One of the biggest and most dangerous temptations that Christians face is the addiction to comfort. Our desire for comfort and our unwillingness to sacrifice ourselves for others is at the root of much that is evil and destructive in the world. It was for this reason that Chesterton, when asked what was wrong with the world, replied that “I am.” The paradox is that Chesterton was right in seeing himself as wrong, whereas we are usually wrong when we think that we are right. We are smug. Our hearts are essentially self-centred. We surround ourselves with trinkets and trash, forgetting the words of Christ that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
He also wrote:
All of this is another way of saying what Christ Himself says much more bluntly and directly: We cannot serve both God and Mammon. Each must choose. If we would choose Christ, we must begin with a scouring of our own hearts and the scourging of the selfishness we find there. Only then can we begin to serve our God and our neighbor as Christ commands; only then can we begin to work for the justice and freedom that our afflicted world so desperately needs.
So what good, self-respecting Conservative Christian could disagree with the above? I know I can't. And he then goes on to associate the serving of God instead of mammon with working for social justice. For it is obvious that one cannot truly work for social justice with sacrificing especially when one lives a comfortable lifestyle. This is getting better than I could have possibly hoped for.
But then comes the roadblock. Pearce then talks about the Roman Church's (a.k.a., Roman Catholic Church) social doctrine of subsidiarity that states the following:
a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.
Put simply, the principle of subsidiarity rests on the assumption that the rights of small communities, e.g. families or neighbourhoods, should not be violated by the intervention of larger communities, e.g. the state or centralized bureaucracies.
In other words, the state should butt out of the helping and caring business if smaller groups in the society hierarchical chain are able to do the same job. The concern here, of course, is to prevent the state from becoming too big. But the concern that flies under the radar is that the Church vigilantly stands watch over the size of the government because it hates competition. After all, we should note that the Imaginative Conservative website is both a conservative Catholic website as well as a conservative political website. So what else can we expect than for some there to use the teachings of Jesus to eventually preach small government?
Before we get into the problems, there are some merits to what is being said. We Christians should serve God rather than our own comfort. One reason for serving God first is so that we can help those in need. This is an important point for the sake of both those in need and those who would provide help. And so despite its flaws, some of what Pearce says in this article should convict us of the sin of serving mammon (a.k.a., our own comfort) rather than serving God.
But there are problems with the applying this Church doctrine. The first problem is the fact that the successful implementation of subsidiarity relies on the religious conversion of a critical mass of the population. And even after that, considering how many American Christians, sometimes myself included, look at a life of comfort as a birthright, the caring for those in need is not guaranteed. This means that for the poor to wait for the conservative Church, whether that involves Roman Church and/or the conservative Protestant churches, to get its act together before the poor can experience relief would be like them waiting for Godot. In the meantime, the doctrine of subsidiarity would deny any help coming from the government. So here, the poor face a dilemma.
In addition, for the state to rely too much on the Church to provide help for those in need results in the state failing to represent part of their citizenry: the poor. Under the doctrine of subsidiarity, a significant part of caring for the poor would no longer be the state's job. That job would be outsourced to the Church. But then the state would lose any oversight capabilities in determining whether the help given to those in need is adequate. For the state to relinquish all of its responsibilities to care for the poor, the state would have to concern itself not with the poor, but with those caring for the poor. Under Pearce's model of thought, the Church must then be granted a privileged status in society by the state. And while this would suit the Church, especially the conservative Church, fine, we start running into problems with The Constitution.
Finally under Pearce's model of thought here, the state becomes answerable to Church doctrine rather than to its citizens. After all, many doctrines taught by the Roman Church are considered to be infallible by its conservative followers. In addition, from my conversations with some of those who contribute to the Imaginative Conservative blog, it is the state's responsibility to recognize the authoritative teaching of the Church and to submit itself to it for the good of all. Again, we run into problems with The Constitution.
So while Pearce draws our attention to a significant part of the cost of working for social justice, the price we must pay to meet that cost is much higher than what was listed on the original sticker. This should lead us to realize that we must develop religion-free ethics that are not antagonistic to religion, but tell us what values we must hold to that would move us to seek and promote social justice. Such values could be found in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. as he spoke against the Vietnam War (click here for the source).
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
See, without being religion specific, King speaks of a value system that leads people to work for social justice. That value system says that we must care more for people than for things with things consisting of gadgets, profits, and property rights. Without such, we will never overcome racism, materialism, and militarism. In another place, King uses different terms to express different sides of the same object. For example, he would use the word 'poverty' for the word 'materialism' and war for the word 'militarism' (click here).
King's perspective here allows most if not all religions, as well as those who have no religion, to adopt an ethic that is both necessary to work for justice, and some could easily include survival, while not giving societal privilege to any one group, especially any religious group. Yes, people are free to ignore King's words here. But we are not free to avoid the consequences. King had observed that while people cared more for the things he mentioned than for people, those who are in need will be crowded out from getting the necessary resources and partially for the same reason Pearce talked about when he correctly challenged us to serve God rather than personal wealth. Only King is not requiring that we agree with the doctrines of a church such as Pearce's church in order to work for justice. And King is not demanding a privileged status for his or any church.
But King's warning is real. If we care more for things, as King listed them, we cannot even claim to oppose what, of the three items, is now politically correct to oppose: that is racism. It is our choice. We can follow King's advice or we can continue to wallow in our own moral filth of apathy. The choice is ours. And this choice can be followed by anyone regardless of the religious views.
So how does the ethic of valuing people over things affect the government helping the poor. Obviously, when one is more person-oriented, one is willing to sacrifice so that others can have more. That means that one will not only help those in need around him/her, one will push their government to do the same. Such, then, does not result in the government taking complete charge of helping those in need. However, such does not imply that the government sit idly and wait for others to realize their responsibilities.