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Does the Bible command social safety nets for the poor?

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April 29, 2008 – Comments (19)

This is a re-post of my own comment on another of my blog posts (okay, I'm vain)

Does God command us to be socialists? 

This is something I have long pondered, because I am a Christian, and I wondered how any Christian could oppose socialism and safety nets for the poor. (Because, after all, in Acts we read that the church that was guided by God's Holy Spirit had all things in common, and everyone gave from what he had to whomever was in need. Sound familiar?)

Then I realized that God instructs us to give to the poor. Not to contribute to a secular administrator of benevolence to give to the poor for us. Not to take something from everyone to give to the poor. But in every case that God commends, it is a freewill offering. Quite aside from the fact that taxes for social welfare yield a very small percentage to anyone who truly needs it, the bigger problem is this: who authorized you to take from others to give to the poor (via taxes)? It was not God. When you look at the wealth of a billionaire and think to yourself "What a lot of good could be done with that money!" You are not thinking spiritually, but carnally. You are not being generous, but covetous. Who can be generous with the possessions of another?

To try to achieve with a secular country what God did through the Holy Spirit in the first century church is not just folly, it is blasphemously conceited. But to do it again in His church today...?

19 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On April 29, 2008 at 7:01 AM, Gemini846 (58.67) wrote:

Taxes for the social well being do not have thier roots in scripture, but faux spiritualisim that emerged during the wake of the 2nd reformation in America.

Socialistic tendancies sprung from looking at the excesses of free market capitalism in the period (excessive child factory labor et) and blending them with a humanistic culture comming out of Europe after the enlightenment.

The theory was sold as "Christian Responsibility" but in many ways governments were trying to create more social order in urban areas. The thought process was if people have food and shelter then they wont steal and we won't have to spend as much on prisons. These laws started as protection of property but have now turned into ways for the Gov to steal it. 

I do agree with what you are saying on the covetous nature of the poor looking at the wealthy.  Statistics show that the top 1% of wealthy people outgive poorer people based on percentage of total income.

======= The following is a related tangent ===== 

You hear this exact same argument today with "education".

Unfortunatly, education bandwagon has ultimatly undermined schools in America. Early founders in the public education system developed a system that was designed to socialize young children and instill them with "american values." The religious right has always been anti public school. In the late 1800's early 1900's when public schools were springing up cities began passing truency laws. The government wanted your children to go to school not so they could be "educated" but so they could be taught what an "American" does. The conflict of course comes when you define "American" in the context of such a diverse population.

During that period what was taught in these schools was largly America through a White Anglo Protestant lens. Catholics, not wanting these values taught to thier children began creating schools all over the place to avoid truency laws.

The tables have turned now that the forces that be in public school are no longer teaching children through white anglo protestant lenses. The conservative movment in America is clinging (especially in the south) to topics such as prayer in school which were once commonplace due to the acceptance of the "lens" but are now contridictory to it. In many cases these conservatives have felt a backlash against Christians and Christian values causing them to react more strongly and be further isolated as "radical".  They preach tolerance so as to sound on par with the school system, but would be very offended if a Muslim student was allowed to pray to Allah at a football game.

It is not surprising that the home school movement in America is taking off as many of these isolated Protestants have become determined to preserve "family values" in thier own home.

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#2) On April 29, 2008 at 8:54 AM, TMFBent (99.82) wrote:

Interesting topic. I don't want to wade in too deep, but I will note that social safety nets are not simply an industrial-era invention. They have existed, in some form or another, for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You could argue that the most basic bits of economies, including urbanization itself, as well as specialization of labor, is the original social safety net. These date back to when we were still living in caves.

I'm no scholar on the history of more developed social safety nets, but medieval eurpoean monastic movements performed a fair bit of this, and in the Netherlands, at least by the 16th century if I recall correctly, there were neighborhood and municipal societies aimed specifically at collecting money from the masses during good times and then supporting out-of-work neighbors during lean times.

Sj

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#3) On April 29, 2008 at 9:44 AM, devoish (98.57) wrote:

Quite aside from the fact that taxes for social welfare yield a very small percentage to anyone who truly needs it, the bigger problem is this: who authorized you to take from others to give to the poor (via taxes)?

I believe the authorization comes from the United States of America. I understand they are a group of people working to promote the general welfare. I think a majority of them were inspired by the poverty, hunger, homelessness left in the midst of the great depression to elect people who would institute systems to prevent that level of poverty happening again.

I also doubt your "quite aside from the fact" fact.

