It Ain’t Compassion if It’s Someone Else’s Dime

Give me your money, so I can show compassion with it.

Absurd, right? Especially at the point of a gun.

By definition, governments and their agencies, cannot show compassion. That’s because they fund their activities — benevolent or not — through the threat of force. If you don’t pay your taxes, terrible things happen to you, such as having to wait on hold, stand in line, talk to IRS agents, and go to jail.

If I take YOUR money by force, and give it to the next guy, who’s showing compassion?  Answer: NO ONE. Sorry, Robin Hood.

Compassion cannot be coerced.

Compassion cannot be legislated.

Compassion cannot be charged to someone else’s credit card.

Please notice I have NOT said that our government should get out of the business of doing good for people. Of course not. Our federal government exists, in part, “to promote the general welfare…” So, please don’t leave a comment about how I want to throw impoverished children onto the streets. I am simply arguing that NOBODY gets “compassion points” for anything governments  do.

Nor am I suggesting that all individuals employed by our federal government are heartless bureaucrats. Some are. Most aren’t. When I processed the 501(c)3 application (tax-exempt recognition) for my Chicago church at the U.S. Post Office in downtown Chicago, I met with a most wonderful, kind-hearted, compassionate, federal government minion. Yes, they’re out there.

But, as personable and compassionate as she was individually, she still followed the letter of the government’s laws.

The “passion” part of the word refers to emotion, and governance mixes with emotion as well as Kanye West with Taylor Swift. The government does NOT feel your pain, presidential claims to the contrary notwithstanding. In “Men in Black” Tommy Lee Jones deadpans the camera and says, “We’re the federal government, ma’am. We have no sense of humor.” Right. And no compassion either.

Can the current health care debate be about compassion as long as it is about government, too?

Can we delegate compassion to a soulless bureaucracy?

You can’t shift the burden your compassion to the government. Nor can you pat yourself on the back for voting for a candidate because his/her policies are “more compassionate.” THEY’RE SPENDING SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY ACQUIRED THROUGH TAXATION!  IT’S NOT COMPASSION! Never has been, never will be.

“Compassionate conservatism?” No such thing; not unless compassion is a marketable commodity. “Compassionate liberalism?” No such thing; not unless feelings of mercy can be coerced by government regulation. A “compassionate” government is inevitably dysfunctional; governments run by laws, not feelings, and no amount of legislation can codify compassion. Good governance is dispassionate.

Can institutions weave compassion into their core values?  Yes. They can and should. But that compassion ceases the instant the institution’s funding becomes coercive. Samaritan’s Purse, Bongolo Hospital, most churches, and other eleemosynary organizations… compassionate institutions all. Yes, compassion can be institutionalized, but NOT by government or any other coercive agency.

But mostly, it’s personal.

Compassion is one man taking off his shoes and handing them to a neighbor who has none. Compassion is a woman pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity. Compassion is kids pulling money out of their piggy-banks for medical missions or literacy or to give a Happy Meal to a family on the streets. It is putting your arm around a hurting friend and stumbling through a prayer. It is cooking meals for new moms, and stopping to put on a spare for a senior citizen. It is the tenderness of heart that results in joyful self-sacrifice to meet another’s needs. It is person to person and neighbor to neighbor.

It doesn’t kick the cost down the road to our neighbors or their children.

It isn’t funded by someone else’s dime.

Jesus volunteered for the Cross. He didn’t shift the burden. He didn’t agitate the Roman government to create a compassionate society. He accepted the full weight of God’s love for our needy race. He cared. He came. He gave. He paid.

That’s compassion.

14 thoughts on “It Ain’t Compassion if It’s Someone Else’s Dime

  1. I was reminded of the treasurer in Rome, Erastus, who was a saint familiar to Paul.

    “Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you” — Rom. 16:23

    And there was the “good” centurian whom the Lord approved.

