The Cruelty of Caesar's Charity

A gaggle of professors at Catholic universities have written a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner criticizing his attempts to restore sanity to the federal budget on the grounds that it hurts the poor. Boehner, who is Catholic, was sharply reprimanded by these ivory tower academics as uncharitable, unchristian, and generally courting the 'tarnal flames.

According to Politico:

"Dozens of Catholic professors sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, asking him to rethink the GOP budget that they say disproportionately harms the poor and accused him of holding a voting record at odds with the church's teachings.

"Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress," the academics wrote in the letter. "This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policymakers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it."

The scholars said the House Republicans' fiscal 2012 budget, which passed with no Democratic support in April, was "particularly cruel" to pregnant women and children by slashing funds for maternal and child-health programs.

"The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare," they wrote. "It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy."

Well, well, well; where were these oh so righteous defenders of the faith when Nancy Pelosi threw a direct challenge at the authority of Rome over abortion?  She did not receive a similar letter, yet her sins were more egregious; Catholics are required to believe abortion is the sin of murder, whereas Catholics are not required to believe that government social programs are an irreplaceable part of Christian charity. The double standard here is galling.

Christian charity is built originally on Old Testament charity, and it is predicated on a number of statements of Jesus. Jesus instituted the corporal works of mercy in Matthew 25:

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Now please note the scenario; the King invites those who personally did these things. This passage does not say the king did them, or that Caesar did them, or that any sort of officious agency did them. No. The command is for you to do them. These are personal commands, not principles of societal organization.

Jesus also said of taxation "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's" which means Caesar gets his cut but not more than his cut. The works of mercy are God's portion. This is a critical thing to understand; these Catholic professors advocate for Caesar to take God's province, and ultimately His place.

Theirs is the sin of idolatry.

Jesus was commanding you to do these things; you are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, comfort the stranger. This was not proclaimed the job of government. Jesus did not say "render to Caesar that he may feed the hungry" - he told you to do it.

What Caesar does is steal. Caesar steals money from the citizenry by force of arms (you will be arrested if you refuse to pay taxes, and if you resist arrest you will be killed). And those who receive the largess of the beneficent state become trapped in a cycle of dependency, a whirlpool of despond that traps them. They must support the eternal nipple at their mouths, since they can see no other way to survive. They become wards of the state, and their job is to vote for more of these programs and for the people who created them. This is one of the cruelest of actions, because it essentially turns free people into serfs, obedient to a government that gives them enough to survive but not enough to thrive. And it is a curse, a curse that passes on to their progeny, and their children's children.

I work for a property management company in a major urban area, and I've personally seen it in the poor parts of town, in the neighborhoods riddled with drugs and prostitution and robbery. I've seen firsthand the power of the welfare state, the ability to destroy lives. There are countless young men and women sitting on stoops when they should be in school, waiting for their lives to pass because they have no hope. They have no hope because they see  no other option than to sit on that stoop and wait for Caesar to provide the few dollars needed to keep their bodies functioning on that stoop until the next check comes, and then the next. It is diabolically cruel.

For an in-depth look at the fruits of the welfare state, see this.

And it steals the opportunity to perform real acts of charity. Before the coming of the welfare state the Christian had many opportunities to perform acts of charity, and he did so eagerly. Now, government takes the money he would use to really help those in need and redistributes it for purposes that serve the master, the government. Those who would perform acts of mercy find their charity stolen.

This is what those oh-so compassionate professors at American Catholic universities think passes for Christianity; Hell doused in air-freshener!

Also, they think it kinder to throw a few crumbs to the poorer of our society (and many of those we deem poor have two cars, big screen televisions, computers, and cell phones) and worry nary a wit for the future - a future that will not be there if we do not get a handle on our overspending. Would any diocese or even parish in the Church spend so much giving to charity that it had to close, leaving those who have come to depend on this aid completely on their own resources? Government has more resources, but the end will be the same. There is nothing righteous about killing the golden goose, which is precisely what we are doing. A dead goose will do little but draw flies.

Is that what Christ commanded? Is that what the Church teaches is our responsibility?

The truly annoying thing about this criticism is that John Boehner is not really a gung-ho budget cutter. His "historic" $38 billion cut actually amounted to about only about $353 million dollars after the smoke cleared. Yet, despite angering the people who gave him the Speakership and expected deep cuts, Boehner is criticized as sinful by a bunch of leftist professors who claim the mantle of Catholicism.

Charity is not simply giving things to people, and love sometimes requires imposing unpleasant things. For example, Proverbs 13:24 says that "he who spareth his rod hateth his son" and encourages corporal punishment. Why? Ultimately for the good of the child, of course. Government "charity" is nothing but withholding unpleasant things now at the ultimate expense of the recipient. Yes, it is often necessary for people in need to be assisted, and far be it from me to say otherwise, but should this not be first a function of the individual, the Church, the local community? When Caesar takes this proper function to himself, he extracts a terrible price.

Why can't these Catholic professors understand this point?

Here is a good piece that dovetails with this article. Hat tip to Dana Mathewson.

Timothy Birdnow is a St. Louis based writer.  He blogs at