Does God Want More Welfare & Debt?

I’m in Indianapolis today preparing for the Frassati Society’s LIVE OUT LOUD Conference, where I’m a keynote speaker.

But I wanted to offer a couple quick comments about the debt ceiling debate which is now entering it’s final critical days in Washington, DC.

As you may have seen, the U.S. Bishops – under Bishops Blaire and Hubbard (remember him?) – have issued a letter to the U.S. House entitled, “Budget Cannot Rely on Disproportionate Cuts in Services to Poor Persons, Requires Shared Sacrifice by All.”

Now this statement is interesting to me on many levels. First it is only addressed to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives … not the Democrat-controlled Senate or President Obama. It strikes me as odd that these two bishops would address their concerns to only 1/3rd of the legislative process.

Actually, on second thought, it isn’t so odd. Because Democrats have demonstrated that they are incapable –or at least profoundly unwilling– to cut or reform social welfare programs.

David French at NRO’s The Corner has an excellent post on this topic which asks the fundamental question that needs to be answered – how does giving money to failed programs actually help the poor?

After literally decades of failed social policies — policies that have helped create a permanent underclass, fostered a dependent spirit in millions of citizens, and helped explode the illegitimacy rate (all for the low, low price of several trillion dollars) — it would be tempting to roll our eyes at [these examples of] christianized socialism. Unfortunately, however, the evangelical progressive Left is gaining ground in American Christianity.

Sadly, this same progressive left is alive and well in (some) quarters of the US Bishops Conference. French goes on to illustrate – complete with charts and video – a strong argument for how social welfare programs have not only failed to do what they say they are designed to do – assist the poor and needy – but have actually made matters worse, for a price that more and more of us are coming to realize is truly exorbitant.

The line from the letter by Bishops Blaire and Hubbard about the need to “raise adequate revenues” and encourage “shared sacrifice by all” is particularly distressing, because translated into policy it simply means raising taxes on those who make enough to already pay taxes. As I saw someone put it in the comments to French’s post, “Charity is not the willingness to take from somebody in order to give to somebody else.”

I’ve been following the debt ceiling debate in Washington, DC closely, and I do think prudentially the debt limit must be raised. But the idea that the way to solve our mushrooming debt and ever-expanding deficit is to take more money out of our pocket and give it to government programs that will squander it is one we can’t discard too soon, that is, if we are truly serious about helping the poor.

I highly recommend you read French’s post on NRO and, if you have time, Yuval Levin’s post explaining what is the single biggest driver of our future debt and insolubility (as a preview, the Church’s teaching on end-of-life issues is only going to become more critical in the decades ahead).

In the meantime, please join me in praying for a good outcome in the debate over the debt and deficit this weekend. All of us have a lot to gain or lose in this.

UPDATE: For more weekend reading, Victor Hansen looks at the deeper ideological differences which he says are underlying the current debate over policy in DC.



  • Sue

    Why do we think the govt needs to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, ect. That is each one of our personal responsibility to do. I am betting if I gave $1000 of my money to my church or to a homeless shelter, it would go so much farther than giving the govt the $1000 to distribute. By the time it goes through all the bureaucracy that money has dwindled. Plus by giving it locally, it has a much better chance of going to someone who really needs it as opposed to someone who just feels entitled to it.

    • Janeen

      Yes you give $1000 to the church, so they can build a bigger church, and order stain glass windows, and also pay for very expensive law suits from phedophilia. I bet your are so right!

      • Sue

        So sorry if you were hurt by a church, but the Catholic Church I know and love, can have my money anytime. They are not without their problems, (can you name an organization of any age -let alone over 2000 years old- that is without it’s shame and guilt) but their core beliefs and deeds are that of Christ.

    • Katherine

      Sue —

      You would hard pressed to find a homeless shelter or a Catholic social service agency that agrees with you. Almost all receive government grants themselves.

      Conservatives need stop pretending they are for private charity. Darn few private charities agree with their views.

  • Bern

    Thomas, this post is long on “glittering generalities” (Logic 101) and very short on examples of wasteful government spending on welfare programs. It would be helpful if you could give us some examples of how the Federal government robs us taxpayers of our hard-earned monies and distributes these funds to the undeserving poor.

    Back in February (10 second Google search) President Obama proposed a reduction in Federal heating assistance to the poor of 50%. Here in New England (cold winters) most people heat with oil! I guess heating assistance to the poor is just another example of wasteful government spending!

    Let them eat cake!

