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Why Do American Christians Support Coerced Charity?


For the life of me, I simply cannot understand why American Christians support the welfare state. Every single welfare-state program is based on forced or coerced charity. How can forced or coerced charity possibly be reconciled with God’s gift of free will to people? It can’t be. So then why do American Christians (or any Christians) support it?

Surprisingly, even Christian ministers, who one would think would know better, support mandatory charity. They take the position that Caesar and God operate as partners to alleviate the plight of the poor, with Caesar using force to counteract the bad choices that people make with free will.

One gets the distinct impression that ministers, along with Christians in general, have silently concluded — even though they would never admit it to themselves — that God made a big mistake when he vested people with free ill and that the force of Caesar is necessary to correct the mistake. The mindset is that if people were free to decide for themselves whether to help out others, most of them would choose not to do so, and, therefore, must be forced to do so by the state.

Some American Christians have undoubtedly convinced themselves that the welfare state isn’t really coerced charity because Americans live in a democratic system. The idea is that because people are free to elect their political representatives, who then vote to enact welfare-state programs, the welfare state is really a system based on voluntary consent.

Yet, would we say the same if Congress were to enact a law requiring everyone to attend church on Sunday? Would we say that such system wouldn’t really be coercive simply because our elected representatives voted to enact mandatory church attendance?

Of course not! We would view any law that requires people to attend church, on pain of fine or imprisonment, to be coercive, even if it were to be approved by a unanimous vote of our democratically elected representatives.

How is a law mandating that people share their wealth with others any different, at least when it comes to coercion? If a person refuses to pay his income taxes to the IRS, federal agents will arrest him, prosecute him, and incarcerate him, the same way they would arrest him, prosecute him, and incarcerate him for violating a mandatory church-attendance law.

Why shouldn’t a person be free to do whatever he wants with his own money? Why shouldn’t he decide whether to donate to seniors, his parents, the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged?  Isn’t that what free will and freedom of choice are all about? Where is the virtue in coerced charity? Doesn’t virtue arise from the willing heart of a person choosing to help out another person? Why should anyone be forced to donate to others through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, corporate bailouts, foreign aid to dictators, or any other welfare-state program?

Under principles of free will and freedom of choice, why shouldn’t people be free to turn their backs on their neighbors, churches, parents, the poor, and even God Himself? When it comes to charity, if people are going to be forced to make the right choice or punished by the state for making the wrong choice, then what’s the point of freedom and free will?

Oftentimes, at the core of people’s support of the welfare state are the grave sins of envy and covetousness. The fact is that life inevitably involves some people having more and some people having less, a phenomenon recognized by God’s commandments against envy and covetousness. When American Christians are envious of others and covet their wealth, they oftentimes disguise and rationalize those sins within the cloak of coerced charity, advocating that the state take money from “the rich” to fund welfare-state programs purportedly intended to help the needy.

There is also the moral and religious problem involved with forcibly taking what rightfully belongs to someone else, a sin we know by the name of stealing. On a private basis, no American Christian would support a person who steals from others, even if he is distributing the money entirely to the poor. Every American Christian would say that such conduct is proscribed by the Commandment “Thou shalt not steal,” even if the money is being put to good use.

Yet, American Christians have no reservations about having Caesar employ the force of government to accomplish the same end. It’s as if they have raised the federal government to the level of an idol, one that, they feel, displays unconditional love for the poor, needy, and disadvantaged. They have convinced themselves that if it is the IRS seizing the money so that a welfare agency can give it to the others, pursuant to a welfare law enacted by Congress, everything changes: What would ordinarily be considered an immoral act and even a grave sin if committed by a private individual is suddenly converted into a noble, compassionate, caring act because it’s being done by the state.

Violations of free will, along with the sins of envy, covetousness, and stealing. Do you see why I am befuddled over why American Christians are ardent supporters of the system of coerced charity known as the welfare state?

This post was written by:

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.