Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scripture and Poverty

One of the clearest teachings of Scripture concerns poverty. For every verse on homosexuality therre are about 10 that deal with caring about the poor, and that's a conservative estimate. So why are so many Christians opposed to programs like universal health coverage, which are designed to help the less fortunate in our society? I think there are three theses which can be used to defend this kind of position.

1) The poor deserve it, since they're so lazy. (Hardly biblical, to say the least).

2) If government lets big business run its course, the benefits will trickle down to the least fortunate. (On this I agree with Ross Perot. Trickle down didn't trickle).

3) Private charity does it better, more efficiently than government programs. (I'd like to see real hard evidence that private charity picked up the slack when many of the mentally ill were put back on the street during the Reagan adminstration.)

On my view, none of these propositions is true,


Gyan said...

Prudence is the first virtue. Does the propsed plan really do what it is supposed to do?.

Anonymous said...

I think that I agree that the focus of Christian political groups is far too focused on homosexuality rather than poverty. The bible says such a great more deal about allievating poverty than eliminating homosexuality.

I smoke and work at a gym, so on smoking breaks I'm exiled to the gas station across the street. I've gotten to know homeless people on my smoke breaks and many of them are not lazy [although I'm sure there are counter examples]. But in a system such as ours, it is difficult to get back into the system once you fall out. If you don't have a phone, how can you recieve calls to schedule interviews? Without a house to clean up and wash one's clothes, how can they expect to be hired at an interview looking and smelling like shit. Without an alarm clock, how can they be expected to wake up in time for work, etc. [in response to the 'they're lazy argument']

I think that private charity, does a good job given the small funding that it recieves. But it isn't enough. I think of how much money is spent by antihomosexuality campaigns such as those hosted by the AFA and I wonder how much of that could've been put towards children's medicine, transition programs for the homeless, etc.

I think that many Christian's priorities are not consistent with their proclaimed beliefs. I think of the church I used to go to. They had a fine building that they wanted to remodel, although it didn't need it. The building was safe, functional, etc. I think that 80k being spent to make a decent building prettier while people are starving and there are biblical proclamations that these faithful claim to hold all in combination is a bullshit state of affairs.

Jim Slagle said...

I learned to distrust the government's competence during my stint in the military. I don't want a bureaucracy solving society's problems for the same reason that I don't want a carload of circus clowns performing a coronary bypass on me.

Victor Reppert said...

Jim: You prefer maybe Cigna or Kaiser Permanente? A for-profit bureaucracy as opposed to a non-profit bureaucracy?

You, of course rely on the government for you police and fire protection, and we still don't privatize the miltary for some reason (although I think we're working on it, sadly).

Jim Slagle said...

If I have to choose between two competing bureaucracies, I would choose the smaller one, i.e. the private company over the government. And while I don't believe that the profit motive (a.k.a. greed) is a cure-all, as some libertarians seem to think, it does provide a way that the populace can exert some influence on such a system: by making it profitable.

Please bear in mind that I don't really have a position on this. I'm just a political cynic. Rather than pay taxes so that the government can use it incompetently to solve society's problems as it sees fit (often doing more harm than good), I'd rather do it directly by supporting a charity that does it better. But I agree with Augustine, that government is necessary; I just agree with him further that it's a necessary evil.

Anonymous said...

1) The poor deserve it, since they're so lazy. (Hardly biblical, to say the least).

2) If government lets big business run its course, the benefits will trickle down to the least fortunate. (On this I agree with Ross Perot. Trickle down didn't trickle).

3) Private charity does it better, more efficiently than government programs. (I'd like to see real hard evidence that private charity picked up the slack when many of the mentally ill were put back on the street during the Reagan adminstration.)


Here, Victor, you certainly bring up an interesting subject for discussion. Personally, I hold clarity to be of far higher value than agreement or perhaps simply, 'making points' (Note that here, I am not directing accusatory terms towards you for simply 'making points' because you aren't - rather, I am just making a general statement about the higher value of clarity.). I can see you presenting three common conservative ideas that you disagree with, but which I myself, a conservative, also disagree with - (two, at least in the form they are represented here).

