Dec

12

2012

Collin Hansen|10:00 PM CT

Will America Fall Off the Fiscal Cliff?

Americans sit on the edge of our seats as we wait to see if our elected leaders take us off the fiscal cliff in 2013. If you don't know what inaction means for U.S. citizens---indeed, the entire world---read this helpful FAQ from The Gospel Coalition editor Joe Carter.

Given the gravity of our situation and the particular challenges for churches and other Christian ministries, TGC opted to go deeper in a podcast with David Innes, co-chair of the school of politics, philosophy, and economics at King's College in New York City. Innes also writes weekly column at WORLDmag.com on current political issues, and he is the co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics. Host Mark Mellinger talks with Innes about the moral implications of budget negotiations, the political calculations on both sides, the true motivations of charitable giving, and much more. So whether you're confused or enraged over the stalemate in Washington, you'll learn from Innes's expert analysis.

Stay tuned as Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, resumes his interview with George Guthrie of Union University, author of Read the Bible for Life. They discuss how to interpret the Bible, when preaching fosters a passive approach to learning, what one indicator tells your whether someone is thriving spiritually, and what's at stake in our hermeneutics.

Finally, Mark and I wrap up the podcast with a look toward two especially timely workshops at The Gospel Coalition National Conference. As we bemoan the lack of leadership in Washington, we have the opportunity to model a better way. Two workshops in particular aim to help you grow as a leader in church and in the broader culture.

  • "Preparing Leaders of Integrity for Public Influence" by Michael Lindsay
  • "Is the World Really Flat? Convictional Leadership for a Global Age" by Albert Mohler

You can stream the full podcast below, download the mp3, or subscribe to Going Deeper with TGC on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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Going Deeper with TGC, 12-13, D.C. Innes

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob

    The real moral questions we should be asking ourselves: - Is redistributive taxation just/moral?

    - If it's immoral for a Christian to take money from their rich neighbor at the point of a gun, why is it ok for a Christian to look to government to do this exact same thing?
    - Is it moral for the majority to vote to steal the money of a small minority of rich people? Or should minorities receive equal treatment under the law -- regardless of how much money they do or don't have.

    THOSE are moral questions Christians should ask themselves.

  • Simon

    Rob, taxation by its very nature is redistributive, so your comment on whether this is "just" or "moral" doesn't make sense. All taxation is a redistribution of wealth, not matter which party is in government. Might I remind you that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to have civil society and government without taxation. No where in scripture does God forbid authorities the right to tax.

    It's interesting that your comments seem to put "rich" people on a pedestal. Scripture, on the other hand, always stands up for the the weak and vulnerable.

    I suspect the real motivation for your comments is that you'd like to pay the least amount of tax as possible. We all would like this. But this isn't because taxation is evil or anything like that. It's because we are greedy. It's ironic that many evangelical Christians are quick to take on political and economic philosophy that presumes from the start that human beings are self-seeking utility maximizers. Is this what we were created for? That is the moral question you should be asking yourself.

    • dwk

      I'd recommend being careful in ascribing motivations to someone else. Especially those you know very little about.

    • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob

      Simon, when I say "redistributive taxation," I'm referring only to those taxes that take away from one group in society and give to another group. For example, taxing Bob at the point of a gun, in order to pay for Sam's healthcare, or his kids' education, etc. National defense on the other hand, by its very definition, benefits the nation as a whole, and is not redistributive in the same sense at all.

      Interesting that you avoided answering the question I posted above: If it is immoral for Sam to point a gun at Ben, and demand his money so that he can have a service he desires (food, housing, healthcare, etc.), how does this suddenly become moral if Sam hires a 3rd party to stick-up Ben? How does it become moral when Sam asks the government to do it on his behalf?

      • Simon

        Rob, so you would also advocate no government help for the elderly, unemployed (even during a recession), disabled and so on? Applying your logic would rule out helping these people as well. So you think the only thing the state should provide is defense, police and to protect property rights?

        I disagree with the premise of your question. The "gunpoint" scenario you paint is the wrong one. You live in a society that accepts the rule of law. This includes the government's right to tax. Citizens participate in this process by voting. The people make the decisions on what policies they would like collectively (at least in theory). There will be some who disagree, but that is what happens in a democracy. If you don't like living in the US because of its government, then you can freely leave (although if you move to any other developed economy you'll quickly realize that taxes are generally higher and state social spending is far more generous than in the US - so you might end up in a place like Somalia!). Of course, talk about taxation as stealing has no basis in law or Scripture. It is simply the philosophical musings of rampant libertarians. You didn't answer or even address my question either. What is the moral basis for the assumptions underpinning libertarian philosophy from a Christian perspective?

        • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob Roy

          //So you think the only thing the state should provide is defense, police and to protect property rights?//

          At the most localized level possible, yes. The more direct accountability the groups/organizations you mention would have to the people for their actions, the better.

