Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Christianity, A Social Safety Net, and Public Indebtedness

I've said many times, specifically here, that social safety nets are not "Christian charity", that having government programs for the poor may be good earthly policy but they can in no way be justified as Christian.

So it was with great interest that I read this article, Whom Would Jesus Indebt?:
It is immoral to ignore the needs of the least of these. But it’s also immoral to ’serve’ the poor in ways that only make more people poor, and trap them in poverty longer. And it’s immoral to amass a mountain of debt that we will pass on to later generations. I even believe it’s immoral to feed the government’s spending addiction. Since our political elites have demonstrated such remarkably poor stewardship over our common resources, it would be foolish and wrong to give them more resources to waste....The religious left has monopolized the language of morality and justice when it comes to matters of government spending. If we should ask, ‘What would Jesus cut?’, then we should also ask ‘Whom would Jesus indebt?’ and ‘Whom would Jesus make dependent on government?’ Since the poor are the first ones hurt by a damaged economy and low unemployment (sic), there is a deeply moral case to be made for serving ‘the least of these’ through policies that promote a flourishing economy and culture.
The writer certainly has valid points.


mazenko said...

Luke 3:1 - John replied, "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry."

Isaiah 58:7 - Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Timothy 6:17 - Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Timothy 6:18 - Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Matthew 19:24 - Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Christ was absolutely insistent about the responsibility of all men to take care of the poor. This is indisputable for any Christian - and if twelve years of Catholic school taught me anything, it taught me that.

Darren said...

I don't see anywhere in any of those quotes wherein it's said that *government* should do that. We are commanded as *individuals* to be generous with the poor. You're not generous, it's not Christian charity, to have money taken forcibly by government and given to the poor, OR to give someone else's money to the poor.

I didn't need *12* years of Sunday School to learn that ! :-)

Now, do you disagree with any of what I quoted from the linked article?

mazenko said...

We're repeating the conversation from the original post that you linked to. It's not about whether it should or shouldn't be from the government. It's about whether social programs for the poor - which are, in effect, charitable "giving" to the poor - are in fact Christian. And the idea of giving to and feeding and taking care of the poor is, regardless of whether you accept it, a Christian - or Christ-like - act.

The linked article's point about judging whether social programs “assist” or “protect” the poor is antithetical to Christ’s message. Christ taught us to give to the poor. Period. He made no mention of judging whether the act was creating a culture of dependence or keeping them down. In fact, he explained that the “poor will always be with us,” and that we should simply take care of them. He asked us to transfer our wealth by giving one jacket to the poor if we have two, and giving food to the poor if we have more than we need.

Serving the poor is an act that was promoted and urged by Christ. Period. So, if an individual or a government is doing it, it reflects the teachings of Christ.

Darren said...

I agree with you up to your last sentence.

How you can think it's Christian for a *government* to do things is far beyond me. We're just going to disagree on that one. I wonder which side the Pope would come down on....

PeggyU said...

If an individual or government is "serving the poor" it reflects the teachings of Christ? It seems to me that assumes, among other things, noble intent - as opposed to self-serving political motives.

mazenko said...

How is an act of charity to the poor not a reflection of Christ's teachings?

And, in terms of the US government, isn't the "government" simply the will "of the people, by the people, for the people"?

mazenko said...

I am curious about your occasional references to taxes as money "taken forcibly" or under the "threat of violence." Here you say it's "not Christian" and other times you've said it's "not moral." Of course, you say it's not Christian for the confiscated money to be given to the poor. Is it then also "not Christian" and "immoral" to use that money to inflict violence against other nations and peoples? Is using tax money to fight wars that not all people support wrong? Immoral? Un-Christian? Or are we just picking and choosing what we think is OK to use that "forcibly taken" money?

The pope, since you mention him, has publicly condemned the War on Terror. So, clearly, using taxes to fund that would seemingly be un-Christian - especially since man was called upon by Christ to "turn the other cheek." However, the Pope hasn't publicly condemned "taxes" or "Social Security" or "unemployment compensation" or "food stamps." And, of course, Christ never said that "individuals" should be charitable but governments shouldn't. He made no distinction. I have a hard time believing that Christ was have admonished the Roman government if it had a safety net. He said pay your taxes.

Are you arguing that taxes are immoral? If so, is by nature the Constitution immoral. For one of the first and primary powers given to the government in the Constitution is the authority to "levy taxes." The people went a step further with an amendment to specifically "levy taxes" on income.

Thus, the authority to collect taxes is a founding tenant of the Constitution. And, as I've argued before, Christ had no opposition to taxes. Though he did exhort corrupt tax collectors to not take more than was due.

Just wondering.

Anna A said...

Darren, I figured that Pope Benedict would be against socialism, and so here is a quote that I found quite easily.

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person − every person − needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.… In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (Deus Caritas Est, n. 28)

Darren said...