Therefore, I would humbly make an attempt to clarify some aspects of the three reasonings against conservative positions that you have stated. My reason is that I think the real grounding of conservative thought about poverty to be greatly obscured and misconceived. While there are aspects of your 3 aforementioned ideas that may have a bit of truth to them - I think there to be a much deeper foundation that we must establish first.

Also, I think that a little knowledge about my own position here is important. I previously held the exact thoughts about the poverty issue that you presently do. I was also, at one time, very much democratic in my political and social thinking, but have since moved over to a much different line of reasoning, the conservative positions.

Here are my thoughts:

Firstly, I think that in a way you are very correct in stating that Christians appear to focus much more on the issues of homosexuality, rather than poverty. Where this is true - I find it to be despicable and of great detriment towards the much greater hunger and cause for Christ in this nation and the world. However, I think that this idea that Christians, in general, value condemnation of homosexuality of higher worth than taking actions to help the poor to be a stereotype and an idea that is not representative of the actual majority view of Christians (or conservative Christians in particular which I imagine you are mainly discussing here). I think that this is the modus operandi of our secular media who love to portray Christians in a poor light (no pun intended)- emphasizing more controversial spokesmen (calling Pat Robertson...) and ludicrous fringe thought (e.g. God allowed 9/11 because of homosexuality), rather than representing the true weight of Christian thought about topics.

For instance, where I live in the North West (perhaps things are different elsewhere?!?), I attend a fairly conservative Baptist church. Nobody I know holds beliefs and political positions as simplistic and irrational as the radical sound-bite sort of thing the media represents Christians with. It frustrates me beyond mentioning that the only thing you ever hear from conservative Christians seems to come from either James Dobson or Pat Robertson. While they may, at one time or another, hold a position I agree with - they simply do not speak for the majority of conservative Christians.

Now, In sharp contrast to the choice negative issues and people that the media love to vomit into our households nightly - consider how much good for the poor that Christianity is doing silently in America and around the world. (I say silently because these stories do not bleed, nor are they outrageous or inflammatory, and finally - they do not help further the media's negative and strange way they look at Christians as a whole: A phenomenon I like to call - Christians in the Mist. As in, "Tonight we take an look at what those strange Christians are doing now, tonight Nova presents: Christians in the Mist". As if Christians where some strange feral animals that the rest of the 'normal people' in the world cannot hope to comprehend.)

Take for instance great organizations like World Vision, Medical Teams International, Compassion International, just to list three. These are huge Christian based organizations that help thousands and thousands of poor people all over the world every single day. Do you ever hear their work presented as representative of Christianity? No. And what better to represent the voice of Christianity than an organization of thousands of Christians? But our media gives them the cold shoulder in favor of just a handful of "Christian leaders" thoughts on homosexuality.

Unfortunately, these inflammatory people and statements are the only ones that anyone hears, including Christians. And they hear them again, and again, and again, and again... Sadly, you hear it enough - and you start to believe it. This leads to the idea that Christians, in general, mainly care about homosexuality and abortion - and that's it. Perhaps you are starting to see why I find this idea to be a popular, but false representation of what Christians really believe.

Now, you ask, "So why are so many Christians opposed to programs like universal health coverage, which are designed to help the less fortunate in our society?" You then go on to present the three ideas. Please bear with me as I once again humbly attempt to lay some foundation and perhaps answer your question - or at the very least, help you to understand what I think the reasons to be:

The root of this questions has much more to do with conservative beliefs about the roll of government in society rather than it does directly with health care for the poor. This will be illustrated as I explain my thought on the three points you raised.

Your first point, I think, is odd. It seems like you are merging a conservative position on welfare, with a position on health care. I think you would find it difficult to locate anyone who cites laziness as a reason to withhold healthcare (I could be wrong though...). The issue of laziness applies when you are discussing programs that supply welfare to people who refuse to work - rather than providing them with the tools and resources to earn their own living, etc. Either way, I find it hard to believe that many Christians actually hold a belief that somehow people don't deserve healthcare based on their status. Clearly, this position, if held in that manner - though I find that unfeasible - would be wickedness.

