I saw the following quotation this morning on Facebook:
I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies, and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, “My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.” It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you “disagree” with your candidate on these issues.
- Pulitzer and Tony winning playwright Doug Wright
In the quest for finding a grain of truth amidst even the most confused of statements, I think Mr. Wright has something to offer my Catholic friends who lean Democrat. Granted, “fundamental rights” has been misunderstood and misrepresented by the playwright. For instance, health care and the “right to inherit” seem at the very least questionable as “basic human rights.” Alas, such is the problem with modern rights language to begin with. French jurist Michael Villey argued that the understanding of rights as a subjective entitlements was an innovation of the nominalist revolution and that it is Utopian, arbitrary, and ultimately sterile. We see the fruits of this language every time someone like Doug Wright invents a so-called “right” out of thin air. Then there is the misunderstanding of the nature of marriage, along with the misidentification of life choices with “personhood.”
… is an unintended presidency.
There is probably no clause more misinterpreted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church than the conscience clause. CCC #1790 states:
A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
“There,” some will say, “The Catechism says I am always to obey my conscience, and my conscience tells me that [insert heresy here] is okay.” Of course, there is significant danger in tearing #1790 out of context from the other 19 paragraphs that surround it. These are pretty important paragraphs, as it turns out. They say things like:
Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (#1776).
Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings (#1783).
and then the is this:
This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits (#1791).
A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith (#1794).
So here’s the deal in short. We are in fact called to obey our conscience, but we are also called to make sure that our conscience is formed according to the mind of the Church. There is a spectrum between the formation of conscience and an act itself on which one can fall. The best place to be, of course is to form one’s conscience properly and then act in accordance with that conscience. One could also fail to form the conscience, and then act in accordance with the malformation. This is tragic, and certainly sinful if the choice to not inform the conscience was deliberate, but it is not the worst place in which one can be. The worst scenario is one who forms their conscience according to the mind of the Church and then deliberately acts against it. This is a grave sin indeed, and its perpetrator puts his soul in serious danger.
My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who – who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to – with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a – what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the – the congressman. I – I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.
Of course, we don’t know exactly what is in Joe Biden’s head – that is between him and God – but we do have his words in front of us, and we give the Vice President the benefit of the doubt that he expected this question, so he was not caught off guard. His response, therefore, is both premeditated and an accurate representation of his position.
If we can cut through the prose, the key points are two: (1) Mr. Biden accepts the teaching of the Church that life begins at conception, and (2) he refuses to implement this in his public policy. In other words, the Vice President has formed his conscience according to the Church and is actively going against it. We return at this point to CCC #1790: “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”
The response will undoubtedly be that there is a difference between the principle and the forcing of the principle on others. For instance, while I believe that it is a mortal sin for a Catholic to miss Mass on Sunday, I would not support a law in which Catholics are yanked out of their beds on Sunday morning by the local police in order to force them to attend their local parish, (as entertaining as that may be). The implementation of the principle is something distinct from the principle itself.
The problem is that this does work on issues of life. For these issues there the implementation is the same as the principle itself. In order to see this, imagine if Joe Biden had continued to use the phrase “murder” in his response. After all, he has admitted his acceptance of the de fide teaching of the Church on when life begins. His response would look something like this:
I accept my Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, and therefore that abortion is the murder of an innocent human life. However, I refuse to impose that view on others. The decision to murder an innocent human life is a decision between a woman and her doctor.
It simply doesn’t work. In fact note that the above argument could easily replace the word “abortion” with infanticide and remain relatively unaffected. In other words, if Joe’s argument is valid for life in the womb, then why can’t it be applied in the proverbial fourth trimester:
I accept my Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, and therefore that taking a three-month-old’s life is the murder of an innocent human life. However, I refuse to impose that view on others. The decision to murder an innocent human life is a decision between a family and their doctor.
Joe is trying to play the old, “You can’t legislate morality” card. The problem is, we always legislate morality. This is why theft, murder, and fraud are illegal. Where Joe runs into real trouble, though, is when he leads off with his acceptance of the Catholic position. At least the politician who claims that life’s beginning is an unsettled question is only guilty of bad science. Mr. Biden is guilty of far more than that.
The Vice President’s final problem is that he does not actually present the Church’s teaching accurately. He states only that the Church believes life begins at conception. He misses the other important parts.
1. Life begins at conception.
2. Therefore, abortion is a grave moral evil.
3. Laws must protect life at all stages.
4. Laws that conflict with the divine law must be opposed.
By now, most are aware that the State of Delaware has passed a piece of child welfare legislation that, in effect, criminalizes the act of spanking a child. The language is subtle, but is general enough to be disastrous for a parents’ right to raise and discipline their children. The key passage in question is actually a definition:
“Physical injury” to a child shall mean any impairment of physical condition or pain.
The synopsis provided by the legislature near the bottom of the bill reads:
This bill establishes the offense of Child Abuse. These new statutes combine current statutes and redefine physical injury and serious physical injury to reflect the medical realities of pain and impairment suffered by children. A new section provides special protection to infants, toddlers and children who have disabilities. The statute also expands the state of mind necessary for certain offenses against children allowing for more effective prosecution of parents who subject their children to abuse by others and fail to protect their children. The bill also re-numbers the definitional section making clear that the definitions apply to all crimes in the subchapter.
What are the implications of beating one’s children? Well, that depends on their age. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association:
Under the new law, a parent causing “physical injury” (e.g., pain) to a child under age 18 would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and subject to one year in prison. A parent causing pain to a child who was 3 years of age or younger would be guilty of a class G felony and subject to two years in prison.
Of course many a blogger will be up in arms, and rightfully so, over the passage of this bill. I will let those who have more of a aptitude for jurisprudence to dismantle the constitutionality of the legislation. Actually, I would love for someone skilled in this area to address the possibility of “pain” eventually being interpreted in a general enough manner to include psychological pain, something we often deal with in the fight against abortion and clauses to include “the health of the mother.”
For my own part, I have only two things to offer.
First, this language is so ridiculous as to be entirely unenforcible. Any time I cause my children pain I am guilt of a class A misdemeanor? Do you have any idea how many times I violate this statue during a sixty-minute Mass? A pinch here, a squeeze there, and yes, even the occasional smack upside the head. In the course of a single Mass, under Delaware State Law, I could probably be issued somewhere between three years and three centuries of prison time depending on the weekend and sitting arrangement of my six kids. And it gets worse for my three-year-old, in which the misdemeanor is elevated to a felony. Good Lord, I wouldn’t stand a chance! The weekend when I found the little booger dropping my keys behind the radiator, squeezing an entire bottle of hand sanitizer on his sister’s school work, microwaving his plastic blocks, and standing on the sink so her could see in the mirror … let’s just say that I wouldn’t get out of prison until somewhere between hell freezing over and the day the Browns win a Super Bowl.
Second, I thought the dialog with my nine-year-old daughter was entertaining:
Daughter: What are you guys taking about?
Dad: The State of Delaware has passed a law saying that parents can’t spank their kids.
Daughter: That’s silly.
Daughter: Parents need to spank so their kids will behave.
Dad: What do you think will happen if parents can’t spank their kids?
