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Christianity and Freedom

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Many Americans believe that by supporting the Welfare State, they are fulfilling God’s great commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Having been taught in public schools since childhood that the Welfare State helps needy people, Americans usually are filled with a deep sense of guilt and embarrassment whenever they object to any aspect of government assistance for others.

Of course, government officials foster these feelings in order to minimize resistance to the Welfare State. For whenever a citizen objects to any part of the welfare system in America, he inevitably is assaulted by political officials with such accusations as: “You hate the poor!”; “You are a racist!”; and “You hate God!” These tactics usually are quite effective in breaking down resistance to welfare programs. And the result is that Americans call for reform, rather than elimination, of the Welfare State.

But, in actuality, the Welfare State is founded on absolutely immoral principles. And a person who advocates or defends the Welfare State not only fails to further God’s work, he actually denigrates it.

One can imagine the following scenario when a new arrival gets to the pearly gates:

St. Peter: What did you do to fulfill God’s commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself’.?

Applicant: I have here my income tax returns, the Internal Revenue Code, and the Federal Register.

St. Peter: What meaning do these items have?

Applicant: St. Peter, you obviously are not familiar with the Welfare State of the United States of America. These items show how much of my tax money was used by the government to help others in need. So, please step aside and let me in.

St. Peter: You were participating in a way of life which constituted a willful violation of God’s sacred commandment against stealing?

Applicant: Stealing? What are you talking about? Through my tax payments, people were helped.

St. Peter: Was not the political process used to take money from people against their will in order to redistribute it to others? Were you not supporting and participating in this evil way of life?

Applicant: Oh! No, that wasn’t me. That was the politicians and bureaucrats. I just voted for them, just like other patriotic Americans. Don’t blame me for the stealing. Just give me credit for all the good that was done with the loot.

If I held a gun to a person’s head, and demanded “Your money or your life!,” most people would believe that I had committed an immoral (and illegal) act. Suppose I needed the money for my (or someone else’s) education. Would this change the immoral (and illegal) nature of my act? Most people would respond in the negative. While punishment might be mitigated due to extenuating circumstances, it remains morally (and legally) wrong to steal, no matter how great the need for another person’s money.

But the interesting phenomenon about the Welfare State is that many people believe that by making the exact same act legal — that is, by enshrining it into their political system — it somehow is converted into a moral act. In other words, in the Welfare State, people vote for someone who is given the legal power to take a person’s money in order to give it to someone else; then, it is believed that this political act, immoral if committed by a private individual, somehow becomes moral because it is now performed by a democratically elected public official.

We must also consider the matter of free will — one of the greatest gifts which God bestowed on human beings. He obviously loved us so much that we have been given the freedom even to deny Him (and our neighbor). In other words, while we are told to love Him and others, we are not compelled by Him to do so.

One of the best examples of this wide ambit of freedom is found in the story of “The Danger of Riches” in the New Testament. A rich man approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good must I do to possess everlasting life?” After the man advised Jesus that he already kept all of the commandments, Jesus told him, “If you seek perfection, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor. You will then have treasure in heaven. Afterward, come back and follow me.” Unable to let go of his material wealth, however, the man went away sad.

The story, of course, is valuable in advising people of the dangers of spiritual or psychological attachment to material things. But the lesson it teaches is important in another way: After the young man chose to reject the suggestion to give everything he had to the poor, Jesus did not ask the political authorities to seize the man’s possessions and redistribute them to the poor. In other words, He did not force the man to comply with the suggestion. Since the man had been given the freedom to choose, the choice he made, although not the desired one, was honored.

It is the vital importance of freedom of choice that advocates of the Welfare State so often forget. They favor “freedom” but only when the person chooses the “right” way. In other words, the person is told, “It is morally and ethically correct that you should share your possessions with others, and you are free to make this decision in your own way … but if you choose the wrong way, we shall simply take your money from you, against your will, and do with it what you should have done with it.”

It is the great principles of freedom of choice and individual responsibility on which the United States was founded. By and large, our American ancestors were free to engage in a tremendously wide range of choices as long as they did not inflict violence or fraud on others. And early Americans believed that the primary purpose of government was to protect the exercise of choice rather than interfere with it. Thus, for the first century of America’s history, there was, for example, neither income taxation nor welfare.

Does this mean that our ancestors were evil and mean for not providing a Welfare State as their descendants have? Of course not. It simply means that they believed that each individual should be free to do what he wants with his own money even when, and especially when, it is not in accordance with the wishes of the majority of his fellow citizens. And the irony was that 19th-century America was not only the most prosperous nation in history but also the most charitable nation in history.

But unfortunately, the American people of the 20th century have rejected and abandoned that philosophy. The idea now is that people must be forced to be “good” through the political plunder of the Welfare State. Money is taken from people against their will so that it can be given to those who need it. And the taxpayers claim “credit” for all of the “good” which the political authorities do with their money.

The result, of course, is that the government has become the means by which everyone is trying to live at the expense of everyone else. Everyone is trying to get his “fair” share of the loot while, at the same time, blocking out of his mind that it is being stolen from his friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens across the land. And everyone is trying to get his “fair” share of the “credit” while doing everything he can to protect his own pocketbook.

At the end of the year, it is important to count our blessings. Fortunately, we live in a nation in which, by and large (and with many exceptions), the government is constitutionally prohibited from interfering with our religious, intellectual, and political activities. But it is also important, at the beginning of the new year, to make resolutions: Let us resolve to dedicate ourselves to ending the Welfare State by recapturing the vision of freedom, private property, and limited government which guided our American ancestors.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.