          //Rob, so you would also advocate no government help for the elderly, unemployed (even during a recession), disabled and so on?//

          Correct. Take the extreme case. Is it immoral for Sam (or for a 3rd party, on Sam's behalf) to steal from Bob, if Sam isn't going to use that money for himself, but instead, use it to take care of his sick grandmother? If we can both agree that it is immoral for Sam to do this, or for a 3rd party to do this, then it follows that it is immoral for any 3rd party (government included) to do it on Sam's behalf.

          //You live in a society that accepts the rule of law.//

          Yes -- but for laws to be just, they must protect personal rights, not group rights. A law that privileges one individual, or one group over another cannot be said to be a just law. For example, a law that treats Bob the millionaire better than Sam who makes 10K/yr, cannot be said to be a just law. And the opposite is also true -- a law that treats Sam differently than Bob cannot be said to be a just law either. Sam and Bob must be treated equally under the law, for a law to be just.

          Any redistributive law, by its very nature, privileges one group over another, and is therefore unjust. It says to Sam: you can use State power to take Bob's money, but Bob, you cannot use State power to take Sam's money.

          This is the real danger of any true democracy -- it is very easy for groups of people to band together and vote away the rights of minorities. But just because a group of whites bands together and votes to hold blacks in chains doesn't make this "right" just because it was done democratically. Voting to put blacks in chains is evil in and of itself. Similarly, a group of poor people banding together to vote a rich person's money away isn't any less evil then if they knocked on the rich person's door and put a gun in his/her face.

          //What is the moral basis for the assumptions underpinning libertarian philosophy from a Christian perspective?//

          1) A right to property -- yourself included.

  • student

    "If it is immoral for Sam to point a gun at Ben, and demand his money so that he can have a service he desires (food, housing, healthcare, etc.), how does this suddenly become moral if Sam hires a 3rd party to stick-up Ben? How does it become moral when Sam asks the government to do it on his behalf?"

    This is implicitly confused. From your assumption we can infer that nearly everything that happens (policy-wise, at least) directly to citizens (who would not prefer some policy X) from the action of a democratic government is like "pointing a gun..." The argument doesn't truck. Every normal functioning adult citizen in a democracy like ours is not forced at gunpoint to live in this country. By freely choosing to live here you implicitly accepting something like the following:

    (Dem. Principle A) Any policy change from T1 - Tn, created out of democratically established governmental mechanisms, is minimally acceptable.

    Minimal acceptability would at least not be featured in the gunpoint scenario you brought up.

    By freely choosing to live here I accept (and probably expect) that in the future the majority of citizens (electoral college doesn't apply, but I shouldn't have to spell out why that isn't a problem) will determine policy changes I don't agree with. I also accept that that fact about a democracy is acceptable! And I do this simply by living here voluntarily and not deciding to leave. Unless, of course, I have some sort of cognitive disability which prevents me from recognizing this or I am staying here to use democratic means to change this country into some non-democractic form. Neither of those two disjuncts are a problem for my argument.

    If you don't like living in a country where at certain times the majority of citizens might be the grounds for the instantiation of tax policies you disagree with then... well, you know what to do.

    • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob Roy

      //If you don't like living in a country where at certain times the majority of citizens might be the grounds for the instantiation of tax policies you disagree with then... well, you know what to do.//

      Question Student: does the fact that something was decided democratically make it moral then? If the majority of whites in a territory hold a vote and decide, democratically, to enslave blacks, does this make the enslavement of blacks "right" or "moral" or "just"?

      If not, why not?

      • Simon

        No. But taxation is not the same as slavery. Taxation is clearly mandated in the New Testament. You can make all sorts of silly arguments (as you are doing now) as to why we shouldn't pay tax. The Pharisees didn't like paying tax to their oppressive Roman rulers. What was Jesus' response to them?

        The moral suspicion as to why the rich don't want to contribute to the well being of poorer members of society remains.

        • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob

          Note: I'm not arguing that anyone stop paying their taxes -- simply that the forceful taking of money from Peter in order to pay Paul is immoral.

          //The moral suspicion as to why the rich don't want to contribute to the well being of poorer members of society remains.//

          Ah, here's a good issue to discuss as well. Who is better equipped to help the poor? Government bureaucracies, or the churches/non-profits/charitable organizations that are closest to those they are trying to help?

          In my experience working with various church organizations that help the poor, Churches are *MUCH* better equipped to help them because they are in a position to build relationships with people who need assistance. In government welfare, you have government employees essentially handing out wads of other people's money as part of their job -- money that was taken from other people at the point of a gun.

          At churches/non-profits/charitable organizations, money is given freely, peacefully, and there is tremendous incentive on the part of these organizations to be good stewards of the money they've been entrusted with -- thus it is used to help poor people in ways that truly benefits them, and encourages them to take care of themselves -- and does *not* encourage them to become dependent on the charity of others.