Daughter: The kids will probably end up voting for Obama.
Once the numbers are put to rest, the rest of the argument in favor of private giving over compulsory giving via a system of taxation is easy. The philosophical argument can be broken down into two parts: one based on human teleology and the second based on a phenomenology of gift.
First, all being is in the process of becoming. That is, all being has a certain perfection, a telos, towards which it tends. A chair has the natural tendency to tend towards being that perfect chair after which it was designed. Aristotle called this the final cause, and noted its place of prominence among the four causes of being, the other three being the material, the formal, and the efficient. Humans, however, are unique in the material universe in that we can actively choose whether or not to tend towards that perfection of being fully human. This is the gift of freedom that we are endowed with. Of course, this freedom is not to be seen as merely the ability to choose between contraries, but rather as a freedom for excellence, as the ability to choose the good. One might say that the ability to choose the good is part and parcel of what it means to be human.
When a human person acts charitably he is acting in a way fully consistent with that call to freedom. It is the virtues that perfect the human person, and charity is among the most important of the virtues. The curious thing about the virtues is that the only way to acquire them is to practice them. They are habits. The only way to become courageous is to act courageously, and the only way to become charitable is to perform acts of charity. Thus, when a person acts freely in performing an act of charity, he is not only helping out his fellow members of the human race, but he is also serving to become a better person himself. Further, the free act of giving has an impact on the recipient that extends past the offered resources. The recipient recognizes the act of charity for what it is, and that act in turn becomes a model of charity in his own life.
In contrast to this, compulsory giving has nothing of the benefits shared by a voluntary act. The agent, being forced to offer the money or service, is not acting in freedom, and thus it has no impact on his life of virtue. Similarly, beyond the actual dollars and cents, the recipient of the tax dollars comes to see the funding as an entitlement rather than a freely offered act of charity. Obligation replaces virtue, and the obligatory acts freezes both parties at the level of obligation, not allowing them to advance in virtue. It should come as no surprise that modernity find these ideas difficult to understand. Ever since William Ockham and his fellow Nominalists, even general morality has focussed exclusively on obligation rather than virtue.
Yet the perfection towards which a human person must strive is experienced in the human heart as a call to gift. The deepest desire of the human condition is to give one’s self away and to receive another who is called to do the same. In a paradoxical manner, we find our fulfillment by emptying ourselves to one another. This call to become gift explains a myriad of human experiences like falling in love, risking one’s life for a person in danger, and acts of selflessness that seem to come naturally. It explains the natural institution of marriage, the begetting of children, and dying for a cause. We seek forever to give ourself away.
This is precisely why crowd our rates are not dollar for dollar. Economists may refer to this as the “warm glow” effect, suggesting that people give because they receive some psychological benefit, an injection of happiness if you will, from the act of giving. While there is a grain of truth to this, it is not the whole picture. People give because they were made to give. They become fully human in the very act of giving. Private charitable giving is completely consistent with this call to be gift to one another, both for the giver and the recipient. It is also why compulsory giving in the form of taxation never settles well with the one being taxed. Deep down, people want to give – they don’t want to forced into virtue.
The call to charitable acts is prevalent throughout the Gospels, and indeed the entire collection of Scriptures. As a member of the Universal Church, one cannot dispense with the obligation to assist those less fortunate among us. Yet the call to charity can never be disassociated from the call to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. Pope Benedict XVI tells us in Deus caritas est:
“The increase in diversified organizations engaged in meeting various human needs is ultimately due to the fact that the command of love of neighbour is inscribed by the Creator in man’s very nature. It is also a result of the presence of Christianity in the world, since Christianity constantly revives and acts out this imperative, so often profoundly obscured in the course of time … For this reason, it is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance …
“We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity …
“[C]haritable activity must [not] leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love. He knows—to return to the questions raised earlier—that disdain for love is disdain for God and man alike; it is an attempt to do without God” (paragraph 31).
Private giving is free to be an act rooted in the call to follow Christ and preach His word. This also raises the practical problem of government funds applied to social causes. When giving becomes compulsory, there enters the possibility, and perhaps even the inevitability, of the funds being used in a manner contradictory to the consciences of individual taxpayers. Herein lies the debate about tax dollars being used to fund abortion and contraception. Yet these two issues are not the only ones on the table. Nearly everyone has a list of causes that would be objectionable to their conscience, and natural outrage would be expressed if they were to be forced to donate to these causes through the tax system. This reality is often used as an argument for taxation: if we left it to the individual giver, would there not be causes that would go unsupported? It is an illusion to think that taxes ensure a baseline of morality. Instead, they merely reflect the opinions of those in power, those elected officials tasked with budgeting the tax dollars.
Yet it remains true that the purpose of politics is justice as well as charity. Is not the function of government to maintain some level of fairness and equality? True, but it would be a mistake to think that this comes in a manner contradictory to charity. The virtues are never in conflict, but rather support and strengthen one another. Blind redistribution of wealth through compulsory giving, i.e. taxes, fails to incorporate man’s call to charity. Even if it would lead to a more just economic reality, the picture would be incomplete at best, for as St. Paul reminds us, without charity, we are nothing. Yet this takes us full circle to the mathematical argument in the first section that suggests that the monies available to a social cause are not increased by government subsidies, but all things considered, they are actually decreased. It is really a loose-loose situation. On the other hand, if we keep charity first and allow private giving to do its thing, justice follows as well. This flip side is a win-win situation.
Finally, to echo the philosophical argument of person-as-gift, Pope Benedict offers the following:
“Saint Paul, in his hymn to charity (cf. 1 Cor 13), teaches us that it is always more than activity alone: ‘If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing’ (v. 3). This hymn must be the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service … Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift” (34).
The philosophical and theological arguments are clear: the world and mankind are better off if social causes such as poverty are funded through voluntary private giving. Man is made to be gift, and he fulfills his destiny insofar as he gives of himself freely. The only argument that could stand up against this is the practical argument that private giving would be unable to fund social causes: mankind, poisoned as he is by original sin, would fail to selflessly give what is necessary to solve the problem. Whether or not a cause can be completely funded is not the issue. There are many social causes that will never be solved this side of heaven. The issue is whether or not government taxation has an actual positive effect on the particular social cause – this is where the mathematical arguments from part one become so important. It seems that compulsory giving through taxation actually serves to decrease the amount of funds actually available to a cause. Once the economic argument falls, it seems that there is nothing left to justify government involvement in social programs.
Crowding out on its own can never make a case for the privatization of social services. Even with government crowd out, the total amount of money raised for a particular cause is higher with government involvement (or equal in the case of total crowd out). For instance, if a cause is funded entirely by the private sector, say at $100, and the government steps in with a $50 subsidy. Supposing the crowd out rate is 60%, the private donations drop by $30 because of the $50 government “donation.” However, the total gift to the charity is now $120 (the government’s $50 plus the private sector’s $70), which is higher than the purely private $100.
