By Art Stevens

Before I start, let me say that in no way whatsoever do I claim to be an expert in anything relating to religion, but I have done the research. If, in any reference to religion that I may make, you think that I am wrong or misinterpreting, please let me know. I have the utmost respect for any person who believes in any religion. One of the reasons that I consider myself to be an agnostic is because I was brought up on the streets of New York, and learned very early on not to trust anyone or anything unless it is proven at least in my mind. I cannot prove or disprove any of the writings in the bible. I also cannot bring myself to have a blind faith although I can certainly understand that some people can. As a matter of fact, I have always thought that the really religious people that do have that faith in many ways are much better off than I. When a tragedy occurs, like a loved one passing, they have some cushioning of the impact that I do not have. I don’t look at religious people as being any better or any worse than I am. Most look to God for their thoughts on what is right or wrong, good or bad. I have absolutely no problem with that, but I myself prefer to look deep down into my own heart to make the determinations and decisions that I think are right.

Cain and Abel are said to be the first born to Adam and Eve. The bible tells of Cain killing his brother, Abel. When confronted by God, he asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As I understand it, in religious circles, the general feeling is that that the answer was “Yes.”

For those who do believe, I give you the story of Lazarus, the beggar. Hungry. Longing for even the droppings of food from the table of someone more fortunate than he. Though helped by no one else, Jesus does help him. Is Jesus saying that whether a beggar or a King, a human being who is hungry or needs help physically in some way and cannot provide this help for themselves, should be helped or ignored? How do you interpret this? If you believe that this happened, do you think that you would have reacted in the same way as Jesus? Do you think that Jesus was acting in a way that He would want us to act? Let’s try to bring that thinking up to the present.

What has changed from that time until now? Are we brothers and sisters? Or are we completely individual to a point that, aside from our immediate families, we want nothing to do with people that have basic and legitimate needs? We have two major political parties. Obviously, how we handle this situation will come from the ideology of the party in power. We have an election coming up. I think that this would be the time for all of us to consider this issue very carefully.

When I use the term ‘our brother’s keeper,’ the obvious question that should then be asked is to what extent? Let me make it very clear that it is my feeling that there are two areas, and only two areas, that should fall into this discussion. One is that people who have legitimate reasons for not being able to put food on their table for themselves and/or their families should have help. And the second would be that every person should have the right to be treated by a doctor if they or their children are sick. Right now, what keeps us from those goals is money and availability of it. Who would supply it and manage the program? Of course, that brings us right smack in the middle of the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican parties. The great majority of people on the right seem to think that these people do not have those ‘rights,’ and even if they did, that it should be handled by private industry and not government. You may remember, in one of the early Republican debates, Wolf Blitzer asking Ron Paul, “A man, 30 years old, having worked his entire adult life, gets seriously ill, desperately needs an operation [and] does not have the insurance needed for the operation. Do you just let him die?” Paul, raising his hands, palms up, very slowly says, “Well no. When I was younger, you went to your church for help or got help from a charity.” (I’m not quoting verbatim here, but that is what he said.) Is that what we want as American citizens when a member of our family needs help? To hope that someone might come up with the money needed?

This is not about big government vs. small government. I want government to be whatever size it has to be to accomplish their goals. As far as putting these issues into the hands of private industry goes, the number one goal of private industry, now and in the future, is to show a profit at the end of the quarter. They are, and should be, all about the money. I, for one, do not equate this with the dignity and the needs of our citizens. The number one goal of the government is, and should be to the best of their ability, to insure that its citizens enjoy a safe and dignified life. The main objection that I get from people opposing that view is that many people take advantage of these programs. And why should they be paying for those people? This is certainly a valid point. I say to attack that problem. Find a better filtering system, but don’t deny the honest, legitimate citizens that have a real need for help.

This question has never been answered in a way that satisfies our society. It becomes a completely different question if the people involved are you or your family. A politician a long time ago said, “What would you think of me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death?” Should the answer be ‘Out of sight- out of mind?’ I, for one, believe that we should be our brother’s keeper, but only pertaining to what I would consider to be life’s absolute necessities, and that is food and medical care.

I have many more points that I had hoped to make on this subject, but space has brought me to a hard break. I’m sure many of you have points of view that may or may not agree with mine. I’d love to hear them. I can be reached at


  1. JD June 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    The Bible also says “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” and “Honor your father and mother.” Should the government outlaw any Hinduism, or press criminal charges against teenagers who talk back to their parents (don’t answer that second one)?

    All joking aside, we have to distinguish between moral (spiritual, if you prefer) responsibilities and legal responsibilities. We also need to distinguish between a) recognizing a person in need and helping that person and b) coercing a large number of strangers into giving money to the government, in hope that some of it (after administrative and other costs are taken out) will be used to help people who, by a somewhat arbitrary algorithm, are considered “in need.” The second is not only less efficient than the first, but devoid of any moral value. If I help someone (for the sake of argument, let’s assume the system works) because I’m going to go to jail if I refuse, that’s not the same as helping someone because I’m following the commandment to love my neighbor.

    There are other issues worth considering – moral hazard and learned helplessness come to mind – but I’ve probably taken up enough space on your page already.


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