• The Theology of the Welfare State

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    And
    Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between
    two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then
    follow him. And the people answered him not a word (1 Kings 18:21).

    The
    people of Israel were hedging their bets. “There is no good reason
    to commit prematurely, one way or the other.” They wanted empirical
    evidence. They thought, but prudently did not say, that “a priorism
    is for extremists.”

    Such
    has been the attitude of the masses down though the ages. It is
    no different today. They do not self-consciously act out of moral
    principle. Anyway, they think they don’t. They insist on demonstrations
    of a specific kind: power, not ethics. “We’re results-oriented around
    here.”

    The
    priests of Baal agreed with the masses. So did King Ahab and his
    wife Jezebel. That was why they agreed to a test of power on Mt.
    Carmel. They thought their gods could not lose.

    They
    were wrong.

    THE
    SOURCE OF LAW

    The
    masses’ perceived source of law in any society is the god of that
    society. This fact should be the starting point of all sociological
    analysis. It rarely is.

    Similarly,
    to identify the voice of authority in any society — the supreme
    representative agent of that society’s god — you must identify
    that agency in which the masses place their greatest trust to care
    for them in times of extraordinary need. The agency that brings
    deliverance is the agency that speaks for God.

    Historically,
    deliverance has been perceived as three-fold: deliverance from famine,
    plague, and war. Historically, church and state have competed for
    the allegiance of the masses as the primary deliverer.

    We
    can date the rise of the nation state: the late fifteenth century.
    This launched the era in which the state began assuming credit,
    both symbolic and financial, as the primary deliverer in all three
    areas. The expansion of the nation-state into areas once reserved
    for families and churches is the story of the rise of the welfare
    state.

    From
    the dawn of recorded history, kings and priests have maintained
    a sometimes unstable alliance as co-deliverers. It is no different
    in our day. But as science and medicine have increasingly been perceived
    as the source of deliverance from famine and plague, ecclesiastical
    agents have lost credibility as agents of deliverance. The agents
    of the state, in the words of George Washington Plunkett of Tammany
    Hall, have seen their opportunity and have taken it. The state has
    asserted its primary authority for the care and feeding of the new
    priests: scientists and physicians.

    Until
    World War I, the family was the primary agency of healing on a day-to-basis
    in the West. Families paid physicians and other healers when home
    remedies failed. Next in line to pay for healing were voluntary
    organizations, including the church and agencies funded by the church.
    Finally, there was the civil government. This structure of responsibility
    for healing began to change after World War I. The state began to
    lay claim to the top position, just as it had before the war in
    the field of education.

    There
    is therefore a deeply religious impulse behind the welfare state,
    both ancient and modern: the desire to provide healing. Why is this
    religious? Because healing is the means, not the end. Healing is
    the means of becoming the masses’ primary representative of God
    on earth. The state seeks to replace families, churches, and local
    voluntary agencies as the unitary voice of authority. A state
    that does not heal is a state that cannot attain this unitary authority
    .

    Then,
    beginning in the early 1960s, American courts began to invoke previously
    unsuspected legal principles that forbid public references to God
    as the source of healing and deliverance. This leaves the state
    as society’s replacement God: the divine right of the state.
    The divine-rights doctrine means “no appeal beyond.”

    BUYING
    OFF THE PRIESTHOOD

    To
    silence ministerial opposition to the healer state, the United States
    government began to pressure ministers of churches to join the Social
    Security System. This began officially in 1958. Ministers had to
    file a form to opt out of the system. At the time, Social Security
    looked like a good deal: $38 a year on average,
    or 1.5% on a maximum of $3,000 for a maximum of $45
    . For this,
    the government promised to pay an old-age pension. Ministers signed
    up in droves.

    Because
    of church-state separation, ordained ministers of any church or
    similar ecclesiastical organization still possess the legal option,
    at the time of filing their first post-ordination income tax return,
    to file an application to opt out of the Social Security system.
    This is part of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 1402(e)(1). Accompanying
    this form must be

    a
    statement that either he is conscientiously opposed to, or because
    of religious principles he is opposed to, the acceptance (with
    respect to services performed by him as such minister, member,
    or practitioner) of any public insurance which makes payments
    in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement or makes
    payments toward the cost of, or provides services for, medical
    care (including the benefits of any insurance system established
    by the Social Security Act) and in the case of an individual described
    in subparagraph (A), that he has informed the ordaining, commissioning,
    or licensing body of the church or order that he is opposed to
    such insurance. . . .

