A decade or so ago, I found myself without a job. It wasn’t the economy or downsizing; it happened because of choices I made. I thought they were reasonable decisions, and I made them with the advice and insights of people I respected. I made a move in what even seemed a divinely directed direction, but people I trusted did not do what I understood them to have promised. I dealt with them as friends, but friendship seemed of little relevance when I found myself without a job.
I went through what bordered, I suspect, on clinical depression. On the verge of feeling like all the disparate paths of my life had converged into something amazing, the path seemed to end; worse it appeared to have ended because somebody blew up the bridge! Sometimes, I was angry at those who let me down; at other times, I was feeling pretty much like a failure. Not only had the bridge to the future vanished, but the bridges to the past were pretty much gone, too (That happens when you leave a job for another, which then doesn’t work out).
This upsetting turning point wasn’t like the ones previous. Each of those was my choice, but they did not disappoint. This one was a huge letdown, because it seemed to invalidate all of them. I didn’t know who I was or what my life’s purpose was, any more. Not especially secure in my sense of value to others, it was easy to feel a failure and unwanted for anything or by anyone. I had trouble sleeping; I’d wake up with my heart and mind racing but going nowhere in particular.
Several people helped me through this rough time, at least in small but significant ways. A friend took the time to sit me down and say, “I think you’re depressed.” Another, a psychiatrist, met with me twice—once saying medication might be in order after another visit and a second time to say he didn’t think it was needed any more. The third person was Daniel Tocchini, an author I had booked for the radio show I no longer was able to do; Killing the Victim before the Victim Kills You focused my thoughts on a single question. Would I be a victim or a victor?
Apart from a single, somewhat buried, childhood incident, I’ve never really been a victim, in the sense we usually use the word. I’ve never been assaulted, raped, or beaten; although I have been burglarized, my person has not been harmed. However, in a broader sense, anyone can think of himself or herself as a victim, blame someone or many others for the problems one has, and end up seeing oneself as helpless and dependent, even if he or she is the “victimizer.” I had some of those feelings, but this book alerted me to the danger inherent to such thinking, even when it is technically appropriate.
I’m sorry to say that even well-meaning Christians can encourage this mindset. “Let go and let God,” for example, can easily become an excuse to be passive and dependent, even though that has never been the normal historical attitude of Christians. Indeed, our American heritage, so strongly influenced by Christian ideas, is one of a strong work ethic. Nothing passive about that! In addition, believers generally know Romans 8:37 which says, “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
The United States has moved significantly toward a dependent, welfare mentality, within my lifetime. I still find myself amazed that so many people look to the government to solve our problems! I am stunned when people seem to react negatively to what I consider healthy suspicion of government, politicians, and bureaucrats. “You don’t trust the government?” “Of course, I don’t. You mean that you do?” In this sense, I am anti-government and proud of it! For me, a bare minimum of government is a necessary thing and, far too often even then, not good.
That’s not to say I refuse to respect governmental authority, which is established by God: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (from Romans 13:1-7). Since, however, this is a republican democracy, I am allowed to speak my mind when that authority seems to press beyond the bounds of our Constitution.
“But don’t you want to help people who have problems?” you may ask. If you knew me, you’d know that I’ve given a great deal of my life to doing exactly that. It is the nature of such help that I question, including my own at times. For me, the question of how to help boils down to this: does it make a person a perpetual victim or does it encourage them to overcome? Does it enable or disable? No matter how well-intended, if helping makes a person into a disabled victim and a perpetual dependent, then it isn’t help. (I might also ask if the “help” encourages fraud, but that is a separate concern).
Who said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” We have countless examples of how good plans create unintended, negative results. One that comes to mind is cleanliness. It is possible to be too clean; newborns raised in a germ-free environment may fail to develop normal immunities. Some today, who are hyper-allergic, suffer from parents’ efforts to protect them. We overlook a familiar idea that “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Pampering and over-protection may actually harm children; motivation-robbing “help” may not good for adults who are in difficult circumstances.
