This is from Bruce Frohnen who is Professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law. He covers some things here which have always troubled me about the welfare state, not because I don’t care about the poor, but because I simply don’t think the ends caring for the poor are served by using the state. It worked better in my opinion when the goal was accomplished on the local level. I’ve excerpted it, but I do think you should read the whole thing. He parallels (although at a much more sophisticated level) my thinking.
From the very beginning, Christians have had a conflicted attitude toward the injustices of this life. Christ told us that his kingdom is not of this world and even that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Yet the command to love our neighbors as ourselves has very clear social and political consequences. Early Christians responded by forming tight-knit communities so that they could care for one another and by going out and preaching the Gospel, whatever the consequences. The results were not “merely” religious. During the long struggle with paganism, Christianity’s intrinsic preference for the poor—its valuation of poor people as children of God deserving of love and care—won converts and literally transformed the West. It also helped bring the development of human rights, for example through provisions in the canon law recognizing the intrinsic dignity of every person as created in the image and likeness of God.
Heeding the call of conscience bore great fruit. But some have sought to go further. There have been many Christian utopian movements, in which the claim has been made that Christ’s teachings should become the rule for all to live by. They have not turned out very well. Whether in cities and largescale movements during the Middle Ages and Reformation or in scattered communities in the American West, certain areas occasionally have become bastions of “God’s people.” Unfortunately, the results have been rather predictably awful. Sometimes bickering has brought an early end to the experiment. More often, spiritual leaders have become de facto rulers and have claimed special relationships with God, allowing them to concentrate power in their own hands and claim special privileges to material goods, spiritual standing, and indulgences such as predatory “free love.”
The problems with such movements should be relatively clear. Although their sources in chiliastic fervor and social dislocation make them worthy of much study, these movements sadly partake of certain common fallacies and corruptions. Suffice it to say that when someone tells you that God is giving him messages and those messages seem always to tend toward his own temporal benefit, something is amiss. When the special leader seeks specifically political control, there is much to fear. […]
It will surprise no one to remark that a driving force behind many, if not most, utopian movements is precisely the drive to bring heaven to earth, with whatever caveats may be helpful at the time to those seeking utopia. The call within Christianity to make “social justice” a reality has a strong pull. Social justice is much on the lips of those who seek to bring massive transformation. Justice, they say, demands that all our institutions and indeed our very minds be freed from racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/classist or other unjust elements. Those who take their Christianity more seriously may note problems with some of these drives in terms of their relationship to biblical texts and/or the natural groundings of any reasonable Christian interpretation of moral reality. But the drive remains to sanctify the world through political and legal coercion. And, while many “social justice warriors” today are overtly anti-Christian, many claim not to be; and many professing Christians seem incapable of setting aside utopian hopes and guilty feelings that leave them prey to the calls of radicals, and some even assert a certain prideful demand that we literally make the world anew in a more egalitarian mold “in God’s name.”[…]
The problem, here, is not merely that such programs often end up being utopian in nature. Excuses too often are made, including by Christians, for dictators and violent movements (especially in Latin America) because their socialist ideology supposedly evidences real sympathy for the poor. One need not go so far as the still-powerful Liberation Theology (which, against all the evidence, turns Christ into a kind of poor people’s revolutionary) to fall into the fallacy of Christian utopianism. Social democracy itself, especially within larger countries, generally partakes of the same heretical attitude and leads to the same debilitating reliance on the state as the font of virtue.
This is not to say that “God decrees free markets.” Economic systems, like all systems, are matters for the prudent application of reason to experience. […]
If we come to see the purpose of the state as guaranteeing public welfare in all its particulars, we undermine the genuine public welfare, which is as much a matter of character as of choice and which must be seen to in local communities. The pursuit of utopia takes us away from God because it allows us to transfer the necessary effort of a Christian life away from ourselves and those with whom we share fraternal affection and the possibility of fraternal correction. It leads us to use the mechanisms of the state to force others to act as we will, in our supposed knowledge of all that is right. Certainly this involves the sin of pride. But many actually seek to hand over their own judgment to state actors out of a false humility or a flight from responsibility. In the end what social democracy—indeed any overuse of the political state—brings is a turning away from development of our own virtue, our own character, our ability to align our own souls with God’s plan and a turning toward ordering others to make the world what we would have it be.
Just one of the other things I see in the welfare state is that it almost inevitably lead to the state becoming very over-intrusive in our lives as well as the oft commented bloat as the people used to operate the system (at a higher than local level) begin to eat the resources provided for the poor. This is usually not a problem with a local system, which is (or should be) merely a tertiary duty of an official like a township trustee, or even a county sheriff. That’s part of the reason that as well as being wrong for a Christian, it is also a most inefficient method of caring for our fellow man.