Kelly ponders in his latest, cleverly-named article, Calvin and Hobbes, if the views of sixteenth-century theologian Reformation leader John Calvin toward the poor have infested modern-day America's views of the poor. The implication is, I would think, that those who do not believe government welfare programs are (1) constitutional or (2) proper functions of government do not believe that the poor are worth helping, supporting, etc.
While this proposition is tidy, it is too clever by half and paints a view of the truth both too simple and one-sided. Calvin's theological positions on predestination cannot be used to suggest that Calvin generally blamed the poor for their own plight. While he was a staunch defender of private property as a means for Christians to provide for the needs of themselves and their families, he was just as adamant that Christians should use their earnings over and above their own needs to help the suffering and dispossessed.
In his commentary on Isaiah 58:7 Calvin writes,
I would submit that Kelly points to a strain in Christian (Protestant) ethics that brings to light a more nuanced difference between liberals and conservatives regarding the role of government in helping the poor. The difference between them is over how to help the poor, not whether to help the poor.
The conservative position draws forth from the old Protestant work ethic that work is a vital expression of service to God and the world and that a person cannot honor who they are in God if they do not contribute to the world through their work. When coupled with the ancient biblical mandate to God's people to make provisions for the poor, we are closer to understanding the conservative position that a man is only whole when he his working in his field of calling (what he was created to do, gifted to do, passionate about, etc) and that the social safety net is there for those who stumble as a temporary hand up to get back on his feet, not a hand out that consigns him to the downward spiral of dependence. This latter destroys a man's (and woman's) sense of self and short-circuits his or her ultimate potential contributions to society. Notice here the importance of the social safety net being provided by civil society, not civil government.
The liberal view that the only way to help the poor is through the government not only works over time to destroy the man and his sense of self and sense of obligation to the community, but it also works over time to destroy the community by creating a permanent underclass of dependence and by diverting the government from its own proper role in providing for the general welfare (the good of society as a whole) and the common defense. The fact that liberals suspect conservatives - or constitutionalists - of not caring for the poor unless they support a myriad of government welfare, wealth distribution programs betrays their own skewed view of government, community and what it means to be human.