Barack Obama, in a discussion with evangelist Rick Warren about his Christian faith, said he had been guilty of a “fundamental selfishness” that had contributed to regrettable youthful behavior.
Then he confessed for the rest of us.
“Americans’ greatest moral failure in my lifetime,” he said, “has been that we still don’t abide by that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”
Sorry, but he can hang that one up. Whatever the case is with his own selfishness, the evidence of an internationally superior American generosity is impressive, beginning with the numbers on our charitable giving.
We give twice as much as the British per capita, and according to The American magazine, seven times as much as the Germans and 14 times as much as the Italians. Even in inflation-adjusted dollars, the amount given each year just keeps getting larger.
Meanwhile, we do far more volunteer work than in other industrialized countries.
Of course, Obama isn’t just talking about private giving, and could face serious embarrassment if he were. As has been reported about a study by Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University, conservatives give almost a third more money to charities than liberals, who mostly have more to give.
No, Obama wants to scratch another itch — his desire for the government to do more to force redistribution of money in our society.
But don’t suppose we are negligent in the coercion department, either.
Under our progressive income tax system, the top 5 percent of all earners pay more than 60 percent of the take, according to the National Taxpayers Union, which notes that the top 50 percent pay 97 percent. Some 43 million primarily low-income filers of tax returns owe no income tax at all, says the Tax Foundation. And 21 million families that don’t pay the tax are getting some $36 billion in refunds through the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Americans just aren’t selfish in a mean-spirited sense, although they are by and large self-responsible in pursuing their own interests and thereby contributing mightily to the communal good. Obama’s collectivist aspirations could damage that good, and are also bad theology.
As the liberal writer Garry Wills intelligently explains in his book, “What Jesus Meant,” Jesus did not “advocate a politics.” He was talking about each of us caring for others, and compared to many others around the globe, we do that pretty well.