Love Your Neighbor and Don’t Tax Him

Moral men have a duty to help their neighbors, but nobody has the right to force other people to help. … Continued

Moral men have a duty to help their neighbors, but nobody has the right to force other people to help.

Jesus told a story of a Good Samaritan who crossed difficult social and cultural barriers to provide relief to an injured man. This is a good model for our own behavior. We should help the hurting neighbor even if he is a pariah in our community. The mortgage broker who has lost his job is also my neighbor and, when he is hurting and repentant, should receive pity, charity, and care — not just sermons about his errors.

Moral behavior is most valuable when it is not easy to do. The temptation is to avoid doing our moral duty by ignoring it or passing off the dirty work to somebody else.

The Scroogish Samaritan ignores his moral duty to help his neighbor. He assumes everybody should care only for self and destroys common culture by his selfishness. The Statist Samaritan forces everybody else to help the injured man and so gains a cheap feeling of virtue, but undermines any real virtue.

The Scrooge believes that it is enough for “a man to mind his own business” and forgets that he is tied to the fate of everyone else in his common culture. History shows prosperity cannot last when it is dependent on the hopeless poverty of others.

It is immoral to allow such an unjust system to survive. Even in a perfectly just society, it would be useless to lecture the hurting about their mistakes before dealing with their pain.

Telling a hungry mother with starving children about the virtues of liberty without first feeding her is cruel and breeds revolutions. The moral man must deal with the blinding pain in the hurting before he tries to show the victim a way to avoid future hurts.

It is true that you should teach a man to fish and not just give him a fish, but before teaching him to fish he has to be fit to learn. You cannot teach a starving man to fish. First, give him a fish. Second, teach him the skills that will give him the ability to become a giver of charity and not just a receiver. The goal of any charity is to allow the man who receives it to also be able to gain the astounding blessings of being a giver.

Sadly, it is so much more blessed to give than to receive that the Statist Samaritan tries to give all the blessings to the state. He loves the state and so wishes to turn everyone’s appreciation for charity to it.

Not surprisingly charity that is coerced does harm to everyone. The injured party may be helped at first, but only at the cost of doing injustice to others. Taxing Peter forces Peter to help Paul, often does little for Paul, and almost certainly will make Peter resent Paul. Peter should help Paul, but making him do it will teach both men bad lessons. The taxed feels resentment as the object of his charity lacks a human face–he gives his coerced taxes to faceless bureaucracy–and the recipient becomes the ward of government.

When we pass our moral duties over to the state, we lose the power to do charity ourselves, turn an act of charity into coercion, and give the state too much power. People are habituated to look to the state to meet their needs and not their communities, churches, and family. This weakens every non-state institution and risks tyranny.

Forced charity is inefficient because it rarely distinguishes between worthy and unworthy attempts at charity. By cutting everyone a check or putting everyone in “one size fits all” programs it is radically inefficient and often harms the giver and the recipient. The government takes a slice of the money in order to maintain the program. Often the program itself will outlive its usefulness, but keep using tax money. The closest thing to immortality ever created by humankind is a government program.

Forced charity is bad for us because in removing our liberty to choose between goods it makes us perpetual dependents. No good person wants to be perpetually dependent on his neighbor, because his neighbor has a face and knows him. It is much easier to become a perpetual dependent on the government, because the government is faceless.

Of course, in some extraordinary circumstances the community itself has been devastated or is so dysfunctional that the state must act. A horrific natural disaster can leave too few neighbors left to help. A deeply embedded racist culture can use local state power and cultural institutions to practice injustice. In such horrific cases, federal power may be necessary to solve gross problems.

Christianity and natural law teach that good men and women should help each other. This charity is best when it is private and not coerced. American popular culture would be wise to celebrate the Samaritan and stop holding up as heroic the conspicuous consumers, Scrooges, or Statists.

John Mark Reynolds
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  • jedrothwell1

    J. Reynolds wrote:”This charity is best when it is private and not coerced.”What if that charity does not suffice? What is second best? Do you think it is better to take taxes from people and feed the poor, or should we let the poor starve?This column evades the issue. Yes, we all agree that taxes are bad in some ways. The question is: Are they worse than the alternative? If we do not have “the right to force other people to help” as you claim, then by that same rule poor people do not have the right to live. They may starve or die of easily cured diseases, or live in tents. Their children may go without schooling or vaccinations. But we cannot force people who make $100 million a year to help them. Many of those wealthy people would not pay a single dollar in taxes if they were not forced to. Many rich people gave nothing to charity before income taxes were instituted, and many evade taxes today. Are you really willing to trust in their good will to avoid catastrophic suffering and the collapse of the economy?This is not Christian, nor is it reasonable or practical.

  • Paganplace

    I think there’s a major problem in perspective, with this article. Taxes are not the ‘government taking money away from people to call it charity.’ The government belongs to the *people.* Or at least is supposed to. With this comes certain *social obligations* which are part of how the system works, for the common good of all. The rich and the big corporations reap the biggest immediate benefits from the government’s involvement in infrastructure and social order and welfare, and can most afford to pay their share. If the churches were to take over the ‘charity’ of doling out what they feel like, to whom they feel like, and this actually encompassed anywhere near the scale of magnitude of what is done through government, then *their* bureaucracy would quickly become as big and involved as the social services that consitute a big investment in our nation, its future, our domestic peace, and prosperity. Most charitable organizations already have trouble meeting the needs of all comers, even *with* the government taking on most of the load. Adding, certainly, an element of evangelism to where the money is spent certainly doesn’t decrease the number of poor, and *very* certainly, opposing the programs that can help solve the problems is an even less-efficient use of those resources. Where were the conservatives when Bush was running up a trillion-dollar bill for an ill-advised and ill-planned war? Trying to cut the taxes on the wealthy, erode protections for the poor, deregulate big money, (legalizing usury, in fact,) and in fact *increase* our reliance on a finance system about to eat itself. Appealing to some sense of ‘fairness’ after allowing the strip-mall developers and big box chains enjoy certain unfair and unsustainable advantages over local economies, only to then see those local economies with nothing to replace the jobs from these enterprises as they close down… Well, that just seems a little off-base to me. Government in the name of ‘free market’ turned into, what, protection for the already-wealthy-few’s ever-increasing profits? And then they want people losing their homes to go to churches and be told to sympathize with their plight? Certainly, in the case of the big bailouts, that’s not charity, that’s paying the economic *ransom.* Taxes, taxes, taxes. Some people speak of them as *theft,*

  • ModernMan

    I thought we had tried the ‘no income tax’ strategy for a while…like a few thousand years. From what I’ve read, it didn’t work very well. Let me guess: Mr Reynolds is on the wealthy side of the fence, or is financed by people who are?Unbelievable, truly unbelievable.

  • efavorite

    So much for “love thy neighbor.”Instead, you’re using christianity to justify not helping humanity.We’ve seen enough of your kind.

  • darling_ailie

    “When we pass our moral duties over to the state, we lose the power to do charity ourselves, turn an act of charity into coercion, and give the state too much power. People are habituated to look to the state to meet their needs and not their communities, churches, and family. This weakens every non-state institution and risks tyranny.”Pathetic.Perhaps some day Americans will have the capacity we have here in France, the capacity to create a decent society.By the way; no one prevents so-called ‘Christians’, or others, from giving to the charities of their choice even if they do pay taxes which go to benefit others. The choice of ‘either-or’ is YOUR hang-up, mister. If you are right, this only goes to show how mean-spirited Christians really are.