Christian social ethics is vitally concerned to bring its insights to bear upon two of the major problems confronting the American nation today, poverty and unemployment. In a day in which it seems inevitable that the full powers of government will be exerted directly upon these problems, it seems also desirable that some relevant principles of the Christian Revelation be pondered as solutions are considered.
Thanks to modern journalism, the pockets of poverty in our land are being exposed to the light of day. That one-sixth of our population is compelled to subsist upon a wage insufficient to provide adequate shelter and diet, much less a suitable education for the young, ought to lie heavily upon the hearts of us all.
Likewise, the problem of unemployment ought to disturb the Christian conscience. Unemployment statistics alone do not, of course, afford an adequate picture of our national situation. It would be helpful if we could know how many of the five million listed as unemployed are idle simply because no work is to be had. But even without this information, it is clear that a sizable segment of our population is genuinely unemployed.
As the nation looks for alleviation of these distressing situations, one wonders whether the architects of our programs are taking into consideration some relevant biblical principles. Too seldom, for instance, do we hear emphasis on work as “given” to men, and on the fundamental stewardship of time-work. Creative labor seems as deeply rooted in the nature of things as is marriage. The Fourth Commandment clearly designates the “six days” as times for work.
In stating that labor is to be complemented by stated rest, few would insist that the Commandment specifies a work-week of any particular length. But work is divinely ordained; and it is far from certain that mankind has outgrown the need for the Puritan attitude, which holds time and energy to be a stewardship. It strikes one as novel, to say the least, to read in a Christian journal (The Christian Century, April 8, 1964) an editorial that seems to approve in principle a policy in which the work-income pattern would be set aside, so that an “adequate” income would be guaranteed to all, whether or not they worked gainfully for it. It would, on the surface of things, seem better that space and printer’s ink be devoted to the exploration of possible creative alternatives to such paternalistic proposals as are made in Robert Theobold’s “The Cybernated Era” (Vital Speeches, August 1, 1964).
One wonders whether this solution to the problem of unemployment, in a society in which automation and cybernation are producing dislocations, may not in the long pull founder upon the rock of original sin, and lead to complete decadence.
Biblical perspectives upon society’s responsibility for providing opportunities for employment would need to be derived by inference from the general thrust of Scripture. The mandate to work implies the obligation of society to provide the context within which work can be secured. To what extent it is justifiable to create artificial employment when the normal forms become insufficient is an open question. But certainly the attack upon unemployment involves intimately such problems as high school drop-outs. Are those responsible for our public policy giving adequate thought to the possibility of reducing the incitations to, and the opportunities for, the sexual irregularities that so deeply underlie this problem?
We hear much of Appalachia today. Mountains isolate this region from the broad stream of American life, and any attempt to penetrate the region with roads and to introduce industrial development is all to the good. But in another sense, Appalachia is a state of mind, a passivity that all too easily accepts as inevitable “a span of mules to farm a worn-out ‘eighty’ and eleven hungry mouths to feed.” Until this kind of fatalistic outlook is replaced by one that makes the whole of life a stewardship under rational control, little permanent alleviation seems possible.
Another area that should be removed from the area of “playing politics” is our immigration policies. Much is being made these days of the supposed necessity for the repeal or radical modification of the Walter-McCarran Act, with its quota system as directive for our immigration. One wonders whether there is not room for some hard, dispassionate thinking along this line. Why should not immigration be regarded much as is the adoption of a child? In adoptive procedures, there is an advance determination of the kind of environment desired. To attain this, rather than to empty the orphanage, is the goal.
Now, one would think to read such articles as the editorial in the Christian Century (August 12, 1964) entitled “End Racist Immigration!” that what is proposed is a vast increase of the number of technically trained immigrants from the Afro-Asian nations. Actually, what is proposed for the near future is that unused quotas for northern Europeans be filled with those who now await visas from lands whose quotas are over-subscribed. In plain language, this means that there would be a use of unfilled quotas largely by southern Europeans with relatives in this country. To oppose this is, so the argument runs, to imply that southern Europeans are inferior to those from the north. Actually, it means rather that some nationalities are so conditioned by culture that they meet our national needs better than others. To modify the immigration procedures along lines demanded by some would mean, virtually, the importation of southern Europe’s Appalachia to our shores.
One welcomes the seriousness with which religious writers view these and related problems. One wonders, however, whether many of the accepted presuppositions of the attack upon poverty and unemployment are not unrealistic.
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