"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Mar 2, 2001

Faith-Biased Initiatives

I choose not to believe in any of the world’s religions, but I respect those who do. What I can’t tolerate, however, are individuals who insist that their opinions should be institutionalized for everyone else.

In her last column this February, Linda Bowles expressed deep satisfaction in President Bush’s new Faith-Based Initiative; an executive order which will allow government grants for religious organizations that provide social services. She then used this as a platform to rage against a perceived attack on religion and argue that the division between church and state should be removed.

Bowles states that the “religious apartheid” from those (whoever they are) that consider religion to be “a communicable disease” are responsible for the “unconstitutional excommunication of religion” from this country which, apparently, is responsible for “breakdowns of order, justice and civility, and breakouts of violence, vulgarity, moral rot, political corruption and human depravity” in our society. The inflammatory language alone is enough to see that Bowles is operating more on feeling in her assessment than on reason.

What is bewildering to me is that Bowles seems to have absolutely no knowledge of history prior to 1776. The individuals who carved out this country from the cultures of monarchical Europe had good reason to keep religion and government separated. Consider the flagrant abuses of religious power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where the Spanish Inquisition tortured “heretics” (a vague word which could apply to anyone who disagreed with the established order), young women were frequently burned or drowned as witches, and all published material and scientific articles had to be approved by religious authorities or the authors could face censure and even arrest.

Bowles’ final barrage of crimes which this “religious apartheid” has caused are laughable at best, and a brief analysis exposes the argument for what it is: passion disguised as logic. What Bowles interprets as “breakdowns of order, justice and civility” in our society are actually relatively minor in comparison with the chaos of feudal Europe in the Middle Ages, or even that of the American Civil War. “Breakouts of violence” were common place throughout the Old World, in fact, during the late 1500s Protestants were frequently rebelling against the church’s policy of burning them. In large part, the history of Europe is nothing but an analysis of “political corruption” as factions and family members rallied for the throne. And, whatever Bowles means by “vulgarity, moral rot and human depravity” is anyone’s guess, since the definitions of each change with time, culture and opinion.

Quite obviously religion isn’t solely responsible for the abuses of the past; excesses of power, national hatreds and fear of the unknown all play their share. However, it’s a good idea to make reasoned decisions on social policies which avoid the inconsistencies found in religious doctrine (note how slavery and it’s prohibition were both argued using the same religious text). The founders of this country were wise to approach with caution. It’s hard to keep one’s religious feelings out of social law but, due to our incredibly diverse country, it is far more just.

Whether Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative will be constructive for our country or not remains to be seen. What shouldn’t be done, however, is to support it’s acceptance (and push for more) based on faulty arguments and the embrace of ignorance.

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