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Generous with other people’s money

This post should be understood as speaking specifically to Christians.  I don’t deny that nonChristians might find it applicable but I am speaking to people, broadly speaking, that I expect to have a similar world view as I do.  Most importantly, I expect that they accept the Scriptures as authoritative.

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“Thou shalt not steal.”  Exodus 20:15

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There is a large divide between conservative and liberal principles and in many cases it is evident that there can be no compromise.  However, many sincere, conservative Christians find at least some of the proposals often put forward by liberals as admirable, at least in principle.  Environmental issues are one example.  The most current one is health care.

There is a sincere desire of many conservative-minded Christians to find ways to help the poor and downtrodden in our society.   The ‘best’ of the Democrat platform includes concern for these same folks and hence solutions that utilize the government to achieve that end often get support (at least in principle) even from conservatives.

I know of no Christian conservative that is happy that there are people in this society that cannot afford to eat, have shelter, or get health care.   There is a certain allure of using the Government to provide for these needs.  This tends to happen in particular when the problems seem to be too big for individuals or localities to deal with on their own or because of the high costs involved.

I mention health care because it is the topic of the moment but my challenge applies to many of proposed Government solutions.

My challenge is this:  on what basis can we possibly justify taking money from other people by taxation (ie, through coercion, threat of punishment, etc), to achieve that which we think is a worthy charitable end?

If you see a beggar on the street, it is perfectly right and proper to want to help him.  If you proceed to go over and help him, you’ve done what pleases God.  If instead you go across the street, stick a gun in a rich man’s rib, and take the rich man’s money and go over and help the beggar, I am not so sure that is what God had in mind.

Using the government to do our good deeds is essentially being generous with someone else’s money.

I see no basis in the Scriptures for Christians to condone or participate in such a methodology.

Even in the ‘theocracy’ depicted in the Old Testament, there is little evidence of a nationalized, socialized, approach to charity.  An approach to charity is on display, though!  Consider Leviticus 19:9-10

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.  (emphasis mine)

Here you see that even God did not demand that the gleanings be gathered up to him for re-distribution, but called on the land owner himself to be charitable directly.   There is some irony, perhaps, that the very next verse reads:

“Do not Steal.”  Lev. 19:11a

You see, while the Scriptures are very clear that everyone- not just the wealthy- should be generous and be concerned for the down trodden, they are also clear that people have a right to their own personal property (see, for example, Acts 5:4).

I cannot see how it is moral- according to the Scriptures- to take resources from folks, by coercion,  to achieve the worthy charitable end.   This seems to me to be stealing no matter how you justify it, and seems to have no blessing from the Bible.

Similarly, as much as it feels noble and compassionate to do so, I cannot see how it is acting noble and compassionate to compel others to do what God calls us to do ourselves.

For saying as much, I was defriended on Facebook by a prominent, conservative,  Christian.   I suppose my position can be construed as extreme as a great many government programs ostensibly seem supportable, even by conservative Christians who are on the political ‘right.’

But the Scriptures are my authority, as they are to the intended audience of this post.  If I can be shown from the Scriptures where I am in error, I’d be pleased to see the passages.  I should like to think that that sentiment is mutual.

A final word is necessary.

What I am saying would probably entail the rejection of a great many government programs and would certainly entail rejecting communism and socialism and variations on them.  It does not follow, however, that this is an endorsement of capitalism.

Also, though this is a redundancy since I already said as much, none of this means that I- or any other conservative minded Christian- think we should just let the poor and downtrodden folks among us drown in their circumstances.

It is simply to say that doing the immoral to accomplish the moral is of questionable morality.  If we cannot conceive of a way to accomplish the moral while behaving morally, then I submit the problems run far deeper.

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    • Susan on September 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Good stuff

    The underlying desire is a good one, the method is a bad one. But we’ve been educated into thinking it isn’t by society while being undereducated in the word.

  1. Anthony, I agree with almost every thing you say in your commentary. There are a few points I would like to address, but these minor differences on small matters do not diminish my unequivocal endorsement of what you have written.

    I think the terms conservative and liberal are so nebulous as to be meaningless. Pursuant to my own usage of the two terms, “conservative Christian” is an oxymoron.

    Followed to its logical conclusion, your sound line of reasoning based on what I believe is a correct interpretation of Scripture, leads inevitably to the philosophy or worldview of a voluntaryist (see, ), which I also refer to as a pacifist-anarchist, rather than to either a liberal or conservative worldview.

    Capitalism, correctly understood, is the only system of social organization that is thinkable in concert with the principles enunciated in the Decalogue, and those enunciated by Jesus of Nazareth.