However, this doesn’t take into account the efficiency contrast between the private and public sector. Here is where my model begins to take shape. For starters, suppose that the government operates with a 30/70 split and the private sector operates with a 70/30 split and a modest crowd out rate of 60%. Let’s follow that tax dollar collect by the government. Suppose that the government collects and budgets $1 in taxes for a social cause. The amount of money actually going to the cause, after the deduction for administrative expenses, is $0.30. However, that tax dollar also causes a crowd out of 60%, or $0.60 in private giving. No, in fairness, the private giving also has its administrative expenses, so the actual causes experiences only 70% of the $0.60 in decreased funding, which amounts to $0.42. The end result is that the extra $0.30 injected by the government is more than counteracted by a drop in $0.42. Thus, the government involvement actually causes a drop in funding for the actual cause.
One is free to play with the numbers, of course. We were conservative in our estimates of private giving efficiencies and crowd out rate. If we continue to hold the private efficiency rate at 70/30, it turns out that the crowd out rate can drop to around 43% before we hit the break even point. This is a comfortably low number by all accounts in the literature. Yet even this assumes a modest 70/30 private giving efficiency. If we adjust this to the median, which is closer to 90/10 (10% administrative costs), we find that the crowd out rate can fall as low as 33% before we hit the break even point. What this tells us is that for more than half the charities, there is a substantial decrease in actual available funds when the government raises taxes to subsidize the programs. Were such a reality to be understood and made public, it would cause a fiscal scandal greater than any experience by the few immoral and manipulative bad apples in the world of private charitable organizations.
Now, we should admit that this is based on a definition of “crowd out” that can be unclear in the literature. Many authors use the term without defining whether the crowd out percentage is a function of the taxed dollar ($1) or the final injection after administrative costs are factored out ($0.30). We assumed the later because in the two mathematical models (Krause and Andreoni) we were able to follow actual variables, and it was the taxed dollar that resulted in the crowd out. However, is a subsequent paper, Andreoni himself seems to be leaning towards the later definition. If that is true, the situation changes*. It turns out that total available post-administrative funds is increased by government involvement in all cases (and only breaks even if private giving is perfectly efficient and crowd out is 100%), but the increase is such a small percentage of the total taxes collected (between 10% and 13% using the same efficiency and crowd our assumptions), that the expenditures become difficult to defend from any reasonable moral perspective. Such a reality, even in this case, would cause a public scandal if it were explained to the average voter.
If their are economists among us who can clarify this definition with a solid reference, I would be more than grateful to hear an answer. I have at least ten papers from economics journals on my desk, none of which are specific enough on the definition of crowd out to decide this point.
* In the case that crowd out is defined as a function of the money spent on the actual cause by the government rather than the taxed dollar, the mathematical exercise is a bit more complicated.Out of the dollar collected via taxation, only $0.30 of it is going to make it through the bureaucratic structures of the government. When the $0.30 is injected into the cause, it results it a decrease of $0.18 (60% of of $0.30) of private giving due to crowd out. Of course, this is a decrease in $0.18 of giving, not of actual money to the cause. In fairness, even the private charity has its administrative costs. Thus, the decrease is private funding is only 70% of the $0.18, or $0.126. Nevertheless, the total difference made by the government $1 is the $0.30 decreased by the crowded out $0.126, which comes to $0.174. Therefore, it is a mistake to think that he government gets even its 30% of the dollar for the social cause. The net gain experienced by the cause is only 12.6%. Think about this on a larger scale. In order for the government to make a $1,000,000 difference in a cause, it must collect $5.75 million in tax money.
One is free to play with the numbers to see the impact of combining efficiency and crowd out rates. Our experiment was based on a conservative 70% private giving efficiency and a modest 60% crowd out. If we assume the median private giving efficiency of 90% and Andreoni’s 70% crowd out rate, the net government difference on the tax dollar falls to 11.1%. So to raise that $1,000,000, the government would have to collect over $9 million in taxes.
Notice that the cause is still “technically” better off. Even in the more extreme case, the cause still gets its additional $1,000,000 in funding. In fact, this will always be the case. While the combined rate falls as private efficiency and crowd out rise, even with a private efficiency of 100% and a crowd out of 100%, the government simply replaces every dollar in the social cause. Yet the replacement come at quite a cost to the taxpayer. If a private charitable organization were to operate on these dismal percentages, it would make the front page of the New York Times in the most scandalous of manners.
While I understand the USCCB’s commitment to framing the HSS Mandate exclusively in terms of religious liberty, I have been, since the beginning, reminding people that it is in fact a contraception issue. Politically it may make sense to focus on religious liberty, but morally, the two are inseparable. Well-known law professor Helen Alvaré has a very well-written piece at the Witherspoon Institute:
It should be noted that sexualityism is no more than a theory about a claimed cause of women’s happiness—i.e., that its growth is directly proportional to women’s ability to express themselves sexually without commitment and without the possibility of children. The HHS mandate stands on this theory. In a world of easy availability of birth control and abortion, the only reason for a federal mandate for a “free” and universal supply is to try to send the sexualityism message. The White House has all but come out and said: “women of America, vote for the incumbent this presidential election year because he supports women’s equality and freedom, which he understands to include at the very least nonmarital and nonprocreative sexual expression.” Why else choose Sandra Fluke—an affluent, single, female law student, who demands a taxpayer-subsidized, 365-day supply of birth control as the price of female equality—as your spokeswoman? While every savvy media outlet understands the political theater going on here with the whole “war on women,” anti-Republicans message, still when the White House uses its powerful bully pulpit to send such a message, cultural damage is done.
Read the rest here.
This is the first part in a three-part series. It raises an issue that I have been thinking about for over three years, and I have finally nailed down some sources and drawn the whole argument together. I will issue the next two parts over the course of the week.
With the pending election there has been a resurgence of discussion about privatizing certain industries, e.g. health care, education, etc. Further, the Democratic Convention suggests that the Democratic party is the party that cares about a shared responsibility for the collective mankind, establishing a suggested radical individualism present among Republican. More simply put, the Democrats are often portrayed as the party that cares about the poor, while the Republicans are the party that cares only about themselves. Paul Ryan has maintained that he is fiscally conservative in part because he does care about the poor. His prudential judgement has led him to believe that the best way to help the poor is through fiscal monetary policies.
However, when the proposal to privatize any government service arises, alongside we find a familiar, and seemingly difficult to overcome, argument. Just as an example, let’s take education. Were we to privatize our education system completely, would that not leave several individuals in a position of not being able to afford tuition. There are, after all, people in tax brackets that pay less in education taxes than it costs for the government to educate their children, just as there are those who pay more in education taxes than the cost of education. This is the point of taxes for social services: a redistribution of wealth. It is misunderstood that those who would defend a privatized system are selfishly attached to “my money” and somehow prioritize the individual over the community. This is a red herring, though; the discussion is not about the priority of the individual or the community, but rather about the best way to serve the community, through tax dollars or private charitable giving. Those who cannot afford tuition would be helped in the same way that many are now helped who cannot afford other necessities: through freely offered private charitable giving. Typically, the next objection is that this is overly optimistic about human generosity. In other words, the amount of freely offered charity will not be able to sustain the need, and hence compulsory giving, i.e. taxes, is necessary. My aim is to defend that in most cases a privatized system will out-give compulsory giving via taxation and that freely offered charity enjoys philosophical and theological advantages over dollars extracted through a tax system.