And while I admire the good work inspired by religion I am not a religious man, but if my memory of churchschool serves me correctly, your god does not commend you. He commands you. Something more than just "guidelines" if I remember correctly.

When you look at the wealth of a billionaire and think to yourself "What a lot of good could be done with that money!" You are not thinking spiritually, but carnally. You are not being generous, but covetous. Who can be generous with the possessions of another?

Does that statement completely ignore the fact that income above 107k is not taxed for SSI? Which I guess makes it a program that is paid for by the bottom 90% to benefit the bottom 90% and billionaires have opted out of it.

Gem,

The thought process was if people have food and shelter then they wont steal and we won't have to spend as much on prisons

Noone can truly speak to the motivations of others. I believe that the character a man sees in others is the clearest indicator of that mans own character.

"Everyone lies" says the liar, "everyone steals" says the thief.

The evidence as I see it says most Americans saw the poverty of the depression, and that was enough to create support for social programs for decades to come.

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#4) On April 29, 2008 at 10:16 AM, EScroogeJr (< 20) wrote:

The Bible commands many interesting things. For instance, a quote from the Old testament instructs us to purchase our slaves abroad rather than on the domestic market. Can I buy a few Mexican slaves?

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#5) On April 29, 2008 at 11:52 AM, mandrake66 (94.27) wrote:

Gotta go with the scrooge on this one. The bible is a relic from an ancient, pastoral, semitic society. We've come a long way in 3000 years. Better to drop this millstone and start fresh. As a guide to living in a modern post-industrial society, it's worse than useless, it's an obstacle.

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#6) On April 29, 2008 at 12:42 PM, FleaBagger (29.74) wrote:

mandrake and scrooge -

If you are not a Christian and do not believe in the Bible, why argue with someone who does? This post is by a Christian, for Christians, and while you're welcome to observe and join in, we're going to be proceeding on the assumption that the Bible does have value. Otherwise, start your own conversation.

But because I cannot resist, I must ask: do you have no idea where the concept of freedom comes from? It would not exist but for the ancient, pastoral societies you malign so casually.

devoish -

I must confess that in my attempt to focus this discussion on underlying principles, I may have confused some of my readers between Social Security and and social safety nets in general. It is true that the Social Security program is set up as a separate thing, not (yet) funded by taxes on income above the first $107k. That makes it a regressive tax on poor, hardworking young people that goes to pay the almost entirely better-off old people who payed in earlier in life, when the tax was lower and the benefits were higher, and going to people who had hardly payed in at all and were merely the ones lucky enough not to die.

Other social safety nets (and don't fool yourself, there are many) are based on taxes on the rich that supposedly go to the poor, but they are all abominations against freedom and personal property rights. If you don't believe that a person has the right to his own property, then you don't believe that he has the right to his own property. It's that simple.

Seth -

I agree wholeheartedly with you that the idea of social safety nets is very old, and that in a monastic setting, it works very well indeed. Also, private sector insurance companies provide a voluntary-participation social safety net, and I have no problem with that, whether or not it turns out well, because everyone who participates in it chose to participate. I have a problem with compulsory participation in things in general.

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#7) On April 29, 2008 at 1:21 PM, mandrake66 (94.27) wrote:

But because I cannot resist, I must ask: do you have no idea where the concept of freedom comes from? It would not exist but for the ancient, pastoral societies you malign so casually.

Because I cannot resist, I will answer. Freedom is a vague term and very dependent on how you define it, but in the political sphere I understand its origin to be Greek and then applicable only to male citizens of property, and even that in a pretty limited way. What we would normally recognize as freedom was a product of the American and French Revolutions, with the American Constitution as the principle document thereof. The French Revolution largely eliminated the Church as a force in French society, and the American Revolution inaugurated an explicitly secular government, both out of fear of government interference in religion and religious interference in government.

I did not malign ancient pastoral societies. I maligned the use of an opaque ancient text, whose devotees cannot even agree on what it means, to the solution of modern problems. And while I'm at it, to a scriptural and theological discussion where one does not belong.

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#8) On April 29, 2008 at 1:39 PM, EScroogeJr (< 20) wrote:

"Other social safety nets (and don't fool yourself, there are many) are based on taxes on the rich that supposedly go to the poor, but they are all abominations against freedom and personal property rights. If you don't believe that a person has the right to his own property, then you don't believe that he has the right to his own property. It's that simple."

My advise to you is to follow the command of your Lord, given specifically with regard to the issue of paying taxes: "Give to God what belongs to God, and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar".