    How can a Christian live today IN the system that is not now in the earlier stages of paganism, but in the grim time of post-Christianity — even anti-Christianity?

    The World today cannot even tell you WHY a person ought to be philanthropic. For the materialist, does it REALLY matter if you love your neighbor — or if you cook him in a stew?

    For now, love this one and love that one, but abort that one over there. Love the SELECT and do it the way “we” prescribe. Or go to prison.

    Enteresting times!

    • Good thoughts, jim. There was a staff member at the church I used to attend who said that things have gotten to the point in America where it is now pre-Christian.

  2. When I am moved to make voluntary contribution, I exhibit compassion. This is internally motivated by loving empathy (usually).

    When I am forced to produce involuntary coercion, I am experiencing taxation. This is externally imposed by government.

    OK, when it comes to voluntary contributions, sometimes there is a more base incentive like tax considerations. Do I give it to God or give it to government?

    If alive, George Washington would remind us that the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 almost undid the fragile collection of states experiencing the early stages of liberty. Settlers unwilling to pay up were for the first time confronted with federal troops – no compassion extended. (“DC Ownage” is my son’s terminology)

    Question is, were it 100% voluntary, would you or I contribute anything to our government? A good indicator can be found in the public’s response to the voluntary $1-2 offer our IRS forms extend us each year. Remember that little check box you ignore each year right below page 1 where you printed your name & social security number?

    As a citizen, I love my freedom; by extension, I love my country and would fight for her if called. I’m glad my government promotes the general welfare and I understand that a portion of my tax dollar goes to this area. The problem here is that the government dole goes too often for the purpose of cultivating votes instead of meeting legitimate need. Government invariably rewards that which perpetuates more government.

    US Gov’t Issue Dictionary: Def – “General Welfare” – adv. Any action which maintains the current government.

    On the other hand, to believe taxation that releases me from compassion, generosity, or giving to my chosen church and charity is to stop well short of financial maturity. Many institutions exist for the purpose of efficiently meeting legitimate need and measuring success in so doing. Amidst government’s juggernaut resources, they compete for a miniscule slice of the monetary market in order to effect real change via compassionate application.

    Compassion hits one’s heart and extends to the wallet. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God that things that are God’s.” – Jesus.

  3. Taxation is but one way that the government funds itself. Although I agree that our tax policy could use overhauling and that higher taxes are not always the answer, taxation in and of itself is not bad. Taxation is about “we the people” paying for “we the people”. The collective for the collective.

    All governments are not created equal. They do not all have the same resources and, given the same, do not or would not all make the same choices. Because the government, an organization, does nothing save for the people in it. If the people in government–our elected officials and employees–are compassionate, the government is more likely to be so. If they are not, but are greedy, self-absorbed, warmongering, etc., so shall our government be.

    • Thanks for this, Patricia. I agree that compassionate people can make for a compassionate government, but only to a degree. The problem is that government is, by definition, self-serving: elected officials and entrenched bureaucrats care about staying in power more than helping the people. It’s human nature. When you couple self-serving human nature with coercive powers of taxation, and imprisonment, you’ve got a recipe for tyranny.

      • While I agree on the whole with the entry, I don’t agree that government is, by definition self-serving. It is inevitable, but that’s because of our sinful condition. As JP says below, it is what we do, but that’s because of how we are. I don’t believe that government, by definition, cares more about staying in power than helping people.

  4. Granting that Compassion cannot be conjured by the use of force;

    Can Justice be conjured by the use of force?

    Or are Compassion and Justice different (and maybe contradictory) things?

    • Good question, Jonathan. I would say that yes, justice is conjured by the use of force:
      “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:4, NKJV).

      Justice is blind, dispassionate, and cold-hearted.
      Compassion is a warm hearted feeling, and, like love, cannot be forced; it must be freely chosen.

