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Coercion Cannot Create Charity

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Charity is undoubtedly the greatest Christian virtue.  The Apostle Paul said so in I Corinthians 13 when he said, “the Greatest of these is love.”  In the original English translation of the bible, the King James Version, the word “charity” is used instead of “love.”  And there you have it – charity is declared the greatest Christian virtue in the bible.  But view people find charity and love to be synonyms anymore, and there in lies a tale.

Arthur Brooks had an excellent piece in the NYTimes Friday on the prudence.  Please read it.  But I just want to borrow one small notion from it:

Then I had an epiphany. When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition.

We keep changing words around in this modern world and generally not for the better.  Which brings me back to charity.  I have been accused on numerous occasions of being “uncharitable” because I am opposed to Obamacare.  I do not know how you define “charity” to arrive at that conclusion, but from the way I understand charity, Obamacare is anything but.

The latest such attack comes in a piece that is basically a leftie screed.  I would not deign to call attention to it, were it not that it provides opportunity to discuss what charity actually is.  The piece was written in response to a Mike Pence delivered defense of Repeal and Replace at a web site that was created specifically to defend leftie ideas on religious grounds.  Here it is, and here is the attack that so disgustingly accuses Obamacare opposing Christians of being uncharitable:

Personal responsibility: The righteous antidote to the false gospel of mutuality and solidarity and collective responsibility. To wit: you are entirely all on your own, folks. And if you are poor and without health coverage, that’s all about you. We wash our hands.

Now, let’s set aside for purposes of this post the entirely false dichotomy that opposing Obamacare is opposing “mutuality and solidarity and collective responsibility,” even though those words are practically lifted whole-hog from The Communist Manifesto.  Let’s focus entirely on the assertion that those things, coerced upon the nation by law, somehow constitute charity.

I have already discussed the fact that historically charity was equated with love.  At a minimum we can conclude from that that charity is as much a matter of attitude and emotion as it is of the actual exchange of money.  This is reinforced by the story of The Widow’s Mite wherein Jesus comments, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  This establishes that charity is a matter of sacrifice, willingly given and that donations given ostentatiously or unwillingly are less charitable, or even uncharitable.  Charity is a matter of the heart, not the money.

So, while Obamacare is a means, though a failing means, of providing healthcare to those that due to reasons of poverty cannot otherwise receive it, it is in no way charitable because no hearts are changed.  It uses coercion by law, which is of itself highly uncharitable, to hopefully (a hope which has been unmet and thus the failure) procure participation in insurance pools. Where’s the love in that?  I can’t find it.

Further, Christianity proposes charity, but it does not propose “mutuality and solidarity and collective responsibility.”  Yes, in the wake of apostolic fire that burned through the Roman Empire immediately after Christ’s ascension there were Christian communities established on those lines, as recorded in the book of Acts.  But there are a couple of very important things to remember.  One, participation in those communities was entirely voluntary – there was no coercive element.  Secondly, those communities did not last or else we would still be seeing them today.  Why they did not last would be a matter of pure speculation, but given that the church with all it’s high-handed defense of personal property and other “hideously” capitalistic ideas is, I am willing to stake the farm on the fact that those communities were not God’s intention for how it is supposed to work – at least not now.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  If our hearts are changed, the law becomes fulfilled – no longer will coercive force be required to bring about compliance.  The goal of helping those in need, whatever that need may be, is deeply admirable and a Christian impulse.  But using coercion to provide it is simply replacing the need with a sin – the sin that Jesus so energetically fought in the religious officials of His day.

I go no longer stand by and suffer the accusation of being less than charitable by people standing on their high horses.  If you want to set loose charity in this nation, remove regulation, don’t give us more.  There was once a thriving system of charity hospitals in this nation, now driven out of existence by numerous forces, but chief among them is government regulation.  You want to set loose charity in this nation stop chastising those that are already demonstrably the most charitable, even if they could be more so, and start converting.  The answer to this issue is not laws and regulations, but evangelism.  As the psalmist says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

That’s where charity will come from.


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