Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Failure among the Faithful

I'm just not cool with the government insisting that an excessively large and growing share of the output of the motivated and responsible achievers ought to be diverted to the unmotivated and irresponsible. -- A Christian’s posting to Facebook.

It does not matter who wrote the above. The sentiment is common, particularly and sadly among politically conservative Christians.

The argument is that any tax on corporations and persons of wealth to fund programs to help the poor, sick, and elderly is immoral. When the government uses its power of taxation for any other than military appropriations, it is an act of theft. The rich are rich because they are “motivated and responsible achievers.” The poor are poor because they are “unmotivated and irresponsible.”

This argument is straight out of Ayn Rand’s essay “Collectivized Ethics” from the book, The Virtue of Selfishness. “Only individual men have the right to decide when or whether they wish to help others,” Rand pontificates, “society – as an organized political system – has no rights in the matter at all.”

Rand offers no supporting evidence for her assertion. There is not any. The progress of Western civilization itself is the refutation of Rand’s thesis. More on that another time.

I have no reason to believe that the Christian who made the above post to Facebook has read Rand. However, as I posted on 23 October 2010, Randism has poisoned our political discourse (See “The Threat").

Take for example the untenable distinction of the rich as the “motivated and responsible achievers” from the poor who are “unmotivated and irresponsible.” There is no empirical evidence for this. In fact, it runs the other way. Most rich individuals in the United States acquired their wealth the old-fashioned way – they picked rich parents. The poor, conversely, are to be faulted for not choosing parents of ample means.

It is, however, of little concern that our Christian has imbibed a bit of Randism or does not know the social science that refutes his simplistic distinction between rich and poor.

What is disturbing is that the Faith has little or nothing to do with the political thought of too many conservative Christians. Instead of the compassion of Christ, we have the cruelty of Randism. Instead of concern for the weakest in our country, there is a perverse concern for the supposed imperiled rights of the most powerful.

I do not doubt that most conservative Christians believe this is a fallen world, corrupted by the sin of our first parents. Nevertheless, they also seem to think that, miraculously, justice has been preserved in the distribution of wealth in this country. They seem to think our Lord was issuing a command when He said, “The poor will always be with you.”

9 comments:

Fr John W Fenton said...

Posted elsewhere:

Why do we have the poor? So that we can fulfill the dominical command to care for the poor. - So said one of the fathers (St John Chrysostom, I believe).

Notice: how they came to be poor is not the issue. But if it becomes the issue, then the answer is for the Christian to teach the poor, by example, self-restraint, endurance in suffering, etc. Greed, which is not a virtue, does not teach the poor or rich rightly.

Nancy said...

I was surprised that the statement that opens this post is from an unnamed source.

Your rule for commenting on this blog clearly states "If you cannot put your name to your words then it is doubtful your words are worth reading."

Does this same "rule" not apply to the original blogger?

Michael James Hill said...

The source was Facebook. I know the name of the of the person I am quoting and out of deference to him I did not give his name. He is not one of my FB friends. I did "message" him and invite his response. Much of what I describe is a conflation of Randian statements made by politically conservative clergy with whom I have had exchanges. Conflation does not mean misrepresentation. I have endeavored to faithfully represent the position I am countering. All my FB friends have been invited to read and respond. That means they may register corrections.

The Renegade said...

Michael,

I'm afraid you both took my statement out of context (in which you will see that I knocked those who support unfettered capitalism, too), and then used it as a strawman to argue against things I didn't even say.

I clearly wrote "excessively large and growing share," and you then stated that the argument of conservatives is "ANY [emphasis mine] tax on corporations and persons of wealth". I did not say "any"; I was not absolutist in my statement.

I also wrote "unmotivated and irresponsible"; I did not write "the poor, sick, and elderly" in general or in totality, as your statement implies. I'm not nearly so naive as to think that all well-off people are motivated achievers, nor that all the less-fortunate are unmotivated and irresponsible. That's why I specifically didn't use the words "rich" or "poor" in my statement. Many people are poor and sick through no fault of their own, and we all are moving toward being elderly. I am not without compassion for the less fortunate, and I think my life bears that out. I don't think it helpful to proclaim here the good works I have done for the poor, sick or elderly, for these were not done by me, but by the Holy Spirit working through me.

My position is that it is indeed the responsibility of the government to assist those in the general population who cannot assist themselves (not those who "will not"). Further, it is the responsibility of the Church to serve those within its fellowship who are struggling with worldly needs. Others may believe that the poor, sick, and elderly are completely at fault for their circumstances and ought to be entirely left to fend for themselves, but I most certainly do not believe either of those. I would, for example, be highly in favor of a very substantial increase in the estate tax, so that each generation has some reasonable redistribution of wealth and must take action to maintain or improve its standard of living.

I give you every right to argue against Randism and its faults and perils. I have no opinion on her work, being a literary Philistine. I'm disappointed, however, that your argument here is based on de-contextualizing and misconstruing my words to suit the point you wanted to make. I hope my comment will pass muster with your moderation.

Michael James Hill said...

Oh dear... first Nancy chides me for quoting an anonymous source and then my source posts a rebuttal anonymously. Well is it my blog and if I want to break my own rule in order to be fair I will.
Renegade (couldn't you have chosen a more fitting non de plume? You are far to nice to be a renegade.) I reviewed your original statement and I do not think I took your comment out of context. I think your context did not serve your intended meaning. We agree on many things. But just what government proposes to take from "motivated and responsible achievers" and give to "the unmotivated and irresponsible"? Perhaps you are a victim of your own hyperbole. Your distinction is indicative of Randism. Take note however,I did not accuse you of being a follower of Rand. I purposely stated that I had no reason to believe you have read Rand. By the way, not having read Rand does not make you a literary Philistine. Literary Philistines enjoy her writings. There is more that I could write in response to your most civil rebuttal and I invite more exchanges from you. Most importantly take note that there was no attack on your person. There is far too much of that going on these days. The discussion I endeavor to have is about the Faith, Church, and State. I hope you will join me in that discussion. I think you might enjoy it. From what you have said, I know I will. Thank you.

The Renegade said...

Michael, I didn't realize that my reply would come through anonymously as it did, under the blog name I've had for quite some time. I apologize for that. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm happy to include my name herein so that I can be publicly connected to my prior statements. I appreciate your candor and your civility in our discussion.

Sherman Stenson

Amberg said...

Socialism wasn't a tenable position for C.F.W. Walther. I'd be interested to hear responses to Walther's treatise on Communism and Socialism.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/20491332/Communism-and-Socialism

Mark Preus

Rev. Michael Monterastelli said...

Loving our neighbor is not achieved through a government that is not an agent of The Church. A state that is separated from The Church is not capable of showing the kind of love (cheerful giving) that Christians are supposed to share with their neighbors. Any government that forces people to give it money upon threat of prison, destroys almost every possibility of true cheerful giving. Arguments in favor of taxing the rich to help the poor, sick and elderly by appealing to Christian love and charity are therefore fallacious.

Michael James Hill said...

Rev. Monterastelli: You wrote,"Loving our neighbor is not achieved through a government that is not an agent of The Church." I am not sure what you mean. I do not understand why a Christian citizen cannot use many means to help the needy, including his citizenship. The interests of a civil society and the Church converge when it comes to helping the needy. On what bases would you divorce these converging interests? And again you write, "Any government that forces people to give it money upon threat of prison, destroys almost every possibility of true cheerful giving." Please explain. You seem to have confused several different issues here. Citizens have a duty to pay taxes because they benefit from what the government provides -- even more so in a free society. Prison is for those who refuse to do their duty. If you chose to explain, proof texts would be nice.