    • Mary

      The well-off do not have a monopoly on fraud and waste. There are many who are in need through no fault of their own, but being poor does not guarantee that one is honest. Case in point: I know a woman with three children who actually BRAGGED that she kept the heat on at 84 in her home because she and her kids liked to relax in their summer pj’s and underwear all winter. She took her $900 monthly bill to “the assistance center” where it was paid every month. I was astounded at her brazen chicanery, and frankly very angry that I and my own four children had to bundle up in sweaters with the temp set at 64 all through the winter. My husband and I pay our fair share, and we also donate to local charities, the food bank, AND personally assist our church in efforts to indeed provide transportation to folks to and from doctor and health appointments, (in answer to the person who posted that no one where she lives does this–I’ll bet there are people around that do just that, they just don’t trumpet it.) Anyway, there are a lot of well deserving people down on their luck or abandoned by their families,yes, but there are also people who abuse the system, and are proud of it. It steams me up. Fraud needs to be investigated at ALL levels, including the level of the recipients of MY and MY HUSBAND’s tax dollars, and you and yours, too!!!

      • Katherine

        The Catholic Church is the worst offender at giving people charity without making them prove they are truly needy. My parish dinner programs just feeds people, no questions asked.

        The situation you describe for home heating assistance would not be possible under federal program rules. “Assistance Centers” are usually run by the utility company, not the government. I guess private enterprise isn’t all that smart, either.

        • Mary

          @ Katherine–oh, my goodness gracious, are you actually suggesting that the local church ask for someone’s W-2 in order to feed them? Really and seriously? Only an overwhelming hatred for the church would allow for such a suggestion.

          We have a lovely non-denominational program in our area which I have never visited myself, but which has a great sign–“Angel Food: If you eat, you qualify”
          I think these Protestant brothers and sisters have a more genuine Christian ethic regarding feeding the hungry than the one you propose.

          btw–although I am not familiar with whatever “federal program rules” might be, the assistance my friend received for her heating was indeed from public state monies.

          jAnyway, the point is not to scrape folks over the coals, but to help those who need it materially NOW and then to also help them dust themselves off and grow stronger and more viable for the future. Catholic Social Teaching proposes to provide people with charity and also with the means to help them achieve independence and dignity. It is similar to the old saying, ( I am not sure, but I think it might even have been from Confucious, anyone can tell me if I am wrong–) “If you feed a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you TEACH a man TO FISH to feed him for a lifetime.”

        • Francis


  • Ron Amundson

    Isnt there a moral component to honoring your obligations? While one could certainly say govt needs to cut spending etc… that should be done before commitments are made, not midstream, especially when you knew ahead of time you would need to procure additional revenue to pay for them.

  • Gabriel Austin

    During this continuing debate, how many babies have been killed in the womb? The murders are ongoing.
    Is it possible that the Almighty is losing patience? And using the irresponsible debt as a punishment?
    The bishops write to the Congress. What are they saying to their sheep about the sheep’s responsibilities?

    • Francis

      Gabriel Austin: My mom’s social security is being threatened by the debt crisis. She is a faithful woman who never would consider having an abortion. She worked her whole life in volunteer programs that were pro-life. She also volunteered at the local hospital. Are you telling me that because abortion is legal in the U.S., he would “lose patience” and punish my mom for that? This does not sound like the God I know through Jesus Christ.

    • Joe Owen

      Anytime a conservative is losing a battle they revert to the subject of abortion. It’s like let’s talk taxes, if they are losing, then why not bring up abortion? You can’t talk about anything but abortion and you swadle yourselves in the subject, because it provides some sort of comfort for you. It’s like it boosts your morality up some by thinking that somehow with that subject alone, you have won the moral crown. So once a conservative becomes uncomfortable talking about a different subject, they must bring up the topic of abortion, not because it’s relevant, but simply because I think they find it comforting. It’s a strange little phenomenon, but one to take note of. I can tell when it’s getting to you, by how much you need to change the subject back to abortion.

  • andrew

    I just survived four years of college in Bishop Blaire’s diocese, and I can assure you this is the sort of skewed “social teaching” disguised as liberal demagoguery which infects the whole diocese.

    • Francis

      Oh, you mean the “social teaching” espoused by the Catholic church, and based upon the Gospels and the New and Old Testaments? That social teaching? You must not be Catholic. Or maybe you’re one of those “Catholycs” we read about from time to time on this site.

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    I find the article disappointing in its use of the Straw Man fallacy. The points made in the letter are not accurately represented in this article.

    The letter itself seems to be warning against consequences of a “quick fix” or against letting the government go into default. Whatever is to be done must not disproportionately affect those who have little or nothing.

    Ultimately this is a problem which goes beyond the August 2 deadline. It requires serious consideration about what got us into this mess and how we should change our practices to avoid getting into this situation again.



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