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#9) On April 29, 2008 at 2:09 PM, devoish (98.57) wrote:

Fleabagger,

 If you don't believe that a person has the right to his own property, then you don't believe that he has the right to his own property. It's that simple.

Don't piss me off with that selfish BS. It is not that simple.

If you can walk past a homeless grandmother, a hungry child, unwilling to help than you have more problems than money. And if you think that not seeing them means they are not there then you are blind.

The underlying principle that evades your mind. That makes us different is not ownership rights. It is responsibility.

And as a member of a society called the USA, I will contribute when called upon. And if my contribution is abused, I will fight that. But not the responsibility to contribute.

You do what you want.

 

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#10) On April 29, 2008 at 3:29 PM, FleaBagger (29.74) wrote:

devoish -

If you can't debate like a grown-up, and you just set up a straw man and kicked it in the shins, I don't know what else to say to you.

Scrooge -

I pay my taxes.

mandrake -

Awesome take on the French Revolution! But what I view as freedom has nothing whatever to do with the French Revolution. No, the best and the most perverse modern views of freedom (and everything in between) come from a belief that all people have an equal right to life, regardless of the wealth or title of their parents, their race, or their dancing ability. FR was a frenzied bloodbath that accomplished nothing but the replacing of tyrants with worse tyrants. The much more successful (but by no means perfect) American Revolution was based on the equal right to life (and property), and this comes from Jesus. Read the Bible.

To say that Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, et al came up with the idea of equal rights and freedom, and yet casually dismiss the Bible is like saying that Peter Jackson made some good Lord of the Rings movies, and then casually dismiss Tolkien as a possible influence.

The U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment were not written to separate church from state, as we so often hear, but the words meant exactly what they say. Congress shall make no law... Remember as you read that that there were state churches in many various states, supported by tax dollars. Congress was not to make any law "respecting an establishment of religion" that is, congress was prohibited not just from establishing a federal religion, but from interfering with the estblished state churches that were already in place.

There are many examples of the firm belief of the Founders that devout Christianity was absolutely essential to good governance. You are badly mistaken because you are ignorant of history.

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#11) On April 29, 2008 at 5:12 PM, Imperial1964 (97.75) wrote:

"Then I realized that God instructs us to give to the poor. Not to contribute to a secular administrator of benevolence to give to the poor for us."

That's how I feel.  We're supposed to give to the poor.  Nowhere is it said that the government is supposed to take our money and redistribute it.  It's a lot harder for the people I know to mooch off of my generosity than to abuse government programs.

In fact, I bet it's you'd be hard-pressed to find a passage that says we're supposed to have a government.  Just that if we have one we should obey it.  To a point, that is.

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#12) On April 29, 2008 at 5:32 PM, EScroogeJr (< 20) wrote:

"That's how I feel.  We're supposed to give to the poor.  Nowhere is it said that the government is supposed to take our money and redistribute it.  It's a lot harder for the people I know to mooch off of my generosity than to abuse government programs."

A very singular point of view. Let me remind you, however, the reason we have government and taxes in the first place.The reason is that it has been experimentally established over several millenia that people, if left alone, will not voluntarily contribute to social causes, not in sufficient numbers anyway to make such contributions meaningful. This is my point number one. Point number two: if you start with the presumption that people are naturally inclined to share their wealth with their neighbor (or that by handing out Bibles you can bring them to that condition), why, in that case it is not Capitalism but Communism that you should be proposing as your ideal economic model. Point number three: it is strange that we have so many would-be philantropers who feel such strong resentment when the taxman is asking them for the money they inteded to donate to charity anyway.

 

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#13) On April 29, 2008 at 5:33 PM, FleaBagger (29.74) wrote:

Imperial -

Romans 13 says that governing authorities are from God and established by God - "those which exist are established by God" - so it hardly seems a leap to infer that since we have a government, we are supposed to have one.

I appreciate your support, but let's not get carried away.

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#14) On April 29, 2008 at 6:25 PM, devoish (98.57) wrote:

To say that Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, et al came up with the idea of equal rights and freedom, and yet casually dismiss the Bible is like saying that Peter Jackson made some good Lord of the Rings movies, and then casually dismiss Tolkien as a possible influence

No. It is not like that at all. Jackson was telling a story from a book. Jefferson, et al were creating a government and were influenced by European government models and a fear of religious tyranny.

There are many examples of the firm belief of the Founders that devout Christianity was absolutely essential to good governance.

