Bryan Paul Sullo

Why Work Hard?

In Faith & Religion on 15 May 2015 at 2:46 pm


You’ve seen variations of this phrase on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and Facebook posts: “I work hard because millions of people on Welfare depend on me.”

If you work for a living, you’ve probably seen this and laughed. (It’s probably not as funny if you’re on Welfare, but I don’t know.)

I was recently asked whether or not I “agree” with the statement. That’s a yes or no question about something that’s not a yes or no subject, so, here’s my nuanced answer:

St. Basil the Great said the following, in a sermon from around 368 A.D.:

Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

I have two young kids. My wife and I each have 5-passenger cars. With two car seats in the back, there is only room for our family in each car. Based on the quote above, I’m saving up for a Minivan, not because I really want one, but because we have no easy way to give others rides when they need them, or bring neighbors to church.

As a Conservative, I believe the government long ago overstepped the bounds of what property they can take from me to give to others. As a Christian, I believe it is my duty to give part of my property to others. The difference is that I should have the choice of who gets it, or at least who distributes it.

While they’re funny in a sarcastic sort of way, I think that slogans like the one on this bumper sticker do a great disservice to our reputation as Conservatives and as Christians. I should work hard because others depend on my charity. That’s a very good reason to work hard. In fact it’s probably the best reason to work hard. I don’t work hard enough.

It occurs to me that Christian charity is the solution to any economic extreme: The great danger of laissez faire Capitalism is that those without ability go hungry. Christian charity dictates that we have a responsibility to take care of these people. The great danger of Socialism is that producers lose their incentive to produce. Christian charity says that our incentive should not be simply our own needs, but the needs of others.

What would you rather have on your tombstone: “Worked hard and kept it all” or “Worked hard and helped millions”? I know what I’d rather have, and if the only way I can do that right now is through forced government Welfare programs that’s what I need to do.

Now I need to go back to work.


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