Caring 10

We have a proposal to make that is sure to be greeted with universal approbation.

We start from the principle – not quite universally conceded – that the state should not be an agent for the redistribution of wealth. Which is to say, government should not be the provider of welfare.

But, we acknowledge, there will always be some people who cannot provide for themselves and have no one else willing and able to provide for them.

Then we ask: is there some institution other than the state that could manage their support?

We propose that the churches be charged with the responsibility. It would be splendidly consistent with their declared principles. They could collect money from the tens of millions of people who believe they have a duty to care for their less fortunate neighbors and compatriots.

As giving voluntarily is truer to the social consciences and religious precepts of these good people than having it extracted from them by government, with what delight they’ll seize the opportunity!

With the ample funds that will pour in from liberals, progressives, socialists and Christians, the churches will establish shelters for the homeless and clinics for the sick; feed, clothe and equip the helplessly dependent. They’ll be able to do it lavishly. Material want will be abolished.

They’ll take great pride and pleasure in doing it. Have they not been preaching charity for millennia? There they are, well established, thousands of them; organized, tax-exempted, self-dedicated to moral ends. This is clearly the use they must be put to. They’re a perfect fit for it.

Once the churches have permanently taken over all welfare provision, government can shrink, taxes come down, the defense budget be enlarged, and everyone will be happy.

  • This piece is brilliant. It’s part Jonathan Swift, part Peggy Noonan. The tone is just enough tongue-in-cheek so as to recall Swift’s Modest Proposal. But unlike the satirist cannibal, this piece is actually serious (behind the facade of self-mockery). Anyone old enough to remember GHW Bush’s Thousand Points of Light speech (I assume written by Noonan) will recall how recently this idea was policy. I for one don’t think it’s too late to resurrect it. Besides, it may help re-vector certain religious organizations toward better projects than a second Creation Museum.

    • Jillian Becker

      Consvltvs – It feels great to be completely understood.

      Thank you!

  • C. Gee

    My responses to comments here do, of course, assume that those “ample funds” will pour into churches from liberals, progressives, socialist etc. whose concern for their “less fortunate neighbors and compatriots” is felt so deeply – in my pocket.

  • Bill

    I agree with your intent. But I thought we atheists want more people like ourselves, which means fewer churches. What then? Seriously I had a nephew (now deceased) who was hit by a car and wheel chair-bound for ten years. I guess the state of California had funded his stay in an assisted living home. Very tragic event in my family. But the bright side is tragedy is nor the norm. The parents were too stunned by the injury to go after litigation against the driver responsible for striking my nephew. Had they done so, the world (to them) would be right.

    • C. Gee

      Fewer churches may be sign of growing atheism, but what is important here is not the belief in God, but the belief in the institution as a “giving” concern. Conservative atheists should not wish to throw out traditional institutions – churches – which have societal benefits, of which one is community self-help. I would far rather see the smellies and angry people fed and sheltered by the local churches than by the City. When the civil liberties lobby won a victory for human rights by freeing incapable humans from imprisonment in authoritarian hospitals into the embracing arms of the community, the only credible community existing as such is the religious one. Religious “community outreach” embraces. The streets do not embrace. Nor do the City social worker’s files. The secular charities are more about political activism (and getting state funds) as they are about ladling soup.

      The infrastructure of caring is already in place in religions community, physically , and psychologically. There are churches in every town and village and many strip malls. Any local case of need coming to the attention of congregants and church officials will be dealt with face-t0-face, and out of good-heartedness (or religious duty) for moral satisfaction, not pay perks and pension. In fact, the churches are the last vestige of the face-to-face communities in which altruism was a viable economic principle, according to Hayek.
      The point being made by Jillian Becker is that everything the welfare bureaucracy does may be done by churches, at lesser cost and more directly.

      Voluntary giving, no government middleman, moral satisfaction, amelioration of misery – and no necessity to believe in God. As an atheist, I might well donate to a church charity. The Salvation Army is for more worth donating to than, say UNICEF or OXFAM.

      The only other way to raise money for welfare by voluntary giving rather than taxation, is through lottery. That provokes moral squeamishness, whereas donations to church charities do not. (Though church-run lotteries may also be preferable to taxation). The moral hazard attached to state welfare is ineradicable. I note here that the Obama administration (Biden) is attempting to make paying taxes into a patriotic duty – a moral duty , exactly similar to the charitable duty required by religion.

      I am sorry to hear about the terrible accident to your nephew. But I do not think suing for insurance pay-offs is the general answer to taxation. The anarcho-capitalist or extreme libertarian view of private insurance and insurance companies standing in for government is theoretically interesting, but unworkable.

  • The churches may have been preaching charity for millennia, but today? Isn’t it more about the “rights” of disadvantaged groups (charity being seen as demeaning for the recipient)? So your proposal may have come too late. Come to think of it, it used to work as you describe before the 20th century, didn’t it?

    • C. Gee

      Yes, you are right. Church community welfare (especially in England) is becoming more like activism through community organization in the Obama/Alinsky sense. The “disadvantaged” are the Marxian underdogs who shall be empowered, and, happily, are also the needy to each of whom shall be given according to the abilities of each of us.

    • C. Gee

      Yes, you are right. Church community welfare (especially in England) is becoming more like activism through community organization in the Obama/Alinsky sense. The “disadvantaged” are the Marxian underdogs who shall be empowered, and, happily, are also the needy to each of whom shall be given according to the abilities of each of us.

  • Craig

    Cute, but under what authority will the churches be forced to provide welfare for non-members? You’ve taken a page from the socialist playbook and substituted churches for “the rich”.

    More seriously, the Mormons have a most exemplary welfare system. I was Mormon before I was atheist and saw how it worked. For one thing, it requires work from the recipient as long as he’s able. But it does require a lot of volunteerism and contributions from members to function.

    • C. Gee

      The point of the exercise is to utilize the existing institutions of voluntary giving. No authority will force churches to provide welfare to non-members. Churches may or may not limit recipients to non-members. Membership may or may not be burdensome. Many church charities provide services to all without restriction. But you do have a point. Some of the needy will “fall through the cracks”. Fewer than with government welfare, perhaps. In California, begging is a respectable career choice. People will give generously, especially if the sign says “No home. No car. No work. But need money for my sustainable low carbon lifestyle.”