Government has filled a spot in the American Society that once belonged to the churches. People regularly attended church throughout American history and use the church as a place of instruction, guidance, support, and charity. The government now fills a larger role in American's lives and at the same time church attendance is diminishing. The government is growing at a rapid pace and the expanded social programs have more influence on Americans than the church. America is a nation of immigrants which most fled from large governments (sometime oppressive) and now the American government is poised to grow larger than ever. The ideas behind the growth of government can have noble intentions, but more often than not results in wasted money and harm to the peoples it intends to help, and is replacing the roles churches once filled as a guiding and supportive structure in peoples lives.
Government spending is a highly debated topic as to how much money should be spent and how it should be spent, but the fact remains government spending is rising each year and will become unsustainable in the future without major changes. Government spending is currently around 40% of GDP as compared to 7% at the start of the twentieth century (Chantrill, NP). Government spending has had ebbs and flows that can be traced since the start of the twentieth century, which include two world wars and a great depression. However, from the 1980's through the early 2000's government spending was lower to mid 30% range of GDP (Chantrill, NP). Increase in spending has been seen since the stock market crash of 2008, to the current levels of around 40% of GDP (Chantrill, NP). Various reasons are behind the major increases of government spending, but the 'New Deal', the 'Great Society', stand out as major legislation milestones in past US history. These two programs have set the stage for today's spending on social programs, and put the US on a path that will be hard to slow down. 'You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think could not do before' ' Rahm Emanuel.
The New Deal:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt after he won the presidency in the midst of the great depression instituted the New Deal, 'a series of economic measures designed to alleviate the worst effects of the depression, reinvigorate the economy, and resort the confidence of the American people in their banks and other key institutions' (The New Deal, NP). Major creations of the New Deal included the Works Progress Administration, The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Social Security Act, and several others (The New Deal, NP). 'The 1935 Social Security Act, which let to the establishment of the Social Security Administration and the creation of a national system of old-age pensions and unemployment compensations. Social Security also granted federal financial support to dependent children, the handicapped, and the blind'(The New Deal, NP). These programs brought government to new levels of intervention in peoples lives. It made the government a top employer of the people with the goal of getting people into the workforce. Unemployment was at record levels, 'Over thirteen million people, nearly 25 percent of the workforce, were now unemployed' (The New Deal, NP). 'New Deal programs were financed by tripling federal taxes from $1.6 billion in 1933 to $5.3 billion in 1940. Excise taxes, personal income taxes, inheritance taxes, corporate income taxes, holding company taxes and so-called 'excess profits' taxes all went up' (Powell, NP). The New Deal also reversed prohibition to use the taxes from the sale of alcohol to raise money for the New Deal programs. The New Deal represented a change in America's direction towards new social programs, the programs were implemented in times of crisis, and capitalism was seen as one of the root causes of the crisis.
The Great Society:
The next large legislation for social programs was the Great Society implemented by Lyndon Johnson, with the main focus being the War on Poverty. Johnson instituted the Great Society without a major crisis to help push his legislations. Johnson had the momentum of the sentiment surrounding the assignation of President Kennedy and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act which was something that Kennedy pushed before his death. 'Johnson wanted to use the resources of the federal government to combat poverty, strengthen civil rights, improve public education, revamp urban communities, and protect the country's natural resources. In short, Johnson wanted to ensure a better life for all Americans' (Great Society, NP). Within this Great Society Johnson created Medicare which provides medical care to the elderly, and today is one of the most costly social programs. Johnson's plan was noble in its goal to combat poverty and to build a better nation. The cost of the plan however, was and is enormous and we must as a nation determine what price must be paid to help the poor. The Bible says,'For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always' (Mark 14:7). The poor will never be totally eliminated no matter what cost is spent. We are called on to help the poor, but the question remains, to what extent should the federal government be involved?
Changing Society and Government:
The church has been a fabric of the American society from the founding of the nation. However, society is changing and the church today has a reduced role in America. 'Since the 1970's, the share of those who never attend religious services or attend less than once a year increased by 53 percent, while those who attend several times a year or weekly decreased by 29 and 26 percent, respectively' (Church Attendance, NP). Religion is interwoven in American society in places such as the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer to open congress and the courts, laws with foundations from the 10 commandments and Biblical teachings. But we are now starting to remove the religious aspects from public organizations as much as possible, with the removal of prayer from schools and litigations to remove the 10 commands from courthouses. Church and state should be separated as much as possible, but the fact remains that ones beliefs will influence how one governs.
