[Hpn] Bush's Faith Based Initiative: Sociological Analysis by TR Young (fwd) (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
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 change. 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 policy. 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 increased. 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 at: The first essay notes the great transformations of religious sensibilities over the last four millennia. http://www.tryoung.com/archives/157postmodernreligion.html Other articles offering affirmative postmodern analysis in the sociology of religion can be found at: http://www.tryoung.com/dramaholy/dramaholyindex.html 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 services. 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 religious educators. 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 the fundings. 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 elect him. TR Young <trno@spamTRYOUNG.COM> END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** Visit HPN for CONSTANTLY UPDATING NEWS on Homeless People: *************************************************************** Over 10,000 articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people Been Homeless? Then JOIN! EMAIL Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net> Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy ***************************************************************