The answer to the subject question depends on who you ask. First, what is the definition of entitlements? Wikipedia has one that seems as accurate as any. It says that it "is a guarantee of access to benefits because of rights or by agreement through law."
The next thing to know is what is included in entitlements. One explanation is found on an old blog post On The Issues. In it, Jesse Gordon hits on the major federally funded programs like social security, medicare, and medicaid. A more recent explanation is found at this link from Dr. Paul M. Johnson at Auburn University. Johnson gives a little more detail in regards to food stamps, retirement plans, unemployment compensation, etc.
Right now, given that this will be an issue debated heavily this year heading toward elections, the problem is deciding how important entitlements are to the American people. Or how critical. From one conservative perspective, Daniel Larison in his blog astutely asserts that once entitlements are established it is virtually impossible to repeal because of the dependence it places people on for the government's help. That seems to be true more and more everyday. One example of this is found in an email that has been widely circulated. Though verification with Snopes revealed some of the details have mixed reviews (true or false), Snopes made a point to say, "While some of the elements portrayed in the spoof are fabricated of whole cloth, others aren't."
Here is an excerpt of that email: (Please read Snopes as well as it explains in detail what they believe were some of the more true statements.)
Sharon Jasper has spent 57 of her 58 years dedicated to one cause and one cause only, and has nothing to show for her dedicated servitude...
She has lived in Section 8 housing all but 1 of her 58 years. It was a legacy passed down from her parents who moved into Section 8 housing in 1949 when she was six months old. She has passed the legacy down to her children, but fears they may have to get jobs to pay for the utilities and deposits.
She laments about her one year hiatus from the comfort of her Section 8 nirvana, 'I tried it for a year -- you know, working and all. It's not anything I would want to go through again, or wish on anyone in my family, but I am d**n proud of that year.'
Even if a portion of this isn't true, it still speaks to a mindset that has swept our nation. For reasons I cannot fully understand, people actually want the government to take care of them. They do not want to do anything to work for or earn it, they just want the government to provide it for them. In an anecdote of my own, I overheard a classmate of mine while attending a community college. She stated she was attending college courses on the state's dime. She was on welfare because she was a single mom and had (I believe she said) 2 kids and the state was paying for her to get an education to help her with job skills. Her goal, however, was to finish the accounting program and then pursue a degree in another field. She maintained that if needed, she would get pregnant again in order to get the state to continue to pay her expenses and fund her college tuition.
It is this kind of mindset that has me questioning the legitimacy of entitlements. To understand this better, you have to understand that in the realm of liberalism is a sect that has a sincere belief that entitlements actually helps society. It is a point of view that is rarely talked about by conservatives but should be acknowledged. The idea is that compassionate liberalism compels people to move and act through social action in order to bring about a better way of life. To them, it's unthinkable that a nation like the U.S. is capable of thriving in its success and leaving the poor and impoverished behind. It's also hard for them to comprehend how conservatives can view the poor through rose colored glasses and believe that if they just buck up and get to work they can get themselves back on their feet.
Although I tend to believe there are liberals who do have pure intentions in regards to fighting poverty (i.e. through social reform), I also believe that their actions are misguided. Should it be the responsibility of the church to help people? Or should we delegate this great responsibility of carrying out the Biblical mandate to the government to help the poor? It is difficult to discern the thoughts or the intents of an man and sometimes we have to take peoples' words at face value. Then again, sometimes their actions betray their words. Such is the case with Nancy Pelosi. She claims she has "a duty to pursue policies [that are] in keeping with the values of Jesus." If this is her mindset, if she truly believes this or is using this to placate liberal ideology, then can this be the purpose behind her pursuing legislation like health care that many Christians find deplorable? The fact that she wants to provide access to health care to the poor seems to contradict her value statement about Jesus. This is because when considering the health care being promoted through Congress, it does nothing to deter abortion, but rather accommodate it. On About.com, the writer is neutral in view of whether abortion would be provided through health care, but clearly mentions the fact that abortion isn't excluded. At FactCheck.org, they provide a little more clarity on the scope of the language. In a back-door way, we as taxpayers will in fact be subsidizing abortions.
The other side of this issue is how liberals in government are using entitlements to further their agenda. Though I mentioned that there is sect of liberals that believe in social reform as a means to help society, there are those who are using this to their advantage. These would be people who are actually duping the American public into believing that their goal is to serve and to help those who are less fortunate. They draw on the media frenzy that feeds into the notion that the rich should give to the poor. The fact that there are people who thirst for power and will do anything and everything to achieve their objective should not be a foreign idea. It has been done throughout history and it is happening today. NOW. And by getting people hooked onto government and getting people to rely on them to provide for guaranteed entitlements, grants them even greater access to control and manipulation. They can then dictate what products and services are actually offered, sometimes through...you got it...rationing. By having that control, they effectively remove the belief that capitalism has any merit and that people can't do for themselves, but rather need government. Remember Sharon Jasper?
So the question stands...are we entitled to entitlements? As I see it, even when we have the right intentions, do entitlements actually help us as a society? What does God say? Well, as I mentioned previously in another post, government does play a part. But at what point do we relinquish our responsibility as the Church to reach out to the poor and hand it over to the government? Interestingly, Scripture tells us something about the poor that seems to tell us the opposite of what our culture is saying. Leviticus 19:15 tells us that "we aren't to pervert justice[...We also shouldn't] show partiality to the poor." Does that mean that we should neglect the poor. No, that would be wrong too. Leviticus 25:35 tells us that "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you." But what I don't see here is that we should pass this responsibility onto the government. It's important to know that God uses life's circumstances to bring about certain conditions to use His people and to bring Him glory. When it's a neighbor helping a neighbor, that person is effectively using God's resources to help out another human being. He is sharing God's love. He is giving God glory. But if all we do is pay taxes and have the government dictate how to disperse the funds to help the poor, then we neglect the effect that we could have on another soul...and that diminishes the gospel.
The problem isn't all with the government though. Let's be realistic. If we did as the church was supposed to, we wouldn't have people looking to the government at their time of need. More people would be turning to the church and they would know that this is a place where God is using people to help those less fortunate. Somewhere along the line, the church handed over the responsibility to charities and other places to help people. And then the government took over.
But let's also remember this. The Bible tells us that people have a responsibility for themselves as well. Even though the poor or less fortunate are going through difficult times, that doesn't mean we should provide for their every need. Those who are looking for handouts and aren't willing to work, but merely get by, should heed the words in Proverbs. "The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work." There is indeed value in work. Ecclesiastes says, "Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God." This is also shown in Colossians, where it says, "Slaves [or in today's vocabulary, employees], obey your earthly masters [or employers] in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
So, in light of what God says and knowing what we know, are entitlements bad? Not always. It seems if we look at this with a healthy attitude, knowing that we personally should be making a difference in helping people less fortunate, there would be less people looking to the government for their help. But...and I stress the but...when people are fallen on hard times sometimes it's not such a bad thing to have our resources pooled in the form of taxes to help where needed (i.e. unemployment, natural disasters, etc.) My thing is is that government should have a "limited" role in this regard. Not only that, they should have a temporary role as well. The longer people are indebted to government, the less likely they're able to get back on their feet and on their own financially, emotionally, or spiritually. And that, to me, would be a more serious condition than being poor.