Monday, October 26, 2009

The State is the new Church

Government is taking over the role of the Church. I use "Church" here in the traditional sense of Christianity. Where religion once taught morality (what is right and wrong), responsibility (honor, integrity, reliability) and compassion, the State now largely does these things in American society. How's that going so far?

For generations the Christian Church has neglected its role and failed to teach people how to live well (how to make good and wise decisions). In the last 100 years there has been a serious shift in cultural attitudes about who should guide civilization. It seems there are now more people looking to government rather than religion to deal with life's problems. Subsequently, the role of religion has diminished significantly, while it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a surprise.

My experience is with Christianity and so I limit my comments to that faith. To put it simply, the Church has failed in its job. Let me begin with the obligatory plug on the issue of poverty. Many religious people have devoted their lives to helping others. The Catholic Church as well as many protestants have given us numerous examples of this. And despite the immeasurable effort and resources expended in religious and secular endeavors, in general there is still a great deal of poverty in the world, and it appears no progress has been made to eliminate it. One observation here is that poverty in the world seems to garner far more attention from the Church than many other ailments of civilization. Abortion, for example, does not appear to generate as much organized Christian effort as does poverty. I do not mean to slight the great efforts some particular congregations and innumerable groups and individuals invest into fighting for an unborn child's right to live. I merely point out the fact that secular moral outrage at poverty vastly overshadows that for abortion, and this same attitude seems reflected, in general, in the Church. I'm very glad to note there are many, many exceptions but the rule none-the-less seems to hold that poverty is more important to our culture than is the legal killing of unborn children.

I do not believe poverty will ever be eliminated. In John 12:8 Christ says we will always have the poor with us. Jesus was not granting a license to ignore the poor, as that would be utterly inconsistent with the rest of his ministry as well as the Hebrew and Christian testaments. However, in this passage of John chapter 12, it was Judas, the disciple who would later betray Jesus, who expressed frustration at the supposed waste of money in pouring expensive perfume on Christ, rather than selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor. Mary's example should remind us that giving to the poor should not trump all other aspects of the Lord's work. I mention this only because so much injustice is being perpetrated on the world in the name of fighting social and economic injustice.

I believe it unfair to condemn the Church for the fact that poverty and misery still exist in this world. A more pragmatic issue, I think, is that the Church has also largely failed in another of its very important missions: to provide hope to the world. Let me repeat some words from a very famous person:

It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.

The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.

If you haven't guessed it, these statements are common quotations of Mother Teresa, and are easily found on the internet. If you feel tempted to disagree with her on any of these points I caution you to remember she saw a great deal of pain and suffering in the world, chances are more than you ever will. She knew what she was talking about. That's not to say Mother Teresa is unquestionable, there is plenty of misery to go around in this world. But let's be realistic with which one of you has a deeper perspective on suffering. Mother Teresa also said she saw more poverty in the United States than anywhere else in the world; she was referring to spiritual poverty.

Is it not one of the callings of the Church to bring hope and love to the world? Church membership is often used as a metric for determining the effectiveness of ministry, yet this measurement has been declining for generations. The general western Church offers hope to everyone, but seems successful with so few. The problem with the Church's past neglect of aiding the needy is not the issue here; that is a topic for another discussion. Christendom seems to be emerging from a desert period where true life was seldom found in its religiosity. Thankfully there is tremendous effort in the modern American Church to make up for this neglect, though there is still much ground to be covered. But in the vacuum created by the Church are other attempts to fill it with a secular remedy. The government has taken upon itself a major role of the Church.

Safety Net

For decades Americans have been taught to put our faith in the social safety net. In efforts to deal with "social injustice" and "economic injustice" there is often an ostensible effort to ignore religion and even to discard healthy American traditions which made the United States the greatest economic power in human history.

When I hear critics of capitalism present their argument it is typically by suggesting capitalists put blind faith in greed, as if the world were really that simple. There is often the implication that merely trying to keep up with or stay ahead of inflation is greed, even when it is a middle class or poor house hold simply trying to survive. When these critics are religious people their argument often includes the implication that trying to make ends meet by trying to increase one's income is relying on one's wealth or 401(k) or savings account rather than relying on God. If this is true, is it not also a conflict for Christians to put so much faith in the government social safety net?