          It's a very simple philosophy actually. We can achieve more -- *much* more -- through peaceful, voluntary, charitable exchange, than we can through coercion, violence, and State power.

          • Simon

            So you think that churches have the resources to provide medical care to all those who don't have insurance? Really? Churches and other organizations can provide adequate foreign aid to poor countries?

            Don't get me wrong, I think churches and NGOs do marvelous work in helping the less fortunate in this world. However, to suggest that there is NO role for government is simply misguided. Without government aid to help the poorest of the poor this world would be a far more miserable place for many.

            Your extreme philosophy is simply rejected by most people, because is it basically silly. Thankfully there is at least one Reformed thinker, Carl Trueman, who says anything sensible about these issues. The other Calvinists in America seem to be caught up with the same type of hateful craziness that infects the Tea Party and the Religious Right. These aren't reasonable people with reasonable ideas I'm afraid.

  • student

    "Neither of those two disjuncts are a problem for my argument."

    should have read "not a problem"

  • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob

    //So you think that churches have the resources to provide medical care to all those who don't have insurance?//

    We were talking about regular charities before. If you'd like to discuss medical care, you might be surprised to know that many doctors and hospitals will treat patients on a pro-bono basis. Catholic hospitals, just as an example, are not allowed to turn people away because they can't afford to pay, or are uninsured, or under-insured.

    //Without government aid to help the poorest of the poor this world would be a far more miserable place for many.//

    So without the violent, coercive, forceful redistribution of wealth, this world would be a more miserable place?

    Wouldn't it be better if government got out of the way of businesses, and gave them the freedom to offer jobs to as many people as possible? In a truly free market joblessness would be almost non-existent. I went to the grocery store last week and a deaf cashier was working the cash register.

    The only people who would truly need charity in a truly free market would be those who were completely incapable of working -- the severely handicapped, the severely mentally ill, the severely maimed, or sick. Which is actually a very, very small group of people. And there are more then enough private charities to help such as these.

    • Simon

      Rob, have you visited Sweden or Norway? Are these countries plagued by "violent" and "coercive" governments. How about the UK? Both the Tory and Labour parties support government-provided health. Is the UK also under a tyrannical regime who seeks to ruthlessly redistribute wealth? You are painting a picture that simply isn't true. Most people do not have the kind of pathological view of government that you seem to have.

      So the proportion of people who get sick and need to see a doctor and buy medicine is a tiny proportion of society? Pharmaceutical companies may as well shut down! How insecure would you feel if you and your family weren't insured? What about if you got into an accident? And how about the elderly? Just a tiny fraction of society aren't they? I mean, charity organizations could easily take care of all of these cases! You must be kidding with that comment above. All people require medical attention on many occassions throughout life. It's not only the severely disabled and so on. Further, the elderly require a lot of medical care. This is why you have a government health care program specifically for the elderly, i.e. Medicare. Astonishingly many people are ignorant of the fact that Medicare is a government program. "Keep Government Out of My Medicare" read one sign at a Tea Party rally!

      You actually think that "free markets" will provide a sort of utopia. What you are doing is buying into the arrogance of Enlightenment thinking. Free market ideology was born out of the Enlightenment. The people who developed "free market" ideology were mostly atheists who had no time for the kind of God we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Free market fundamentalism is simply another ideology - it amazes me how many American evangelicals buy into this ideology without looking at its philosophical roots. For the record, I don't support communism or socialism. I do support practical solutions that help alleviate human suffering as much as possible. Ruling out governments as part of this process makes no sense. In now way am I saying it is the only solution, but you are saying that it can't be even part of the solution. I suspect that those who advocate "free markets" are doing so because it benefits themselves only. In fact, if you had studied economics you would realize that this is exactly what the theory says. What is good for myself must be good for society in general - this is the free market mantra and it provides a philosophical justification for selfishness. This highly self-indulgent and extremely individualistic worldview is not what we find in the Gospel. It is completely alien to the Christian worldview.

  • https://www.facebook.com/RobRoy613 Rob Roy

    Simon, nobody said anything about free markets providing a "utopia." On the contrary, where there is freedom, there is always the potential to abuse that freedom.

    But what you're advocating above essentially boils down to theft -- pure and simple.

    The simple moral test I outlined in my original post makes this clear. Let me rephrase my original points in different words, so we can see where we disagree:

    1) Do you agree that it is immoral for Bob to steal from Sam, even if Bob is going to use the money to provide his children with healthcare?

    2) Do you agree that this is still immoral if, rather that stick a gun directly in Sam's face, Bob hires a 3rd party to threaten Sam with physical violence, unless/until Sam hands over the money for Bob's child's healthcare?