My thesis is that private funds will be able to account for the drop in funding by eliminating the taxes that current fund the social service. To see this, we need to discuss two economic realities.
The first is the efficiency with which the government, and by contrast the private sector, provides social services. Robert Woodson (1989), in Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Private Sector Alternatives to the Welfare State, has calculated that, on average, 70% of the funds collected through taxes dedicated to social services goes not to the social service itself, but instead to administrative bureaucracy. This means that for every dollar collected by the government, only 30 cents actually goes towards the service. Michael Tanner corroborates this 70/30 split through several regional studies in The End of Welfare (1998). In contrast to this, the same administrative/service split in the private sector is reversed. Only one-third of privately collected monies goes towards administrative services, and two-third goes towards the actual cause. According to Edwards (“The Cost of Public Income Redistribution, 2007), 70 percent of newer charities, as rated by Charity Navigator, spend at least 75% of their budgets on the programs and services they exist to provide. 90% spend at least 65%, and the median among all charities in the sample was 90.7%.
The reason for this is basic competition. Private sector charities are under strong pressure to operate efficiently because donors want to know that a large percentage of their gifts go to support the appointed cause. Programs that operate inefficiently will cease to attract donors and eventually cease to exist. True, there are some very unethical charities out there that take advantage of donors’ money, but over time and with adequate exposure, competition solves this problem. In contrast, government lacks the motivation experienced by private charitable organizations to operate at efficient levels. There is an ironic turn of events in this: according to Edwards,
“Those operating at levels of inefficiency comparable to the average government agency are often prosecuted – by the government (which never applies the same standards or threat to its own agencies – for fraud. Pressure on private charities to avoid such prosecution, and the bad publicity and loss of public trust resulting, is strong.”
The contrasting levels of efficiency between the public and private sectors means that the government has to raise over twice as much money in taxes as the private sector would have to raise in donations in order to provide the same service (assuming the private sector operates at a 70% efficiency level). In other words, if a social service costs 21 million dollars, the government would have to extract 70 million dollars in taxes in order to cover the cost. The private sector would have to raise only 30 million dollars. This assumes a generous 70/30 split in the private sector. As stated earlier, the median is closer to a 90/10 split, and in this case the private sector would only have to raise 23.3 million dollars, only a third what the government requires.
The second economic reality is what is known as “crowding out.” The idea is that, as the government collects tax money and budgets it towards a social cause, private donors become less likely to donate their own funds. In other words, the government support “crowds out” private donations. Arthur Brooks in “Is There a Dark Side to Government Support for Nonprofits?” (2000) lists four reasons why crowding out occurs. The most obvious is that a cause that already receives funding from a third source (government or otherwise) is unlikely to appear as “in need” and therefore unlikely to attract additions donations. Second, “subsidies to non-profit firms may make them appear to private donors ‘non-mainstream’ and, hence, in need of non-market support.” Third, private donors often want to know they have some control over the organization they choose to support. Finally, since government support is taxed-based, it decreases the amount of disposable income that private donors can direct towards charitable causes. (This last effect is compounded by the relative inefficiency with which government social programs operates.)
Crowd out rates are measured as percentages of a dollar that are “crowded out” for every government dollar added. For instance, a 70% crowd out rate means that for every tax dollar the government collects for a cause, the private donations are reduced by 70 cents. “Total crowd out” is a dollar-for-dollar exchange, so for every dollar injected by the federal government, exactly one dollar of private donations is eliminated. Anything less is considered “partial crowd out.”
The literature that measures crowd out rates falls generally into three categories: real world data, theoretical models, and theoretical controlled experiments. Unfortunately, crowd out rates based on real world data are across the board. Brooks summarizes some of the studies which quote real world rates anywhere from 1.8% to 66%.
The theoretical models depend in part on the assumptions made about givers. In one model, charity is determined exclusively by the need of a particular cause, in which case crowd out rates are total (dollar-for-dollar). The idea is that a cause only needs a finite amount of money and people are willing to pay to see that finite amount met. If the government steps in and meets part of the requirement, the private donors, sensing the need has been decreased, will decrease their donations dollar for dollar. If the government decreases their support, private donations step back in and pick up the slack, again dollar-for-dollar. The crowd out rate in such cases is 100%. Other models suggest that people give not simply to satisfy a social need, but also for personal satisfaction, a “warm glow” effect. James Andreoni is a leading expert in this area, and his models predict a minimum of 71.5% crowd out rate (“An Experimental Test of the Public-Goods Crowding-Out Hypothesis,” 1993). A third model attempts to consider the effect of giving competition. The idea is that donors are more likely to give at a particular level based on what their peers are giving. In this case, Alan Krause (“On the Crowding-Out Effects of Tax-Financed Charitable Contributions by the Government,” 2011) predicts that crowding out may be attenuated by such competition, but the situation is highly unstable. If even a single person has some motivation to drop their giving, others will follow suit in the face of government subsidies and crowding out rate approaches total.
The third category in the literature is controlled theoretical experiments. Generally this falls into the mathematical area of Game Theory. Andreoni is again an expert in this field, and his experiments have corroborated his theoretical rates, in one case 71.5% and in another up to 84%. Another experiment (“An Experimental test of the crowding out hypothesis,” C. Eckel, et. al., 2003) attempted to separate groups into those who knew that third party funds were coming from tax dollars (“no fiscal illusion”) and those who were unaware of the source of the new funds (“fiscal illusion”). In the case of fiscal illusion, the authors found no evidence of crowding out, but in the case where donors were aware that tax dollars were subsidizing the cause, crowding was almost total.
In the face of these three categories of results, we are forced to ask: which ones are “better”. In other words, if were are going after actual crowd out rates, would it not make sense to trust those that are data driven? No, says Andreoni. The problem with the data-driven results is that they are incapable of separating out a vast range of influences. In other words, it is nearly impossible to have a “control” in the real economic world. For instance, “it is impossible to know whether the incomplete crowding-out found [in the literature] is the result of certain institutional features not captured by the model, or whether it is due to individual preferences that are different than those assumed in public-goods models.” The purpose of the laboratory experiments is to provide such a control. Keep in mind that the laboratory experiments are not entirely mathematical – they involve real people making real decisions. It is also telling that the lab experiments are consistent with the theoretical models developed elsewhere in the literature.
All told, the present author is comfortable in making the assumption that average crowd out rates are at least at the 60% level, that is, for every dollar injected by the government into a social cause, 60 cents is taken out in private donations. Given the theoretical models and the laboratory experiments, which typically come in around 70%, I feel that this is a generous assumption for my purposes.
