Seriously, why do you care?
“What’s it to you how others get along as long as you have yours? Let them get their own!” You may have heard many versions of the “What’s it to you?” question in recent years. You may have been told, “Never mind about them. It is not your problem.” If you have a comfortable living, I suppose you can walk away from a lot of social problems. Indeed you can rant and rave against any notion that we should help others. “Let them help themselves,” you may add. “There is no need to concern ourselves about that problem, because it is not our problem.”
When exactly did we come to the philosophy to protect the wealth of the rich and to hell with the poor? When did social security, medicare and unemployment benefits become terms that are to be tossed around like dirty rags into the trash? There was a time when the Republicans across the aisle and their leaders called for additional taxes on the “haves” in order to help the “have-nots.” Now many of them act as if this never happened. Perhaps part of the problem is that they are all part of the rich themselves. They pay themselves big salaries while trying to figure out how to give the elderly and the poor next to nothing. To them “Entitlements” is a dirtier word than the seven dirty words George Carlin could not say on television.
On the other hand, some might argue there is a moral imperative that comes into play here. That means we must take action, or not take action, as required based on a moral reason that comes from within ourselves. This is like the voice inside that compels us to do right. It is imperative that we do the right (moral) thing. In modern philosophy I guess it is the same as saying, “do the next right thing.” Suppose, however, there is no voice from within urging us to make the moral choice. What if our inside tells us to ignore the needs of others and to protect our own? What if our inner voice issues no commandment of reason (imperative) and there is no morality to be heard? My friends on the left side of the aisle may call that the Tea Party voice, if they like. I caution you that the Boston Tea Party was not what it seemed.
Whether or not there is a moral imperative to drive our decision-making, shall we also ignore the voice of the major religions that speak of our moral obligations? Of course, there are people who do not follow any religion, but the vast majority of people do associate themselves with one of the major religions. Followers of Islam and followers of Christ both believe in the obligation to help those in need, Jews believe they are commanded in the Old Testament to help the poor, other major religions here this calling as well. So how is it that political leaders can claim to be both religious and opposed to social programs? Religious leaders here and around the world have encouraged the continuation of lending a helping hand in the tough economic times. It is not a matter of whether there is enough to go around, it is the issue of whether there is a willingness to share.
Islam believes that it is a moral obligation for Muslims to share with the less fortunate. It is a way for the rich to understand the needs of the poor. A young man in Cairo recently told me that his family was fortunate enough to give a camel to the poor each year. Some may give a goat or lamb. Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical letter on social justice, Laborem Exercens, that there is a right to life and subsistence. In other words there is an obligation to meet the minimum needs to the poor. The Vatican’s Justice and Peace department have urged world leaders to create a fair economic system. It called on Catholics as a “moral imperative” to help the poor. U.S. Catholic bishops have urged Congress to extend social programs. House Speaker John Boehner, a practicing Catholic, has been challenged by a faculty member of Catholic University regarding his willingness, almost stubbornly so, to cut or eliminate certain social programs.
Why should Congress care? If they are not urged by some moral imperative from within, or pushed along by some moral obligation stated by the major religions, then by what standards do they rule over others? In preserving as many of their own dollars and that of their wealthy friends, have they lived up to the social contract? Do they care that men were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life?” Or have we dropped “all for one” in favor of “each man for himself?” Let’s look at this in an individually selfish way then. Is is not better to preserve “domestic tranquility” by helping the poor when needed, rather than letting them fall into desperate and hopeless situations? Crime rises in desperate times because if there is no hope, there seems to be little to lose.
“The public revenues are a portion that each subject gives of his property in
order to secure or enjoy the remainder. To fix their revenues in a proper
manner, regard should be had both to the necessities of the state and to those
of the subject. The real wants of the people ought never to give way to the
imaginary wants of the state.” —Thomas Jefferson
“Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all
from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property
in geometrical progression as they rise.” —Thomas Jefferson to James Madison,
- Nine Basic Themes of Catholic Social Teaching by Richard Gribble, CSC, PhD (unionsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com)
- How Islamic finance and a more ethical capitalism go hand-in-hand (socialenterprise.guardian.co.uk)
- “The Poor You Will Always Have With You” (polistew.com)
- The Other Problem With ‘Makers Versus Takers’ – Bloomberg (blog) (bloomberg.com)
- Look at the moral side of the fiscal cliff (voices.kansascity.com)
- Time to play offense for the social safety net (tv.msnbc.com)