Christian Charity and the Welfare State
- Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The legitimate limit, then, to the use of force by any mortal authority, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the enforcement of obedience to the Mosaic law. Jurisdiction and judgment over how well an individual lives up to the standards of the gospel of Jesus does not belong to the state, but is reserved for Him Who sits in ultimate judgment.
The Democratic Temptation
There are many Christians who go along with the popular belief that if a democratic majority votes for a policy, then that policy must necessarily be legitimate. Majority actions are not a priori morally right. If that were so, then we would have to endorse the democratic majority that voted for Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus (or, for that matter, the democratic majority that condemned the noble Socrates).
Simply because a majority approves of something doesn’t make wrong right. The Eighth Commandment does not say, “Thou shalt not steal except by majority vote.” Few Christians would seize the property of another person to give it to a poor person. They would rightly regard such taking as theft. Delegating the task to a democratic government does not sanctify the taking of private property.
The devout Christians who founded the United States of America were also great students of history. Their general opinion of democracy was summarized eloquently by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and principal writer of our Constitution: “…Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
It is because the founders understood so well the inherent defects of democracy that they crafted a constitutional republic. The various forms of the word democracy do not appear in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. While not theoretically consistent (e.g., slavery), our Constitution was designed to protect the God-given rights of individuals. A democracy would have the power, through majority vote, of trampling on the rights of any individual(s) targeted by the majority. By contrast, under our Constitution, no majority could deprive an individual of the God-given rights to be secure in one’s life, liberty, and property.
Madison’s appraisal of democracy is playing out before our eyes today. Our country’s social life is becoming radically politicized resulting in the turbulence of hostility and constant contentiousness. As government launches ever-more spending programs for various constituencies, the grab for property becomes ever-more aggressive. As we careen into national bankruptcy, one shudders to contemplate the attendant angry, violent convulsions that may mark the demise of our democratic republic.
The Entitlement Trap
Christians emphasize the importance of being loving. This is natural, since the two great commandments given by Jesus were to love God whole-heartedly and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (cf. Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31). Charitable support for those in need is one way to act lovingly. Thus, many Christians support government programs for the poor, believing that this is a loving thing to do. Government programs, however, can be decidedly unloving in their impact, especially the so-called “entitlement” programs.
Establishing a legal entitlement to taxpayer support abuses man’s God-given property rights, which is unloving to both God and man. The word “entitlement” denotes a right or claim. To what? In the modern welfare state, it means a right to part of someone else’s money. Such a putative “right” nullifies the rights of others to their own property. Through the legerdemain of Orwellian Newspeak, entitlement means “no entitlement” and yours means “mine.”
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