What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
I wish to highlight Josh Kanter’s intellectual flexibility, for the mental gymnastics required to compose his recent op-ed with sincere intent are impressive.
Kanter criticizes Rep. Carl Wimmer who in turn criticized taxation-based social welfare programs, arguing that Wimmer’s stance is ultimately out of step with the LDS Church’s call to charitably help those in need. In doing so, he bends and twists his arguments to assert that taxation and tithing are the same, and that a supporter of church welfare therefore cannot legitimately criticize or oppose government welfare.
Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (see Matthew 23:24)! Kanter claims that tithing is, like taxation, based on confiscation. He either ignores or is ignorant of the striking contrast between the two. If one’s taxes go unpaid, that individual is sent to jail or given hefty fines. This is indeed force-backed confiscation. Tithing, on the other hand, carries no temporally punitive threat enforced by gun-toting church leaders; it’s more like a membership fee to any private organization.
Kanter’s argument is further dismantled by noting that his attempt to conflate taxation and tithing relies upon a faulty assumption that tithing is used for welfare purposes. Tithing funds help the growth and development of the Church itself, such as paying for temples, meetinghouses, and missionaries.
The Church’s institutionalized welfare efforts are funded through donations over and above tithing, such as fast offerings and humanitarian aid donations–each listed as an additional donation category available on every receipt members use to pay tithing. These are completely voluntary, and unlike tithing are not even required for “good standing” within the Church.
Additionally, President Monson’s encouragement to help others, referenced by Kanter, was not a suggestion that the Church’s welfare program be the sole outlet of members’ charitable contributions. Members voluntarily donate to all sorts of other organizations as well as the Church’s own programs.
Based on this flawed comparison, Kanter goes on to argue that the Democratic party, which openly supports forcible confiscation of an individual’s earnings to (theoretically) help the poor, is more in line with Church teachings than their partisan rivals. This, too, is an erroneous assumption. While on the surface Republicans may protest government-based welfare programs, they often champion them (see Medicare Part D), especially when done at a state level. Few stand on principle to suggest, like Rep. Wimmer’s tweet does, that the government has no moral place in the arrangement whatsoever.
What is government? It is nothing more than a group of individuals. As such, it cannot legitimately have any different or additional power than that which it has been delegated by the individuals who are its members. The creature cannot exceed the creator. As my neighbor lacks the moral authority to compel me to pay for his mother’s medical needs, he cannot delegate that non-existent power to the government. The only moral and legitimate method of helping the poor is for individuals to voluntarily do so of their own accord, and with their own means–whether through their church, another institution, or directly to a person in need.
In the end, Kanter’s op-ed is little more than a logically-empty propaganda piece arguing that Mormons should be Democrats. He and others seem to be increasingly advocating this comparison of late, arguing that LDS scripture or prophetic statements justify their support of a state-based welfare system that relies on force. While these attempts may be sincere, they are extremely misguided and without merit.