To Help a Neighbor
OCTOBER 01, 1962 by GLENN PEARSON
Mr. Pearson is a member of the faculty of the
On a cold, windy, early autumn day some fifteen years ago, a disastrous fire struck my neighbor’s farmyard. It destroyed all of the feed this dairyman had stored to carry his cattle through the seven months until he would begin to reap again. It burned his machinery, even killed a few of his animals. He had no insurance, and could not continue on his own resources alone. Yet, he was soon back in business, on the way to his former independence—without government subsidy!
How was this done? Through private charity and regular business channels. His neighbors immediately gave him enough feed to last two or three months. They helped with the extra chores he faced due to loss of his milking facilities. His church, through the voluntary contributions of his neighbors in a broader sense, loaned some money. He was able to borrow the rest of what he needed on his own credit from regular lending agencies.
His church loaned rather than gave the money, and then only after he had exhausted his own resources, because the philosophy of the church is that men should be as self-reliant as possible. After all, the fire was his responsibility : it was caused by faulty wiring. The loss was his fault : he should have been insured. It would not add to his stature as a man to let him think that, in some mysterious way, something called "society" was responsible and should pay.
An important moral of this story is that, contrary to the ugly suspicion of the socialist mind, there are people who will help their fellow men voluntarily. And everybody benefits by it : the helped ones appreciate the generosity of their neighbors and seek to return the favor in kind; the helpers know a joy that comes only from voluntary giving.
Another lesson that might be found in this, if one looks hard enough, is that the government cannot stop expanding public (coerced) welfare programs if it starts them. Who is to say that government insurance should stop with medical care for the aged and not include reimbursement for every conceivable disaster which might threaten the success of a business venture? Is government wiser than God that it should save men from the consequences of their own deeds? When people have become accustomed to looking to government instead of themselves, they then will expect the government to do what my neighbors did. And since government is by nature inefficient, it must take care of the total welfare program at infinitely greater cost than under voluntary private welfare. On top of all the help that normally would have been needed are added two heavy burdens : first, the burden of those who become wards of the state simply because they can get away with it; second, the burden of graft and bureaucracy.
But let me continue my story; for it shows the operation of the socialist mind—that is, my mind as it had begun to function at that time.
The fire started before dawn one Sunday morning and was out of control when it was discovered. A few hours later that same morning, the victim’s fellow church members gathered in their chapel at a regular meeting of the adult males of the area and were addressed as follows by their presiding officer : "I guess you all know that Jim was burned out this morning. This is a terrible disaster for him. We must all give until it hurts and then keep on giving until it feels good. Most of us are farmers. I suggest it would be easiest for us simply to give feed. Of course, money and building materials are going to be needed, too."
Within a few minutes several hundred dollars in money and materials had been pledged. These were not idle pledges; they were fulfilled, for they came from hearts filled with sympathy and pain for their unfortunate neighbor.
I, too, felt a pain which I then mistakenly traced to a generous heart, though I have since changed the diagnosis. It came from my pocketbook. It was a geographic error. My wallet was near my heart but not committed to its service.
Wanting to be known as a man who was concerned about the welfare of his fellow men, I got the floor and said, "I think this is a problem that should be solved on a higher level of responsibility. I am not opposed to our giving locally. But we cannot give enough. I believe this should be solved on the level of the General Church Welfare Program. Each of us already has given 10 to 15 per cent of his income to help the various charitable programs of the church. It is not fair to expect us to meet all of these emergencies alone. I think that is the reason we have the general program. Let us call on them for help."
The others blinked, for such reasoning had not occurred to them. They lacked the "refinements" of modern welfare state thinking wherein the responsibility is put as far away as possible, even to that magic basket of plenty called Washington, D. C. But I knew, for I was majoring in social science in a large university. It was agreed that the following Sunday we would invite a church official to explain why the welfare program had not given immediate help in this case of extreme emergency.
The man came and I was ready for him, burning with desire, as I supposed, to help my unfortunate neighbor. I was soon to realize, however, that my burning was from shame because I had not stepped forward with my own small offering. Subconsciously, I was hoping to expiate the sin of my neglect by seeing that someone else did the job. I had a speech all prepared in my mind : "All my life I have heard about our wonderful, efficient church welfare program. Yet, the first time I see a real chance for it to do something, we have to fall back on a system of begging. What is wrong?" Fortunately, I did not have a chance to give my speech.
The Program Explained
The president of our group introduced our guest who then made the following statement:
"I understand you have some questions about the church welfare program, but first let me give a brief history of it.
"In the early days of the depression of the 1930′s the leaders of the church became concerned about the increase in the number of poor among us. Through a series of events and developments, the church increased its facilities for caring for our own people. It wasn’t anything new. It just became bigger and required more attention.
"As you know, a basic tenet of our faith and teaching is a passionate belief in liberty. As a people, we generally felt that the programs that were being introduced in Washington, D. C., would inevitably lead to moral decay and loss of freedom. For liberty cannot be divided. We cannot speak of freedom of worship without the right to own property. And one eventually must lose his right to own property if government continues to increase its activities and responsibilities.
"We recognized that in the enlargement of our church welfare program we could make the same mistakes as the government, and thus destroy the moral strength of our people. We saw that we must not help anyone in such a way as to rob him of his self-respect or his ability to go on and help himself instead of becoming helpless. So all of our programs are designed to preserve these virtues.
"In this connection, our policy is not to loan money to people who are able to borrow it through regular business channels. For that would be unfair both to business and to those to whom we loan the money. Everything must be done to encourage our people to keep their self-reliance. We also must be careful not to create an impression that our loans are really gifts in disguise. Our object is to help, not hurt, those to whom we loan the money.
"And there is another factor we must consider. It is the factor of judgment, justice, or responsibility. We think of the obligation of welfare or Christian giving as being operative on three levels. First is the family level. The members of the family should have the first privilege and responsibility of helping their own needy. If they help, theirs are the blessings of the Almighty. If they fail to help when able, they stand condemned before His judgment bar. If we step in without giving members of the family a chance, how can there be a blessing or a judgment on them?
"Next are the neighbors. They, too, should have a chance to succeed or fail in the most important challenge that comes to men. Let me read from the book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 to 46—enough to refresh your memories. You read the rest when you get home.
"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
"Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
"Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
"Finally, if the family and the neighbors have failed, or if the job is manifestly too big, the higher headquarters of the church welfare program take over.
"Now, are there any questions?"
There were many questions. But all of them were friendly. And none came from me. I had heard enough. In clear terms, without apology, this man had told the simple truth. It stood by itself.
"Deliver Me from Responsibility"
There are many ways one can say, "Let Washington do it." But they all add up to the same thing : "I want the responsibility as far away from me as possible." In the case of social welfare by government, it means : "I am ever so anxious to have the poor cared for. But I do not believe it will be done unless people are forced to do it."
Of course, we cannot say that every social planner is basically stingy and suspects everyone else of being stingy. But what possible motive can a man have for wanting to put the responsibility of social welfare on the willing shoulders of the bureaucrats in
Can the advocate of coercive social welfare salve his nagging conscience by demanding help from the government for the people he personally passes by and leaves "an hungred, athirst, naked, sick, and imprisoned?"
Correction : On page 54 of the June 1962 FREEMAN it was reported that "…. studies conducted by the Urban Land Institute reveal that the cost of servicing downtown areas generally exceeds the taxes collected from those areas…."
Subsequent efforts to document this report reveal quite the opposite conclusion, and we deeply regret that inadvertent misrepresentation.