There is an outstanding new publication hitting the press by the name of Fare Forward: A Christian Review of Ideas. The Editor-in-Chief is named Peter Blair. While at Dartmouth, Blair ran the campus publication Apologia. Now that he is a graduate, this is his attempt at furthering the mission of Apologia and taking it national in Fare Forward. From the website, the publication describes itself:
Fare Forward is a quarterly Christian review of ideas and cultural commentary for young adults launched in the summer of 2012. As undergraduates, the editors of the journal all worked on The Dartmouth Apologia, a journal of Christian thought at Dartmouth College. The success of the Apologia and like-minded Christian journals on college campuses across the country, as well as the sociological research on our generation, inspired the editors to create this journal. Our writers and readers are drawn from the ranks of what sociologists have begun to call “emerging adults”: young people who have graduated from college and begun to enter the work force but who are still facing a period of transition and uncertainty. We aim to provide emerging adults with a space to engage with a thoughtful Christian worldview that provides a framework for integrating faith, reason, service and vocation, and to put this worldview in dialogue with the intellectual and cultural trends influencing our national discussions.
The name ‘Fare Forward’ is taken from “The Dry Salvages”, the third quartet of T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece, Four Quartets. “The Dry Salvages” is a reflection on time, eternity, and humanity’s place in between. We chose our name to reflect this awareness of the transhistorical, incarnational nature of human experience and to affirm our commitment to acknowledging both the richness of Christian tradition and our faith’s vital creativity.
Give Fare Forward a solid look, and consider a subscription during this inaugural year. While I am committed (for obvious reasons) to electronic media, I am also a fan of keeping printed publications as an integral part of our intellectual culture.
We all have books that imprint a lasting memory on us, not simply for the entertainment value, but rather for the way in which they communicate the truth of the human person. I just spent the better part of two hours and three cups of coffee with a good friend who described manner of influence that Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted had upon him. It seems to me that the profundity of such texts is carried by their characters rather than their plot lines. True, the development of the characters is always serviced by the plot; but equally true is the direction of such service. In fact, this is more than likely the primary means by which many modern novels go astray: the characters are at the service of the plot rather than the other way around. Much of modern writing reads like a movie script rather than a work of literature.
For me, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is an exemplar in character development and as such presents an unparalleled disclosure of the human condition and the effects of both sin and virtue in the life of man. I read the book five years ago, and I can still quote the opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There are two ways to read this. The first is that “happy” is uniform, and in some sense boring, whereas sin is interesting, unique even. Disfunction is worth writing about, because we, as readers, find it intriguing. I don’t think this is Tolstoy’s final word on these words, at least in terms of the novel seen as a whole, but I do think he intends the reader to understand something along these lines at the start of the novel.
The story follows four individuals arranged as couple. The first, for whom the novel is named, is Anna. When she comes on the scene, she is nothing short of captivating: beautiful and mysterious in every way. Anna is married, albeit unhappily. As the story progresses, she falls into an illicit affair with the young Count Vronsky, who pursues her with both intensity and persistence. The third is a young woman named Kitty. At the start of the novel, Kitty is simple, even a bit superficial. In short, I found her utterly uninteresting. By the end of the story, Kitty is married to a man named Levin. While their path towards this marriage was complicated, and each did their fair share of soul searching, they are to be the couple who stands apart in virtue from that of Anna and Vronsky, whose sin takes center stage throughout much of the book.
The curious thing is not the evolution of Kitty and Levin, nor the devolution of Anna and Vronsky. Rather, the curious thing is the interest in which the reader has for each couple. While Anna begins the story as mysterious and captivating, by the end of her plot line, her path of self-destruction comes to fulfillment, and at her final moment in which she throws herself in front of a train, she has lost all identity due to her sin. The effect of sin and vice on the human person is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Gollum, for whom the ring (symbolizing evil) has replaced his own sense of self, even to the point where he speaks of himself in the plural. Something of this sort is present in the New Testament encounters with demons, who also speak in the plural: “We are legion.” In contrast, Kitty and Levin become much more complex and intriguing by the end. Their fulfillment in virtue makes them interesting. The message is clear: vice leads to self-destruction and lack of identity, and virtue leads to self fulfillment.
As I reflected back on the book, I felt, as a reader, towards each character exactly how one should feel in light of Tolstoy’s theme. At the outset, I was captivated by the Anna and Vronksy plot and bored by that of Kitty and Levin. I almost found myself (especially in light of the book’s overall length) nearly skimming past the chapters devoted to Kitty. She was superficial and boring, and I had little patience for her. Yet by the end, the tables had turned. I was so tired of the sinful affair and the pathetic nothing of which Anna had become, that I was almost relieved when she finalized her own destruction. For right or wrong, “It is about time,” was my reaction. I was much more interested in seeing what would become of Kitty and Levin.
Towards the end of the book, I prematurely felt that I “got it.” I thought I understood what Tolstoy was trying to do. Yet, in spite of my Catholic upbringing, I failed to predict the true climax of the book. It ins’t simply that virtue leads to happiness. The perfection of the human person is not found only in natural virtue.
Levin, devoted fully to Kitty, senses the same, that something missing.
“When Levin thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair, but when he stopped asking himself about it, he seemed to know what he was and what he lived for, because he acted and lived firmly and definitely; recently he had even lived much more firmly and definitely than before… He felt something new in his soul and delightedly probed this new thing, not yet knowing what it was. ‘To live not for one’s own needs but for God.’ For what God? For God. And could anything more meaningless be said than what he said?”
Up until this point, Levin is an atheist; he struggles with Kitty’s religion. Yet he searches, looking for proof, for that “miracle” that will convince the heart.
“‘I and millions of people who lived ages ago and are living now, muzhiks, the poor in spirit, and the wise men who have thought and written about it, saying the same thing in their vague language – we’re all agreed on this one thing: what we should live for and what is good.’”
He is reasoning that man has an inherent sense of both purpose and morality, and the the two are connected. Why should a sense of “the good” pervade all of human history? This is the miracle for which he has searched.
“‘I looked for miracles, I was sorry that I’d never seen a miracle that would convince me. And here it is, the only possible miracle, ever existing, surrounding my on all sides, and I never noticed it! Can this be faith?’ he wondered, afraid to believe his happiness. ‘My God, thank you!’ he said, choking back the rising sobs and with both hands wiping away the tears that filled his eyes.”
Even in his natural state of happiness, the result of virtuous decisions, Levin was not complete. The human condition finds its perfection in conversion, and it is thus with which the novel ends. (I have picked and assembled pieces of Levin’s vast monologue - will leave it to the readers to go through the rest of it. It is a brilliant philosophical argument in its own right.)
The novel is a perfect exhibition of the three states in which the human can find himself: vice, natural virtue, and supernatural perfection. Granted, we are never, this side of heaven, purely in one state, but the three states are real nonetheless. The message of Tolstoy couldn’t be more obsious: vice destroys, virtue perfects, but there is something else even beyond natural perfection, and that can only be brought about by self-abandonment, conversion, and grace. That being said, the message of grace is utterly Orthodox/Catholic: grace perfects nature – it does not destroy it.
When we understand this, we return full circle with a renewed understanding to the opening words: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is not that sin is more interesting than virtue, for by the end of the book the reader is much more drawn into the plot of Kitty and Levin and has decidedly left the sinful affair in its own demise. However, it remains true that there is only one path to happiness, authentic happiness that is: conversion. Yet sin is as varied as the sinner. Variety, however, does not make for interest anymore than simplicity makes for boredom. God, after all, is perfectly simple, as is he one.