I'll be honest--you're so far off the rails here that I can't even understand what point you're trying to make. I've made my point clear, and you disagree and want to keep stirring this mud.

mazenko said...

Yeah, that's what I thought. As I said, I was just wondering.

Generally a few subsequent questions like, "Do you think taxes, because they are forcibly taken, are immoral or wrong," and you end the conversation because I am "off the rails" or "moving the goal posts." Discourse and debate are dismissed as "stirring the mud." Oh, well.

Not answering generally answers a lot.

Darren said...

One of the problems, mazenko, is that I've already answered your questions. Why you keep asking them escapes me.

Alf Tupper said...

"Thus, the authority to collect taxes is a founding tenant of the Constitution."

The Constitution didn't have any tenants, Maz, unless you are referring to some apartment building I haven't heard about. If you used the word "tenet", then your statement would at least make some sort of sense.

I'm willing to bet that you also use the word "irregardless" and think it's correct...

Saint Thomas Aquinas said...

Seriously, whenever I hear theological arguments, it puts me in the mind of Trekkies at a Star Trek convention where they argue the nuances of inter-stellar relations.

In Klingon.

Saint Thomas Aquinas said...


Religious affirmations are not defeasible claims about reality; they are simply ways of gesturing towards the story or narrative in the context of which one lives one’s life.

The deep convictions of the religious keep bubbling up to intrude their imponderable conclusions on the rest of us, the religious must either justify their beliefs by means of evidence, or be content to remain an intellectual backwater, where they can play their mystical games, undisturbed. But the time is long past when religion should be called upon to provide moral guidance or the basis of social order. Advice on these things can only be provided by those who are ready to face the world as it can be known on the basis of evidence, even if that leaves us metaphysically unmoored and (at least at first) afraid.

--- Eric MacDonald

So, shockingly Darren, we seem to be on the same side here regarding religion in the public square. However, I'm sure not for the same reason. ;-p

Darren said...

Tom--may I call you Tom?--I think you're lying. First, I don't think you always think of Star Trek conventions in these instances, if indeed you ever do. And for as much time as you spend studying religious theory, if only to tear it down, your Star Trek point was clearly intended as nothing more than a jab to score a few funny points. Yet you decry as non-serious or "hyperbolic" any point (made by others) not firmly grounded in boring Oxford Debate format.

You're ok with trying to score cheap shots. Got it.

Mazenko, ONE LAST TIME: There's nothing unconstitutional or un-Christian about taxes. It's just un-Christian to think that paying taxes to support the poor is fulfilling your Christian requirement of charity. How you can argue that amazes me, but I'm guessing you will continue to do so.

mazenko said...

Alf, you're pretty juvenile.

Regardless, I am more than competent with the English language, even as I occasionally make mistakes when typing comments on a blog.

I appreciate the correction, but your supercilious tone degrades your authority.

You lose the bet.

mazenko said...


Your post - and others - said safety nets "are not" Christian charity and "cannot be justified as Christian." Now, your are "moving the goalposts" with a comment about how it doesn't "fulfill" the Christian requirement of charity.

Where did I, or anyone, say paying taxes for government programs "fulfills" the requirement? I merely argued that such "charity" reflects Christ's teachings. You had argued it doesn't. You originally claimed it is "not Christian." You haven't - until now - claimed it simply doesn't "fulfill" the requirement.

Yet, it's nice to hear you don't find taxes to be immoral, or un-Christian, or un-Constitutional. However, your comments on money being "forcibly taken" reveal a contrary bias.

Thanks. This was enlightening. And, it's why I regularly check in and respond.

Darren said...

No changing of the goalposts, I just thought I'd try some different words to get through to you. Allow me to be clear: when money is forcibly taken from you, as taxes are, your giving isn't voluntary, and hence it isn't charity. When you're giving away someone else's money, you're not being charitable in the Christian sense.

I said before, it may be good earthly policy, but it's not Christian charity. The fact that some good may come from it does not make it Christian charity.

Darren said...

And I *still* disagree that welfare, et al, does not comport with Christ's teachings, as he told us to take care of the poor individually and spoke *nothing* about how we should set up our government here on earth to do so.

Anonymous said...

Just reading and thought I'd chime in:

While the Roman Catholic Church is against socialism and communism - and rightfully so - the Church supports government assistance to the needy in the forms of medicare, medicaid, and social security. The Church sees that each individual has a high obligation to serve the poor and needy (see St. Mt. 25:31-46) and that individuals within government help fulfill their obligation by supporting these and other programs.

The Church's opposition to socialism & communism is quite well known, while it's opposition to laissez-faire capitalism is less well known. Read these words from Pope John Paul II in 1992:

"If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative."

Now, is a "strong juridical framework" for the economy what some prominent tea party politicians and groups are supporting?

Finally, I'd recommend in the highest possible terms that you'd watch this short commentary on Youtube by a priest to get a better gist of the Catholic teaching on economics (and both the Left and the Right will find something they like here): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWq6b4UOzxA