    I found your commentary while reviewing returns when I googled “other people’s money.” I an engaged in a minor campaign to use the initials, OPM, followed immediately by this description within parentheses (sounds like opium, is equally addicting, stands for other people’s money).

    I am a coauthor of a book-length essay entitled JESUS OF NAZARETH, ILLEGAL-TAX PROTESTER, which is available for downloading from my website,
    It is, as far as I know, the first and only comprehensive analysis of everything Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have said or did relative to taxes and tax collectors.

    • Anthony on October 3, 2009 at 10:05 am
      Author

    Thanks Ned. At some point I’ll take a look at your book.

    Regarding the labels… I wouldn’t agree that they are really worthless, but I would agree that they have limited effect. Personally, I would describe myself as a libertarian-constitutionalist, but even this doesn’t do my position justice. The essence of the position is “Leave others alone and expect to be left alone yourself, but if you must interfere, do so according to a rule of law with good checks and balances.”

    ‘Conservative’ I take to cover my position and include several others, including ‘big business’ repubs, whom I may not necessarily align with. Unfortunately, we are stuck with using the words we have and how they are understood, generally.

    I like OPM, btw.

    • Sean on October 17, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Hi, Sntjohnny! I’ve been a lurker on your forums and site for a while and I really appreciate all the work you do and agree with you in pretty much all cases that I can remember. On this case, however, I don’t understand your argument enough to really agree.

    In what sense is the new health reform “stealing”? I understand that your main points is reduced to the fact that it is wrong to FORCE someone to help another person. But by similar standards could most taxes be considered “stealing”? How do we differentiate health care reform from say a tax that involves something as basic as road pavement? Because I’m sure we can find someone out there who doesn’t care enough about roads being in disarray to do anything about it. Yet some of our taxes (albeit a minute portion) go into road pavement. Is this forced help wrong?

    • Andy on February 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    …so weak it smells fishy. But not quite as fishy as the fish Jesus “stole” and re-distributed, or the son that God stole from Abraham.

    • Anthony on February 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm
      Author

    hmmm, I forgot about Sean’s comment. Maybe I’ll need to respond to it sometime.

    Andy, I don’t really know what you’re about here. Do you care to explain?

    • Anthony on February 15, 2010 at 9:00 am
      Author

    Sorry for the loooooong delay, Sean.

    “I understand that your main points is reduced to the fact that it is wrong to FORCE someone to help another person.”

    Almost, but not quite. The main point would be reduced to: It is wrong to Force someone else to do the helping you ought to be doing yourself.

    “But by similar standards could most taxes be considered “stealing”?”

    lol, yea, pretty much.

    “How do we differentiate health care reform from say a tax that involves something as basic as road pavement?”

    I don’t think its as hard as you think. But more directly, you assume that I will have no objection to taxation for paved roads.

    “Because I’m sure we can find someone out there who doesn’t care enough about roads being in disarray to do anything about it.”

    This is a false choice. I can (and am) against taxation to build roads but that doesn’t mean I want them in ‘disarray’ and would do nothing about it.

    You know, granting the fact that taxation has long been used as a mechanism to establish building projects (so, too, slavery), societies have also managed to do pretty well without taxation, too. There were whole generations in America where there wasn’t even an income tax: yet the world did not come to an end.

    How did they do it?

    “Yet some of our taxes (albeit a minute portion) go into road pavement. Is this forced help wrong?”

    Sure, why not? I mean, if you’re really willing to classify road work as charitable giving and thus dodge the other critical component of my argument, then sure, its wrong. But then, I suppose I’ll stop donating to charity and put those funds towards road work instead and hope for a tax exemption… 😉

    But seriously, if you insist on lumping public utilities as being on the same order as donating to a food bank, you still overlook the critical part- for the Christian- where we find it in our hearts to want to so badly help the hungry person down the road that we go across the street and mug our neighbor in order to feed them.

    Can you honestly tell me that the Christian church in America lacks the resources on its own to help every poor person in America if it so decided?

    BTW, there are other ways to provide for the services such as road work. From the government angle, the government can sell bonds, just like they did for generations and even still do. This suffers from the fact that the buying of the bond is voluntary and so projects favored by a small minority might not get funded unless they exact it by coercion from the majority (this is the bottom of the objection to the line item veto, too).

    Or, private parties can provide those services, too. This has historically been messy but of course a bloated government dependency state has been pretty messy, too. I say, if you must have mess, you may as well preserve individual liberty.

    Instead of taxation to support road building, sell bonds. People will decide if something is truly in their best interest or not and will pony up the money freely, just as they did during WW2 to support the war.

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