Religion in Service of the Welfare State

Here we go again: To read E.J. Dionne’s piece in the Washington Post this morning, you’d think that God Himself had ordained the modern welfare state. Dionne’s nominal target is the media for its failure to sufficiently cover John Boehner’s recent commencement address at the Catholic University of America. But his larger aim is to promote his reading of the proposition that “From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor.”

That’s from the opening paragraph of a letter to Boehner from a group of Catholic academics, including some leading members of the Catholic University faculty. It added, “Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress.” And it singled out the House-passed Ryan budget for special condemnation, Dionne tells us, approvingly.

It’s hardly news, of course, that Catholics, along with other denominations, are divided on the “social justice” question. But as I wrote last month in the Wall Street Journal, the idea that Jesus taught that we should be forced, by government, to aid the poor is a serious misreading of Christian doctrine, to say nothing of the Decalogue. Virtue arises from voluntary actions, of which there is no shortage here in America – at least so long as the burdens of the welfare state don’t  crowd them out entirely. This use of the gospel to promote that state is not only unAmerican but unChristian as well.