Musings on State-Run Morality

Posted on April 15, 2011


I got in a discussion on Facebook this week (for those of you who are groaning, I know. These almost never end well) that has had me musing for several days now. Said thoughts continue to take off on wild tangents without ever landing on one conclusion, which I suppose is only fair, but not helpful in pithy paragraph sparring matches on social networks. Since short snippets are not my strength, I’m going to attempt a rebuttal – not because I need to feel validated (I have the utmost respect for the individual who took issue with my views, even though we disagree) but simply because I hear these same arguments daily, and I need a place to draw conclusions in my own space.

During the We Might Shutdown the Gummint and All Hell Might Break Loose debacle, I posted a link from the Heritage Foundation, decrying President Obama’s statement that he would veto a bill paying our servicemen and women if the Gummint did, indeed, shut down. My friend replied, “And the Republicans are turning their backs on various social programs intended to help the most vulnerable Americans.”

And so the BroooHaHa began. It all comes down to two separate views of government’s role and, ultimately, morality. I believe that government is responsible for the basic protections of her citizens and to be “of laws and not of men” as John Adams famously said. Others, my friend included, believe that the government is responsible for the basic health and well-being of her citizens as well – meaning that we don’t simply have to provide an unravaged-by-war land in which to govern one’s own destiny, but we must insure that one’s own destiny is one of health and comfort.

I can completely understand both perspectives. I know that both sides of the debate think the other is evil and uncaring (thanks, Harry Reid, for that) but I don’t. What I do think about the idea of state-run charity is that it’s unfairly inconsistent, horribly wasteful and intellectually dishonest.

There’s a lot of pieces to this debate, hence why it doesn’t play out well in Facebook discussions, but I think the largest component is the inconsistency of the idea of state-run charity and morality. Often this debate lands on economic turf, but even if we had the money (which we don’t) to run every social program we’d like to, I would still hold that this view is flawed.

If I wasn’t a Christian, I honestly don’t think I could argue much on this topic, other than from a simple, selfish standpoint of wanting to keep my grubby mitts on my own money. Because I am, however, and I do believe that we have a moral obligation to help those around us, I want to do that in a way that actually helps. As a Christian, I’m frequently told to sit down and shut up when it comes to these debates.

Don’t believe in gay marriage? You’re a homophobe. Believe abortion is wrong? You’re sexist. Don’t want to pay higher and higher taxes to support endless state-run programs? You hate poor people, you immoral money-grubber.

The deal is, I can’t vote against my conscience in any of these topics, and just because I’m a Christian and believe we should help the poor does not mean that I believe the government should make me help the poor. There’s a difference between seeing a need and reaching out to assist in that need, vs. funneling money through endless bureaucracies in order to reach that need. As a person of faith with a moral obligation to reach out and help, I am offended by losing more of my hard-earned money to government programs that I could have used to actually help someone. (Of course I know that government can help people. Please don’t comment with endless stories about your sister’s boyfriend’s aunt who would have ______ without Uncle Sam. I get it. I also get that smaller organizations with more oversight do a better job.)

We’re often told to leave our faith out of the discussion. We’re told to leave our biases at the curb. But I can’t, anymore. I’m tired of hearing that the American Dream is unattainable, when I personally could have made more on Unemployment Insurance and instead have spent the last two years pinching pennies and starting my own business, only to have the government demand my profits for someone else who “needs it”. I’m tired of being told that because I want to be sure that my money goes to a cause I believe in (not Planned Parenthood, plzthx) I’m somehow immoral and uncaring. I’m tired of looking around me and seeing a nation of college-educated, cable-watching victims who honestly believe that America somehow owes them more than just freedom and a chance to make their own way.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

That describes America. Let’s stop attacking each other and acting like people are dying because Steve Jobs is just too rich and brilliant and needs to pay more taxes. We can figure out better ways to help – one of the best is to let people to realize their own potential and stop forcing our job creators and leaders of industry into state-run, ineffectual charity. Instead, let loose of the rules, release industry of the grip of over-reaching micro-management and let them hire people, give to organizations that really do good, charitable work and be free to use their money to give our country prosperity and real, American Dream-style hope.