Christian Charity and the Welfare State
- Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Secondly, it is economically, socially, and morally corrosive for a society to confer the status of “entitlement” on welfare payments. To confer such a “right” on indolent indigents is to say that they are entitled to the financial support of their industrious fellows. This inverts the values of a healthy, prosperous society, and to grease the slippery slope of social decline and decay. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire had multiple causes, but perhaps none was more crucial than the economic and moral bankruptcy of welfare state policies. As the Roman Senate kept raising taxes on the productive to subsidize the unproductive, more and more Roman citizens decided to abandon work and let the government support them. Eventually, the whole corrupt system collapsed of its own dead weight. Advocates of increasing the size of the nanny state don’t realize the potential disaster that they are courting. Christians who believe in loving one’s neighbor shouldn’t support policies that can destroy one’s society.
Third, entitlements do violence to our Constitution, that magnificent charter that our founding fathers designed to protect our divine rights. The Fifth Amendment forbids the taking of private property without just compensation to the person whose property has been appropriated, yet entitlements transfer billions of dollars from some citizens to others with no compensation whatsoever to those taxpayers. The Fourteenth Amendment explicitly guarantees to all “the equal protection of the laws,” yet entitlement programs take money from some and give it to others. Furthermore, and most egregiously, if people who don’t work are “entitled” to be supported by those who do, then those who are compelled to work for others without compensation are in a state of “involuntary servitude” in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Policies that produce economic and legal bondage are not loving, and Christians ought not to support them.
Fourthly, an entitlement can be counterproductive and unloving to the person receiving it. In Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the prodigal didn’t begin to discover what was truly important until he had hit rock bottom and nobody helped him. One wonders whether he would have turned his life around if he had lived in a welfare state where he was entitled to regular handouts. He almost assuredly wouldn’t have taken the menial job of tending swine, and so might never have awakened to his need for reform and repentance. Instead, he might have remained in a state of infantile dependency on the welfare narcotic indefinitely, never finding meaning and purpose in his life.
The Biblical Model for Charity
Nothing written herein should be interpreted as minimizing the obligation of Christians to perform charitable deeds. In his parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus clearly shows the two proper ways for Christians to practice charity. The first option is to minister directly and personally to those who need help, as the Samaritan did when he spotted the wounded traveler. The second option is to make a donation (a voluntary contribution, not a tax) to help others care for those in need (Luke 10:33-35) as the Samaritan did when he had to leave to attend to his pre-existing responsibilities.
The welfare state goes beyond this biblical paradigm. As first described by the noted sociologist William Graham Sumner over a century ago, the welfare state paradigm is: A and B decide how much to take from C to give to D. Today, there are many A’s and B’s calling for higher taxes on C, including many wealthy politicians whose tax returns reveal their personal parsimony in donating to charity.
Jesus understood that no man was morally qualified to dictate to others how much charity they should bestow, or what other good deeds another person should do. He rebuked the temptation to such officious do-goodism by pointedly asking, “…Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye” (Matt. 7:3)?
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