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Friday, April 20, 2012

Caring for the Poor

“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” – James Madison, author of the Constitution.

Between 1791 and 1804, Haiti was a French colony in a state of revolt. The Haitians were attempting to overthrow the enslaving French and establish their own republic. In this attempt, they were successful. But this same attempt created a large number of French refugees, many of whom fled to the United States.

Americans felt a debt of gratitude to the French for the inestimable help the French navy had provided American troops during America's recent revolution. Without the French navy, the Americans could not have triumphed. Many called for the government to provide assistance to the refugees.

The quote above was James Madison's response to those calls.

Madison very much wanted to help the refugees, but he knew there was no way to justify that help within the confines of the Constitution. The money was taxpayer money meant to be expended on matters of national importance. It was not to be squandered on specific individuals at the whim of legislators. If help were to be given, it had to be given by individuals and private organizations.

Today, some of the more reckless bishops in the USCCB have called for Paul Ryan's head. His budget, they claim, is not Catholic.
It does not care for the poor.

But the Constitution has not changed since Madison's time. There is within it, to this day, no provision whereby public funds can be disbursed for private benefit.

As an elected official, Paul Ryan has a duty to care for the funds entrusted to him. The bishops have a duty to recognize Ryan's duty.

Let's put this another way.

Assume you were a bank teller. You are a friend of mine. I walk in and plead with you. I need money. My family is starving, my children homeless. I need money. You know it is true.

As you stand at your station in the bank, you realize you have money close at hand - a whole drawer full of it. Would your Catholic faith justify you in giving part or all of the money in that drawer to me?

If you refuse to reach into the bank till to hand me money, would you be violating your Catholic faith?

That's essentially what the USCCB is demanding of Paul Ryan.
There are poor people.
Paul Ryan is standing at the bank till.
"Give them the bank's money!" cry some of the USCCB bishops.

There is no provision in the Constitution which permits this.
The bishops know this, or should know this.
Their attempt to read into the Constitution something which is manifestly not there should be worrisome.

The Abortionists
The USCCB is not the only group who has tried to read into the Constitution something that is not there.

"[S]pecific guarantees... have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance," according to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

This was the basis upon which contraception and abortion was legalized.
The USCCB protests mightily against this false reading of the Constitution.
Many of its bishops now protest mightily in favor of their own false reading.

God gives us everything we have out of His own abundance.
I am supposed to imitate Him by giving to other people out of the abundance He has given me.
My charity imitates the divine charity.

I can hold a gun to your head and take your things, but I cannot force you to be charitable.
Confiscation is not charity, it is taking.
Taxation is not charity, it is taking.

Insofar as I take resources from you, I take from you your ability to imitate God's generosity.
I steal from you your ability to be charitable as God is charitable.

I violate your ability to image God.

When a child is legally aborted, the state takes of the life of a child.
When a man is unreasonably taxed, the state takes the man's ability to imitate the life of divine charity.

Both are sins, the first much more heinous than the last.
But, if the first is allowed, the last seems not so much a sin.

In attacking Paul Ryan, the USCCB is imitating Planned Parenthood.
There is a reason they do this.

It is the job of Christians to care for the poor.
It is not the job of the government - at least not any government ruled by the US Constitution - to care for the poor.

We Christians should care for the poor without looking to the government for help. The government should assist us in this endeavor by drastically lightening the load of taxes it imposes on us.

When we are lightly taxed, we have excess goods which we then give to the poor ourselves. This allows us to imitate the life of divine charity directly. 

We get to practice the presence of God by practicing constant charity with the resources we have earned through our work and won through God's providence. The government should be small, weak, and out of the way so that we can proclaim and live the Gospel without hindrance, interference or government intermediary.

Charity flows from individuals towards individuals. Government's role is to facilitate this one-on-one charity, not confiscate it. The government can never become what we already are.

Christians are children of God. 
The Church is a real person, ensouled by the Holy Spirit. 
Charity is love between individual persons. 
The Church can practice real charity because the Church is a person.
Government is not a person.
Government cannot be a child of God. 
Government is incapable of practicing divine charity because government is not a person. 

The bishops of the USCCB do not seem able to distinguish between God and government.
Thus, they compel Paul Ryan to do something which violates Catholic Faith.
They have become the evil they claim to fight.
This is a source of sadness for all Catholics.

The original article ended with the line above, but I have been thinking about this and a further disturbing thought occurred to me.

Certainly the bishops know everything I have said above. 
So why do they continue to push for something so wrong?

Many answers could be given to that question, but one answer is particularly disturbing: the bishops do not trust their flocks.

The bishops don't trust that, if left to our own devices, we will be good Catholics.
They believe in government employees.
The do not believe in their own parishioners.

They believe you can be paid to be a good Catholic, you can be employed to be one.
But they do not believe their own parishioners can be good Catholics (unless those Catholics are also government employees, I suppose).

Governments care, parishioners don't.

John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church, pointed out that if the rich man has more than he needs, then he is stealing from the poor. If I have ten pairs of shoes in my closet, but I only really need two pair, then I have stolen the other eight pair from the poor. 

A poor man who is in desperate need, a poor man who has asked for sustenance from someone who can provide it, but is refused that sustenance because of the provider's lack of charity, has a right to take what he needs - it is not theft, in that case, for the poor man to take it. 

The need must be very great - it must be life-threatening, in fact - but if it is a very great need and the miserly rich man will not satisfy it, then the poor who take that great and necessary thing have not stolen from the rich. Rather, the rich were stealing from the poor by withholding it. The poor man is just acquiring what is, in justice, his. 

In that scenario, the miserly rich man is the thief. 

Bishops think their own parishioners are just a pack of thieves.

Bishops wonder at many lay people's low opinion of bishops.
Given the evidence, laity may legitimately wonder at the bishops' low opinion of us.


Fric said...

Don't always agree with your, ah... stridency... on on some things, Steve. But you are absolutely 100% correct on this. Part of the problem is that when we let the government take over charitable acts, it sucked up the money available for people to give to private charities. I fear that the only way we will return to that model is when the government collapses under its massive debt, taking the economy and currency with it.

Andrew said...

The other element here is that all the claimed outrage about the unconstitutionality of the HHS mandate is shown to be inconsistent at best.

If we must oppose it because it's unconstitutional (and not because contraception is evil) then wouldn't have to oppose other unconstitutional things? Of course the whole Obamacare bill is unconstitutional, so why are we only upset about the mandate?

Most of the what the federal government does is unconstitutional, but there is no outcry from the Bishops over the sacred rule of law for the vast majority of it.