State-sponsored Charity

Posted on February 26, 2010


I had a conversation with a friend of mine wherein he maneuvered me into a logical corner: if, as a Christian, I say I believe in charity and if, as an American, I say I believe in equality, then why would I be opposed to a health-care program provided by the government?

My opinion of government has been evolving for several years now.  I used to believe that Republicans and Conservatives were greedy, evil and out to ruin everyone for their own interests.  Later, I held the same view of the Democrats.  Now I just think that the whole of mankind has fallen short of the glory of God, and therefore any government we try to establish in this world is doomed to eventual failure.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.  Society has always existed around the need for a governing body of some sort.  Without it we’d be very far from where we are now.  While that assessment is simple, the question of who should govern is not.

Plato writes about this in Republic.  His belief is that good people do not rule willingly.  They govern out of fear that “someone worse than oneself” will rule in their stead.  “They approach ruling, not as though they were going to something good or as though they were going to enjoy themselves, but as something necessary, since it cannot be entrusted to anyone better than — or even as good as — themselves” (Republic, Book I, 347a-e).

This then leads to the question: how a good person should govern, and in our nation the question becomes whether or not a good person should govern as the conservatives or the liberals (as a whole) want him or her to govern.  More specifically, as regards the debate with my friend, how should a Christian politician, someone striving to be a good person, vote on the issue of government health care?

I cannot hope to answer this question completely, but I can provide my personal views, and I hope that doing so will illustrate why a government health care plan is probably not feasible in the first place.

As a Christian, one of my goals is to live my life as Jesus lived his.  Therefore ideas of love, forgiveness and charity should be at the foremost of my life.  If we apply this principle to government, then, it follows that our rulers should try to provide for those who are downtrodden and in need.

Another principle I hold to is the idea of equality.  All people are created equal.  If that is the case, then everyone should be given the same opportunities and, presumably, the same health care.

Except for three things:

  1. Charity should begin at the individual level.  It is not right for a government to decide where to “give” the people’s money without the permission of the people.
  2. Equality only really applies at the level of opportunity.  The kid from the inner city should have the same opportunities in life as the kid raised in a mansion.  To say that both are equal in every way is foolish.
  3. Even if we should provide health care for everyone on the basis of charity and equality, do we really have the resources to do so?

This last point is one that I could easily draw out into a very lengthy piece of writing, and I may do so some day.  For the moment, however, I feel that my view has been made clear: in an ideal world, everyone would be taken care of.  But in an ideal world, no one would get sick, and there’d be no issue in the first place.  Maybe we should accept the fact that we are limited by our resources and our greed, and that any government solution we can come up with should be carefully balanced with a system that encourages success and growth.