June 12, 2005

Politics, religion, and morality (again)

It's been said in a variety of places that there is a natural alliance between leftist political groups and religious (or at least Christian) groups, regarding serving the poor, working for peace, and so on. I've said it myself, in fact.

What troubles me about such an alliance, however, is that in its own way it's just as bad as the alliance between the we-control-your-life rightists and Christian groups. Once again, they are using the machinery of politics to impose religious beliefs on everyone else; a tyranny of a (perhaps temporary, coalitional) majority.

And, truth be told, the reasons I support my various progressive causes are not at all religious. Religion is a reason for me personally to go out and help feed the hungry and help provide shelter for the homeless. (Something which I'm regretfully not very good at.) But if I say that the government should do those things for religious reasons, that's no good at all; it's a violation of the establishment clause, and just generally bad policy, since it would mean that a decrease in subscription to certain religions should decrease government services, which is madness.

No, I believe the government should be in the business of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and so on, because the government's business is to serve the people. The imperative for the government to provide social services is not particularly a moral one; to the extent that government is not just of the people and by the people but also for the people, basic services like keeping people from having to eat cat food is just part of the job description.

The fact that good Christians should be helping out on the side is just gravy.

You can't legislate morality. When you try, it doesn't make people suddenly start making moral choices, whether they be to give food to a soup kitchen or decide not to have an abortion. It just takes the decision away from them; such people aren't acting morally, they're just tooling along in an amoral state, following the law because they fear punishment or literally can't do otherwise. If you give people real choices, sometimes hard ones, they will surely make mistakes; but only through those choices and, yes, those mistakes, can they graduate to the highest levels of moral decisionmaking.

"The radical criticism of the myth is due to the fact that the primitive mythological consciousness resists the attempt to interpret the myth of myth. It is afraid of every act of demythologization. It believes that the broken myth is deprived of its truth and of its convincing power." --Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Posted by blahedo at 3:42pm on 12 Jun 2005
When Kelly volunteered at a soup kitchen, it was the only one in her community that did not have some kind of religious strings attached. All the others you had to listen to sermons, or say you believed in God etc.

The thought that some people think that funding these religious test soup kitchens is something the government should do rather than provide services for those in need without pushing faith along with it, makes me feel ill. I think that a church requiring a profession of faith or attendance at a service before it would provide food appalling in itself.

Then there are churches that provide real charity once in a while. A woman I knew was on public assistance because she had left her abusive husband when he started abusing their two boys instead of just abusing her. She had moved back to her home town with the help of friends and family, and gotten an apartment. At the time it was the best place she could find, but it was really more than she could afford. I think her selection might have been hampered because she was looking at the wrong time of year in a college town. She found a better apartment, for much less money, but could not afford the deposit. There was no public money for such charity, her friends and family had already helped as much as they really could as far as money went. Public assistance forbid her from saving that much even if she could figure out how. In desperation she called around to churches. She had been raised Catholic, but resisted it, managing to get kicked out of CCD for vocally, obnoxiously, and stubbornly sticking to her own beliefs about birth control. She did not consider herself Christian, and as far as I know still does not. She wanted the money, either given or loaned, for the deposit for the new apartment. She could find help with the move itself. A small protestant church, the specific denomination I do not recall, gave her the money, no strings. They asked that she not repay it. They could see that this would really make a big difference and helped her. It did. The first month savings she used to buy the boys winter coats.

Posted by lee at 11:14pm on 12 Jun 2005
You know, the opportunity to drop a few thousand on someone who really needs it is one of my main motivations for wanting to make a bit of money once I get out of this Ph.D. program. Posted by Kimmitt at 11:29pm on 12 Jun 2005
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