    This
    is a matter of law. The regulations are posted on-line.

    Sometime
    around 1963, R. J. Rushdoony introduced me to a 1957 article by
    a fellow Orthodox Presbyterian cleric, Francis Mahaffy. It was tiled
    “A Clergyman’s Security.” It had been published in The Freeman.
    Rushdoony encouraged me to go into the ministry. As part of his
    counsel, he had me read the article.

    Rev.
    Mahaffy argued that three of the Ten Commandments legislate against
    the Social Security System, and by implication the entire welfare
    state: thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt
    honor your parents. He called on other clergymen to take a stand
    against the welfare state by staying out of the Social Security
    System. His call was rarely heeded.

    I
    later attended a very conservative seminary for a year, but I decided
    not to seek ordination. At no time during my year at seminary did
    I hear anyone discuss the ministerial exemption from Social Security.
    I have never heard of any seminary that has devoted so much as a
    one-hour lecture to the subject of this exemption.

    I
    think there is a reason for this reticence. Rev. Mahaffy raised
    the moral and spiritual issues of the Social Security system of
    coercive wealth-redistribution. He challenged this coercion as a
    Christian minister, basing his objection on provisions of the Ten
    Commandments. The Ten Commandments still receive lip-service in
    the seminaries, but not much beyond that. Surely, the course in
    Christian ethics, if there is one, does not begin with the Ten Commandments.

    To
    argue as Mahaffy did raises the issue of the immorality of all aspects
    of the modern welfare state. Seminary professors prefer to avoid
    raising such issues. Such issues create dissention. This is also
    why courses are not offered on the ethics of abortion. When it comes
    to divisive moral issues, Bible-affirming seminary professors avoid
    them in class and usually outside of class.

    In
    1980, I reprinted Rev. Mahaffy’s article in a newsletter aimed at
    pastors, Tentmakers, published by my organization, the Institute
    for Christian Economics. The article remains on-line in that newsletter format.

    THE
    SIDER FAD

    Later
    that year, a student group at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
    in Massachusetts invited me to speak. The student who called me
    began his phone call: “Some students want you to come and speak
    at Gordon-Conwell.” I replied: “The only way that you could get
    me to come would be to set up a debate with Ron Sider.” His reply
    was immediate: “We have arranged for you to debate Ron Sider.” If
    I were not a Calvinist, I would call this an amazing coincidence.

    Sider
    was the author of what had become a best-seller, Rich
    Christians in an Age of Hunger
    (1977). The title told all
    (as titles should). It was a tract for the times: a long diatribe
    against Western capitalism as the primary cause of Third World poverty.
    It had been co-published by InterVarsity Press (evangelical) and
    the Paulist Press (Catholic). Such joint publishing projects are
    extremely rare, for they imply a common theology. In this case,
    the common theology was liberation theology, but without the AK-47s.

    I
    immediately hired David Chilton to write a reply to Sider’s book,
    which I planned to have printed in time for the debate, which was
    three months away, as I recall. Chilton wrote a masterpiece in short
    order. I titled it: Productive
    Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators
    . It soon became
    the best-selling book in ICE’s 25-year history. It’s on line for free. I can honestly say that I have never read a book even
    remotely as effective with respect to rhetoric, textual exegesis,
    and economic theory.

    Copies
    of the book arrived the day before the debate. I sold them for $1
    each. (A basic law of economics is this: “At a lower price, more
    will be demanded.”) Sider was selling his closer to retail. That
    was because he was not the publisher.

    I
    think a book’s cover should reveal the book’s thesis within five
    seconds. So, the book’s cover was my suggestion: a man dressed in
    a dark suit, suspended in mid-air with a noose around his neck,
    which he was holding in his right hand. In his left hand was a Bible.

    Sider
    published a second edition in 1984, promising on its cover that
    it responded to his critics. But nowhere in the book was any reference
    to Chilton. I had Chilton update his book in response to Sider’s
    response. His book got even better.

    Sider
    wrote a third edition in 1990, published by a different publisher,
    which is the traditional mark of a book that is no longer selling
    well. The Sider fad was fading side by side with the Soviet economy.
    Again, there was no mention of Chilton.

