"The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion."
This statement, earth-shatteringly ignorant and historically inaccurate as it is, tops the "purposes" page at the Freedom From Religion Foundation website. The work of mostly feminists, atheists and leftists, the FFRF is one of many groups that not only seek to banish all vestiges of (mainly Christian) religion from American public life, but to soil the debate with absurd notions as above. While it is true that no religion has been free from the human weaknesses of its purveyors, organized religion has accounted for much more good than evil in the West.
Most of us would argue that great institutions like universities, libraries and hospitals were the result of religious entities themselves, while the great pillar of justice, natural law, springs from belief in God. Conversely, modern history would show that people who were "free from religion" have brought us mostly Nazism, Communism and the granddaddy of them all, the reign of terror that was the French Revolution.
At issue is Dennis Grace v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear this term. Ostensibly at issue is whether taxpayers have a right to sue over a program funded by Congress, even one created by an Executive Order. The program which is at the heart of the lawsuit is President Bush's signature one, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which seeks to return to those faith-based organizations (FBOs) the business of charitable work.
How did the government get in the business of charity to begin with? Well, some would not call it charity, but justice, confusing the government's promise to guarantee the "pursuit of happiness" with that of happiness itself. Most trace the beginning to FDR's New Deal policies of the 1930s which in turn led to LBJ's Great Society, both leading to the Welfare State and the insertion of Nanny-Statism into everyday American life.
Federal entities sprang up and were funded to address problems that were usually left to local humanitarian and religious groups, or to individuals themselves -- poverty, addiction, child care, marital counseling, family planning, illness and the care of our elderly -- and even added its own missionary wing, the Peace Corps. So what we have is actually the usurpation of religion's role by government; an ironic reversal of the separation of Church and State argument.
But now the whole argument boils down to who is most qualified to handle what was formerly known as charitable work in our country: religious organizations or the State? President Bush has uttered the answer that sends fear down the spines of secularists everywhere: "Rather than fear faith programs, welcome them. They're changing America. They do a better job than government can do."
Ouch! The notion that anyone or anything can out-perform a government bureaucracy has to hurt leftists, but religious groups no less? Of course faith-based initiatives are the bane of those who think that federal dollars that go to them are the devil's work.
But should FBOs be prevented from proselytizing or even displaying religious symbols on their premises as is often required to qualify for federal funding? If they entirely distanced themselves from their religion, they would not meet their moral call to real charity, which is to the soul as well as the body. Most religious entities minister to much more than material hardships; guilt, loneliness, abandonment, depression and despair require more than bureaucrats and wads of money.
Perhaps no one sums this up better than Pope Benedict XVI, who explains in this beautiful and rational way in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
Since the nineteenth century, an objection has been raised to the Church's charitable activity, subsequently developed with particular insistence by Marxism: the poor, it is claimed, do not need charity but justice....The Church can never be exempted from practising charity as an organized activity of believers, and on the other hand, there will never be a situation where the charity of each individual Christian is unnecessary, because in addition to justice, man needs and will always need, love.
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