I suggest a support of the social safety net is blind faith because it seems the most accurate term for it. With substantial evidence government is slow to act, negligent and even incompetent and corrupt (and that these problems are the rule rather than the exception) there are still many in politics, journalism, academia and ordinary citizens who strongly support an ever increasing role of government in social affairs. Underlying this secular agenda seems to be an unquestioning faith in the ability of the state to fix society's problems. Even among many religious people (and in my experience among some Christians) there is tremendous faith in the power of government with an unwavering assumption that government is benevolent.

The rhetoric of good intentions has indeed programmed many of us that government's compassionate attempt to help people can have only good results, despite the increasing hostility toward religion and the increasing harm public social policy perpetrates on those same people. If efforts to bring oneself out of poverty are "greed" and misplacing faith in one's wealth, why shouldn't the same be said of putting such faith in the social safety net provided by government?

In order to provide social programs, or more accurately to ration services to the people, the government must raise taxes. That is the only way government can pay for its ever increasing promises. And we the people are supposed to believe raising our taxes helps us. All the while, accompanying this propaganda is the false suggestion that confiscation of wealth under threat of imprisonment and redistribution is the same thing as "sharing." But let us not call this greed.

Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look
Levy Viewed as Way to Reduce Deficits, Fund Health Reform

House eyes new taxes as senators pare health bill
House Democrats say they won't reveal how they intend to pay for their plan until later. Higher taxes on upper-income households appear likely, but broad levies — even a federal sales tax — are also under discussion.

Obama pivots on taxing health benefits
President Obama, in a pivot from a campaign promise, told Democratic senators Tuesday that he is willing to consider taxing employer-sponsored health benefits to help pay for a broad expansion of coverage.

For the Better Good... Dems Consider Soda Fat Tax to Pay For Healthcare Monstrosity

ABC's Diane Sawyer Pleads for European-style Gas Tax

And what happens to those who question these well intended policies that end up taxing the people back into poverty? Typically there is the knee-jerk accusation of being uncaring or greedy. In contemporary politics, with Barack Obama as our president, it seems any disagreement or disapproval of the left wing agenda is branded as racist. This blind faith in liberalism and in Barack Obama has led leftists to actually believe their own propaganda. Recently there was a news story on revealing an astonishing discovery: Study: Obama foes aren't race-driven. Please note: leftists had to conduct a study to discover they've been deluding themselves about criticism of President Obama.

Think for a moment about the last time the federal government promised a social service and actually did a good job. How about the last time it stayed within budget? How quickly do you expect to get your benefit from a government program (the DMV, immigration services)? Remember the recent Cash for Clunkers program?
Some Surprised By 'Clunker' Tax
NY dealers pull out of clunkers program
Cash for Clunkers success limited by program flaws

And at this time we face the possibility of a bunch of people who can't manage our national budget, our retirement or our education who want to take over our health care and run numerous other industries. To think the people can't be trusted to make their own decisions for their own lives and must have some other supposedly qualified persons make such decisions for them is the ultimate in elitism. It would make Lenin and Mao proud.

Christ tells his followers to help those in need. But how have we interpreted his command? Compulsory "benevolence" robs people of the opportunity to give and to practice charity. Being charitable and selfless comes from the heart, or it should. Raising our taxes (compelling us to contribute to supposedly help others) robs us of the ability to practice grace on our own. Not only does it reduce the wealth that people could use to help others it also tends to reduce the impetus to do so; after all, paying taxes supposedly is helping people. (Note to the reader: you are not supposed to be aware of wide spread fraud, incompetence, waste and corruption with the spending of your tax dollars. And when politicians claim they will solve such problems you are supposed to trust them.)

And what are the justifications for raising our taxes? Usually we are manipulated by class envy and jealousy, pitting rich against poor, white against everyone else, etc. Merely using a government service more than someone else (i.e., money or the interstate) is typically portrayed as an injustice. How does brotherhood and peace exist in a culture where our leaders constantly try to divide us particularly on racial or economic lines? Suggesting that being Caucasian or Republican automatically makes one a bigot is somehow suppose to unite the people. Merely being conservative must make one homophobic, racist, sexist, you name it and this is supposed to build community. How does claiming the rich need to be taxed more and that they can afford it build brotherhood among a nation's population? This sort of rhetoric is class warfare; inciting envy destroys community. To promote an ever increasing intrusion of government (called "social programs") we are bombarded with propaganda designed to destroy national unity. And those of us who object to this are called greedy, and worse.

