Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Social (In)security

Ruminations by various parties in the news over the current financial crisis have focused on the alleged importance of what are termed "entitlements" -- things like Social Security and Medicare. I have certain views on the practicality of such programs and whether they'll survive, but that won't be the subject today. The subject will be why they came about as a result of our failure.

Proponents of these entitlements describe them as sort of social contract. To my recollection this language goes back to their origins in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Perhaps they go back even further. But the social contract they describe is actually the sort of thing the church was supposed to be enacting all along.

Here's what I mean. In the manner of the ancient collectivists, the church was supposed to pool members' resources for the greater good. If we had this today, the upshot in practical terms would be as follows: Have you been diagnosed with cancer, and need treatment you don't have the money for? Your brothers and sisters in Christ would pool their resources to help you pay for the treatment. Or even better, the community would have already pooled resources beforehand, anticipating that someone, someday would need some expensive treatment.

Were you in an accident? Did your house get destroyed in a fire? Yes, again, that shared pool of resources would be your supply. Now imagine what this would have meant. We'd never have needed any such things as health, life, or property insurance. We'd never have needed Social Security or Medicare. We'd also have a much better sense of community as we shared in each others' sufferings.

Of course, this all assumes that the church has enough members, and enough willing and able to share this way. I think we do have the numbers even now. But willingness -- doubtful. Especially since the government took away that role in part because we weren't fulfilling it. Any contribution would amount to a double dip.

In a nutshell, the Body of Christ was (is) itself a social contract -- a covenant. It included in its terms pledges of mutual assistance within that Body, and then, by extension of missions, enacting that pledge in the broader world as well. By now, though, it's probably too late. We've lost our chance to the government, and the sense of entitlement for entitlements is so entrenched that it wouldn't be easy to change.

We probably don't want the government entitlement system to collapse, but there are times when I get the sense that such a crisis might be the best thing for the church to get it off its backside. A little persecution and suffering of that sort would be great way to shake Western Christians out of their SUVs...and their sense of complacency.

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