A large welfare state with a heavy hand in the economy is often expounded by the American Left, Christian or otherwise, as the necessary fruits of compassion for the poor. For example, Jim Wallis argues that a high minimum wage is the necessary conclusion from the prophetic witness in the Old Testament (He goes so far to say that a Christian’s theological foundation is that “God hates inequality.” Whether this extends to all natural difference or merely economic is unsurprisingly not elucidated). In the eyes of Wallis and his ilk, secular or religious, if someone is not pushing for a large Federal government brimming with social programs they are accused of not caring for the poor. However, I am skeptical of those advocating for the aforementioned to tackle poverty. Let me offer a thought experiment to illustrate my point.
Let us divide humanity at large into the favorite categories of the Left: the 99 percent and 1 percent. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that the 99 percent struggle to meet basic needs, such as food and shelter, while the 1 percent easily obtain those and other luxuries. Now, let’s say that the 99 percent now makes as much as the 1 percent, but the cost of this is that the 1 percent makes even more than they previously did. So both the 99 percent and the 1 percent have all their necessities met, but the 1 percent still is able to afford the things the 99 percent are not able to.
I say the person satisfied with the above scenario can be said to have genuine compassion for the poor. He does not care what the rich man does with wealth so long as the needs of the poor have been met. He leaves the specks alone and is content that the log is removed.
However, if a person objects to the above scenario, I don’t see how he is motivated by compassion for the poor. Instead, he seems to be motivated by equality. The reason for the expansive state is not so much to help the poor as it is to make everyone equal. Helping the poor becomes a means to the end of equality, the good in mind for the proponent of the Left.
I also don’t see why equality in and of itself would be a good. After all we could just as easily be equal in poverty, a “sour grapes” solution if you will, as riches. One could even go to the other Hobbesian extreme and make sure everyone has nothing at all, insuring equality that way. Equality in and of itself is merely contingent. In other words, equality is a good for the sake of something else.
Let’s return to the person who objects to anyone having more than anyone else. Forgive my cynicism, but I can think of no other reason than avarice motivating him. If such a person would object to everyone’s mouth being fed and having a roof over their head even if that meant there would be people who always had more than other people, how could he not? The person who possesses more is not a criminal for keeping for him the coat which could clothe the naked, as St. Basil thoroughly condemns, but merely because he has more. The rich man becomes a criminal solely for having something the other person wishes he had, as opposed to neglecting others. For if the rich man was able to clothe everyone, yet still had more coats than all those clothed, he would still be a criminal.
As we examine arguments supposedly grounded in compassion, let’s make sure that we are not sinning so that grace may abound. As Christians, we are commanded to fight poverty not out of envy of another man’s riches, but from the love of our fellow man.Google+