Saturday, 14 March 2009

Faith, government, and charity

When I was at university, I remember someone who was on the far left of the political spectrum, who was had a very dim view of voluntary charitable enterprise. She believed in the state, and she clearly believed that the state should provide generously for everyone. But her belief in the state was so strong that she actually disliked the thought of voluntary organisations which helped those in need.

Such a view amazed me, for in my experience, political parties of every hue, and people of every opinion are in favour of voluntary charitable giving. But for libertarians, voluntary charitable giving is particularly important. Libertarians strongly believe that it is better for people in need to be helped by voluntary giving motivated by charity, rather than by money demanded of the tax-payer by the state.

To quote the Libertarian Party (UK) manifesto:
“We aim to refrain from nurturing dependency while encouraging self-reliance and charitable works via a steady evolution and review of existing welfare arrangements.”
“Libertarianism has been criticised for being cold and heartless, but it is actually quite the reverse. It both presumes that Mankind is charitable, and it aims to reconnect the giver with the receiver, to make each of us accountable to ourselves for what we do or don’t do to help our fellow Man and to make the support of such people the direct result of our voluntary acts. The current Welfare State demands money under pain of imprisonment and yet disenfranchises the givers from the receivers, providing the former with no say as to how the appropriated funds are spent and the latter without the knowledge that the assistance they are getting is given willingly. The State has monopolised the role of beneficiary even if it never gives a penny; all it does is transfer monies from one individual or group of individuals to another, and then at the cost of the bureaucracy involved—consuming a large percentage of the funds collected.”
Libertarianism both assumes that people are charitable, and believes in encouraging charitable works. I think that we can go further. It seems to me that the success of a libertarian society will depend on the extent to which the members of that society are prepared to be generous to those in need.

For Christians, charitable giving, (or, to be more precise, helping those in need) is not an optional extra - it is an something that the Bible commands us to do.
Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.' (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Blessed is the one who considers the poor! (Psalm 41:1)
Of course other religions also commend generosity to the poor, but this does not make it any less an obligation for Christians.

(The Bible, by the way, seems to be a bit more realistic about human nature than the Libertarian Party manifesto, for the fact that the Bible tells people that they need to be generous to the poor suggests to me that we do require to be told. For while there are certainly times we will give spontaneously and without needing to be told, most of us need a bit of reminding most of the time. It is, after all, quite easy for us to be convinced that we are being generous, when, in reality, we could give a lot more.)

Most people agree that generous charitable giving is a good thing. It seems to me that for both Christians and libertarians, it is an urgent necessity.

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