    Then,
    in 1997, a new edition appeared, heralded as the 20th anniversary
    edition. In it, Sider abandoned his anti-capitalist, guilt-manipulating
    rhetoric. The book had turned into verbal oatmeal. He made eight
    or nine policy recommendations, most of which had been recommended
    by Chilton in 1981. But still, there was no mention of Chilton.
    I commented on all this in a 1997 book review, “The Economic Re-Education
    of Ronald J. Sider,” which I later included as
    an appendix to my 4-volume economic commentary on Deuteronomy
    .

    Ron
    Sider by 1997 resembled the one-time youthful college radical at
    your 20th college reunion: a good salary, a TIAA-CREF retirement
    portfolio, and brown leather patches on his tweed sports coat. He
    still sings all the old radical songs. Anyway, he hums them. He
    cannot remember most of the words. But a good time is had by all.

    CLERICAL
    COMMITMENT TO THE WELFARE STATE

    Our
    1981 debate was tape-recorded. It
    is still offered for sale.
    A few days ago, I listened to parts
    of it for the first time in 24 years.

    About
    80 minutes into the debate — two-thirds into side 1 of tape 2 —
    I devoted approximately 90 seconds to the economics of the Social
    Security System. I told the students that they could legally opt
    out of the system, along with United States government employees,
    which was still true of Federal employees in 1981. I recommended
    that they should not join.

    I
    listened to the debate only because in April of 2005, on a
    blogsite run by a pair of Presbyterian brothers who are also ministers
    ,
    the following appeared:

    Back
    in 1983, North was invited to speak at Gordon-Conwell Theological
    Seminary, the seminary where all three of the Bayly brothers — Tim,
    David, and Nathan — received our Masters of Divinity. It was an
    evening lecture and we don’t remember the announced subject. But
    we do remember that North spent the evening attacking the financial
    stability of Social Security and ranting about the stupidity of
    any pastor who failed to opt out of it.

    My
    90-second spiel, which took place approximately 80 minutes into
    a highly structured debate, had become “an evening lecture.” This
    is not false witness or a conspiracy of ministers to fool the sheep.
    Rather, it is the grim effect of age: the steady fading of memory
    after age 45. As William Shatner said in a televised interview in
    which he could not remember the name of Captain Kirk, “It’s the
    second thing to go.” Thank God for Google — I mean this literally.
    How many times it has saved me from going public with some scrambled
    recollection!

    The
    brothers had completely forgotten the event’s format. What had stuck
    in their minds for a quarter century was the fact that I had warned
    them what would happen to their income and their capital if they
    joined Social Security. It stuck in their minds because it stuck
    in their craws.

    To
    be specific: for the first nine years of Tim’s ministry he pastored
    a yoked parish in rural Wisconsin. During that time his total
    income (salary plus fair rental value of the manse owned by the
    church that he lived in) averaged somewhere between $25,000 and
    $30,000. Then for the past thirteen years, he’s ministered in
    Bloomington, Indiana, and his salary has averaged about $57,000.
    Federal tax law has determined that, in connection with Social
    Security, the pastor is self-employed and must pay a little over
    fifteen percent of all his income — including housing allowance
    or fair rental value of any manse the church asks him to live
    in — to Social Security.

    Do
    the figures and you’ll see that opting out of Social Security
    would have saved Tim around $151,650 — about $7,000 per year (and
    he could have used it). Talk to financial planners and they’ll
    tell you he could have taken just a small part of that total,
    invested it privately, and realized a return much larger than
    the return he’ll get from the Social Security system. So why didn’t
    he opt out?

    They
    did not have to talk to financial planners. I went through the economics
    of the program in 90 seconds. But they stayed in. Why? For religious
    reasons
    .

    Now
    ask us if we have a theological objection to Social Security and
    we’ll tell you we don’t. We have political objections, many financial
    objections, U.S. Constitutional objections, and so on. But we
    see no basis in Scripture for telling the federal government that
    Scripture forbids our participation in Social Security.

    And
    truth be told, those friends and colleagues of ours who are pastors
    and have opted out of Social Security have never yet made a theological
    case to me of their conscientious objection based on Scripture,
    so we’ve told them we think they are wrong to have opted out.
    True, we can’t know their hearts, but we have a sneaking suspicion
    that most pastors who have opted out have done so for the very
    reasons Gary North said we ought to: namely, because Social Security
    is an awful investment.

    Years
    back, I (Tim) told my wife that I had no objection to being a
    part of Social Security even if by the time I was ready to retire
    there was nothing left for me. In other words, I don’t mind sending
    the federal government money as my part of helping take care of
    widows, orphans, retirees, and the feeble elderly.