They were not all even of the same religion, much less believing any others religion was a devout anything. And not a one of them would lay down his own rights for any other mans imagined version of whatever Devout Christianity is. Their goal was to not be able to force any version of any one religion on any other.

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#15) On April 29, 2008 at 8:49 PM, camistocks (< 20) wrote:

Religion! It has been used to justify whatever. During the Inquisition people were tortured and even burned alive, so they would finally obey!  And which is the true interpretation of God and Jesus and what they supposedly said? The New Testament was written hundred years after Jesus' death. How do you know what is the truth?

Meanwhile there are many interpretations of God's "words". Who is right? Are the Catholics right? The Protestants? The Jews? The Muslims? Note that the Muslims are not allowed to earn interest rates. They also respect Jesus as a prophet.

The founding fathers were all slave holders. A slave had to work from the raise of the sun to the sundown. No pay, no freedom. Beetings and whippings were common. Very "Christian" from today's point of view.

Personally I am glad to live in a world where the rich have to contribute a small amount of their income for the poor. 

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#16) On April 30, 2008 at 1:37 AM, FleaBagger (29.74) wrote:

Cami -

I know what is the truth because I have been taught the truth. It is easy to discern fact from fiction when you are familiar with the facts, whereas those who are confused have never learned the truth. That is why all things seem equally likely to them (or perhaps I should say you). It's much the same as with a question of which investment is better or which direction the economy is headed: if someone is taught their whole life that they cannot pick stocks, that it is all random (or they are taught a poor method that fails them), they will be very skeptical that excellent stock picking is possible. So it is with you: you have been taught falsehood about religion your whole life, so now you are skeptical that anyone can tell what is truth. (That is somewhat presumptuous of me; there is a chance that you were taught the truth about God and man, and that you chose to reject it, but in that case you are lying to yourself and others when you say you cannot tell what is truth. You would know.)

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#17) On April 30, 2008 at 2:57 AM, zygnoda (27.17) wrote:

Why would god create children and then watch them die of starvation?  How is this just?  Even if they go to heaven they have missed out on a major part of the journey.  Why does god make some of his children mentally ill and disabled? 

"Heaven is a paradise"  What exactly is paradise?  What if my personal paradise conflicts with someone else's ideal?  If I am at peace and totally satisified what is left to do? 

Why should I believe the christians (or any other religous group) is right? How do you know that you have the truth?  Because the book says it is true?

I do feel that the bible suggets we should support the poor.  Jesus spent his time among the poor and downtrodden. The case for supporting the poor is clear.  (help the least among us and whatnot)

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#18) On April 30, 2008 at 12:31 PM, FleaBagger (29.74) wrote:

Zygnoda -

Your first few rhetorical questions revolve around the central theme of the apparent contradiction between an almighty, all-loving deity and the existence of suffering. Wiser and more learned folks than I have debated this, but here's my take:

You touch on a strange possibility yourself in your last sapient, if familiar, point against heaven. If we are perfectly satisfied, are we not then dissatisfied with the absence of a challenge? Are we not beings who strive, and who need to strive?

What is love? Is it not striving (or at least yearning) for someone else's benefit? If God exists, is all-powerful, and all-loving, imagine if He creates humans in an environment where they will be perfectly happy and never suffer. He loves them, but what does that even mean? Love has no meaning in such a situation.

God, therefore, allowed people to choose to disobey Him, if they want. And in so choosing, they choose to suffer, and, in what seems unfathomable to us, they can choose to make others, even innocent others, suffer.

How could He do such a thing! Did He not realize that perfectly guiltless children would suffer from this choice that He allowed others to make?

He is love, compassion, and mercy. How would me know what love is, unless there were inadequacy? How would we know what compassion is, unless there were suffering? How would we know what mercy is, unless there were guilt? So how could we have known God is love, unless we were allowed to be unlovable?

I know that this does not fully explain why God does not miraculously help the innocent children who suffer. That, I think, is because He wants us to help them nonmiraculously. He calls us to have His love, compassion and mercy, and in fact, to be His love, compassion and mercy in this world.

And that is what you wrote in your last paragraph, so it would seem we are in agreement, but that you believe it is a suggestion from one of many equal religions, and I believe it is a command from the one true religion.

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#19) On May 01, 2008 at 3:53 AM, Atleus (< 20) wrote:

Flea: think you might enjoy this, like the last one.  You might want to read up on Rawls first - he's played an enormous roll in progressive's political philosophy. 

http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/06/rawlsian-god-cryptocalvinism-in-action.html 

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