Who Really Cares About the Poor?

If you were a casual observer of our culture, you’d assume that the “progressives” are the ones full of compassion. But is that really the case?

Here we are with our politicians wrangling back and forth on the economy, the deficit, taxes, tax cuts, entitlements, and so forth. Much of the debate really gets back to taking care of the less fortunate.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Arthur Brooks, who served for a time as the president of American Enterprise institute, wrote a book called “Who Really Cares.” He has been doing research on charitable giving for many years.

In an interview he told me, “There is one question that answers it far and away better than anything else. And that question is: ‘How often do you go to church?’ Faith matters, faith matters more than anything else in determining whether or not we are giving people to others.” 

Dr. Brooks added: “Imagine you have two people. One is secular and has a socialistic outlook; they believe that it’s the government’s job to help others. And the other person is a person of faith, who believes also it’s their job, as opposed to the government’s to help others. You will find that the second person is twice as likely to give as the secular socialist, and will give on average 100 times as much money a year to charity and 50 times as much to explicitly non-religious causes.”

People in our culture don’t realize the strong link is between Christianity and helping the poor. The faith practically invented the concern.

Jesus told His disciples that when you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, you do it unto Him. In Christ’s day, the Samaritans were half-breeds, and therefore, were hated by their Israelite countrymen. Yet Jesus made up a story about a compassionate man among these half-breeds, and today we used the “Samaritan” as if it means one who goes around doing good. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke helped unleash the forces of charity.

Many people today have nothing to do with Jesus or the church per se, yet they have bought into the Judeo-Christian ideal of “love your neighbor as yourself,” of trying to help the down-and-out.

Despite massive government spending to end poverty, it seems the needy population is growing.

Personally, I believe in praying, “Our Father which art in heaven,” as opposed to “Our father which art in Washington.”

Now some politicians are pushing for curbing tax benefits for giving to charity. I think that’s tragic. When more and more needy people are needy of the help that churches and church agencies are able to do, the elite class wants to cut off that most needed help.

The irony is that government policies tend to create more poor people because they penalize functioning families. They subsidize out-of-wedlock births, thus, creating more and more poor people.

The Brookings Institute, a think tank respected by left and right, points out that there you have a 98% chance of avoiding poverty if you do three things: 1) Graduate high school. 2) Work full time. 3) Marry before you have children. Only 2% of those who do these things end up in poverty.

As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation points out, Marriage turns out to be the single greatest weapon in the war on poverty.

Yet US-government poverty programs generally undermine the family. So, rather than solve the problem of poverty, they exacerbate it. The cynic says that’s by design so that the elites can retain their political power. If that were true, that would mean some politicians are perfectly comfortable with millions of Americans caught up in the cycle of perpetual poverty, so that they could rule. If that’s true, then we’ve created an American version of “Animal Farm.”

Regardless of whether it’s true or not, decades of data have proven that the anti-poverty government programs are keeping the poor down on a persistent basis, e.g., by subsidizing illegitimacy, which is probably the biggest single cause of poverty.

As former Senator Jim DeMint once told me in an interview: “Every time we bring something to Washington, we create perverse incentives. We tried to help children that were born out of wedlock, and we took it from like seven or eight percent unwed marriages or unwed births to almost 40% in our country today. And that was directly related to perverse government incentives.”

All I can say is, It’s a good thing Washington loves so many poor people, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln, they’ve made so many of them!

Meanwhile, Christmas time, various toys for tots drives, angel tree projects, and Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes filled with goodies for the needy, are a great reminder of the joy of helping those in need. What a great feeling to help those around us who are truly struggling. What the Lord says is true at Christmas time and all year round: It’s better to give than to receive. Voluntary giving sure beats mandatory government taking every time.    


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