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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
[UPDATE: Wilson has added another post to this discussion. He has some good things to say about absolute versus relative poverty.]
Doug Wilson has been blogging recently (here and here) about social welfare programs and how Christians should respond to them and if it is proper to take advantage of said programs. What he has to say is definitely worth thinking about...

So Christians who live in subsidized housing are part of the problem. Christians who use federal money to get their free education are part of the problem. Christians who get on Medicare so they can ding the taxpayers if anything goes wrong with their hobby of homebirthing are part of the problem. Christians on food stamps are part of the problem. Christians who use tax money to fund their mercy ministries are part of the problem. Christians who think that their health care would be more affordable for them if I paid for it are part of the problem. And just to anticipate self-serving objections, Christians who drive on roads built by the government are not part of the problem.

Those Christians who are just one more piglet scrapping for a federal teat are not going to be in the vanguard of reformation.


Here are a few random thoughts to follow up on yesterday's post about Christians entangled in the sticky mass that we are pleased to call federal helps, aids, loans, seductions, boondoggles, and entitlements.
First, I would like to reiterate what I said the outcome of this compromise actually is. I did not say that Christians who sign up for Medicare should be excommunicated or shunned. I did not say that they should be flogged. I said that entangled Christians are not and will not be in the vanguard of reformation. And that is nothing other than a simple observation that should be filed under gospel truth. Slaves who understand themselves to be slaves are pitiable. But slaves who think they are part of a "new way to freedom" don't understand the world they live in. Someone with a Ron Paul bumper sticker parked outside the Medicare office is risible.

Second, I thought of filing this post under "Retractions" instead of "Obama Nation" because of something I have overlooked in I have said or written about a portion of this on some earlier occasions, and which was very similar to what one commenter posted -- which is, "I am only going to take out what they made me pay in." But here is an argument against that angle.

The Social Security Administration is kind enough to mail me periodic statements about how much money they have extracted from me over the years. I have thought before that there would be no problem, when I become eligible for Social Security, in taking payments until that amount were reached, plus twenty percent for restitution, and to tear up the checks thereafter. But here is the flaw in that, as I see it now.

If an officious neighbor named Smith thought that I was not to be relied upon to save for my retirement, and he came over with a gun every month and successfully took yet another "contribution" from me, promising to return it to me starting when I was 65, why would I refuse to take it when he started mailing it back to me? I know, it would be irritating in that he wasn't acknowledging he had done anything bad, but still . . . why wouldn't I take the money?

Well, I would take it, on the supposition that he had taken my money, put it gilt-edged securities, earned a tidy profit on it, and was now returning it to me. But you don't know Smith. He didn't do that. What he actually did was go on a bender every weekend, and he pretty much peed all that money down various gutters around town. And when he shows up again with a willingness to repay me, it will not be with the money he took from me. He doesn't have any of that. But he still has his gun, and he is going to go get my repayment from another, younger, more squeezable sap than I now am. Not only so, but the nature of this robbery is such that the burden on those paying into the system ten and twenty years from now will be much more grievous than what I had to put up with -- and what I have had to put up with has been pretty obnoxious.

So, if the government shows back up with your money, go ahead and take it back. But if they have to knock over a few more gas stations, shooting the occasional attendant, in order to fund their collapsing Ponzi scheme, taking that money really is problematic. Suppose, just suppose, that when it comes to the month before you are going to begin receiving checks, the president announces that he is going to save the faltering Social Security system by printing up a bazillion new dollars. That lunacy is going to land on people, and it will be more than a couple of gas station attendants. The genius of Ponzi schemes is that it pits the early victims against the later victims, instead of pitting all victims against the criminal.

Third, someone asked what difference is makes whether we participate or not. Well, in one sense it does not matter -- but only in the sense that no one raindrop believes that it is responsible for the flood. Each individual's part is miniscule, and if only one or two people change, that won't change anything. But what we want is reformation of the Church, and we want God to see us repenting, and extricating ourselves as best we can. Perhaps God will show mercy. But if we are just going along to get along, and as we go we are developing perichoretic justifications for the welfare state, then we deserve what we are going to get, good and hard.

Fourth, the entitlement mentality is pernicious, and it really does get into everything. That entitlement mentality is now increasingly common, even among Christians, and even among Christians who take it on reluctantly. When someone says that they simply cannot afford to have a child with medical costs the way they are, then why don't we respond with, "Well, don't have a child then"? That makes everybody go yikes! and they immediately say that they have scruples about the use of birth control. Okay, I'll bite. It sounds like you can't afford to get married then. It's lawful to not have children if you're not married, right? But . . . but . . . we want all the privileges of marriage, plus the privilege of our convictions about birth control, and we want someone else to pay for a chunk of it. Now, please note -- I am not saying this as big fan of birth control, as anyone who has read much of what I have written and taught about marriage and family can attest. But let me put it bluntly because we need to regain a sense of perspective. In my Bible, a prohibition of birth control is not found in the Ten Commandments, and a prohibition of stealing can be found there. We in the Church have developed ourselves some seriously dyslexic scruples. The use of birth control is the gnat. Feeding, clothing, sheltering, and educating the children you bring into the world is the camel.


Chris A said...

