Starting my drive home tonight, I heard a fairly shocking admission on NPR. It was only a teaser for what was to be on Market Place (6:30-7:30 P.M. for the Pasadena, CA station) for tomorrow evening, but there were quotes which caught my attention. One of the stories they are going to be covering tomorrow night (tonight actually, if it is 12/10/08) is going to be something on new rules for faith based charities. Regular readers may not be shocked that I think giving government support to faith based charities is a bad idea. A blurry line and slippery slope that mixes government with religion. One would think religious people would be suspicious of government interference as well, as no doubt, some are. Obama, unfortunately, supports government support of faith based charities, but would like to ensure that there are not unfair hiring practices when receiving government funding. I would humbly suggest that this is one of the first worms to jump out of that government support can. This is in contrast to Bush who argued that religious organizations can have hiring preferences. I have nothing against churches doing charitable activities (although I do seem to cynically observe much of it as providing cover for proselytizing) and hope that it helps people who need it. But church members should be funding those activities, not receiving tax payer money for them.
But on to the semi-quotes. I’ll be paraphrasing, as it’s late and I’m too tired to go looking for podcasts, but the gist is quite accurate, I assure you (I’ll listen to the relevant show tonight to verify). Somebody apparently involved in a faith based charity was speaking, and the first thing I heard him say was, “We do what we do because of faith.” Really? I thought a sufficient reason to give aid to people would have been human compassion and a desire to see us become a successful society as a whole. To need to rely on faith in a deity to help other people is a really weak foundation and doesn’t say much for the person involved in the work.
The next sentence out of this person’s mouth was that if they had to do this “faith based” work with people who did not share this faith, well, they just couldn’t do that. They wouldn’t accept the money in this case. There it is. Religious tribalism, in a softer form perhaps than Shiites and Sunni, but useless divisive tribalism nonetheless. There is important work we can be doing to feed the hungry, but if we have to work with, *gasp*, the godless, well, the hungry can fend for themselves. If the important thing was making sure that the hungry are getting fed, emergency victims are cared for, and the sick are getting cured, what does it matter what the person working next to you believes? The important thing, or so I might have thought, is that the work gets done and people are helped. But what do I know? I’m just an immoral godless heathen.
Now that is not to back off on my stance that government support of faith based charities is a very very bad idea. I am simply pointing out the attitude of the interviewee betrays a real inversion of priorities that is not at all useful to society as a whole. This inversion of priorities is what we often see (not always, but a large part of the time) when religious beliefs trump all else.
In the meantime, of course, there are plenty of secular and/or atheist charitable organizations doing great work and to which anybody can contribute. Check out TechSkeptic’s Data Daily for a pretty thorough list and give, give, give! I understand that most of us don’t have the time or energy to actively take part in many of the activities important to society, but by acting via proxy groups, you can still make a big difference.