Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Rendering unto Caesar

Recently, I shared with readers a bumper sticker I saw that said "Annoy a conservative: Share."

A regular conservative reader - perhaps my only regular conservative reader - responded thusly:

"Liberals would like the government to take your money, and share it with other people. Conservatives would like to keep their money, and share it themselves. You know, so many liberals are all talk and no action. Each and every reader of this blog should examine not just their heart, but their actions. Forget about what the government has done - what have YOU done?The conservatives I know steped into action when the recent hurricanes hit the southern coast. Many of them took days off work to pitch in with the relief effort, sunday school classes adopted displaced louisiana families providing food, shelter, transportation, and love. Meanwhile, liberals took this time as an opportunity to bash President Bush and argue for more taxes from their sugar daddy, the American public."

First of all, I have a hard time believing that not a liberal in America did anything to help as the reader states. I decided to go online to gather facts to prove him wrong. And you know what? This reader was proven right, well kind of right. I couldn't find anything that directly links conservatism with personal generosity. But I found some information that more than hints at a link. For one, the Catalogue of Philanthropy's Generosity Index ranks the states by charitable giving from most generous to least. At the top of the list was red stronghold Mississippi. And as I read down the list, I saw nothing but right-leaning states at the top. In fact, I had to get halfway down the list to find a blue state listed. The bottom is made up of nothing but left-leaning states, ending with Massachusetts. I went on to read articles pointing out that Christians give more than non-Christians, and broken down, that conservative Christians give more than mainline protestants or Catholics. And the less money one has, the more generous one is with the pocketbook, so we can't just say it's a bunch of Republican fat cats throwing their money around.

I must say, it stole a lot of thunder from me. It's certainly nothing a self-righteous liberal like myself can take pride in. It's a true reminder to those of us who like to think that we are truly the more compassionate ones. Conservatives have something to gloat about here. As a group, we liberals talk about compassion, but apparently only as long as someone else pays the bills.

Now does this give conservatives the last word on compassion? Absolutely not. It's truly impressive to give generously of one's own resources. But it seems awfully defeating to do that and then advocate government policy that necessitates such generosity. It seems illogical to give freely to the poor, then give political support to a trickle-down philosophy that has deindustrialized our nation, devalued jobs for the working and middle class, done little to provide economic opportunity to the poor and refused to find solutions to make health care more affordable and a quality education more accessible.

And then there's this laughable and naive proposition that we should get government out of the human services business, that if the government quit doing anything for anyone (except of course for large corporations), private agencies would just step in and fill the void. Giving some money to the Salvation Army is commendable, and spending one's spring break by going with a church group down to Kentucky is nice. But it's not enough. If it were, the government wouldn't have become the juggernaut it's often criticized as being, sometimes with justification. Remember, the New Deal wasn't created in a vacuum, and anyone who thinks America was such a great place for the average Joe before 1933, doesn't know a damn thing about history.

And let me also say to conservatives, lest they gloat too much, considering that charitable contributions persist at less than 2 percent of GDP, I don't think anyone has a whole lot to be proud of, be they on the left or right.

Liberals, open up your checkbooks and give more freely of your time. To do otherwise is just plain hypocritical. Conservatives, the check you wrote and the time you spent at the soup kitchen don't absolve you of a responsibility to stand up for social justice.

Well I'm shocked, absolutely shocked. Mouth I have to admit, you show evidence of a person who values the truth more than his pride. Since I know you, I should say that I wouldn't be surprised to find that in your personal life, but often when one turns to politics or religion their countenance changes.

Since you're searching for the truth, I think its important that you are truthful with your characterization of conservatives in their role of the government. With the exception of, say, the liberaterian party members, conservatives are not against government, we're against excessive government. We are no anarchist. We believe that government is a God given institution which He uses for his good purposes, no matter who's in power. I remember consoling myself with this fact when Clinton was President. It was comforting to know that even when the President was receiving oral sex from his intern in the Oval Office (wasn't it?), that God was able to use that for His good. No doubt it was evil, and God did not sanction or cause it, but He did allow it, I think, to quicken the hearts of lacidasical Christians throughout the land. We beleive that local government is better than State government, and that State government is better than National government. To truly be a Country of the people, by the people, and for the people, the representatives must truly represent the people. We also believe that government institutions, even on the local level, are inherently ineffecient, uncaring, and steimied by politics. We beleive that people don't connect to a government the way they connect to their neighbor, and that the government will never be able to show love, give guidance, or hold accountable anyone the way their neighbors can. As a Christian, I beleive that big government has become an idol - something to fill the shoes of God for a world that has decided to ignor Him. I also believe that big government has given the signal to everyone that they have done their part in loving the poor when they paid their taxes. And in fact, the government has taken away many an opportunity to minister to the poor (although if one searches there are plenty of opportunites). As a Christian, my sole purpose on earth is to glorify God. I am to show the love of Christ to a dying world. While authentic Christians find ways to share this overflow of love that God has bestowed upon us, no one can deny that the government has become the sugar daddy of the masses. A government that is local more than national, smaller more than larger, and that fills the needs that we as individuals can not do, will do more to aid the poor, and less to fill the pockets and power and ambition of men who would use the poor for that end.
Thank you for the compliment. I always said that I seek to be truthful, even when it's not convenient.

As for your characterization of government, I agree with everything you say. I suspect we differ on how this vision is carried out.

Also, with the estate tax repealed, I look forward to seeing what happens to charitable giving. Many economists, both liberal and conservative, fear it will plummet. I suppose that, as perverse as it may be, taxation may actually encourage some folks to open their checkbooks freely. Let's all stay tuned to see how this one comes out.
Here's a thought -- could the statistics you cited have as much or more to do with the percentage of poor people in a state as with the political leanings of the state? After all, the highest-ranking state in terms of giving is also the poorest. No matter what the cause, I agree that those of us who have so much should all be doing and giving more.
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