      • Just before that passage, in which Paul refers to Rome’s Imperial “Justice” (which, I would wager, was really Justice about as much as the Pax Romana was really “Peace”), he writes this to the Church:

        17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary:
        “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
        if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

        In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e] 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

        (Romans 12:17-end, NIV)

        So, it seems that the governmental Justice and ecclesial (church) Justice are different things in these sections of Romans.

        So, sure, governmental Justice is blind, dispassionate and cold-hearted, but should church Justice be that way?

        Or does the church get to say anything about Justice? or are we only in the compassion business?

  5. Governments exist only by force, ultimately there is no other way to enforce laws upon a people. However, to say that all governments are without compassion assumes that all governments are like ours. Or perhaps like others in our history books.

    I am certain that somewhere in history there were a few which were compassionate.

    Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce showed great compassion in his flight to Canada while leading his nation to freedom. He stopped his young men from starting a war on settlers which would have meant their certain death, refused to steal even while on a starving march in the dead of winter and ultimately sacrificed himself in order to save what remained of his nation. The question is do we consider him a legitimate leader and his form of government to be real?

    While this reply may sound as if I disagree with your post, in fact I believe you are 100% correct. It is just that I believe it is US that have this issue, not everyone in the world. I have spoken to people upon having returned from some impoverished nation who were amazed and the generosity encountered there. Most likely it is this generosity which has kept their country poor and tiny. Compassion and the western profit/growth model are very unlikely to be seen together in any successful business situation.

    It is this same “we’re number one” attitude which gives us the tools to rationalize away our personal responsibilities to be charitable. We can say to ourselves; “I live in the most charitable nation in the history of the world, I pay my taxes, I give already.” And there is a sliver of truth to that. Just enough truth to allow us to move on and not think about what we could, or should do with the riches the Lord has bestowed upon us personally.

    Thank you for pointing out the splinters in our own eyes.

  6. I’m glad this subject came up today. Any suggestions on where to donate to for Haiti? Not a big fan of the Red Cross. The photos from there break your heart.

  7. Maybe this is a tangent Bill, but… If government isn’t technically responsible for (maybe ‘capable of’ is better) compassion, if it’s up to individuals, should we who are Christians really expect government to be capable of or responsible for mandating or enforcing Biblical morality (e.g.- Roe v. Wade, the definition of marriage, etc)? Should we really be surprised with government when it doesn’t?

  8. Why did you choose to use the federal government to make your point. You could have just as easily had chosen the church that you attend. What percentage of churches in this country would dry up and blow away if donations were no longer tax deductible? Why are other tax payers subsidizing church goers endeavors? Are you actually giving to “charity” aka businesses masquerading as religious institutions, when you expect to be reimbursed by the tax man? In this hypocritical country, there is usually an ulterior motive to to what appears to be an act of benevolence. Whether its for the Salvation Army, Girl Scouts, Haiti or you church, if you got a receipt its no a donation, its a business transaction. You only need proof of a donation if you expect to be reimbursed!

    • Ishmael, thanks for stopping by. I’d like to respectfully say you have some facts wrong. First, nobody gets reimbursed for the money they donate to a church. For every dollar you give, you have one less dollar. You do not get that back from government at all.
      Second, the US government long ago recognized that “the power to tax is the power to destroy” and along with that recognized that no government should have the power to destroy the church or any other religious institution. Therefore, their properties are tax exempt; but that goes for schools, hospitals, and other charitable institutions too. The Government does NOT give us money.
      Third, the services offered by churches (and other missions) more than offsets the costs government would bear if we all went away. You list things like the Salvation Army, Haiti relief, etc. The vast bulk of good works done are done in Jesus’ name through the sacrificial giving of his own people.
      Fourth, MOST Americans gain NO tax advantage for giving to their churches, because they don’t make enough income to take that deduction.
      Fifth our churches DO pay taxes just like everyone else, when we buy stuff. We pay sales tax on everything we buy.
      I hope this helps clarify some things.

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