The Myth of Ignored Christian Values
Many people have recently commented (on TV and elsewhere) that many people in this country vote based on religion, but do not truly understand or vote based on the full gospel of Jesus. For example, they say that abortion and the sanctity of marriage are not the only Christian values preached by Christ. Christ also spoke about the need to give to charity and care for the poor and to bring peace to the world. Before the election, a liberal Catholic group even released a voter guide and took out a newspaper ad in battleground states with lots of Catholics to make this point.
Now, I am not going to argue with them on a theological basis, mostly because I am not qualified. I will even grant them the theological aspect of their argument in its entirety. But I believe that they are shifting the dialogue away from even what they claim Christ said and to leftist ideals, a conclusion that I believe is at the heart of the problem with modern liberalism.
Certainly, Christ did indeed speak about the need to give to charity and take care of the poor. But my understanding is that Christ made this a personal responsibility that each and every one of us ought to take on. Nobody on the Right (with the exception of the Objectivists (who, incidentally endorsed John Kerry) nor the evangelicals in the Red States, believe that contributing to charity and helping the poor are bad things. In fact, there is evidence that the Red States are much better about giving to charity than the Blue States. The point is that most people on the Right simply believe that the government ought not be in the business of forcing people to do so or redistributing our wealth for us, that rather, we can do it on our own, thank you very much. Just because someone opposes government imposed charity (via taxation and then income redistribution via welfare and medicaid) does not mean that he sits in his office in a Monty Burns kind of way, rubbing the palms of his hands together and saying "Excellent" at every new opportunity to make the poor suffer.
But then, the question can be turned, "well, if you believe that helping the poor is a personal choice, why not abortion as well." I think that these are entirely different issues. One has to do with forcing someone to engage in "virtue". The other has to do with keeping someone from denying others the ability for virtue (in the case of abortion) or fundamentally changing our understanding of natural law (in the case of gay marriage). I am pro-choice and believe in civil unions (and possibly gay marriage) but it seems to me that pro-lifers genuinely do believe that abortion is murder. So, stopping someone from committing murder is different from forcing someone to give to charity. A more apt analogy to abortion would be stopping someone from stealing from the poor. I am certain that most conservatives would oppose stealing from the poor.
This is also entirely leaving aside the question of whether the particular governmental policies actually achieve their intended goals. Most conservatives would argue that no, they do not, and that they actually cause more harm than good. Liberals strongly disagree. But these are legitimate policy differences not depraved indifference by the Right of the needs of the poor. While good intentions are great, if the end-result ends up being worse than doing nothing, then who needs those good intentions in the first place?
There is also the question: "Can one truly be virtuous if he is forced at gun-point to do good deeds? Doesn't virtue require affirmative intentionality?" I think that this is one of the foundations of libertarian thought. I do not know the answer to this question entirely, but I have a number of thoughts. First, I think that intentionality is a significant aspect of virtue. And indeed, one cannot truly be virtuous if the actions are not truly willed without severe coercion. Having said that, however, there are limitations to how far we can take this. The obvious point is that if we take this to its most obvious conclusion, then the guy who lives above a house of ill-repute and resists the harlots and crack dealers on his corner is the most virtuous out there. In fact, the truly virtuous ought choose to live there. Certainly, this is nonsense. But I think that in terms of positive actions, this is definitely true. What I mean here is the notion that if to be virtuous requires taking a positive action (like giving to charity), then forcing someone to do the positive action would significantly reduce the virtue of the action. If, however, virtue required a negative action (resisting the temptation to cheat on one's wife, for example), then one can still be quite virtuous if the point of the gun is used to remove those temptations to sin from the environment. I am not sure exactly where the balance lies, but I think that my description is at least a good first-order approximation of reality. I think that this is the perspective many who are social conservatives (but economic libertarians) come from.
So, I think that "Jesus called for charity too" argument is really flawed.