Friday, January 23, 2004

Faith-Based Initiatives

Since the insertion of fundamentalism in the United States government during the Reagan Administration, the further intrusion of it under Bush I, and the complete surrender to fundamentalism of our country by Bush II, the notion of federal funding of faith-based initiatives has increased.

The notion of a faith-based initiative is not in and of itself offensive. Under examination, however, it is a dangerous and illegal trend that I hope some Democrat has the spine to stop.

What is faith?

This definition is from Your Dictionary:

faith (fAth) noun
: confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing
: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief, trust
: loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
: Faith: the theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will
: the body of dogma of a religion
: a set of principles or beliefs

Faith is a good thing. Faith works in many ways for me. I have faith that all will be well with the world. I have faith that God will never abandon me. I have faith in humanity. The faith I have developed over the years is rooted in my upbringing in a home with judeo-christian morals and my further pursuit of spiritual writings by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and some less-definable aboriginals.

I was radicalized by my Catholic upbringing. Accepting that a child of God was put forth on this planet to raise our consciousness and save us from ourselves then be put to death for his work is, for me, a truly radical idea. It is an amazing lesson of selflessness non-pareil. That children of God continue to put themselves in harm's way to help others is, to me, the greatest gift of humanity. I have always felt challenged to make the world a better place and to right the wrongs I see and pay close attention to my moral compass. To me, that is what it means to be a Christian, this is the foundation of my faith.

Faith has seen me through poverty, victimization, crime, addiction, ill-health, loss, in the same way it has helped others.

It is my Christianity that makes me believe that my government should provide a very strong safety net for people. As a Christian, I know it is my responsibility to pay taxes and be an active participant in my culture and government. This is the right thing to do.

Since the rise of fundamentalism in the United States at the end of the last century, we have been told repeatedly that it is not the government's job to help the poor. We have been convinced that providing social services which proved to be a great mandate of the Roosevelt Administration in the mid-20th Century are wrong and bad and do not help people and only cost you a lot of money. We are told that the government should give our tax money to corporations who will create jobs that will take the poor out of their poverty and provide them with enough money for housing, health-care, and education.

At the same time, the fundamentalists in the White House and Congress who pass themselves off as Christians, make new laws that allow these same corporations who have been given our tax money to create jobs that pay minimum wage and provide no health care benefits or security, they eliminate education funding and social services, work to eradicate labor unions, then say that the poverty of the working poor is because of a pattern of dependence created by our social services infrastructure.

Am I the only person who sees the insanity in this? The right-wing has taken over our government and has abdicated its responsibility to the taxpayers by eliminating social services, then blames the poor for being poor.

What little funding remains for social services is now being distributed outside the government to churches (which are corporations) to provide the social services that we had already successfully provided for decades. These are called faith-based initiatives. It probably doesn't require any analysis to know that the religious organizations receiving these funds are primarily christian organizations. So, taxes paid by Jews, Muslims, atheists and agnostics, and other non-Christians are being distributed to christian fundamentalists to allegedly provide social services to America's needy.

Why, in violation of our constitutional mandate to separate church and state, are we giving our tax dollars to religious organizations to do the work any great society can validly expect from its government?

I know there are churches and temples and mosques throughout America that have been providing charity for centuries, and they have improved some of their programs with certain federal funding over the years. I recall an organization in Boston called ESAC (Ecumenical Social Action Council, or the such) that provided remarkable social services for the city's poor. They were funded almost exclusively by church councils, but received some federal money for research and staffing. They were germinating new ideas and solutions for urban poverty and they were making a difference.

I know some religious organizations have been funded with tax dollars to build use-specific housing developments: housing for elderly, housing for handicapped, housing for people with AIDS. There is something so perfectly correct about this that I would never argue against it.

Sadly, the fundamentalists who have taken control of the United States government are not really interested in funding poverty-programs like ESAC or need-specific housing. Things have been brought to a whole new level of avarice that would make a pirate blush. They are funding low-end housing by giving the money to church-based developers who are building not need-specific developments, but basic public housing. Public housing is a good thing. Every society needs it. Our government was doing fine developing public housing, right through the 1970s. Wealthy fundamentalists, however, weren't getting big profits, because the government was controlling the development and maintenance of the projects. In case you don't know: prior to defunding the existing public housing programs, our federally-funded housing developments were working fine. You take away the maintenance staff and security personnel and any development will fail!

So, what has the right-wing done? They defund social services and tell us that public housing can't work. They defund programs that are working just fine, watch them fail, then tell us the only solution is to give the money to private corporations, preferably church-based, to do the work that was already being done.

This is wrong and you should pay very close attention to the rise of faith-based initiative funding by the federal government.

We were once a great nation, now we are a powerful nation. The difference is that a great nation takes care of its disenfranchised. We have ceased taking care of our own.

We can reverse this trend.

We can provide social services.

We can be a great nation again.

What are you going to do about it?