There is a time to give, but we too often neglect the teaching of how to survive. Most objections to higher taxes are not a matter of greed or even fairness. If it is greedy for one already struggling to make ends meet to oppose paying higher taxes, is it not also greedy for the government to raise those taxes in the first place? Aside from the concerns of helping and giving there are practical concerns entirely neglected by proponents of higher taxes. For example, the idea that raising our taxes helps us often leads one to forget that relying on government aid tends to atrophy people's ability to take care of themselves. The law of unintended consequences strikes a painful blow almost every time we presume a well intended public policy can do no harm. Medical practitioners try to help people too, but even they have a policy of "do no harm" (or at least they used to). This should be the first test of any public policy.

But rescuing people from poverty is not the goal of our social and political do-gooders. Helping to build people up so they no longer need assistance is the issue so often missed. The point, more often than not, seems to be to tear down the wealthy, the successful, the hard working and the independent. Economic justice is not about justice at all, it is about equality. By this reckoning, for one to have more wealth than someone else is an injustice. The solution is not to elevate the poor man but to take from the rich man with the blind promise that redistributing that wealth equally will eliminate misery (with the incredible assumption such wealth actually will be redistributed equally). But the fact is no amount of giving will ever eliminate poverty. Forced redistribution does not create wealth; it destroys wealth.

Prosperity is the only thing yet known which even has a chance of rescuing ordinary people from desperate poverty. Unfortunately, government has tremendous ability to squelch prosperity, but very little power to help it grow. Prosperity must grow to exist. We have witnessed the truth that the power to tax is the power to destroy, just as America's founders told us.

But these practical concerns are lost on so many who seem more concerned with equality than with the well being of people. Achieving this mythical and subjective idea of social justice requires the enactment of profound injustice in all other aspects of life. For some there is an almost religious devotion to the quest for equality. For others it is their religious faith that drives them to support the same endeavor, resulting in the attempt to force people to show love to humanity. In Christianity and in government forcing people to "give" is inimical to the professed goals of building unity, and typically becomes oppressive and abusive in the process. It is not our place to expect more from those who have more. Presuming we have a right to compel those wealthier that us to "give", as it is dishonestly called, is just as oppressive and destructive as is it for those with more wealth to greedily cling to it. And let us be careful not to naively assume simply being wealthy is greedy, as is often the suggestion.

Much effort is devoted to fighting the symptoms of social and economic problems rather than the real problems themselves. Using Christ's command to help the poor as justification for government interference and confiscation is a purposeful misrepresentation of this command. Christ never told us to use the government to force people to do what they really should be doing on their own. It is the Church's failing for not teaching people to be generous. What's worse, the Church has been quite successful at teaching the world religion is irrelevant at best, but most likely harmful. How does using the government to eliminate poverty actually solve any problem? What reason is there to believe the government is even capable of this? The American government can't handle public education and Social Security, let alone poverty or health care.

Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice?

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can't read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education.

Annual report due for Social Security and Medicare

The financial health of the government's two biggest benefit programs may have slipped over the past year, reflecting the deep recession that has already bitten into other areas of the budget.

The trustees for Social Security and Medicare are scheduled to provide their annual report on the finances of both programs on Tuesday. In advance of the release, many private analysts said they expected both programs could run out of cash sooner than last predicted.

So many journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens have blind faith in the power of government to fix society's ails that is seems like a new religion has formed, fixating itself on the power of the state. Secular statism now has tremendous sway in the lives of the American public, and some would say more than does religion.

If Christianity is to regain its proper role in training and teaching and forming a peaceful society it needs to stop transferring its faith from God to government. Electing representatives who understand this fact is a vital step toward that end. The Church should be defining for society what it means to have hope, compassion and love but the government will not easily give up this role it has taken upon itself. For too long the state and secular society have defined these things for the Church. Is it any wonder so many people think of the Church as useless?