What Money and Spiritual Death Have in Common

St. John of God, Patron of Hospitals

I read this really great quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. just now.

A nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

I don't know the context of this quote, but it mirrors the way a lot of people feel.

His sentiments are understandable.  A culture that is absorbed with problems outside of itself and ignorant of the grave problems within is blind, and there is a good chance it is already deteriorating.

However, from what I understand in the above quote, his prescription for this dangerous mindset could be unhealthful as well.

Yes, I know, cheeky little thing, aren't I, to disagree with the great Dr. King?  My reservations about his solutions are these.

Please note these are simplified thoughts, and that they do not take into account the nuances of foreign policy and social doctrine.  I'm just putting this out there for thought and discussion.

1)  Government is notoriously wasteful.  We spend millions of dollars funneled into programs that are supposed to address social evils but which go toward paying for unnecessary red tape and redundancies.  How much of that tax money is actually seen by the poor and the sick?   
Does anyone have any non-biased resources regarding this matter? 
2)  Military defense is the express jurisdiction of the federal government, as it was drawn up in the Constitution.  Social programs are not. 
So what, you ask.  People need to be helped, do they not?

Unlike with military defense, the government is not the sole entity responsible for social uplift.  The institutions traditionally looked to for citizens fallen on hardship were charities, chiefly charities run by a religious organization or church.  In fact, the beginning of the twentieth century in this country, most hospitals were run by the Catholic Church.  (See the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

The role of the government is to make sure the environment of our society is not hostile--or better yet, nurturing--to these spontaneous oases of human generosity.  In the case that more is needed, citizens can vote to raise taxes for social programs.

What do you think?  Have I misinterpreted Dr. King's quote entirely?


For further reading:

Just War Doctrine
Catholic Social Teaching


  1. Since ours is a first world country I think that we should be able to take care of our own - the ones that are hungry and cold. There are a lot of children in this predicament. I think that the children should be taken care of before we spend as much as we do on the military!

    1. You didn't address my main point, though, that social justice isn't explicitly the government's job, while maintaining a military is.

  2. I lean towards allowing the government access to as few areas of life as possible. Honestly, I don't trust them to do any job well, and so I'd prefer they stay away from anything that can be done without them..so schools, healthcare, social programs and the like. If they did, it might give private organizations more of an opportunity and the motivation to step up.

    1. Masha, I agree that in most cases the government can't be trusted to do a job well. They haven't the incentive. They're going to be there no matter what, bad job or no.

      I have experienced this firsthand living abroad. The government takes control of all aspects of healthcare in the U.K. and, while free to anybody, the care is unarguably inferior. My sister-in-law, who was born and raised there, has a ton of personal anecdotes and well-researched information. John has been there for three months now, and he is still waiting on an important medical appointment! (Fortunately, the problem doesn't endanger his immediate health, but they've been known to bump people who need new hips to the bottom of the list for years and years.) They also have a committee that signs off on who is "worth" certain medical procedures, taking into account age and likelihood of survival. That shakes me to my core.

      It's funny, though, Brits think since we don't have national health insurance in the U.S. that people who need urgent medical care are turned away, which is simply not the case.


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