by Fr. Peter-Michael Preble –
Yesterday, President Obama signed a law that will raise the debt ceiling and continue to enslave the American people for another three or four years. It has reduced the national debit some but it seems to me at least that it has not gone far enough. Just so you know, your share of the national debit is about $42,500. It seems to me that the era of Big Government needs to end.
I am what one would call a “classical liberal.” Now, before you go crazy because I use the word liberal, please read on. I think you will be surprised.
Classical liberalism developed in the 19th Century in Western Europe and the Americas and is a political philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and free markets. The sovereignty of individual private property rights is essential to individual freedom. The philosophy believes in an unfettered market with a very minimal role of government. In other words, small federal government, small state government, with decisions being made at the local level where the people have a direct voice in determining what is best for their community.
The 18th Century Scottish Philosopher Adam Smith believed that government (and by this I think he meant federal or national government) has only three functions:
- Protection of the population from foreign invaders
- Protection of citizens from wrongs committed against them by other citizens
- Building and maintaining public institutions and public works that the private sector could not profitably provide (roads, bridges, harbors, canals, railways, postal and other communication services)
Classical liberalism places emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual again with private property rights being essential to individual freedom. Classical liberals believe that individual rights are natural, inherent, inalienable and exist independently of the government. This is what Thomas Jefferson called the inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. Unlike social liberals, classical liberals are “hostile to the welfare state.” They do not have an interest in material equality but only in “equality before the law” (Alan Ryan, “Liberalism,” in “A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy”). Classical liberalism is critical of social liberalism and takes offense at group rights being pursued at the expense of individual rights.
I have written before that I believe the church is the social institution that should deal with the social ills of society. In the time of St. Basil the Great the Church was responsible for education and health care. The church has a long history of providing for those in need. When Jesus fed the 5,000, he did not turn to Caesar and say, “Hey, give me a grant so I can feed these people.” No, He just made it happen. In the Books of Acts, when the widows were being neglected, the church ordained deacons to care for them and they took up collections to support the work, not from the Roman government but from believers.
During the debate on the debt ceiling a group of very well meaning Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, led by Jim Wallis of Sojourners, lobbied the President and leaders in Congress to pass a law that would protect the welfare state. They posit that there is biblical evidence that the government needs to care for the poor no matter what the consequences. As a classical liberal (and yes, as a Christian), I disagree whole heartedly with the aims of this group and I would submit that they do not speak for the majority of Christians in this country.
Recently, thanks to my friend Fr. Hans Jacobse, I have come to learn of another group of Christians that have come together to counter that argument of these so called “progressive Christians.” The group is called, “Christians for a Sustainable Economy,” and in their letter to President Obama they have this to say:
We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come. All Americans — especially the poor — are best served by sustainable economic policies for a free and flourishing society. When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.
I submit that the present government programs do nothing but enslave the poor of this country to the programs and do nothing to break the cycle of poverty in this country. There is a growing gap between the haves and the have nots, and economic freedom is out of the reach of many, many people. I am not saying that we need to end all social programs. That would be cruel and unfair to those who really do need the social safety net. But we need to plan for the end game. It seems to me that the government is very good at starting things — welfare, unemployment, wars — but is not very good at ending them. Yes, we need a social safety net, but it needs to be just that — a safety net and not a lifestyle.
There is ample biblical evidence for the church aiding the poor. In fact, it is one of the mandates that Jesus left us to love our neighbor. And there is ample biblical evidence of the church “teaching a man to fish.” It is time that the church and her people get off the sidelines and get into the game.
Please consider reading the articles on the website of Christians for a Sustainable Economy and if so moved add your signature to the letter to the President. I was honored to add my name to the list of American Christians that care about the poor and care about our country. Won’t you too be one of them?