    This
    is the heart of the matter
    . They do not see anything wrong with
    the morality of theft by ballot box. They believe in the welfare
    state’s re-written version of the eighth commandment: Thou shalt
    not steal, except by majority vote
    .

    They
    also do not perceive that the welfare state operates in terms of
    a theology, namely, that control over the delivery of healing, especially
    in old age, is evidence of being the primary voice of authority
    for the god of society. A state that does not both finance and control
    society’s healers cannot plausibly present itself to the masses
    as possessing this monopolistic voice of authority.

    They
    are not alone in the pulpit. A majority of their peers agree with
    them.

    When
    I gave my advice in 1981, every Siderite in the lecture hall could
    not in good conscience have signed the IRS-required statement of
    moral objection to Social Security. Sider believed in the healer
    state. At the time, he was American evangelicalism’s most prominent
    promoter of a Christian welfare state. His book was subtitled A
    Biblical Study. He also believed that capitalism is morally
    evil. Then, in 1997, he changed his mind about capitalism, sort
    of. He got all fuzzy, though not particularly warm. By then, his
    disciples of 1981 had forfeited their legal right to opt out of
    the Social Security System.

    Siderite
    pastors have paid a heavy financial price in terms of forfeited
    taxes and compound growth on the investments they could not make.
    The theology of the healer state imposes many unnecessary expenses
    on its ministerial adherents. But at least the contribution-deficient
    retirement funds of aging Siderite pastors are not my fault, nor
    are they Francis Mahaffy’s.

    THE
    SCHIAVO CASE

    What
    had triggered the Baylys’s scrambled memory of the North-Sider
    debate? It was an article that I posted on LewRockwell.com, “State, 1; Schiavo, 0.”
    In that essay, I argued that euthanasia is a tempting way for the
    welfare state to cut its Medicare expenses. I argued that the courts
    will eventually decide in favor of the culture of death because
    of the red ink of Medicare and Medicaid.

    I
    also argued that the pro-Schiavo activists were blind to the implications
    of socialized medicine. They were gathering in Florida to defend
    her life, but this was futile. Why? Because they were still on the
    moral low ground. They were not yet ready to commit to calling on
    churches and charitable organizations to fund the care of all those
    just like her: everyone who is presently receiving Medicare or Medicaid
    money. (Her
    medication was being paid for by Medicaid
    .) In short, they were
    trying to get by on the cheap, both morally and economically. I
    wrote:

    RIGHT
    TO LIFE = OBLIGATION TO PAY

    There
    are no free lunches. This is the scarce resource issue.

    To
    say that Terri Schiavo has a right to life is to say that someone
    else has a legal obligation to pay to keep her alive.

    The
    obligation to pay is an inescapable concept. It is never a matter
    of “obligation to pay vs. no obligation to pay.” It is always
    a question of “who has the obligation to pay and which jurisdiction
    of civil government has the obligation to say who has the obligation
    to pay.”

    Anyone
    can carry a sign and gather with others for a photo opportunity.
    The judicial issue is more controversial. If the civil law enforces
    the right to life, it must also force someone to pay. I suggested
    who should pay: private citizens who defend the right to life. Such
    people did exist for her.

    But
    it’s not good enough to defend one person’s right to life just because
    her case reaches the front pages and the evening news. The defenders
    must in principle defend all people’s right to life, i.e., the right
    to be kept alive by people who will pay to keep the person alive.
    So, I wrote,

    The
    horror of the Schiavo case is that the state will not allow anyone
    else to pay in order to stick the feeding tube back in. Police
    are arresting people who attempt to give her water.

    Schiavo’s
    defenders were not just carrying signs. They were also implicitly
    carrying ballots. They were (and remain) ready to call on the state
    to put a gun in other people’s bellies and say, “Fork over your
    money to keep this person alive.” There is also a secondary instruction:
    “If the taxpayer resists or tries to get away, shoot him.”

    This
    is the implicit and inescapable moral assertion of the welfare state:
    “Those who physically resist the state’s authority to heal through
    economic compulsion must be shot.” State coercion is backed up by
    the threat of death. The healing state is inherently a killer
    state
    . When you think “welfare state,” think “Dr. Stalin.”