This brings me to the question of why, after five years, I found myself motivated to write about Anna Karenina. The other day, when perusing upcoming films, I came across a trailer for a new adaption of Tolstoy’s novel, staring Keira Knightley as Anna. Initially I was excited, but after watching the trailer, something seemed lacking.
First, the entire trailer focusses on the Anna and Vronsky affair. There seems to be little mention of Kitty and Levin, though they are among the cast list and appear very briefly in the trailer. Granted, the film, as well as the book, it titled after this character, so the focus on Anna is at the very least understandable. It is, in fact, something about which I have often wondered. With the destruction of Anna some fifty pages from the end, the climax of both the book and Tolstoy’s message is found not in her, but rather in Levin and Kitty, who share quite a bit in word count with the Anna/Vronksy sections. Yet titling the book something other than Anna Karenina seems to detract from the story itself. It is almost as it Tolstoy wanted to strike up an interest in Anna even before the first page.
What is more distressing about the trailer is that the affair itself is romanticized, something that is the result of a “true love” but finds its difficulties in the unfortunate situation in which the heroine (though in the book that she is not) finds herself. Think even of the words Anna speaks at the start of the trailer: “I was eighteen when I got married, but it was not love.” Love, being something about which one “cannot ask why?” is a passive and mysterious emotion rather than an act about which one has authentic freedom. The problem is that this is utterly inconsistent with the book itself. The affair, while initially intriguing, becomes tiresome and shallow. It is wrong, and the reader knows it is wrong, and the destructive path to which it leads is not only inevitable, but also just. I have a sneaky suspicion, in a day and age that readily dismisses the permanence of marriage, the film will present Anna and Vronksy with more sympathy than they deserve, missing the first point of the novel. Her husband will be an antagonist, as will her family in trying to keep her tragically locked in an unhappy marriage. On this note, the main antagonist will be the Church (in this case the Russian Orthodox Church), which seeks to do the same through her antiquated rules and prudish definitions of marraige. In this regard, the film will directly depart from Tolstoy. Consider the following monologue from the conversion of Levin:
“‘Yes, what I know, I do not know by reason, it is given to me, it is revealed to me, and I know it by my heart, by faith in that main thing that the Church confesses. The Church? The Church! … But can I believe in everything the Church confesses?’ He began purposely to recall all the teachings of the Church that had always seemed to him the most strange and full of temptation … And it now seemed to him that there was not a single belief of the Church that violated the main thing – faith in God, in the good as the sole purpose of man. In place of the Church’s beliefs there could be put the belief in serving the good instead of one’s needs.”
I doubt they will change the end of Anna – it is far to famous a scene to alter or delete. Yet the tragic end will be more of a horrific shock than a predictable result of her sinful actions. The tragedy will be that Anna was not allowed to love freely the one whom she so deeply desired rather than the natural self-destruction that results from vice.
I will be completely surprised if the film brings out the second, and more important lesson of Tolstoy, that natural virtue finds it perfection in conversion. The religious themes will be stripped from the story – Hollywood has little patience for Christianity. The last fifty pages of Anna Karenina will be seen much as the Scourging of the Shire was seen by the filmmakers of Lord of the Rings: an unnecessary appendix. And like Lord of the Rings, in choosing to eliminate the ending, the filmmakers of Anna Karenina will have completely misunderstood a major theme woven into the fabric of the story.
Perhaps it is premature for me to render such criticism. I certainly hope I am wrong – the lessons in Anna Karenina are indispensable for a culture that has all but abandoned the notion of vice and virtue, so I will be among the first to rejoice if the film recognizes and communicates this. Thus, in fairness, I will withhold final judgement until the film comes out, yet the tenor of trailer leaves me in doubt.
I found myself in a Facebook conversation recently with a guy I don’t even know; a “friend” or a “friend: if you will. It got to the point where I invested enough time that I thought, hey, this could be a post.
I should point out that I have altered the conversation in two significant ways. First, I have eliminated all references to anything personally identifiable, which in some cases caused me to reword some sentences significantly – the content, however, remains unchanged. Second, I have actually combine the responses of several people under the general pseudonym of “Respondent.”
Respondent [Original Post]: I think that it’s great to hear President Obama speak up for the rights of all people to get married. This has been quite an important week, politically speaking!
Jake: Just as I am typing this, I fear that I may be deleted and/or misunderstood. I will try very hard to proceed charitably in the same spirit of dialog for which President Obama has so often called.
My problem with this President and events like the recent news conference is that he seems to not fully understand his own position(s). Rather, I should say, if he understands them, then he doesn’t full communicate them.
For instance, he has on multiple occasions said that marriage should not be a federal issue (in his rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act) – that it is, under the Constitution, marriage should be an issue left to the States. Yet in the same breath, he, as a representative of the federal government, makes a statement on proposing the legality of same-sex marriage. It seems to me, and I am happy to be corrected on this, that the President wants to make things federal issues when it fits with his political agenda (health care, for instance, or the national legalization of same-sex marriages), but then play the state’s rights card when it doesn’t (like the enforcement of the federal Defense of Marriage Act). The Democrats are not alone in this – don’t get me wrong – the Republicans do there fair share of selectivity/inconsistency.
The inconsistency of this President continues in his deliberate promotion of himself as a Christian. Now, I am not here to judge who is and isn’t a Christian – thankfully that is left to the infinite mercy and justice of God. However, we are called, as Christians, to point out where and when those who claim the name of Christ stray from His Gospel. We can debate, hopefully with great tact and respect, whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and certainly there are many world religions with differing views on this issue … but it is intellectually dishonest to claim that Christianity does not condemn the behavior. Both Old and New Testament, as well as the oldest writings of Church Fathers are crystal clear on this. Again, though, let me clarify my position lest I be misunderstood. My beef with the President is not solely with his new-found evolution on same-sex marriage, nor is it solely with his self-identification as a Christian. My problem is that he maintains both simultaneously. An honest reading of the Bible, the foundational text for Christianity, simply doesn’t allow for this. I would respectfully ask the President to chose one or the other, and then let the intellectual debate begin. As long as he tries to hold both in tandem, no honest discussion can occur.
My third issue, to add more to the pending firestorm against me, is a very practical concern with the federal government getting involved with marriage. My practical concern is related to the recent HHS debacle. If the Federal government can start mandating health insurance coverage, then the door is wide open for the violation of religious freedom, as evidenced by the recent attempt to force religious employers to purchase medical options that violate their religious conscience. In a similar way, then, if the federal government gets invalid with allowing (nationally) same-sex marriage, then the next step will become to tell specific faiths that they cannot discriminate in their marriage ceremonies and practices. This is the kind of thing that happens when the Federal government starts overstepping its constitutional bounds and wades into issue that are to be left to the States.
Finally, I would point out that for those who are opposed to the President’s position, this is not, and never has been, and issue of equality. At least it is not any more an issue of equality than is the reality that a male cannot give birth. Rather, it is a matter of the objective nature of a particular reality. A man cannot give birth, not because he is in some way less human than a woman, but because it is not in the nature of what it is to be male. The position of those who defend marriage between one man and one woman is much more along those lines than it is along the lines of civil rights, equality, and the like. Marriage has a particular nature to it, and it is the position of those who disagree with the President that it is against the nature of marriage to have it contracted between two men or two women. In other words, it is not that people believe two men (or two women) SHOULD NOT get married; the position is that two men (or two women) CANNOT be married. They can say the words, exchange the rings, but no valid marriage is confected. Obviously there are those that disagree, but the debate needs to happen on this level, the objective nature of marriage and sexuality, rather than on the level of ambiguous and undefined “equality.” Authentic equality, much like authentic freedom, is built upon objective nature.