Moral Hazards of Government that Contradict Teachings of the Church:
The growth of the government has resulted in programs that replace or even undermine the church. Social Security and unemployment insurance created by the New Deal and Medicare created by the Great Society are some examples of the increasing government programs that either knowingly or unknowingly undermines some of the churches teachings. Social security was written at a time when divorce and unmarried women were outside of the norm. In today's society divorce is common place, and it is also common place for single women to live independently and raise children. Social Security as it is written has issues with divorce as it, 'provides both spousal benefits and survivor's benefits to divorced dependent spouses provided they were married to a retiree for at least 10 years' (Hyman, p325). If the dependent spouse remarries they loose the benefits, so naturally a moral hazard could be the discouragement to remarry so the benefits from the government will not be stopped. Social security was not originally intended to discourage people from remarrying but it is a moral hazard that exists. The church definitely advocates for the spouse to remarry and loose the payment from the government, as opposed to living together unmarried. Unemployment insurance was also issued in the New Deal and at a time when unemployment was 25%. At the time unemployment insurance was designed it was a noble idea and a well received form of relief in response to an unusual circumstance. Also it was tax that people would not mind paying as they saw and felt the effects of the great depression and the inability to find work and feed the family. The moral consequences to this were the increased taxes the employer also had to pay resulted in fewer people that could be placed on the payroll. Also a payment of money sent to people for not working can easily be a discouragement from putting forth effort to find a job. The payment of unemployment is lower than most wages one could earn at a job, but to consider you have to do nothing to receive it makes people more likely to receive less money. Also considering all the taxes one has paid for the unemployment insurance in the past, people will want to reap maximum benefits once they use unemployment. The church teaches at if you are able to work then you should work, provided there are jobs available. 'For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat' (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The government provides these assistance programs that are and can be seen as good and noble, but can easily be abused by the people receiving the assistance.
The Great Society came during the 1960s at t time when the country was in the middle of great civil unrest and cultural changes. The main focus of the Great Society was Johnson's war on poverty. 'Johnson sought affordable health care for all, stronger civil rights legislation, more benefits for the poor and the elderly, increased aid to education, economic development, urban renewal, crime prevention, and stronger conservation efforts. To many, Johnson's initiative seemed to be the most sweeping change in federal policy since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930's' (Great_Society, NP). Some of the programs within the Great Society can also have moral hazards that also go against the teaching and instructions of the church. The benefits from the programs are targeted at low income people, and the continued assistance can lead the people to stay at a certain income level in order to receive the benefits payments. The programs (such as Medicaid) can be taken away from the mother if she marries and looses her low income status as a result. This moral hazard has an effect of promoting people to stay unmarried in order to receive the maximum amount of government benefits available. The Great Society has great intentions as defined by Johnson, but everyone that participates does not always see the good as originally designed.
Results that Lead to Decline of the Church:
The New Deal and Great Society are two large government initiatives that began to sway the culture of America from the teachings of the churches. These programs take enormous amounts of money and administrators to run and result in the increased taxes on people who work. The church which in the past had dealt with many of the problems (but maybe not all) the government now addresses is experiencing a decline. A decline in attendance and a decline in funding can be seen in the churches today. The decline, one can argue, can be traced to 'the rise of the welfare state, especially during the New Deal and Great Society, assumed much of the social responsibility that was once the province of voluntary associations' (Muhlausen, NP). The churches taught that one should be responsible for ones self and family within society, but now government is a safety net that will take care of anyone in time of trouble or who does not wish to fulfill these responsibilities. Undoubtedly times of trouble have occurred for people, and they have benefited from the government programs in a positive way. However, it is also true that the government programs will provide help to both those people who are in trouble and need as well as people who are not socially responsible. The increase in taxes required by individuals can also be argued has led to the decline in charitable contributions. The increased taxes can take the money away from people that would have been given in charitable contributions or even the taxes can serve as a substitute. 'Charitable donors will treat the taxes they pay to provide government-run welfare services as a substitute for donations' (Muhlhausen, NP).
When one is presented with a choice to be socially responsible and to do the right thing or just do very little with no worry because there is a government safety net, there will always people who choose to do very little. The programs set and run by the government have at their foundations noble and just causes for concern. However it is questionable as to the amount of intrusion they can have in ones life, the amount of funding the programs costs, and the return on American tax payer's investment they provide. Since the creation of large social programs by the federal government a definite decline in the role of the church in American society can be noted. 'This change has real consequences as the government become more responsible for solving social problems and shapes the lives of American's as the church once did' (Messmore, NP). The push from the government is to make a society in which all men are equal. This is impossible as all men are not equal in their gifts, talents, physical appearance, physical abilities, and mental capacities. The Declaration of Independence states that, 'all men are created equal' with the rights of 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness' and this does not mean that we should all have the same jobs or the same income or own the same amount of property. The statement means people should have the opportunity at these rights, if the application is made by the individual.
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