First off I'm annoyed because I just lost a post that I had written because my computer locked up before I could publish, and the auto save doesn't seem to actually save it anywhere. grrrr....
So my buddy Rob left a comment saying that he's cool with the faith based initiatives, so I felt like expanding on why I am not. I was only about half way done when I lost my original and it was a pretty impressive ramble. I'd like to start by saying that there are a great deal of wonderful charity organizations that are religiously based, Salvation Army is the first that pops into my head because of its size, but just as importantly are the countless soup kitchens across this nation and the world that provide such a wonderful service for those who need it most. I by no means want to belittle the amazing job done by these groups, usually on a shoe string budget, without them the world would be an even darker place.
Now the new Obama provisions seemingly bring the law to a new place we will call constitutional, or at least pretty close to it. If I walk into a local Salvo, or soup kitchen wearing a yarmulke or a topi (I'm pretty sure thats the name of the muslim skull cap thing that ironicly looks almost exactly like a yarmulke to a goy like me) I'm sure they wouldn't treat me any different, they'd sell me clothes or serve me dinner. They might have a little prayer before dinner, and being that we're in a church and I was just handed a free meal I'd respect their traditions. I wouldn't be surprised if someone realized I wasn't a christian and was therefore interested in talking to me about faith. If I lived in a more religiously homogeneous region where it was considered acceptable to shout about god then I would expect to hear a few psalms thrown at me. Around here most people keep there faiths to themselves. Sure we've got the local "street pastor" who likes to protest against the gays but otherwise religion is a fairly private affair, just like JC wanted. Would I feel comfortable letting it be known that I'm not a christian and I need a meal if I was in the deep south? Especially if I was a muslim (or pretending to be). I'm sure they would feed me, it's what soup kitchens do, I'm not even worried about being made to feel like I should leave (except maybe with the muslim option), no I suspect whether its part of the churches mission or not that I would be proselytized to. Quite possibly to such an extent that I would dread going. Some folks seek religion when they're down on their luck, but its a personal decision. My questioning if proselytizing even works is a separate thing entirely I suppose. If its a private organization that wants to help people but decides they will annoy the hell out of those who come in thats fine by me, but why the fuck should I be paying for them to do that? The problem is there is so much grey area here. At what point is it proselytizing, can they get public funding if proselytizing isn't part of there mission but members volunteer to do it anyway? Public money isn't being spent on it but now public money is being where the proselytizing is going on. I just don't see anyway to keep everyone happy except to say that the government has no business being involved with religious organizations.
I would love to see a break down of where that money goes. How do you decide who gets the money? Do you break it down by followers of the religion or number of people served? We're talking about Billions of dollars that the government is handing out so these details still mean huge amounts of money. People served I supposed. In the non-profit world, especially where I work, we have researchers from (in our case) Cornell testing to ensure that our programs work, and trying to figure out the most effective use of our limited resources. Our agency was far ahead of the curve on this but it is slowly becoming the norm, if you want money you need to prove that your plan works, and show that it works better than the other options. So are faith based groups more effective at what they do?
One thing that I've thought of occasionally while watching a couple different friends battle with drug addictions is how I don't think I could go into any of the major rehab organizations, that is if I was a drug addict. AA, a wonderful program that helps many many people. My best friend would not be the man he is today without their help. He is not christian but he is at least vaguely spiritual so he did just fine. I am not. They don't force you to believe in any particular god but they in no uncertain terms do expect you to believe in something. Research seems to show that this makes it marginally more effective for the majority that are spiritual which is canceled out by the considerably less effectiveness for the minority that are not. I don't have those stats but that is what I was told by said friend who did significant work with AA and is a psych researcher so even without seeing the numbers I tend to believe him. Again AA is a private institution, very private in fact considering the second A is for anonymous, so they can do what they want. But I cannot see giving public funding to a group that disregards a significant portion of the country. I suspect that many faith-based groups are similar. Sure they don't discriminate directly, they leave their prayers very vague so as not to offend other denominations of christianity. But that is not the same as serving the public equally every time. I am sure that many groups do, but it is simply impossible to police such a system. The only reasonable way I can figure to ensure that we are helping those who need it most on a fair basis is with a secular system.
I guess at the end of the day I see the religious charities that have been around for so long and have done so much and I wonder why they couldn't just keep doing what they had been doing? Why not let them do what they do, and give the public money to those we know serve the public equally? Of course the flip side of this is that in many smaller towns soup kitchens may only be provided by a local church, if there is no other option does it make more sense to help the existing charity? Probably. Like most issues of the world I think it's far more complex than most people would like to deal with, but I still firmly believe that the only fair and constitutional thing to do is simply to not use public money to support religious works of any nature.
I hope we can discus this more in the comments. Oh and I'll just throw out there that I did once work in a soup kitchen, I can't remember why, probably a church thing actually. I was in high school and while I was helping to serve food I ran into a classmate who was on the other side of the counter. I didn't know how to react, but I did know that for his sake I did not want to return, ok that might not have been the only reason why. Come on how many high school kids want to go volunteer at the soup kitchen? Sorry I'm just not that altruistic, and I was less so then.
So anyway, what your view?