As a conservative and as an economic libertarian, I (and my ilk) are often accused of being cold hearted, uncaring, and most importantly, uncharitable. And by the same people, they try and point to Christian charity as a validation for socialist or “shared wealth” policies. The claim Christian liberals sometimes make is that Jesus, himself, was a socialist, as he commanded the rich upper class of his day to sell all of their possessions and to give to the poor. “If you believe in capitalism,” I heard one radio caller make the claim, “then you are not a true Christian.”
So to be clear and to make sure there is no confusion, I will lay it out right here, on record, on this blog that all five of you lovely fans read: I absolutely believe in sharing the wealth. One hundred percent. Yep. So there you have it.
Here’s the distinction. I believe God (Jesus) commanded us to give and take care of the poor and the lesser among us on an individual basis. The issue is about the heart. I believe each individual is responsible for the gifts that God has given them and each person should, in the conviction of their own heart, give a portion of that away to charity. (2 Cor. 9:6-8) At the end of the day (or life period) we each will stand account for what we did with the worldly possessions that we cannot take with us anyway. If an individual chooses to hoard what has been given to them, that is their unfortunate prerogative. They are the ones who will have to answer for this, individually.
As a society, absolutely, sure, we should do what we can to encourage charity. However, I am deeply opposed to forcing it through redistribution taxation and policies. And indeed, if you look at Jesus’s life, he never forced anybody to give. He commanded the rich man, “sell all of your possessions, give to the poor, and FOLLOW ME.” When the rich man did not, Jesus did not chase after him. He let the rich man keep what he had. Jesus also did not say, “I tell you the truth, this is why we need a Marxist society.” In fact, in that passage, we tend to emphasize the wrong part. We look at the ‘give to the poor’ part and completely gloss over the ‘follow Me’ part. It wasn’t as much about giving to the poor as it was about following Christ.
The problems with federalizing charity are multiple. First, there is no conscious heart effort when our taxes are taken out of our paycheck. We don’t think about it, it’s automatic, and for some under a certain income bracket, they don’t even pay income taxes. There is nothing willful or intention about “giving” through our taxes. True giving often leads us to ponder about the recipients, which may, in turn, inspire us to further action, such as volunteering our time. This does not happen when we do not think about our giving.
The second problem is that we cannot control where our money is going. Our tax “charity” often ends up supporting programs that may not align with our moral convictions. Which brings me to the most critical downfall of federalized charity, and that is that in reality, the idea that taxing the rich is somehow “charity” is an illusion. Those that assign themselves as the “redistributors” find themselves very rich. The only transferring that occurs is from the pockets of the business owners to the bureaucratic fat cats. Very little of that tax dollar ends up in the hands of those who really need it. By comparison, the average rate of return for every dollar given to a private charity is 85%! The Bible never makes any claim to support higher governmental taxes, but it does frequently encourage us to be good stewards of our income. When given the choice between 1% or 85% of my charitable dollar going to the poor, any reasonable person would have to conclude that the latter would be the wiser, and by consequence, more Christian thing to do.
If you say, “I support higher taxes on the rich, therefore, that makes me more charitable,” you are deceiving yourself. Do the rich have more than their fair share? In some cases, yes. Should the rich be more charitable? Most definitely. But Christianity is all about individual conviction. Not once do I see in Scriptures, “look to your rich neighbor and see what you can take from him to give to the poor.” In fact, what I do see is that the societies with the strongest free market policies have the highest charitable giving rates, by far. You don’t hear of the massive giving efforts by the people of North Korea. And while North Korea and China are premised on redistributionist Marxism, during global disasters, you never see them pour forth with aid.
Just so we are clear, I will say it again: I support socialism (what?!)
Socialism, or redistributionism, or whatever you want to call it, works best when it is not forced. If people want to gather together into small communes of “shared prosperity” on the local level, more power to them. However, even in small microcosms, these shared communities have proven to be disastrous. Ever heard of Jonestown? Jamestown? What about Acts 5?
Belief in a Creator God who holds us responsible for our hearts and actions is what brings about charity. And it is this kind of belief that allows us to operate with free markets. I love free markets, because I love freedom. The foundation of any free society starts with their free markets. Take away free markets, and all other freedoms fall away. I also love charity. I believe charity is a byproduct of free markets, which are the result of a moral nation.