Recently, Speaker Paul Ryan was confronted with the following question from a Dominican nun: How do you reconcile your political philosophy (meaning conservatism and its defense of the free market) with Christ’s teaching that we should always stand on the side of the poor and the destitute?
Of course, the question presupposes that Speaker Ryan and all who share his political views reject their moral obligation to stand with the poor. That glaring flaw notwithstanding, the question is still valid, particularly in light of the fact that those of us who truly attempt to live out a Christian life ought to be continuously asking this question, not only as it relates to our political beliefs, but also as it relates to every action we undertake.
How do we reconcile what we’re doing with the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
There are actually two separate answers to the Sister’s question, both leading squarely to the adoption of a conservative view of government.
Socialist policies are abject failures
The first is a practical one, and one that stands as irrefutable: Because socialism does not work!
The left argues that to properly apply Jesus’s teachings to governmental design, government must actively and zealously take wealth away from the hands of the haves and place it in the hands of the have nots. But this approach undercuts what it means to be a person — and certainly a Christian.
Christians believe that each individual has a direct and immutable relationship with God. We believe that we are placed on this earth for a reason, and that reason is a divine one, and that such a purpose is intertwined with promoting goodness and charity to our fellow men.
But these callings are placed on us as individuals, not as a group.
If God’s mandate had been placed on government, then there would be no direct relationship with God. Rather, our purpose would be merely to support the state. We would live, work, and die only at the pleasure of government, which was entrusted to carry out God’s plan. An absurd result indeed!
No. Socialism does not work, and pursuing socialistic solutions to the challenges of poverty and suffering will only result in furthering the man’s suffering and to suppressing the very Christianity leftists are using to validate their quest.
Jesus’ interest is man, not government policy
But there is a second and more compelling reason why Christ’s teachings will not result in a socialist government, and it centers on Jesus’s audience.
Jesus did not come to live amongst us to speak of “Poli Sci.” In fact, the only time Jesus Christ was presented with a question dealing with politics, he rejected addressing it completely.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees plotted to set a legal trap for the Messiah. Shrewdly, one of them asked Jesus about the appropriateness of paying a tax to Caesar. Detecting the snare, Jesus first responded by calling his inquirer a hypocrite. Then, after asking whose image appears on the denarius, he astutely responded, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
As was true of so many of Jesus’s answers, not only did he refuse to take the bait placed before him, but his answer opened even more insights regarding man’s relationship with God and what was expected of us here on earth.
So what belongs to Caesar? Worldly things.
Laws belong to Caesar. Taxes belong to Caesar. Political philosophy belongs to Caesar.
And what belongs to God? Only your soul.
Jesus came to save men’s souls. And as such his calling is meant to serve as a mandate to each and every one of us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to sacrifice for his or her wellbeing . . . as individuals!
Jesus, governmental formula was immaterial to his mission and his analysis. So, in Jesus’s world, there is no call for a government that redistributes wealth by fiat. There is only a call for each of us to stand with the afflicted, not under the banner of government, but through our covenant with God.
The reality is that government needs to be designed in a manner conducive to a self-sufficient society and respectful of the rights of man. Socialism has consistently failed in the former and ignores the latter. Observance of restraints in government inevitably leads to a government whose power springs from the people and interferes as little as possible with the liberties of its citizens.
And the only guarantee that such a society will work for the oppressed and the poor is if there exists a close association between each individual in that society and God.
Sadly, our more recent national experience has been one that has disrupted such a close association; and with devastating consequences.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.