[Hpn] Bush's Faith Based Initiative: Sociological Analysis by TR Young
Mon, 5 Feb 2001 18:38:29 -0800 (PST)
[ Sociologist TR Young on Bush's "Faith Based Initiative" ]
FWD - REPLY TO author: "TR Young" <trno@spamTRYOUNG.COM>
THE QUALITY OF MERCY
President Bush has put forth a relatively small federal program aimed as
promoting faith-based community programs for lodging and meals for the
homeless, support programs for alcohol and drug addicted individuals as
well as child care, education and other services helpful to those who live
on the margins of the richest nation in the history of the world.
There are several points which the activist sociologist and thoughtful
citizen should consider well before rejecting or accepting any such
program. I would like to stimulate thought and discussion by noting a few
of these considerations:
1. Those critical sociologists with an affirmative postmodern religious
sensibility might well endorse such programs even over the objections of
those who, rightly, are concerned about state supported religions. The
argument is that since human beings create the world in which they
live--including religious sensibility--the quality of that religious
sensibility is and should be open to thoughtful discussion and continual
This means that if those who support of needful/helpful services base
their commitment to the provision of those services upon transcendent,
metaphysical grounds not susceptible to objective proof, there is no
particular reasoned grounds to rejection them...unless those metaphysical
grounds include coda harmful to others with differing religious
sensibility--including secular humanists.
2. The last time I looked faith-based charities and community service
supplied about 10 percent of the need for social services in the
nation...the most negative way one could interpret the Bush program is to
note that subsidies to faith-based programs are an extension of the
cheap-jack social programs of the USA--programs eroded by a federal and
state policies which continue to funnel ever more wealth to the rich and
withdraw ever-more services to the poor while putting evermore burden on
the lower and middle working class.
Not an analysis easy to dismiss when one compares US policy on education,
health care, addictions and lodging with Canadian, European and even Cuban
3. Federal and state monies for faith-based services make is both
possible and likely that funds can be withdrawn from existing programs and
used to for both infra-structure and for proselytizing purpose by the
church or sect. The Bush administration says that it is possible to
'build a firewall' between church and state and thus honor the US
Constitution...more in point four below.
The operative question for the affirmative postmodern sociologist is this;
why should religious institutions not be expanded and membership not
The answer is difficult but, in general, can be answered by historical
analysis. If, as Marx noted, religion is an opiate and a diversion from
praxical solutions to social problems always and everywhere, then the
answer is No, we cannot support faith-based programs.
But, if a thoughtful marxian analysis, congenial to an affirmative
postmodern sensibility were applied to the case, one would look at the
great transformations in teachings, in the god concept, in the capacity of
various religious groups to tolerate each other. And those changes have
been large and they have been progressive. There is no foundational
reason that religious sensibilities should not continue to move toward
transcendent religious teachings congenial to transnational solidarities
and domestic harmonies.
I have given some thought to such changes in a series of articles on-line
The first essay notes the great transformations of religious sensibilities
over the last four millennia.
Other articles offering affirmative postmodern analysis in the sociology
of religion can be found at:
4. Building a Firewall. the US Constitution, in its very first
Amendment, enjoins the state from establishment of religion. And, given
the tendency of various states and various congresses to establish a
Protestant Religion in the USA [and discourage Jewish, Catholic, Islamic,
Buddhist and especially Native American religious sensibilities, this
Amendment is foundational...and should be given great weight in our
deliberations on faith-based services.
The same Amendment guarantees free speech and the right of free assembly
as well as the right to petition the Government for redress of grievance.
An Affirmative reading of these other rights might well be used to support
an argument which guarantees both the right to religious assembly and the
right to religious pronouncements...of a sort which grounds faith-based
These services are provided now...the question is whether federal and
state governments should fund them. The short and easy answer is that
both federal and state governments now fund faith-based programs---AA is a
classic example. Charter schools and state vouchers for education go to
Churches are exempt from a variety of federal and state taxes....and use
that money to institutionalize themselves. These subsidies seem to
support the argument that a fire-wall is not only possible but in place.
The larger question is the long-term meaning of the Bush proposal for
protecting the religious and anti-religious sensibilities of American
citizens. A thoughtful person might well see the policies to support
faith-based programs as an historical and regressive turning point in
American history....a mean-spirited, racist and patriarchal religious
sensibility of the sort Attorney-General Ashcroft and the Religious Right
has espoused with increasing success since the Reagan era.
I doubt the long-term trend to encompassing religious sensibility will
suffer greatly in the USA...or elsewhere.
5. Excluding temples, mosques and sects from federal funding. It seems
likely that a Republican Administration will find good reason to exclude
religious groups not acceptable to their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
The Church of Islam is a case in point...and a test case...
If there are excluded, then the State will be giving preference to a
sectarian religious point of view...if, as the Bush people argue, only
performance will govern funding decisions, then an affirmative postmodern
religious sensibility might rest more easy.
6. The Quality of Mercy. As Shakespeare _might_ have said:
"The Quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed:it blesseth her that gives and him that takes;
the mightest blessing is in the mightiest nation: it becomes the
compassionate conservative better than does tax-relief for the rich.
Therefore, let mercy season justice and in our plea we do pray for
mercy and that same prayer doth teach us all to render deeds of mercy."
6. My own view. I think the US Constitution is flexible enough to permit
faith-based services. I think American citizens and social critics are
wise enough and bright enough to judge faith-based programs on their
merits...and to see and warn against biases in the Bush administration of
I think the conditions for success--especially in alcohol, drug and
criminal rehabilitation--warrants support of faith-based programs. Faith
in god/higher powers does work to change the hoar leper and the wappened
widow and scurrilous scoundrels such as Charles Colson.
I think those of us on the Left; those of us who are not theists; those of
us who view the capitalist state with great suspicion--among whom I count
myself--should not put principle above the need of families for food and
shelter; for alcoholics and other addicts for comfort and healing; for
church members to extend mercy, compassion and caritas.
I think the need is great enough to adopt a cautious wait-and-see stance
for the moment. I think that any advantage the Religious Right might reap;
any approval Mr. Bush might win; any tax relief that wealthy contributors
and profit-seeking corporations might get are of far less importance to
the persons concerned than we critics and scholars and leftists and
atheists might like. The larger question upon which we might well focus is
the growing disparity between rich and poor countries; the role of the US
government in promoting markets unconstrained by religious sensibility;
the role of the Bush administration in servicing some 1500 multi-national
corporations using its economic and political weapons and especially, the
role of Mr. Bush in protecting profits of the oil companies which helped
TR Young <trno@spamTRYOUNG.COM>
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