Charity Begins at Church

Thomas J. Fleming

December can be a difficult month for American Christians, forced to look on passively as their sacred holy days are turned into a generic “holiday season.”  The First Sunday in Advent has been replaced by “Black Friday,” the day on which retailers begin to turn a profit on holiday sales; and the end of the season (formerly St. Stephen’s Day, the Second Day of Christmas) is now “Returns Day,” when consumers swap presents given in love for what they really want.

Everywhere we turn, during Happy Holidays, we are battered by aggressive pitchmen dressed up like Santa and ringing bells for charities other than our churches or showing pictures of starving African children who are being rescued by OXFAM or Save the Children or the even less credible charities whose main effect has been to make matters worse in Third World countries while providing handsome incomes for the global bell-ringers who run them.  (Some of the scams were well documented in Graham Hancock’s Lords of Poverty.)

Quite apart from the money they waste and the mischief they work upon the world’s poor, nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) are an international political force that usurps some of the functions of government.  They have also been, since at least the days of the Spanish Civil War, political in the more trivial sense of partisan.  NGO’s, including those that claim to be Christian, are predominantly leftist and have lavished their charity on, for example, the Spanish Communists and anarchists who murdered priests and raped nuns, while denying aid to their victims.  During the Bosnian-Krajina conflict, the Red Cross outdid itself in giving one-sided help to the Muslims, while virtually ignoring the Christian Croats and Serbs.

The political activities of NGO’s are only one symptom of a deeper malaise afflicting Western nations over the past several years: the subversion of the state.  The internal forces undermining the state and diminishing the effectiveness of its government are many: There are ethnic revanchiste groups demanding that American institutions accommodate themselves to the culture and history of Mexicans and Africans, Muslims and Jews, and, in the extreme case, actual surrender of substantial amounts of territory; there are sexual and erotic minorities demanding recognition for the right of women to play football, “marry” other women, and have “gender”-neutral bathrooms in public buildings—it’s so hard to make up one’s mind, they say.  The rainbow coalition of the exotic and perverse plays a minor role, however, compared with the lobbying activities of big money, big labor, and the thousand-and-one other causes whose bribes have blocked the arteries of congressional reform for decades.

Of the foreign threats, the most obvious is the vast network of international agencies that forms a quasiglobal government, from the World Bank, IMF, and WTO to the Hague Tribunal and the labyrinth of U.N. offices monitoring the endless treaties and agreements signed by politicians who are always eager to give away the American store if there is something in it for themselves.  There are also hundreds of pressure groups and misnamed charities, however, that lobby the United Nations and disrupt the economic and moral lives of people around the globe.  The most infamous, perhaps, is George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, which is dedicated to the eradication of the last vestiges of Christian Faith and morals on the planet.

The nation-state, for all its flaws and despite the many evils done in its name, is an instrument for human good that is worth defending.  It is, however, only an instrument, not the good itself, and an imperfect one at that.  The state exists, in one important sense, to divert male aggression into socially useful channels, turning schoolyard bullies into warriors and the irritating classroom debater into a statesman.  Essentially male, the state has never done a good job of taking care of the sick and the poor or of educating children.  Yes, when ambitious men turn their hands to these matters, they appear to make brilliant progress at first—setting up agencies, accomplishing goals, projecting five-year plans—but, in the end, the welfare and education of citizens become subordinate to the interests of ambitious men.  This is one of the reasons why most of the tax dollars spent on health, education, and welfare ends up in the pockets of the middle-class bureaucrats and politicians who govern and manage the system.

It was a delusion of classical liberals that a society could function by relying on the laws of the free market and individual competition.  Along the way, they eliminated the sense of noblesse oblige that induced traditional aristocracies to accept responsibility for the poor, and they devastated the Church, which had, for many centuries, played a central role in regulating morality, caring for the poor and the sick, and educating children.  When liberalism died, sometime before World War I, no one thought of looking back across the ruins of the 18th and 19th centuries for some clues as to how to remedy the destruction.  Instead, the reformers turned inevitably to Marx, whose followers (Lenin and Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and the Kennedys) completed the social destruction begun by the liberals.

The only resistance came from the defeated liberals who proclaimed (in the words of Albert J. Nock) “Our enemy, the state”; the enemy, however, has never been the state per se but the modern Jacobin-Marxist state.  Economic freedom and social responsibility are not, in reality, incompatible: They are the indispensable poles of any human social order.  Today, unfortunately, as the state continues to arrogate more and more of the social authority it cannot justly or effectively manage, it is surrendering some of the very responsibilities that justify its existence: the defense of the country; the conduct of foreign policy; the regulation of markets in the interest of fair competition and the national interest.