Our nation is rife with larger scale examples—welfare, public housing, extended unemployment, and now health care. Taking care of people isn’t helping them; it is comparable to never letting a child grow up. It is sick and twisted. I doubt that many in government are doing this to help others; I believe their intentions are more self-centered. This is about power, not compassion, regardless of the rhetoric. How about immigration? Doling out more benefits to illegals than to citizens may receive isn’t about compassion either. It merely turns hard-working survivors into another group of dependents.
For those citizens and politicians who are sincere, I ask you to consider the harm that the perpetual victim status does to people. This is the real cause of the mess that many African-Americans are in. While there is no question that racism ruined much of the benefit of freedom following the Civil War, the last half-century has moved past the dignity of simple equality into the indignity of dependence. Black men have been rendered superfluous; they father children, but the government provides for them. Is it any wonder that black men fall into addictions and crime or hate those they blame, encouraged to do so by those who gain power through race-baiting? Self-hatred leads to hate. The solution isn’t more dependence or the demeaning sense of worthlessness created by welfare. They need to be free to work and support their families for this will create self-respect and human dignity and break this evil cycle.
I work with internationals—legal refugees, illegals, and foreign students. Some do indeed want to be Americans, and others do not; it’s not always easy to know, for I doubt they always know. As valuable as the contributions of legal immigrants may be, not all of these people will find the solutions to their problems here. Using our resources intelligently to address problems in their countries, perhaps primarily by educating and equipping these folk, which we do poorly right now, may be the best answer. Certainly it isn’t direct welfare or indirect welfare (since many send money back to family in their homelands). Alcoholism or gambling with their assistance is another unintended consequence.
Disabling politicians, of course, care about none of this. Wise people listen to their political speeches with skepticism. The recent stimulus bill is a good example. With good reasons, I believe, I question the very idea of spending money to “stimulate” the economy. However, since the stated purpose was jobs, then the money should have been targeted to assist job creators, other than the government. The so-called stimulus bill, however, was nothing more than an enormous boondoggle based on Democratic wishes. The promised improvement, of course, did not come as unemployment increased.
Extending unemployment benefits is another mistake, more about buying votes than helping, in my opinion. It is well-documented that people often avoid looking for work or taking a less desirable job as long as they have that monthly check supporting them. One way to turn this into enablement might be to gradually decrease the payment after a short, but reasonable time. Another I like would make unemployment insurance a private choice for workers, like life insurance. Then the worker could choose how much and how long he might get help and pay accordingly.
I mentioned earlier that some Christian teaching is also disabling. No example is better than the so-called “prosperity gospel.” Telling believers that God will make them wealthy by religious exercise, particularly giving money to the teacher, discourages hard work, when even faithfulness to God is a matter some effort. When those who try to achieve prosperity through this unbiblical means are not successful, they may become disillusioned with God, feel themselves to be failures, and lose the sense of joy and freedom that should come with the gospel. God doesn’t play games with the children he loves.
The United States has prospered because of ingenuity and hard work, not government. Dependence does not foster prosperity. Government largess, for whatever reason, cannot function long or well without an independent, creative population to create the money it spends. When it spends too much, it threatens our economic security. Worse it robs all those perpetual, dependent victims of their dignity and their potential for individual success. Both past and present charitable efforts, often by Christians, by comparison, provide temporary assistance, training, and ultimately the freedom and dignity of true compassionate help.
Should the government ever provide assistance or support for those with permanent disability? I am inclined to say no, especially not the federal government. I would rather trust local communities and charitable organizations that may closely monitor their efforts and the people they help. Huge programs foster corruption and incompetence. Caring for those in need must be a calling and not just a paycheck. Those already dealing with hardship or disability do not need the added indignity of brusque and inconsiderate government employees.
In the end, I favor help that truly lifts people from their circumstances and overcomes the feelings of victim-hood. I want to see people receiving help that enables them to develop as human beings with dignity and self-worth. I don’t believe government does that, even rarely, and I fear churches likewise fail, at times. Ultimately, however, I hope that caring Christian people will continue to recognize the necessity of their involvement, because truly no one else is better equipped or more capable of genuine love than we are, by the grace of God.