Why Do So Many Christians Favor “Small Government”?

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Anyone who tries to claim that the Bible prescribes his or her specific political opinions should be met with a certain degree of skepticism. The Bible does, however, hint at how Christians should interact with the societies in which they live (go read Acts 5:29 and Luke 20:25). It also provides strong caution against placing one’s confidence in Earthly governments (go read I Samuel 8 and Judges 8:22-23).

My purpose here is to address the common (and erroneous) claim that Christians who favor “small government” are, by definition, being hypocritical. Or as Jimmy Carter puts it,

jimmy carter

For one thing, I only know of maybe 2 or 3 people who oppose tax dollars going to help the poor. All of them are anarchists. So it’s not entirely clear who, exactly, Carter is addressing. But I’m pretty sure he’s just addressing anyone who favors a more limited welfare system than he does.

The real debate, if we’re being honest, is the extent to which – and the means by which – public assistance should be directed to the poor. The question is whether primary responsibility for assisting the poor should rest with government, or with individuals, churches, and private charities.

To many on the Left, conservatives who attempt to reduce the size of the welfare state are either acting out of greed, malice, or a lack of empathy for the poor. In reality, the conservative’s goal is to limit and decentralize power. The conservative understands that power leads to corruption, and that powerful, centralized governments have a long history of abusing human rights.

The conservative also recognizes the importance of individual responsibility and the dignity of providing for oneself and one’s family. In this sense, the conservative is concerned not only with the poor man’s physical needs, but also with his spiritual, non-material needs. Any form of government assistance should therefore have the aim of making the recipient self-sufficient, rather than perpetually reliant on public assistance.

Unfortunately, there’s an epidemic of young, progressive, “enlightened” individuals in this country who eagerly vote to expand the welfare state, and conclude that this makes them champions of the poor. Yet when asked, directly, what they’ve personally done for the poor, the only things they can come up with are Holding Benevolent Opinions, paying taxes, and maybe attending a charity walk.

I realize that sounds a tad anecdotal…but as it turns out, there’s solid data to back it up. According to research out of Syracuse University, “people who reject the idea that ‘government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality’ give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.” In the U.S., conservative states consistently see higher levels of charitable giving than liberal states.

In short: when a person considers his taxes to be a legitimate form of charity, he becomes less charitable.

The modern progressive, unwilling to recognize mankind’s fallen condition, sincerely believes that the State provides the means of realizing his egalitarian utopia. The Christian should know better. Those who place their faith in the strong arm of government walk a fine line between folly and idolatry.

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See also:

“Why Christians Make Great Libertarians” (part 1, part 2, part 3)

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9 thoughts on “Why Do So Many Christians Favor “Small Government”?

  1. Interestingly, the first five books of the Holy Bible give instruction on how to deal with the poor. Unfortunately, most people believe the Old Testament has been “done away”.

  2. My issue is waste. It is not as if our tax dollars are well spent for the poor. The extraordinary expense of the infrastructure, employees and executives of every government agency that purports to “help” the poor is rarely considered.

  3. I’m an anarchist, and believe that taxation is a form of extortion. But I also believe that if we are to have taxes, then one of the last things we should be concerned with cutting is some of the “safety net” related things. It seems to me that there is a ton of nonsense that can be cut from spending before that stuff (overseas aid, and military bases for one). I believe the free market can, and would provide for people without the use of the coercive state. I believe that when The Word tells us to give to the poor, we are supposed to take personal responsibility for that, and not sluff it off on to the shoulders of government. Even with the government doing what it does, we still have a responsibility as individuals before God.

  4. “Any form of government assistance should therefore have the aim of making the recipient self-sufficient, rather than perpetually reliant on public assistance.”

    Yes! And even big-government liberals, like FDR, used to agree. FDR was in favor of government make-work programs, among other things, but certainly at least talked as if his long-term goal were to help people be self-sufficient, not to support them indefinitely in their poverty. He even seems to have agreed that direct welfare benefits are addictive and that they corrupt a person’s character, which would make him sound like an “extreme” conservative today!

    “To dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”
    http://enjoymentandcontemplation.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/fdr-repudiated-the-welfare-state-a-narcotic-a-subtle-destroyer-of-the-human-spirit/

    “Yet when asked, directly, what they’ve personally done for the poor, the only things they can come up with are Holding Benevolent Opinions, paying taxes, and maybe attending a charity walk.”

    Ha ha

    “I realize that sounds a tad anecdotal…but as it turns out, there’s solid data to back it up.”

    Yes, and perhaps like George Will (whom you linked to), I consider Arthur C. Brooks both very interesting and very persuasive on this subject, partly because he started out on the opposite side of the issue. I always tell people, don’t judge the book by the arguably inflammatory title and subtitles on its cover, which I assume were chosen by the publisher, not the author; instead, read the author’s introduction, and then decide whether to read the book.

    In the coming chapters, I will explain why people give and why people don’t. My explanations are based entirely on data. They are the fruit of years of analysis on the best national and international datasets available on charity, lots of computational horsepower, and the past work of dozens of scholars who have looked at various bits and pieces of the giving puzzle. . . .

    These are not the sorts of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, ten years ago. I have to admit that I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book. . . .

    When I started doing research on charity, I expected to find that political liberals—who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did—would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.

    I confess the prejudices of my past here to emphasize that the findings in this book—many of which may appear conservative and support a religious, hardworking, family-oriented lifestyle—are faithful to the best available evidence, and contrary to my political and cultural roots. Indeed, the irresistible pull of empirical evidence in this book is what changed the way I see the world. . . .

    (Pages 10-13 of the paperback.)

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