Economic regulation is increasingly put in the hands of international agencies, and what is left is controlled by the pawns of multinational interests whose relationship to the American people is that of parasite to host.  Even worse, control over our foreign and defense policies has been captured by special ethnic and economic interests.  Big Oil is pushing for the conquest of the Caspian Sea basin; domestic big business wants to punish China, while multinational big business wants to protect its best source of cheap labor; Mexican-Americans, some of whom have citizenship in both countries, are playing an increasingly important role in skewing our policy (including immigration policy) to the south, and the Israel lobby is pushing for nothing less than a massive war in the Middle East that will align Israel and the United States against the entire Islamic world.

The democratic fiction in which our leaders take refuge is that these policies and programs, including the tax money funneled through such destructive agencies as the National Endowment for Democracy, were decided upon by the people’s representatives, but how many of these policies have been the subject of a national debate?  And what effect would such a debate have on congressional votes?  In poll after poll, a majority of Americans have favored curtailing immigration and limiting abortion to cases involving incest, rape, and a threat to the mother’s life, yet the people’s will is never expressed by congressional legislation or executive orders.

The United States, by which I mean the American political class, has decided that moral questions should be left not to the people but to the wise men who rule the state and, where there is disagreement, to the Supreme Court and, ultimately, to international tribunals.  Here, we face the same problems we have experienced in every other moral project undertaken by government.  The leaders in charge, whether Senator Kennedy or Justice Stevens or Carla del Ponte, are driven by their own interests and by agendas set by special interests.  Neither justice nor the interest of any real nation gets a hearing.

In the 19th century, if France conquered German territory or vice versa, the conquered people were subjected to nationalist policies that aimed not at their welfare but at making them more French or German.  That is, as the Germans would say, the way of the world.  Today, the conquered peoples of Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are even worse off: They are run through a process of reconstruction that is aimed at subverting their ethnic, moral, and spiritual identity and turning them all into amoral hedonists, the obedient subjects of the Open Society.

What is the alternative?  Certainly not to restore all social authority to the centralized nation-state, which has made a thorough mess of the welfare and education of the American people.  The traditional alternative was, of course, the Church, and not just the Catholic Church.  In Eastern Europe, the Orthodox clergy were the cultural and moral leaders of their societies, and the same can be said for the early generations of Lutheran and Calvinist pastors, who caressed their congregations with iron hands.  Better to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God than a backslider in Calvin’s Geneva or Knox’s Edinburgh.

In the Middle Ages, the Church was the welfare system and the educational system.  It did not work perfectly, because it was staffed by men, but, even at their worst, these men had one great advantage: They represented the only significant countervailing force against the secular rulers.  Even in England, where the henchmen of Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth laid violent hands on the Church’s properties (thus plunging thousands of poor people into absolute want) and turned the monarch into an English pope, much of the social and moral functions of the Church were continued—and for centuries.  The Poor Laws, for example, were administered not by the king’s agents but by the parishes.

By the late 18th century, however, and even before the French Revolution, the political classes were turning against the Church.  In Protestant England, the dominant note (as measured, for example, by fiction) is completely secular by 1800, and the revolutionary governments of the Jacobins in France (including that Jacobin conservateur, Napoleon) and the Piedmontese in Italy stripped the Church of most of Her “secular” responsibilities and confiscated the property that had enabled Her to play so important a role in providing assistance to the poor and educating children.

In the United States, the combination of high tax rates and free public schools spelled doom, not only for the social authority of the churches but for the education and morality of the American people.  As American society went through the degrading process of de-Christianization, a variety of Masonic and quasi-Masonic groups attempted to fill the void, and the generous members of Shrine Temples, as well as the members and brothers of Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, and Moose, worked hard within their communities, feeding the poor and building hospitals.

The lodge brothers meant well, but the proliferation of organizations founded more on Masonic than on Christian principles further undermined the social authority of the Church.  As most of these domestic NGO’s (as we might term them) are in decline, the Christian members of Rotary might seriously consider transferring their time and money to their church communities.  They should also quit wasting their resources on the Red Cross or Médecins sans Frontières and send their money, instead, to their own church’s charitable arm.  Catholic and Presbyterian charities may often waste their money on destructive projects, but there is still a residual sense of Christian charity within the bureaucracy, and church members have a greater opportunity to influence their own religious charities than they would ever have over the gigantic secular corporations that spend all too much of their money on overhead, salaries, and advertising.

So here we are today, a once-and-future Christian people living under a neopagan government that aids and abets Mr. Soros and other enemies of Christendom.  The only choice we are offered is between a federal government that persecutes our religion and offends our morals and an international order that promises to scourge us with scorpions.  To choose the lesser or greater of these two evils is to accept our status as slaves.  Christians have an alternative, at least for the time being, and, if they do not return to their churches, they will have no one but themselves to blame when there are no churches to which to return.

This article first appeared in the February 2004 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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