I think that is quite enough for now. I hope, as I tried to do, that it was charitable. Alas, the difficulty with the typed word is that it never fully communicates nuance, emotion, and a whole host of other things.
Respondent: Hi, Jake, I’ll simply say that the President hasn’t tried to get Congress to introduce legislation about marriage (plenty of other things on his plate at present, I suppose?). He was just expressing his opinion after Biden expressed his own opinion. I think it is good that they have been cautiously thinking about their stance on marriage and listening to the public about it. Many surveys I’ve seen show that the majority of young people in our country support the right of gays and lesbians to marry, perhaps because we grew up with these issues as a daily topic of conversation, I don’t know. Anyway, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I’m glad that Obama and Biden continue to discuss and to listen before trying to get Congress to introduce legislation about it. Even Cheney endorsed the rights of gays and lesbians to marry (not just civil unions), and it’s probably because Cheney has experienced what his daughter lives with in her walk through life. Even a very conservative guy like Cheney can understand it because the Cheney family has lived through the experience of what a lesbian faces on her path in life. Until we live through an experience, it is hard to really understand it.
I salute the President and Vice President on this. As far as Christianity being crystal clear on homosexuality, the Old and New Testament are crystal clear on many things that even the most conservative of Christians choose to ignore.
Regardless, since we are a secular nation rather than a Christian one, Christian teachings are irrelevant when it comes to civil law. This is not an attack on Christianity, just a statement about how our government functions. Christian teachings are no more relevant to the functioning of our government than are Muslim teachings, Buddhist teachings, or the teachings of any other religion. And as long as we have marriage between two people as part of our civil laws, equality is very much the issue.
I just don’t like to “throw the first stone”. In other words, none of us is perfect, and I don’t know why people like to criticize the way other people live their lives. I’m imperfect, and I would rather try to improve myself, rather than spending time criticizing others. We are only on this earth for a short time, and I’m in favor of helping each other and building each other up.
Jake: I am impressed by the quality of of some of these comments. While I thrive on these discussions, when I write my thoughts down, it does not always come off as positive. I only hope people understand that this is a fault of my inability to communicate, and not what is in my heart. (Another discussion for another time might be how suitable the medium of Facebook is for having these kinds of conversations: a long discussion over a bottle of fine Scotch might be a more conducive environment.) At any rate, I will try, as best I can, to respond to a few items. The risk in these sort of thing is that too many issues are raised that can possibly be dealt with in a reasonable amount of space – but I will try nonetheless.
First, you raise a very good point about the President having not introduced federal legislation about same-sex marriage. Of course, for any sitting President, there are issues they support for which they have not introduced legislation (limits on time, energy, political capital, etc., will influence this), so the “lack of” does not mean he wouldn’t support such legislation. His comments indicate that he would; however, I am well aware that I am speculating – so your point is well taken.
First, let’s deal with the issue of what the Bible says and what it doesn’t say, and how much of what it says has been “overturned” either in other places in the Bible itself or by the various periods in Christian history. The best way to look at this is to note that Christianity claims, and has always claimed, the inerrancy of Scripture only in matters of faith and morals. In matters of science, it most certainly does not. In matter of prescribed worship – this is obviously something that can be changed organically throughout history. But in matters of doctrine and morals, I am not aware of where Christianity has changed its proverbial tune. It has been consistent throughout the centuries. (Now, of course, we will run into the side issue of the various branches of Christianity and their interpretation of Scripture – an issue that most certainly needs more space – but at least in their insistence that Scripture is inerrant in faith and morals, Christians have consistency.) At this point, I would turn those Christian supporter of same-sex marriage to the strong New Testament admonitions of St. Paul, a repeated phenomenon, against such an idea.)
Second, I would point out that, while we are not a nation with an official religion (deliberately so), neither are we entirely secular. The God of Christianity is invoked in the founding documents. Nevertheless, I am in agreement with you that the “laws” particular to Christianity are no more important for our governance than the laws particular to Islam. This is an excellent point, and duly noted. However, the argument I offered (that this is not primarily about “equality”) was not premised on Christian doctrine. It was premised on a philosophy in which we understand that the objective nature of things (either things of matter or things of ideas, in this case marriage) is prior to equality itself. True equality, like true freedom, must be built upon the objective nature of the things themselves. I stand by the example of a male being unable to give birth. Let’s compare this with the right to vote. Being able to cast a rational vote in not something that is inherent to maleness or femaleness (or the color of one’s skin), but rather something that is inherent to (adult) HUMANNESS. Thus, equality built upon this principle would suggest that it is immoral for a government to prohibit a female or an African American from voting. (I would point out at this time the invocation of a morality that supersedes government constructed laws; something is not moral simply because it is written into current law, nor is it moral because it is voted on by the majority of citizens.) Note here that the ability to cast a rational vote is not something inherent to being a child, which is why it is no way a violation of equality when we prohibit a five-year-old from voting. On the other hand, the ability to give birth is something inherent to femaleness, not to humanness. So, in a similar way, it is not a violation of equality to suggest that men do not have the “right” to give birth. (In fact, “right” here is not the correct word – it is too ambiguous.) It would, however, be a severe violation of equality and a moral abomination to suggest that a particular race of women did not have the right to give birth.
The question, then, is where does marriage fit into this scheme? Is the objective nature of marriage limited to one man and one woman, or is its nature broader than that? I understand quite well that many people disagree on the answer to this question. But the only thing I was suggesting in the original post was that the question of marriage law(s) BEGIN with this question rather than an undefined and ambiguous notion of equality. What is the very nature of marriage, and how does one defend this nature? This is where we must begin, and note that neither this paragraph nor the preceding one has mentioned Christianity (oops … until now!). Those who wish to defend marriage as that which is confined to one man and one woman do not do so based solely on Christian (or Muslim, or etc.) principles, but rather on principles of natural law – in a similar way to why we defend the inherent immorality of being able to arbitrarily kill someone or steal from someone.
Finally, I appreciate your comment about not throwing the first stone. We should not cast stones at individuals. I would, however caution against the confusion of throwing stones at individuals (of which I am sure that I am guilty form time to time), and the pointing out of erroneous positions. When I, or others, criticize same-sex marriage, it is no more throwing stones than the original charge of discrimination or implied violation of equality. To suggest that the criticism of gay marriage is a violation of equality and an act of discrimination is a point that one has the right to make, and in no way do I take it as throwing stones. On the other hand, then, when I suggest that a marriage between two people of the same sex is a violation of the nature of marriage itself, it is also not an act of stone throwing.
