CHRISTIANITY AND FREEDOM
By JACOB G. HORNBERGER
Many Americans believe that by supporting the Welfare State,
they are fulfilling God's great commandment to "love thy
neighbor as thyself." Having been taught in public schools
since childhood that the Welfare State helps needy people,
Americans usually are filled with a deep sense of guilt and
embarrassment whenever they object to any aspect of
governmental assistance for others.
Of course, government officials foster these feelings in order
to minimize resistance to the Welfare State. For whenever a
citizen objects to any part of the welfare system in America,
he inevitably is assaulted by political officials with such
accusations as: "You hate the poor!"; "You are a racist!"; and
"You hate God!" These tactics usually are quite effective in
breaking down resistance to welfare programs. And the usual
result is that Americans call for reform, rather than
elimination, of the Welfare State.
But, in actuality, the Welfare State is founded on absolutely
immoral principles. And not only does a person not further
God's work by advocating or defending the Welfare State, he
instead denigrates it.
One can imagine the following scenario when a new arrival gets
to the pearly gates:
St. Peter: What did you do to fulfill God's commandment
to love thy neighbor as thyself?
Applicant: I have here my income tax returns, the
Internal Revenue Code, and the Federal Register.
St. Peter: What meaning do these items have?
Applicant: St. Peter, you obviously are not familiar with
the Welfare State of the United States of America. These
items show how much of my tax money was used by the
government to help others in need. So, please step aside
and let me in.
St. Peter: You were participating in a way of life which
constituted a wilful violation of God's sacred
commandment against stealing?
Applicant: Stealing? What are you talking about? Through
my tax payments, people were helped.
St. Peter: Was not the political process used to take
money from people against their will in order to
redistribute to others? Were you not supporting and
participating in this evil way of life?
Applicant: Oh! No, that wasn't me. That was the
politicians and bureaucrats. I just voted for them, just
like other patriotic Americans. Don't blame me for the
stealing. Just give me credit for all the good that was
done with the loot.
If I held a gun to a person's head, and demanded "Your money
or your life!," most people would believe that I had committed
an immoral (and illegal) act. Suppose I needed the money for
my (or someone else's) education. Would this change the
immoral (and illegal) nature of my act? Most people would
respond in the negative. While punishment might be mitigated
due to extenuating circumstances, it remains morally (and
legally) wrong to steal, no matter how great the need for
another person's money.
But the interesting phenomenon about the Welfare State is that
many people believe that by making the exact same act legal--
that is, by enshrining it into their political system--it
somehow is converted into a moral act. In other words, in the
Welfare State, people vote for someone who is given the legal
power to take a person's money in order to give it to someone
else; then, it is believed that this political act, immoral if
committed by a private individual, somehow becomes moral
because it is now performed by a democratically elected public
We must also consider the matter of free will--one of the
greatest gifts which God bestowed on human beings. He
obviously loved us so much that we have been given the freedom
even to deny Him (and our neighbor). In other words, while we
are told to love Him and others, we are not compelled by Him
to do so.
One of the best examples of this wide ambit of freedom is
found in the story of "The Danger of Riches" in the New
Testament. A rich man approached Jesus and asked, "Teacher,
what good must I do to possess everlasting life?" After the
man advised Jesus that he already kept all of the
commandments, Jesus told him, "If you seek perfection, go,
sell your possessions, and give to the poor. You will then
have treasure in heaven. Afterward, come back and follow me."
Unable to let go of his material wealth, however, the man went
The story, of course, is valuable in advising people of the
dangers of spiritual or psychological attachment to material
things. But the lesson it teaches is important in another way:
After the young man chose to reject the suggestion to give
everything he had to the poor, Jesus did not ask the political
authorities to seize the man's possessions and redistribute
them to the poor. In other words, he did not force the man to
comply with the suggestion. Since the man had been given the
freedom to choose, the choice he made, although not the
desired one, was honored.
It is the vital importance of freedom of choice that advocates
of the Welfare State so often forget. They favor "freedom" but
only when the person chooses the "right" way. In other words,
the person is told, "It is morally and ethically correct that
you should share your possessions with others, and you are
free to make this decision in your own way . . . but if you
choose the wrong way, we shall simply take your money from
you, against your will, and do with it what you should have
done with it."
It is the great principles of freedom of choice and individual
responsibity on which the United States was founded. By and
large, our American ancestors were free to engage in a
tremendously wide range of choices as long as they did not
inflict violence or fraud on others. And early Americans
believed that the primary purpose of government was to protect
the exercise of choice rather than interfere with it. Thus,
for the first century of America's history, there was, for
example, neither income taxation nor welfare.
Does this mean that our ancestors were evil and mean for not
providing a Welfare State as their descendants have? Of course
not. It simply means that they believed that each individual
should be free to do what he wants with his own money even
when, and especially when, it is not in accordance with the
wishes of the majority of his fellow citizens. And the irony
was that 19th-century America was not only the most prosperous
nation in history but also the most charitable nation in
But unfortunately, the American people of the 20th century
have rejected and abandoned that philosophy. The idea now is
that people must be forced to be "good" through the political
plunder of the Welfare State. Money is taken from people
against their will so that it can be given to those who need
it. And the taxpayers claim "credit" for all of the "good"
which the political authorities do with their money.
The result, of course, is that the government has become the
means by which everyone is trying to live at the expense of
everyone else. Everyone is trying to get his "fair" share of
the loot while, at the same time, blocking out of his mind
that it is being stolen from his friends, neighbors, and
fellow citizens across the land. And everyone is trying to get
his "fair" share of the "credit" while doing everything he can
to protect his own pocketbook.
At the end of the year, it is important to count our
blessings. Fortunately, we live in a nation in which, by and
large (and with many exceptions), the government is
constitutionally prohibited from interfering with our
religious, intellectual, and political activities. But it is
also important, at the beginning of the new year, to make
resolutions: Let us resolve to dedicate ourselves to ending
the Welfare State by recapturing the vision of freedom,
private property, and limited government which guided our
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of
Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 9752, Denver, CO 80209.
From the December 1990 issue of FREEDOM DAILY,
Copyright (c) 1990, The Future of Freedom Foundation,
PO Box 9752, Denver, Colorado 80209, 303-777-3588.
Permission granted to reprint; please give appropriate credit
and send one copy of reprinted material to the Foundation.