Thursday, November 3, 2011

Love by Proxy: What Liberals Do Not Understand

You don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.  If you do, the job won’t be done right.  Not all persons can do all jobs.  Not all jobs, and not all obligations, can be assigned to others.
The job of Christian charity, and with it the obligations of Christian love, are like that.  You must carry out your own obligations.  You can’t pawn them off onto others -- government bureaucrats, for example.  There’s no love by proxy.  You can’t hire someone else to love your wife or your children.  You must do it yourself.  If you don’t, it won’t get done.  Christian virtues don’t work like that.  You can’t assign your faith, hope, and love to others.  Even the mere attempt is a failure.
Love for others, and the moral obligations it entails, looks like the Good Samaritan, not like the government bureaucrat.  The Good Samaritan found a man in a very sorry state, a man from a group who despised Samaritans.  But the Samaritan knew that things like ethnic differences, and the prejudices that often accompany them, are no reason to set aside one’s moral obligations, or to give them over to someone else.  No; you must carry them out yourself.  So the Samaritan provided food, medicine, and shelter out of his own pocket.  He also provided time, effort, and companionship.  He didn’t go to the local, or even the regional, Samaritan authorities to carry out his obligations for him.  He did it himself.
It’s far better to carry out the obligations of Christian love yourself than to slough them off onto the government because, as soon as you inject government bureaucracy into the equations of love, everything changes:  The poor man or woman with whose difficulties you are faced does not stay a man or a woman.  They become cases.  They are no longer persons loved by other persons; they are cases handled by caseworkers.  Caseworkers do not proceed by the dictates of enlightened and redeemed Christian conscience, or by the attachments and obligations of Christian love as explained and exemplified in Scripture.  They go by the manual; they go by approved bureaucratic procedure.
In other words, both the victim and the bureaucrat assigned to handle the victim’s case are dehumanized:  One becomes a case, the other a mere functionary, a faceless and nameless apparatchik. The humanity of the one and the conscience of the other are evacuated.
It’s far wiser and better to deal with a downtrodden person yourself -- to find out personally what went wrong and to decide in conjunction with the victim exactly how to move forward.  Because the circumstances are as different as the persons to whom they pertain, you must do this face to face.  You won’t find the answer in a government publication.  That’s not where Christian love is sussed out for you in all its self-sacrificial detail.  You can’t figure what to do or how to do it best unless you get into the very life, history, motivations, and choices of the persons to whom you owe the obligations of love.  You might find that they are, indeed, simply victims of circumstance, that their current plight is the result of no fault of their own.  If you do, you seek one set of solutions.  But if you find that current challenges are the result of one or more personal failings, then you must look elsewhere for an answer.  The moral, spiritual -- and therefore personal -- failings that caused this human disaster must be effectively addressed, and that prescription will come from the Bible, not the caseworker’s manual.  It inevitably will include repentance and sanctification conducted along explicitly Christian guidelines.  Real answers to this human problem are found nowhere else.  The bureaucracy and its manuals are hopeless on the point, and can serve only to make the problem worse, not better.  That’s why, after nearly 50 years of Great Society-type schemes from Washington, and after pouring more than 17 trillion dollars into poverty relief, poverty has gotten not better but worse.
Please do not miss my point:  We have given America’s poor a million dollars more than 17 million times -- and all the while poverty got worse.  Poverty is not a money problem.  It’s the result of another, prior, problem, one you cannot discover or address without personal involvement and the self-sacrificial commitments of Christian love.
If, in pursuit of that Christian personal involvement, you discover that this struggling person, or this struggling person’s family, cannot be aided effectively by your own private means, then you must go to your church.  You pool your resources, whether for Christian counseling, or for food, clothing, and shelter.  When you do, you’ll discover that the real solution is almost never money.  While the government might determine poverty by dollar figures, by financial averages, and by impersonal calculations -- and then hand out checks as a solution -- you’ll quickly see that money is neither the problem nor the answer.  Apart from bad luck, lack of money is normally the consequence of the problem, not the problem itself.  You must ask yourself, “Why doesn’t this person have the money to obtain food, clothing, and shelter?”  Until you discover the real problem, you cannot fix it.  Discovering the real problem is going to take a lot more time, effort, personal knowledge, and therefore personal involvement, than the caseworker and the caseworker’s manual can permit.  Solving the problem is going to take more Biblical wisdom and authentically Christian counseling than the government could ever offer at any level.
Just as in the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, if you make government the proxy for Christian love, the proxy, not the real suitor, wins the love and allegiance of the lady.   If you make government the proxy for Christian love, the result will not be love for God or dependency on God, but on government.  Dependency on government produces a permanent underclass, not free and fulfilled men and women.   
As good stewards of the gifts and resources God has provided, we must never squander them in hopeless and ill-considered remedies.  To avoid that squandering, we must tie our charity closely to the character, actions, and obligations of the downtrodden themselves, without which no solution for their challenges is possible, and without which their human dignity is withered and undermined.
It makes about as much sense to assign the obligations of Christian love to the government as it does to assign national defense to the Baptists or the Episcopalians.  You give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s, not what God’s and, through Him, yours.
Do remember that in the 2Oth century alone, an allegedly civilized century, governments directly caused the death of more than 167 million of their own citizens.  Governments are good at death.  They are not good at Christian charity.  If you think that governments are an agency of Christian love, you are not paying attention.  There’s no love by government proxy.  Your tax bill is not your tithe.
When Christian conservatives say they oppose the government welfare system, it's not because they lack compassion.  It's because they think we can do better.  

1 comment:

Ancient Words said...

Excellent thoughts, Dr. Bauman. Thank you for sharing them.
~ Jody