I would leave readers with this: a concise statement of my position. We should distinguish here between my political position and my moral position. It should be clear by now that my moral position is that the very nature of marriage includes one man and one woman, so marriage between two people of the same sex is not possible. Vows can be exchanged, but a valid marriage is not confected. It is no more a reality than me self-proclaiming that I am still 18 years old. I can say the words, but it doesn’t change reality.
However, my political position is much simpler, and I am curious what others here think about this. The government should have nothing to do with marriage. Why would they bother defining it in the first place? Why would they bother getting into the documents/certification? Nothing good can come of this except a conflict between Church and State. The government should stay out of it altogether and leave it up to private institutions (religious or otherwise). This solves the problem altogether, and then politicians (Democrat or Republican) would have no business making this part of their campaign.
[Note to my American Catholic readers: I am sure there are those who will take issue with me on this. You can see my libertarian bent coming through.]
Respondent: In law, marriage is a commitment between two people that has implications of rights of all kinds, financial implications, etc. There is, in law, no expectation of reproduction. So that “natural law” you refer to is not really of concern in the eyes of the civil union.
I think it would be preferable if the government had never called the civil union a “marriage” because it confuses the religious and the civil sides. If the civil union had always been called just that, and “marriage” left to religious institutions, we wouldn’t have nearly such an issue. But that’s not the way history developed and I can’t imagine we’d have any success going to that now.
So, in light of the fact that marriage has a civil definition, it should not – must not – be up to the government or anyone else to decide which consenting adults can join in such a fashion.
Jake: These are excellent points. Supposing we could reinvent the whole thing, I am wondering if you agree that the government should have never been involved with whole business to begin with? It seems like your argument is, “this is how things have developed, and so …” But what if we could go back? Would it not be better to have the government out of the business altogether?
Further, there is a slight problem with “in the law, there is no exception for reproduction.” You are correct, of course, and this I don’t dispute, but this suggests that the “answer” to the question at hand has in large part to do with what is in current law? Surely we can’t use that as a litmus test, otherwise if the legislature passes an act that in fact does put reproduction as part of the definition, then you would have to join my side (in conclusion, but not argument) by saying, “Well, this is what the law says now.” The question here, I think, is not what the law says, but what it SHOULD say, and laws are in fact based on the natural law, otherwise they have no weight.
Further, if the definition of marriage is expanded past one man and one woman, I would ask where it stops. It must, after all, stop somewhere. If the definition cannot discriminate based on gender, can it discrimination based on number (can three people enter into a union); can it discriminate based on age; can it discriminate based on a definition of “person” (while not identical, in the eyes of the law, a cooperation is a sort of legal “person”, so should an individual be able to marry a cooperation, as absurd as that sounds)? It all gets very sticky, because at some point if the government is to be involved in the institution of marriage, then it must issue some sort of definition.
The larger issue here is the foundation of civil law. If we are not to base it on the natural law, then on what DO we base it? Is it founded on majority vote? Surely that can’t be, or we would have to defend past laws that most of us would consider highly immoral – we would have to defend them with, “Well, that was the sentiment in the country at the time.” And besides, I don’t think people in practice actuality believe this, otherwise we would never enter into these conversations – we would stop the argument simply by quoting current law. The mere fact that people see State laws prohibiting same-sex marriage as unjust and discriminatory laws means that they are using some sort of natural morality as a basis for judgement.
Respondent: What is your definition of natural law? Examples of homosexual pairing are found in species throughout the animal kingdom. Does that make it natural?
If our government gets out of the marriage business altogether, great. I would be happy with that. Let consenting adults do as they will.
Jake: The definition of natural law is that which is in the “nature” of whatever is under discussion. It is broader than the “natural world” (which I take to mean the world of matter) – and this seems to be how you are using the term. Every being by virtue of its existence is equipped with a nature by which it exists. Various beings can act either within or outside of that nature. An overly simplistic example would be a chair serving as a paper weight. It is not in the nature of a chair to act as a paper weight, and while it is possible for it to do so, the object in questing at that moment is acting more as a paper weight than a chair – it is acting outside its nature. My opinion of the matter is that even homosexual pairings that exist in the natural world are not consistent with the nature of sexual union. I know this is confusing, and the confusion has much to do with modern science and its reduction of the four causes to one (the material), so that “nature” is reduced to “that which is in the natural world.” We thus, as you wisely hinted at, must first define our terms.
Humans are different from much of the created universe in that we can actively choose, through an authentically free will, to act in a way consistent with our nature as human persons (or as male and female, if that be the case). While homosexual relations in the broader animal kingdom are, in my view, not consistent with the nature of the animal and its sexual union, the animal in question cannot be culpable for such action for lack of their free will. We, on the other hand, can. We can actively choose to act in accordance with our nature.
Regarding your second statement – I do believe we actually agree!
Respondent: I just think “natural law” is more nuanced and subtle that you seem to.
Jake: It absolutely is nuanced. There is no doubt about it. But this does not mean that it doesn’t exist and that we are not bound to both discover and respect it.
Respondent: So the idea that marriage must be between a man and a woman seems to me to be based on a simplistic view of natural law.
Jake: To the best of your knowledge, what is the nature of marriage?
Respondent: Two people in a loving, committed relationship, agreeing to spend their lives together.
Jake: Now that you have offered a description of the nature of marriage, I would ask you to defend it. (And while we’re at it, we should clarify a couple terms: do you really mean “two” or could it be more? “Committed” means what? How much of their lives are they agreeing to spend together?)
At this point, the conversation dropped off. It has been a few days, and “Respondent” has not responded. I was trying to drive in the end that people will offer their own definition of marriage, but be completely unable to defend where that definition comes from, which leaves it at the ambiguous level of personal opinion. The Christian concept of the nature of marriage is based on numerous things, from biology to theology. While there are those who will disagree with the concept and the argument, we can at least stand firm in being the only ones who seem to be offering an argument at all that rises above the level of opinion.
This is why I tried so hard to keep the conversation on the “lower” level of nature. In the end, the “other side” must offer their own concept of how they understand the nature of marriage, and, more importantly, they must defend it.
UPDATE: It seems that my interlocutor has finally responded, and it seems that the conversation has come to an end. Here are the final two posts.
Respondent: Frankly, I’m losing interest in this thread. But I’d say that whatever we offer/allow for heterosexual couples must be offered/allowed for homosexual couples as well.
Jake: I understand your loss of interest. This drives at one of my side points about Facebook and it not being very conducive to these sorts of discussions. The energy it takes is ten-fold what would be necessary in a face-to-face conversation. On your own time, I would challenge you to think deeply about the following: Your final conclusion seems to skirt the issue of the nature of marriage and fall back on an undefined notion of equality. ” Whatever we offer/allow to heterosexual couples must be offered/allowed for homosexual couples as well.” The problem with this is that it simply CANNOT be. Examples of such impossibility include the ability to conceive a child through the process of intercourse. This is “allowed” for a heterosexual couple, but not for a homosexual couple,. This is not for lack of equality but rather for lack of biology. This, then, only begs the original question about marriage and its nature. Is it, by nature, a reality that can only exist between a man and woman, or is its nature broader than that? This is why I have worked so hard to get people to (1) identify what they think the nature of marriage is, and (2) defend it on some grounds other than, “This is my opinion.”