A most peculiar paradox


There's something that's been bothering me ever since I was young and has grown increasingly more so over the years.  I was raised as a Christian.   As such, I was taught to love others, to exhibit charity, to treat others well, to share my blessings with other people, and to be compassionate.  I think these are core principles of Christianity wherever it is to be found.

What I find intriguing is that Christianity seems to have become the backbone of the Republican party.  That in itself might become dangerous, since it might lead to establishment of (or favoritism toward) one religion over another, but that's another matter for another day.  But, what's really perplexing to me is that the republican party--the religious right--is fighting so hard against charitable government programs.

As a child, I readily accepted what my parents taught me about religion, and just as readily I accepted the things my dad told me about having small government and maximizing individual freedom by opposing socialist ideas and provisions.  But, as I've grown older I've eventually lost my fervor in opposing government welfare programs.

I find it interesting that the people who believe in the Bible--the people who believe in "go the extra mile", "sell all thou hath and give to the poor", the people who believe that when they see their creator in the next life He will say "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in" to those who have helped people in these ways--that these people are not the ones who are the most vocal in advocating for government welfare programs.  In fact, fundamentalists Christians are among the most vocal in opposing such programs.  Most of the people I know who are Mormons are against any kind of government help--whether it be food stamps, health care benefits, or anything of the sort.

I find it highly ironic that those who believe most strongly about helping others and being charitable--or at least profess to believe these things because of their religion--are some of the ones who are fighting so fiercely against making such programs a reality.  I don't know how many good, Christian people I have heard complain about being taxed to pay for welfare, for food stamps, for medicare, medicaid, and social security programs.  I don't know how many people I've heard say they want to abolish all of these practices and make sure they never happen again.

So, I wonder.  I really, truly wonder how people can have this kind of disconnect.  How can someone claim to be charitable, to be kind and loving, to be giving and philanthropic, and simultaneously oppose any measure made by the government to institute such charitable acts?  It's very difficult for me to understand where the logic lies there.

Now, it would be one thing if these people who fight so vehemently against government programs actually donated to private charities designed with the same purpose--of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless.  And yet, the reality is that a precious small percentage of them do.  I suppose that many Mormons give to their church, believing that the church will give the money to people who are in need.  Well, I think we know what the truth is there.  (See here and here.)

As for me personally--I don't have any problem with paying taxes to support welfare.  I know several people personally who have at some point or other (some currently, some in the past) been on one government program or another.  I have seen these programs do much good in the lives of these friends.  When Karen and I were first married, she didn't have a full-time job with benefits.  She could not get a private health insurance plan--no one would take her because she had cancer.  The only option available to her was to go onto the state insurance plan, which she did.  If she hadn't been able to be on that plan, it would have meant literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills (over the next few years) for the two of us.  We would have had to declare bankruptcy.  So, I am grateful for state insurance plans.  It was literally a life-saver for us, financially.  Now, when she got a job here in Tennessee, her insurance plan was the best I've ever heard of.  But, the year we spent in Provo together is a good reminder to me that not everyone is in the position to get good health coverage through their employer.

I have only two problems with government programs at the federal level.  First, I am not convinced that they are Constitutional.  I have not yet seen an argument presented to me that I find convincing enough to indicate that the Constitution grants the federal government the power to institute such programs.  I have no problem with them running such programs, but I feel that perhaps the Constitution needs to be amended in order to make these programs legal.

The second issue I have is that the government tends to be rather inefficient.  They have extremely high overhead.  I want to see my money go toward actually helping people, not toward paying some bureaucrat in an office who stuffs his face with eclairs and has affairs with his secretary.  I'd much rather see it go toward someone who's having trouble finding a place to live or a job or clothes to wear.

I have no issue with my taxes being used to help people who are needy.  I have no problem with helping people out.  I am a very giving person.  I have had people stop me on the street and ask for money.  As often as I am carrying cash (which is quite infrequent, to be honest), I give them money to help them.  I love all people and if I see someone in need, I want to reach out and help them.  So, I will not complain about my money being used to fund welfare or social security or any other government program.  I have seen people who need these programs and I have seen people get back on their feet after being taken care of by these programs.

I must say that I feel very much as Charles Dickens must have felt as he wrote his classic novel A Christmas Carol.  One of the most stirring lines is when the ghost of Christmas Present, fully enraged by Scrooge's disconcern for his fellow man, bellows Scrooge's own unfeeling and ignorant words back in his face "Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?"  Oh, what cruel irony--that so many of my Christian friends who love this novel, who find the moral of the story so compelling that they watch the movie and read the book every year, are also the ones who oppose the kind of social reform that Dickens was calling for in writing his book.  They are those who would reopen debtors prisons and would exact "justice" upon those too poor to pay for their own food, clothing, and housing.  They would blame these unfortunate souls for their own misfortune, rather than showing compassion and sharing of their abundance.
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."
In other words, go ahead and pretend that there aren't homeless people.  Go ahead and be cozy in your own life, ignoring those who are on the brink of starvation.  But, the condemnation will be upon your own head for omitting to right a wrong that you had the power to right.  Be remembered for generations as the society that would refuse to give to those who were less financially privileged than you.  And, if you believe in a god, risk his wrath upon you for turning your blind eye on your fellow man that you might have otherwise helped.

My conscience will not allow me to do this.  It will not allow me to stand by idly as I watch people suffer needlessly.  When I have so much, I cannot turn away from those who have absolutely nothing at all.  It is not right and it is not excusable.