I feel like I’m apologizing for some aspect of every article I write as of late. I’m an engineer and lawyer by training but have never been good at condensing complicated subject matter into digestible chunks. This article is no different. I have a feeling it’s going to become a meandering mess. Also, this article is gonna get a bit religious, so I’m sorry if you don’t like your libertarianism with a side of Jesus.
Faith and Tithing
It’s common knowledge that American Christians suck at even the basics of the faith, especially when it comes to parting with “their” money. Tithing (true tithing, as in 10% of your income) is hardly ever practiced. Tithing isn’t a God thing. God doesn’t need money (or a starship). Tithing isn’t primarily a church thing, either. Churches have varied forms of income, and unless they’re being run poorly, they’re not relying on the tithe to pay for the lights bill. Tithing is a personal thing, a growth opportunity, much like prayer and worship. It establishes the proper role of a person in relation to God and to material wealth.
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Cor 9:6-7
Tithing is a discipline, not a purchase or a membership fee. It’s an acknowledgment to God that we’re just asset managers. God owns everything since God created everything. God even owns us and our labor, we are slaves to him.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” – Mat 25:23
I can already feel the cringes from the atheist libertarians who believe they are bound by no authority. Discussion of rightful authority is another topic for another day.
The Bible talks a ton about money and people’s relationship to money. The most famous and relevant example is Matthew 6:24.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
One of the basic themes running through the Bible is the predisposition people have toward worshipping (or serving) idols, whether those be sticks with faces carved in them, golden animals, kings and other earthly rulers, celebrities, ideologies, themselves, or money. This is the recurring conflict in the Old Testament, with the Israelites constantly serving masters that promised more immediate results. This conflict still exists today and has an immensely negative impact on the charitable natures expected of Christians.
For example, roughly one in four regular church attending Christians actually give money on a regular basis. However, less than 5% actually give a tithe (10% of their income). A few questions come to mind when thinking about this pitiful statistic. First, why don’t people tithe? Second, what effect does this miserly Christian community have on society? Third, how do we get rid of the welfare state when people show no interest in picking up the slack?
Debt and Tithing
The statistics of tithing are quite interesting, and lead to an inescapable conclusion: people in the wealthiest country in the world are so ill equipped to handle personal finances that they are uncharitable because they’re broke. 8 out of 10 tithers have no consumer debt (I assume this excludes a mortgage). Of course, the Bible isn’t so hot on debt.
“The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” – Prov. 22:7
“Pay everyone what you owe him: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Be indebted to no one, except to one another in love, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.” – Romans 13:7-8
28% of tithers are completely debt free (apparently including mortgage). The leftist whinging against bankers and corporations is puerile, but there is a nugget of truth there. Debt is marketed even better than diamonds. It’s a product to satiate the most impatient impulses of the instant gratification culture that has developed in the US (and the West, in general). We could talk about whether debt has good uses, but that’s irrelevant in this context. What is relevant is how most modern Americans abuse debt, using it to live an uninspected life of trinkets and trivialities. Meanwhile, American household debt is hovering around $12.7 Trillion.
The most disappointing statistic about tithing is that folks with an income under $20k are 8x more likely to give than somebody making $75k. While a first blush reaction to this may involve Marxian epithets against the bourgeoisie, I think it illuminates another issue. Debt is most heavily marketed to middle and upper-middle class people, and they flock to it like moths to a flame. Income doesn’t measure financial health, net worth does. For example, I make enough to be in the top 10% income bracket (as an individual, household income is lower because my wife is stay-at-home), but my net worth is 6-figures negative because of massive debt. I don’t think that my situation is particularly out of the ordinary. The numbers may change from person to person, but most of the middle class has a glut of debt-financed luxuries and a massively negative net worth. When they’re in debt to their eyeballs, average Americans aren’t a giving people. (As an aside, when you compare American giving to other countries, Americans tend to be relatively quite charitable, which shows the systemic issues encountered across the rest of the world.)
Generosity and Selflessness
In libertarian circles, we tend to talk in rational terms, but people are motivated by things other than pure logic. Emotion controls people and cultures. It also controls our generosity. When people feel like they’re being wrung out, they don’t give. Also, when they feel that others’ needs are being taken care of, they don’t give. Even more, when they’re taught to hate or look down on the downtrodden, they lack the generosity required to give. All of these are issues in modern Western Civilization. Although charity was once a national ethic in the US, it has been beaten out of the people. The ever dragging boat anchor of an out of control government combined with a culture that “helps” through hashtag campaigns combines into a rather uncharitable cocktail. Toss on a heaping helping of scorn for the poor and struggling (brought on by the fact that Daddy Gubmint holds a gun to our collective heads and forces us to pay into programs that keep the poor impoverished), and true charity becomes passe.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” – James 2:15-16
When a culture degenerates into a selfish and segmented “community,” there isn’t enough of a connection between people of different classes and groups to develop that natural empathy that leads to selfless giving. Selflessness is a discipline, and like any other discipline, it must be developed into a habit. Without the habitual discipline of charity, not only does the definition of charity tend to migrate (toward the lazy and the self-serving), but a certain virtue becomes associated with being the target of charity. The noble poor people are systematically oppressed and are victimized by society. We (meaning government) have to stick up for these noble people! Of course, the fact that this entire line of BS ignores the incestuous relationship between government and the virtuous poor narrative.
Charity v. The State
In the end, this perversion of the concept of “charity” is directly correlated to the growth of government forced income redistribution and vote buying. Libertarians tend to focus on the government apparatus and how to dismantle it, but this is only a part of the equation. We, as a culture, have been trained away from charity, from caring community, from cheerful giving. We are insulated from one another, carrying on a cultural dance where we spend ourselves into oblivion to pretend that we’re wealthy. The poorest of the poor are driving nice cars, looking down on the slightly less poor who can’t qualify for the massive debt instruments that have driven the middle-class into a ditch. As a result, there would be a massive vacuum if the government were to pull out of the charity business. There are good philanthropic groups, including religious ones, but many work within the government’s framework. In order to be able to permanently throw off the shackles of government theft and redistribution, we need to reinsert private individuals and groups as the primary driver of charity.
Whether you’re religious or not, a half-tithe is a good start. Devote 5% of your income to changing the definition of charity. You probably pay more than that for lattes in a month. Find a group that does something you support, and give them a recurring monthly payment. Even if just us Glibs banded together and focused on true charity, we could accomplish a ton. If we just stand on the sidelines and bitch about government confiscation and redistribution, we’re never going to make headway. Unlike Obamacare, we need a replacement option in place before we repeal the government welfare programs.