Friday, June 04, 2004

Faith Based Human Charities and Services

The issue of government support for faith-based human services is full of complications, dangers, ambiguities, and subtleties. The beauty of religiously-oriented social ministries is the potential for dealing with people as whole selves, i. e., giving them food for the soul as well as for the body. But this very unity poses the problem of how it is Constitutionally licit for the government to enable the providing of secular bread without funding sectarian religion. If, on the other hand, the delivery of goods and services to the needy is totally divorced from the religious dimension, in what meaningful sense is it any longer faith-based, apart from merely being sponsored by a religious group? Why shouldn't the government fund a church soup kitchen if all that is dispensed is soup? Because, we say, what the church would spend on soup can now be spent on the church bus. But maybe they would just serve more soup. Maybe the soup itself is a witness to the faith behind it, but if it is, is that not a sponsorship of religion? Would the government discriminate against some religious groups? Would giving government money to churches tend to dull the prophetic urge to be critical of the state? Would the government require conformity to certain rules that would restrict church autonomy? What is a religious group? What does faith-based mean? Can we think our way through this thicket without falling into confusion?

A strict and purist position on these matters is impossible in practical terms. Many lines have to be drawn in shades of gray. We have to do a lot of British "muddling through." Those who look for absolutely clear prescriptions requiring no delicate balancing acts are doomed to perpetual frustration. Or they may be tempted to resort to desperate efforts to find purity of doctrine by suppressing legitimate elements in the total ensemble of principles that govern the nation.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Bush's Supporters Deluded About His Character and Integrity?

A large percentage of Bush supporters consistently give his character and integrity as the primary reason. This is the President who misled us about WMD in Iraq in order to get us into an unnecessary war he had wanted to find some excuse for from the beginning of his tenure. The Washington Post (May 31) documents the claim that Bush is approving TV ads that either lie about or badly distort Kerry's record. Bush has presented himself as a "compassionate conservative" but has already announced proposed cuts in next year's budget that will harm the poor, including nutrition for women, infants and children, and Head Start. He has given huge tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and run up a gargantuan debt that will hurt Social Security and Medicare. For most Americans the losses from cuts in social programs will outweigh the gains of his tax cuts. The result of Bush's policies will be a transfer of wealth from ordinary folks to the very wealthy. Most Americans will be worse off and the already rich will become even richer, some obscenely so. All thinking people know that you cannot at one and the same time have a war, huge tax cuts, and be "compassionate" toward the poor. Is Bush incompetent and ignorant, or is he a deceiver, a hypocrite deficient in character and integrity? Whatever the answer, it inspires no reason to reelect him in 2004.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Bush and Prison Atrocities

President Bush says that the atrocities at Abu Ghraid are not representative of America. However, the evidence is that they are not uncharacteristic of what goes on in Texas jails and other states too.

Simply stated, the culture of sadistic and malicious violence that continues to pervade the ... prison system violates contemporary standards of decency.

"That conclusion, written by Judge William Wayne Justice, does not describe Abu Ghraib in Iraq last fall, but the Texas prison system in 1999 when George W. Bush was still governor there." (The Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 2004)

Among more than sixty countries, only Russia has a rate of over 600 incarcerations per 100,000 inhabitants. The US rate in 2002 was 702, with a total prison population of 2,033,331. The top five are:
1 United States 2,033,331
2 China 1,549,000
3 Russian Federation 846,967
4 India 313,635
5 Brazil 308,304

Source: International Centre for Prison Studies, World Prison Brief

Either we are an extremely lawless country, a nation of outlaws and thugs, or there is something wrong here. President Bush should be cautious when he speaks of how unAmerican the events at Abu Ghraib were. The President says Jesus is his favorite philosopher. I suggest he meditate on Matthew 7:1-5. Then perhaps he could rid himself of the pretense of American innocence and proceed to confession, repentance, and a call for a world-wide campaign to humanize prison conditions, beginning with our own. A start would be to do away with the harsh, racially-discriminatory drugs laws that fill our jails, break up families, and set in motion a repeating cycle of tragedy and suffering. Per dollar spent, treatment is far more efficient and effective.