Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Picking up the slack

So, despite my somewhat satirical last post, this deals with a more serious question.

The role of government in the life of the people it governs is a hotly debated topic. Most conservatives argue for limited government, including things like dropping welfare, government medication/socialised medicine, etc.

The argument is not that poor people should be left on their own, but that it is the responsibility of the church to help those in need, Christians and non Christians. The trouble with the argument is not so much one of principle, but that of practicality and reality: the church is not doing its bit. Partly because the church isn't big enough to help the people who need help. You might say most of the people who need help aren't doing their part to help themselves. That might be true, but you're left with a huge question:

When the church, Christians, conservatives, or anyone else doesn't fulfill their role, what do you do? Does someone else step in to dam the dike? Do you leave it alone?

Welfare is mishandled in many countries. All, if I'm not mistaken. In no countries is the church responsible for caring for the poor. While some churches take care of some poor and needy, even if those churches did all they could, the numbers of the uncared for would be staggering. Hundreds of thousands; millions, even, just in this country. That's a number too big to ignore.

Whatever you think of welfare, and the people who began it, and the fact that it's taking from us and giving to people who often are less deserving, you have to understand: if there had been no people in need of it, it would not have been started. If there were no people in need, no poor people, no people ailing alone lacking friends, money, and family, even the government of this country wouldn't have invented welfare to stop a problem they invented. The church isn't strong enough or godly enough to deal with this problem. Does that mean it should be untended? Should the government step in?

What do you do?

There's a problem here, lots of problems; it might have bigger issues at the root of it, but what are you going to do? The medical system is a for-profit industry, unless you're Catholic. Doesn't mean it's wrong, of course; doesn't make it cheap. If people don't have money, should they die? If they can't afford insurance, what do you want to do? Millions of people, for whatever reason, are in situations those of us reading this can't imagine. A lot of those people are in this country. Their lives are considerably better than they might be in other, oppressed place. They are considerably worse off than we are. The church isn't helping them. Because the church wasn't helping them, we got stuck with welfare. Is it a problem that feeds itself? Does welfare need reform? Of course. Do people need reform? Of course.

But despite the fact that some of you will always raise your hand and say, "Teacher, the problem is sin and until people stop sinning or try to follow Jesus, there will be problems," you have to realise that that will never happen. You know that, of course. We still have a responsibility to make things better, on small and big scales. The government's job is to protect us, even libertarians agree with that. If the people who ought to be helping people aren't helping people, should other people who have the resources (even borrowed or "stolen" resources) step in? Or should we leave them be, and let them lie often in filth that they may or may not deserve? You can argue all day about who should be helping people; you can argue that they not only should but they can. Truth is, the government is the only institution outside the church wide enough and broad enough to create a programme to help those in need. Yes, it's a bad system we have; no one denies that in their right mind. It's enabling, it's wasteful, yes, yes, yes. The principle might be flawed, but you can't fault the government, in the end.

Of course it's a hard question. I said that from the start. I think it's one that deserves more consideration from conservatives. You have to understand, ideals are okay; but they never fixed anyone's problems. And they never will.

Whose job is it to pick up the slack, then?


  1. I don't think the church isn't big enough. The church is plenty big enough, especially if everyone would give even 5% of their income.
    I'm with you in that if something isn't being done, someone will step in a do it. I don't blame the government for welfare (in the big scale of things). If I were in the government and the poor were not being cared for by anyone else I would step in and help. Yes, the government is doing a bad job and lots of the "help" is hurting. However, I also know a number of people that have been helped by welfare, and unemployment benefits. I just wish more of my tax money was actually going there than to useless officials that talk about things, but never doing anything. Or make up stupid and wicked laws, instead of doing more to help the poor!

    The problem we deal with in this question is that liberals make it out as though it's a question of helping the poor or not. Liberals argue purely from the principle of helping the poor and ignore the critique of their own methods. The problem conservatives fall into is when they buy into that reasoning and think that either we help the poor badly (like now) or we don't help the poor. So the conservatives think that the government can't help the poor! It's ridiculous! If the church isn't stepping up and there are people falling through the cracks—and I was in government—I would totally step in and try to do something. The government cannot—nor should it—sit around waiting for the church to step in and do their job.
    Besides, if it becomes some sort of mandated duty for the church to care for the poor it's easy to lose the heart of compassion that is supposed to be motivating the care for the poor. If the church isn't caring for the poor willingly then I think the government should step in! However, as I've said, they should do so wisely.

    For me the issue is not so much *whether* the government should, but *how* they should help the poor.

  2. Technically, the church is big enough. Those who are not flaming liberals make it much smaller. Liberal as I am, I don't support homosexuality, or women as pastors.