Point two is a bit closer to a reason that you may hear, though once again, I think that the foundation of this argument has much more to do with economics and not really much to do with healthcare. It is another common misconception that Conservatives have some vested interest in 'Big Business'. The reason for the widespread nature of this belief has to do with Conservatives opposition to high corporate taxation. There are many good reasons to back this position, but then again - we wouldn't really be discussing a position on healthcare, rather economics. (If you wish me to explain these economic positions as far as I understand them - I would be more than happy!). I'll most cover this idea more discussing the final point.

Finally: point number three. Now we're talking! This last point is the conservative reason for opposing universal healthcare (at least, mostly). In fact, allow me to repeat the point: Private charity does it better, more efficiently than government programs. It's not just private charity - it's private anything. The foundation of the idea here is lengthy. The problem involves the prospect of an industry taken over by a monopoly. In this case - the monopoly would be the government. Now, there are some scary realities to a government monopoly. First - no competition. Profit competition is a good thing for consumers of healthcare. This forces a care provider to provide a better service and better prices in order to earn your dollar. The government, on the other hand, is the only entity that has the power to force you to pay for their service - no matter what they provide. This is done through taxation. Private business also has a bottom line. If they are foolish with their money, or they do something scandalous and loose business - they go bankrupt. Government simply asks for more money.

I have written extensively about some of these ideas on my blog: ( and please pardon my cynicism on this next link - I was fired up that day...

So I guess in a short summary - conservative Christians are all for helping the poor. Their opposition to government/universal health care has much more to do with economics and a belief in the powers that come from a competitive free market - not in some disdain for the poor, or love affair with big business (more media spin). If government does anything at all - they should encourage more competition for healthcare companies, more protection for healthcare providers from crippling litigation and lawsuits, and most of all - government should give citizens and private organizations massive incentive to help the poor. Charity lies within the realm of personal action - not government policy.

Anyway, I hope this helps to clarify a bit. I apologize if anything here seems short or assumed. I wish I could go into further detail, but sadly, my desk job limits my evolvement in good long discussion. All I can say Victor, is that I can completely understand where you are coming from with your post above. And I am not calling on you to agree with me. I would much rather that we had a clear understanding of one another's positions - and disagreed, than sought agreement only.

Andrew (also, wtc?)

Victor Reppert said...

I remember hearing Dennis Prager say "Conservatives do not, and should not, trust big business. Conservatives distrust big business as much as liberals do, but they also distrust big labor and big government, while liberals display an excessive trust in those institutions. To which my first response was "Wonderful! Let's impeach Bush and Cheney and replace them with real conservatives."

I grew up a fan of Barry Goldwater, but I think both Dobson and company and the Bush administration are aberrant forms of conservatism. Did you know that back in the day, conservatives were actually for balanced budgets?

Anonymous said...

Learn economics, Victor. Then you will see that statism fails to result in the benefits that its very supporters claim it will bring to the masses. It is an inappropriate means to the end of continuously improving standard of living for everybody in the long run or, in other words, to the end of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Only a regime of private property, freedom, and peace can succeed in improving the conditions of the "poor."

Charity is a consumer good; that is, resources are channeled into charitable uses after they have been earned. What you are proposing is a system of production, not consumption. And that system will make things much worse. The proper solution to the perversions of the massive government interventionism in health care we are living under today is freedom and liberalization, not outright nationalization of health care.

Only this will make ever improving health care affordable to all.

David Bergan said...

"Private charity does it better, more efficiently than government programs."

Have to disagree with you here, Victor. I'm all for eliminating poverty, but if you coerce charity (ala collect money in taxes), it ceases to be charity. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to rob the rich scumbags and give it to the poor. It tells us to voluntarily (sell all that you have and) give to the poor. If you remove liberty from the action, you remove all morality from the act.