Saturday, June 27, 2009

100% reconciled

Since writing my previous post, I've done some serious thinking and reflecting and sought the advice of people whose opinion on the matter I respect. I now no longer feel conflicted.

I'd felt deeply ambivalent about IL's impending budget crisis, with Gov. Quinn playing a combination of hardball politics and chicken with the state legislature. I work with people who depend on state services to survive. Literally survive. If those services are cut off -- as they would be, if the legislature passed the act of political gamesmanship that is Quinn's proposed budget -- people I know will likely die, along with hundreds (and thousands?) of others. Tens or hundreds of other thousands of poor and indigent IL residents would also suffer. I don't want that to happen.

At the same time, I believe that slashing state involvement in the social service sector is the only way to help America become a truly just society. The state literally has no legitimate claim on the money it uses to fund those social services. That it may do good work with the money it steals from its citizens in no way legitimizes its taking that money.

So the question is, which is the greater evil: supporting a corrupt and immoral state in the limited good works it provides and keeping us all on the road to serfdom or refusing to support said state and allowing some people supported by that state to suffer or die? Put that way, the answer (for me at least) is clear: supporting a corrupt and immoral state is the greater evil.

As one of my friends I spoke with about this said, our task as Christians is to build as just a society as we can in this fallen world. Relying on state programs supported by theft and coercion is simply not just, not matter how much good they do. Supporting an unsustainably massive welfare state that incentivizes people to refuse to support themselves is simply not just, no matter what the stories or backgrounds of individual recipients are. If that welfare state is brought crashing down because the state doesn't collect unconscionably high taxes, many people will suffer and their suffering will be tragic. But their suffering won't make the decision to not use state funds for those activities unjust. Their suffering will be unjust because those people were enticed to rely on those coerced funds and that welfare state to begin with. Their suffering will resemble that of the victims of Bernie Madoff's ponzie scheme -- unjust because they were fooled into trusting him, not because the SEC shut his scheme down.

This is a hard conclusion, but it is not an easy world that we live in. The world of the people my organization helps is significantly harder than mine. I understand that. And I realize that we, as Christians, are obligated to give them whatever proper help they need to ease their suffering. But I also know that using the state to channel that help is a fool's bargain -- especially with this state. C.S. Lewis said of the Devil that he will gladly give us cancer to cure our chilblains. It's the same with the state -- it will gladly care for the poor and needy (our chilblains) if it can take from us whatever resources it wants at any time (the cancer).

It is wrong -- that is, evil and immoral -- to make such a bargain. It is wrong for those of us whose resources are stolen and it is wrong for those of us who are helped through those stolen resources. The members of the first group suffer the loss of their lives by being robbed of the time and talents that the stolen resources represent. The members of the second group suffer the loss of their dignity by being robbed of the sense of their obligation to care for themselves.

This obligation, as another friend of mine whom I talked with reminded me, exists regardless of a person's ability to discharge it. For the people who literally cannot take care of themselves, I think that we as Christians are obliged to help care for them in any moral way that we can. Reclaiming the system of private charities, church services, and benevolent societies that existed prior to the New Deal and the Great Society -- the systems that worked so well for us in the past -- is one huge step in building a just system to deal with the truly indigent and needy among us. But it's only a start. The real work necessary to build that just society involves changing the hearts of the individuals of society. Unless the systems we build are supported from the bottom up -- from the passions, beliefs, and energies of the individual people of the society -- than we might just as well build sand castles at the beach. We'll be accomplishing the same kind of work, and we won't leave such a mess behind us with our buildings fail and fall.

And so, I am no longer conflicted about Pat Quinn's proposed 50% budget. In fact, I welcome it and hope it passes. The fallout and suffering that would follow its passage will be terrible indeed, but the alternative -- staying the course on the road to serfdom that we've been sleepwalking down for almost three generations -- is much, much worse.

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