A couple of thoughts here. Because I am very suspicious of government's use of welfare programs as a means of control over its citizens, and because even US history has recorded how these measures have been used for the purposes of eugenics among other evils, I am on one hand personally opposed to accepting government hand outs. But then again, there is another side. If the government is able to exact money from us at will and give it to foreign banks, is there really something wrong with getting some of it back? That may not be ideal, but ideally the government wouldn't be controlled by banking interests either. And they're getting their "bailouts", because unlike us they are "too big to fail". Rather they are bankrupting the country with the treasonous threat that the economy will collapse unless we sign our lives over to them. A similar threat regarding interest rates was brought up by Mr. Bernanke in response to Ron Paul's proposal to audit the Fed. So while there are problems with entitlement in general, I won't blame anyone - Christian or otherwise - who chooses to take advantage of them. It may well be that they would not have lost their jobs in the first place had it not been for the Fed, Goldman Sachs, and the like.

Plus there is another thing to consider. When people are hungry, they are going to do whatever is necessary to eat - period. Can we really blame them? I don't think so. Like Proverbs 6:30 says, "Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry." And as bad as entitlements may be, they aren't theft. The bailouts? That is theft.

The real solution here, though, is in God our Savior. There are many principles of prosperity and financial responsibility in the scriptures that - if followed - could yield insurmountable wealth sufficient for the Church to feed and even employ its own. Some churches and Christians have actually figured this out. But our problem as Americans is our preoccupation with material possessions in a consumerist, covetous way. This is where correction must be made. Perhaps then we can escape Babylonian captivity.

Darius said...

Entitlements are theft, primarily committed by the government, but we the people don't have clean hands either if we vote for it or accept part of the "spoils." If some Robin Hood wannabe in your neighborhood started robbing the more wealthy people and stopped by to share part of the loot with you, would you not in effect be a thief or accomplice yourself if you accepted it (at least, as long as you knew he stole it)?

Chris A said...

Your argument is based on the idea that taxation is theft. I don't like taxes, but Christians are biblically mandated to pay them, so taxes are not theft. Once we pay our taxes to Caesar, it is his prerogative to do with them what he will. If he wants to distribute the money, he can, and it isn't theft because it is his own money - not ours. We may be opposed to the ways tax monies are used, but taxation never constitutes theft.

Furthermore, if entitlements are theft, then are subsidized industries guilty of theft also? It is inconsistent to say that the government can give money to industry and not offer assistance to the poor. Why is the poor person, regardless of his religion, guilty of theft and farmers who receive government subsidies not guilty of theft? And if both are guilty of theft, why is the poor man the object of our frustration? Truth be told, many "red state" farmers would not be able to farm if it were not for government subsidies. They couldn't turn a profit. So they are thieves or at least "accomplices" for accepting the "spoils"?

Darius said...

Yes, yes, yes, and yes... those subsidized farmers are thieves. The greater sin is committed by the government, but the farmers aren't innocent either. Unless all of society (notice I didn't say every single person) can benefit from a tax, then it is theft. Or if the tax is unequally taken from the population, that too is theft. Just because Christians are supposed to pay taxes to Caesar doesn't mean those taxes aren't theft. Some taxes are legit, some aren't.

Chris A said...

It could not be theft biblically speaking because Jesus clearly said that we should give to Caesar what belongs to him. If it belongs to him, it isn't theft.

But let me ask you this. If a corn farmer who accepts government subsidies is a thief - and I would venture to say that the vast majority of corn produced in the US is subsidized, making practically all of them thieves - then what about the person who eats the corn from the farmer who received the subsidy? I mean, if I stole a car stereo and sold it to you, wouldn't you be just as guilty as me if you knew it was stolen? Or what if you don't eat corn, but you eat beef or pork. That subsidized corn might have fed the animal that you ate for dinner. Does that too make you a thief?

Now you also said, "Unless all of society (notice I didn't say every single person) can benefit from a tax, then it is theft." I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are trying to make between "all of society" and "every single person", but do not government subsidies and entitlements have some benefit to the whole of society? If corn wasn't subsidized, your corn flakes would cost a heck of a lot more, not to mention your beef and pork. We might argue that if corn were not subsidized, then maybe we'd have more money to spend on food. Maybe, but we'd have to get it from Canada or something because we'd put the American farmers out of business. If landlords couldn't rely on section 8 payments then they might not have tenants in some areas, which in turn might affect the housing market and the value of our homes.

In theory, I agree with you to an extent. And the socialist elements within our system are definitely not the American ideal, but let's get real. Economic conditions are manipulated by the powers that be, and I'm not talking about those in government. In fact, that's why the Fed and the "too big to fail" banks have the upper hand. "Give us money or the economy will collapse" or "if you audit us, interest rates will rise." Should we allow them to pillage us into oblivion while the government props them up and our poor starve because of conditions they create? I don't think so. They are the real thieves.

Chris A said...

So what if you work for Motorola, Boeing, Xerox, IBM, Dow Chemical, or GE and you are a Christian? Should you quit your job? Or is it just the poor, unemployed Christians that should be ashamed of themselves for accepting government assistance? Even though they are Fortune 500 companies, they are on corporate welfare, and they are bilking the taxpayer for tens of billions (with a B) every year. Or what if you have a Motorola phone, fly in a Boeing plane, make copies with a xerox machine, use an IBM computer or products made Dow? I guess you need to REPENT!

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
Les Misérables

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