving.
4. Charity fosters relationship but welfare fosters isolation. As we noted above, charity involves at least some involvement in people’s lives. To be affective one must spend at least some time with those one is helping. Not so with welfare. As long as the check and food stamps keep coming in the recipient is free to spend their time vegged out on the sofa in front of the idiot box. Neither the provider of welfare nor the receiver are forced to have any sort of relationship which might encourage growth in the individuals or partnership in improving the community more generally.
5. Charity is temporary but welfare is permanent. Look at how the well-meaning efforts of welfare proponents have gutted the African-American family. Check THIS for an example. Anyone can need a little charity, but you cant pull it off as a lifestyle because the giver of charity will run out of patience and remember 2 Thes 3:10 “10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
6. Charity can be passed on but welfare produces no excess. A man who has received true charity will, when he can, pass on that charity to another who is walking in shoes he once filled. A recipient of State sponsored welfare received what they got because they “deserved” it and so there is no moral obligation to pay it forward.
7. Charity is humbling and motivating to accept but welfare breeds a sense of entitlement. Many would point out the de-humanizing nature of charity as proof there needs to be anonymous State welfare. I would contend that it is the bureaucracy bound welfare system that reduces people to numbers and that the act of receiving charity both produces the beneficial affects of a humble spirit and motivates the recipient to get out of their situation as soon as possible.
There is a place for charity in our society. We all need a helping hand from time to time. But, I refuse to believe that the State is the rightful dispenser of that charity. The State should ensure that the playing field is as level as can be and that it is adequately defended from outside influences. After that, for those who simply can’t or don’t succeed, it is the place of the Church and other groups to bring succor to the deserving and scorn to the slothful and willfully indigent.