    He
    who favors the compulsory welfare system must logically favor the
    right of the politicians and bureaucrats to allocate the means of
    sustaining life. This system of compulsory welfare creates widespread
    dependence on the state, raises taxes on the public, and then is
    overwhelmed by the costs. Then the inevitable takes place: the cutting
    off the life-support system in the name of efficiency. This is triage
    in action. I put it this way:

    Terri
    Schiavo is a representative figure for both sides. On the side
    of Mrs. Schiavo stands a confused group of people who think the
    state should remain the Good Samaritan. On the side of the courts
    that have determined that she must die stands a much larger group
    of people who hate private charity because it makes donors feel
    good. These people want the state to control charity, so charity
    must become compulsory. To keep the red-ink tsunami limited, they
    now demand the right to cut off the losers from the state’s feeding
    tube. To assert the final authority of the state in matters of
    life and death, they insist that others not be allowed to pay
    for a feeding tube with their own money.

    My
    economic and judicial analysis enraged the Bayly brothers. Their
    blog is titled, Gary North’s Christ-Denying Cruelty Toward Terri
    Schiavo….
    What had I said? This:

    What
    I want from the pro-Schiavo people is a signed public document:

    We,
    the undersigned, assert the right of Terri Schiavo to live.
    This means that someone must pay. We hereby pledge to pay for
    her care until she dies.

    Because we stand on moral principle against socialized medicine
    and all taxpayer money going to keep people like Terri Schiavo
    alive, we hereby also pledge to support every other victim like
    her — every Alzheimer’s patient who can no longer feed himself,
    every brain-dead victim of a stroke or accident, and every other
    American in her condition — just as soon as the insurance money
    runs out and her immediate family has declared bankruptcy. This
    is a blank check. Representatives of victims may cash it at
    any time.

    I
    called for moral consistency. I called for charity rather than compulsion.

    For
    their entire ministerial careers, the brothers Bayly have resented
    this call. “Over the years we’ve changed our minds on a number of
    things, but one thing we’ve viewed with consistency is the reformed
    theologian Gary North. We do not trust him.”

    They
    would not have trusted Francis Mahaffy, either.

    Most
    pastors share their theology. They just do not share their horror
    of what the state did to Terri Schiavo. The Schiavo case was divisive,
    so most pastors ignored it.

    It
    was not the stand-pat pastors who drew the fire of the Bayly brothers.
    It was the underlying argument of my entire career: The welfare
    state is modern man’s Baal
    .

    CONCLUSION

    I
    have devoted my career to a seemingly fruitless task: to develop
    exegetically a biblical case against the welfare state. My marketing
    challenge is this: the economists are uninterested in the Bible,
    and the pastors are uninterested in economic theory. Even though
    they can be downloaded for free, the 18
    volumes of verse-by-verse exegesis
    of my economic commentary
    on the Bible will be read by very few people. All were published
    after my debate with Ron Sider.

    To
    replace the welfare state, individuals and voluntary associations
    must take over 100% of the state’s present welfare functions, in
    addition to any others that the state has not yet asserted sovereignty
    over. This program of responsibility-transferal would be very expensive
    unless accompanied by comparable tax cuts, which politically is
    not going to happen short of an economic collapse. Churches resist
    such calls to social responsibility. (“The higher the price, the
    less the amount demanded.”)

    Pastors
    publicly call for a national revival. Yet a call for such a Christian
    revival must be coupled with a call to replace the welfare state.
    Any other kind of revival is morally ephemeral. It does not systematically
    challenge the theology of the welfare state.

    I
    believe that most American pastors, if given a choice between (1)
    a massive revival coupled with state-replacing social responsibility
    by churches vs. (2) no revival but with the continuation of the
    welfare state, would choose the second option. The reason I think
    this is because most pastors are enrolled in the Social Security/Medicare
    program when they are not legally required to join if they have
    theological objections to it. They have adopted a theology that
    accepts the welfare state.

    The
    healer state will become the killer state when its budget gets tight.
    The bureaucrats will then defend euthanasia in the name of the fiscally
    inescapable reduction in “the quality of life” — the same way they
    defend abortion today. Conclusion:

    The
    insidious thing is that these people think they’re being kind
    by killing. The totalitarian beast prides himself that in his
    breast beats a tender heart.

    That
    was written by David Bayly, three months
    after the Bayly family went after me on-line
    .

    Go
    figure. Suggestion: do this before the state pulls your plug.

    July
    30, 2005

    Gary
    North [send him mail] is the
    author of Mises
    on Money
    . Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
    He is also the author of a free multi-volume series, An
    Economic Commentary on the Bible
    .

    Gary
    North Archives

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