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What is the proper role of government? Collective Morality

Posted by Chance on February 7, 2006

The big question in my life right now is the proper role of government? In order to answer this question I have to ask myself two things.

1) What does God ask us to do? That is, what are his commands for us to do and not to do?
2) What role should government have in enforcing or restricting these actions.

For the most part, it is easy to understand what the Bible requires of us. Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery. These are crimes of commission. God also requires us to commit certain actions. Feed the hungry, spread the good news. Treat your neighbor as yourself is pretty all-encompassing.

Now, we Christians, know what Biblical morality demands of us. The question is, to what extent should this be enforced by government?

Now, first of all, everyone but anarchists believe that the government should protect citizens from harm from other citizens, and from foreign threats. Just about everyone believes there should be a police force and a military (although reasonable debate is going on about the extent of the military). Ayn Rand, the epitome of pure libertarian thought, believes, as paraphrased from Atlas Shrugged, that the only legitimate areas of government are the police, military, and courts.

But the major questions concerning government is represented in the political parties. What role should the government play in individual morality? The conservatives would say a lot. Conservatives are more likely to pass laws against tattoos, strip clubs, and homosexuality. Liberals will argue that the government should take a role in a more “collective” type morality. They focus on things like feeding the poor, making sure people have enough to eat, etc…

So, again, the Bible says to feed the poor, and to have high standards of personal morality (do not lust, do not get drunk, etc…) but what role should the government play in such behaviors.

This is the question I ask myself now. My main struggle is with individual morality, but first, let’s talk about collective morality. Personally, I do not believe the government should serve as a redistributor of income. I believe a basic level of welfare is reasonable, especially for those who cannot help themselves, and for children. I am not even necessarily arguing for a flat tax (even though I think maybe that is the most moral option concerning taxes), but I do not think we say “okay, the rich do not need that much money anyway, so lets expect them to shoulder the burdens of society.” Now, do not get me wrong, I believe God expects more from those who are blessed more, but again, I think there are problems when we place the burden of responsibility on the government to take from the rich to give to the poor.

I believe voluntary charity is preferable to government redistribution for a few reasons. Government redistribution takes the responsibility for one’s well being from oneself to other people, which I do not think is a biblical thing. While the rich are called upon to give to the poor, the poor are never told to depend on the rich. I think capitalism along with voluntary charity allows a balance of the Biblical command to work for what we eat along with the Biblical command to feed the poor and hungry. When charity is given, it is better for the recipient as well as the giver. The giver gives from a sense of compassion, or wanting to help, or through the call of the Holy Spirit. That person makes a sacrifice. The recipient is thankful for the gift that is willingly given, and realizes that it was given through God’s providence and/or the kindness of another person. That kindness can really touch that person’s heart. On the other hand, government redistribution does little for the giver. They do not choose to give, they can become resentful towards those who take their income (even though there are many welfare people who are trying, the person being taxed will undoubtedly think of the strung-out mom on crack who keeps having kids to get more money). The recipient sees the giving as an entitlement, as something they deserve. Furthermore, that money becomes something they depend upon. A regular disbursement of cash can be a de-motivator. It tells the people they cannot make it on their own, that they need the government to support them.

Proverbs 6:5-8 talks about the ant who must provide for harvest. Now, as a caveat, I do not believe the poor are all “sluggards”, but this verse emphasizes that it is up to a person to provide for themselves what they need. God expects the ants to work for their food, why not a person?

2 Thessalonians 3:9-12 says that a person should work for what they eat. The whole idea is that someone should not “get something for nothing.”

Now, again, I am not bashing the poor, I know there are people who need help. The idea I am attacking is that of dependence, or entitlement. I believe it is essential, it is God’s command, that we help the poor and hungry. It is one of the main functions of the church. Jesus spent most of his ministry ministering to people’s physical needs. He called upon the rich to do the same. However, I believe when government becomes the primary means, or even a major means, to do this, then you have a conflict with scriptures like those above, in which responsibility shifts from the individual, the family unit, and the church, to that of government. Now, one could take the argument I made and apply it to the abolition of welfare altogether, but I think perhaps temporary welfare for those in need is reasonable, and can exist without contradicting scripture. I do support welfare for those who cannot truly help themselves, and of course for orphaned children.


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