Monday, February 12, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (5)

Last week’s Too Hot to Handle discussion with IC on the subject of collective identity opened a bulging can of worms, and we could hardly avoid leaving a few of those slimy stragglers wriggling around in the bottom of the rowboat.

One such not-entirely-explored issue is the importance of caring for immediate and extended family, a responsibility that in the New Testament is committed to both Christian men and women.

It’s also a responsibility Western governments have in the not-too-distant past assumed on our behalf — not entirely, but extensively.

Shenanigans and Paper Shuffling

This largesse takes the form of disability benefits, unemployment insurance, pensions, veterans’ benefits and, in many countries, even free health insurance. In addition, governments have taken on other arguably biblical responsibilities that once fell to individual citizens, such as helping to care for the needy and sojourners (a subset of what we now call “refugees”).

Such generosity on our behalf is a great thing — provided governments are able to pay the tab when it comes due. But they aren’t, a simple fact that endless flurries of accounting shenanigans and paper shuffling cannot forever disguise.

Do I need to demonstrate this? Sweden, once called “the most generous nation on earth”, has finally strained its social safety net to the breaking point. One government employee complained, “Last summer, my grandmother almost starved to death in the hospital, but the migrants get free food and medical care.” In January, Swedish officials were finally forced to announce the imminent deportation of 80,000 refugees. Sweden simply can’t afford them.

The Unfunded Liability Problem

But that’s only the obvious. Stats are disputed, but one study puts unfunded liabilities at the U.S. state level at $1.5 trillion. Federal debt figures in all Western countries are riddled with so many zeroes that no sane person would expend the energy trying to comprehend them, let alone figuring out how to pay them back. At one point the cupboard will finally be bare no matter how many trillions in faux-dollars the Fed prints.

To complicate matters further and deepen the hole into which they (and we, in practice) are digging themselves, democratic governments have taken on burdens about which Old Testament law says nothing at all, from arts grants to public education to the stupendous cost of jailing criminals, sometimes for a lifetime. There’s no fix for that sort of fiscal incontinence, but that’s not the Christian’s problem to sort out.

And perhaps neither is the first set of burdens that fall on Western tax bases. We didn’t create the current system, though quotes pulled from scripture in and out of context are often cited to justify it. But what is certain is that we Christians, like everyone else around us, have gotten pretty comfortable without having to worry about those formerly personal responsibilities — I know I have — and many of us are not all that keen to reassume them.

Into the Black Hole

What to do? Well, the option to voluntarily pay higher taxes certainly exists, but that’s somewhat akin to lobbing your hard-earned dollars into a rapidly expanding black hole. Until democratic nations restructure their economies to enable themselves to live within their means, such gestures are meaningless, even counterproductive.

Alternatively, those of us who feel a sense of responsibility to our societies could elect to pay out of pocket for services we are currently receiving for free. But again, that would come nowhere near addressing the insane scale of the fiscal problem. Justin Trudeau and his team would just find new, even more creative ways to spend our tax dollars.

It’s also not unreasonable to note that the currently onerous level of taxation we experience in many democracies is you already making your contribution, and that you have the same right to services you have paid for as everyone else. It’s not the most Christian argument, but it’s certainly true.

Some Possibilities

What I would suggest is this:
  • First, that we not use services we do not really need just because they are still currently available. Chances are someone else will shortly need them more than we do. And if someone else who doesn’t really need them drains those resources first, well, that’s on them, not you.
  • Second, believers especially should get used to the idea of paying for things we have not had to pay for in many years because, like the Flood, the financial crunch is coming. It’s not a flattering look when Christians fail to see the obvious barreling down the pipe at them. The starving Swedish grandmas will thank those of their hospital visitors who have the foresight to bring bag lunches when they show up to commiserate with them in their need.
  • Third, set a good example. Embrace the fiscal responsibility our governments demonstrably do not. Live within your means. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” It won’t begin to fix the problem, but it’s simply the right thing to do.
  • Fourth, stop advocating for big government to do more of this or that, as far too many so-called Christian groups regularly do. Meet the needs you can meet personally and use the doors the “mammon of unrighteousness” opens up as opportunities to talk to needy people about the Lord. After all, that’s what we’re here for.
  • Fifth, the fact that deductions are taken from us at source for things like welfare and unemployment is not a license to ignore genuine need in front of our faces so long as we are left with any excess in our pockets.
Until the Lord returns, need will always outstrip supply. But Christians, of all people, should be ready and willing to address as much of it as we can.

We certainly don’t need to add to it.

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Aaaaand … what would one of these posts be without the obligatory Jordan Peterson reference?

Chapter 5 of Peterson’s new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is truly golden. As much as I may caution Peterson enthusiasts about his loose moorings where scripture is concerned, he absolutely understands parenting, and his sources are unambiguously biblical.

The chapter is entitled “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”, and it has the internet all abuzz. An excerpt:
“When my now-adult daughter was a child, another child once hit her on the head with a metal toy truck. I watched that same child, one year later, viciously push his younger sister backwards over a fragile glass-surfaced coffee table. His mother picked him up immediately afterward (but not her frightened daughter), and told him in hushed tones not to do such things, while she patted him comfortingly in a manner clearly indicative of approval. She was out to produce a little God-Emperor of the Universe.”
Precisely. But today’s child-rearing experts choke on the idea of corporal punishment as a perfectly reasonable alternative to parental insanity and producing a child disliked by everyone he meets.

Another, because they’re just that much fun:
“Imagine a toddler repeatedly striking his mother in the face. Why would he do such a thing? It’s a stupid question. It’s unacceptably naive. The answer is obvious. To dominate his mother. To see if he can get away with it. Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned.”
Find me another pop psychologist who believes in original sin. Then when you're done, find me another book by a pop psychologist that can get the Canadian media flapping like this while selling hardcovers hand-over-fist, and I’ll happily write about him or her instead.

But Peterson is correct: it’s not violence but peace that is difficult. The peace we Christians experience today was made “by the blood of his cross”. That’s about as difficult as it gets.

Our children can hardly be expected to produce naturally something that was only won through over 3,800 years of hard work.

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