I grew up Catholic.
One of the things you learn very early on is this earthly life is a test of your faith for a reward of either heaven and eternal life or hell and eternal damnation. Life here is supposed to be hard, we are supposed to feel pain because these trials are what helps God determine what kind of person who are and what our reward should be. Yes, I know I am grossly over-simplifying this and I have a large contingent of theologian friends with whom I can argue all day long, so if you don’t agree, please just take that on face value. It will help the analogy move along much quicker.
So you go to Church every Sunday, you help the poor, you don’t commit mortal sins, you do all the things that make you a good Catholic and that in turn will make you a good person. Now, here is where faith wears thin. As you get older, temptations become stronger, specifically, wine, women and song. These things are really, really fun and they make the promise of heaven or hell — while eternal — not believable.
If there is no heaven or hell, if this life is all there is, you sure will have wasted a whole lot of good fun. But, if there is a heaven and hell, and you succumbed to the sins of the flesh, you are in deep do-do.
Moving over to your secular life, as a good citizen, you do good things as well. You live within your means by not buying a house you can’t afford, save money in a retirement plan, don’t put a 58″ plasma TV on a credit card at 28% interest, don’t buy a cherry red Hummer which is really, really yummy looking…. oh, you’re still there… forgive me reader, for I have sinned….
If you are living within your means (good Catholic) and all your neighbors who went out and got drunk on over-priced homes, televisions, cars and stocks get bailed out by the Federal Government (God) what was the point of you living within your means? What if you living within your means actually means that your house is now worth 70% of what it was, you have to spend down your savings because you lose your job and you have no TV to watch to wile away your days of unemployment? Does a great FICO score get you into heaven or is it a worthless ticket?
Are the fiscally responsible who have not been living the high-life of comfort and excess going to now be forced to live with even less because of the sins of their neighbors? Doesn’t God just punish the sinners? How is this fair?
Well it isn’t and it makes one question the value of being a “good citizen.” If I knew with absolute certainty that there is no God, no heaven and no hell, I would be having more fun in this earthly life. I would be sinning and I would care less about the other puppies on this planet. After all, this would be the only go-around I would get and to not grab all I can out of the deal would just be silly.
If I knew with absolute certainty that no matter how fiscally irresponsible I was that eventually the Federal Government would bail me out, that they would force my bank to give me a better interest rate and that I could get a new Hummer every year and a big screen TV for every room of my house, I would not care about excessive credit card debt or paying any part of the principle on my home loan. Saving for a rainy day would be just silly.
But, I am not a gambler and the odds of there actually being a God are a little higher than there not being a God. At any rate, the possibility of spending an eternity frying my tail off just doesn’t sound all that much fun. Why risk it. And, being Catholic, I can always go to confession after sinning (don’t tell God about the loophole.)
I believe that the lack of mental anxiety that comes with living within your means is worth it. Like the Vatican, I don’t believe the government cares about me personally other than I behave myself and don’t make too many waves. By keeping me in a house, family and self-inflicted poverty, they is accomplishing their goal.
I will come out of this recession more intact than my drunken neighbors. I just hope the government can figure out a way to reward the responsible citizen while also making the sinners pay.
But I know our government also believes there is a God and they are leaving the sorting of the sinners to him (or her.) That vote is just way, way too risky and there are no confessionals in Congress.