Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Much hay in the liberalosphere has been made in the last few days over Barack Obama’s apparent willingness to forward the Bush administration’s “faith-based” charity program. There are distinct tones of outrage and betrayal, and while I most certainly agree that the Fed putting money into any religious charity is a recipe for disaster (this is just a little too close to breach of the establishment clause for my personal taste), I wonder why there’s so much surprise.
In the last few weeks, after all, Obama’s campaign has been shifting to a “centrist” message1, one which includes overtures to the ultra-right fringe.2 He’s waffled on GLBT rights – though he has, um, come out against California voters’ desire to ban same-gender marriage in that state – and he’s actively scampering away from Muslimish appearances.
So it really isn’t too shocking that he’d think the Federal government’s decision to support religious institutions financially is perfectly fine. In the last eight years, after all, we’ve seen the Bush administration actively eroding Constitutional barriers which previously seemed as impermeable as, well, levees on the Mississippi. This further importunation by the wedge has a feeling of hopeless inevitability about it.
Contrary arguments seem to hold that religious charities are more diverse, more penetratively deployed and, possibly, more effective than monolithic government programs. This is almost certainly true. The downside of that, of course, is that it’s also almost certainly true that a faith-based charity will, on one level or another, proselytize – not necessarily deliberately, but undeniably tacitly.
And there are other problems.
In Virginia there’s an organization called Commonwealth Catholic Charities. They care for kids of various ages, all of them children of illegal immigrants. They feed, house and clothe some of the least-empowered human beings in American society – a society which seems hell-bent on persecuting them simply for having the temerity to exist. This is obviously a worthy mission, and one I could unhesitatingly applaud if it were secular.
The source of my hesitation, though, rests with the story that four workers at CCC were let go a while back for helping a sixteen-year-old girl obtain an abortion.
CCC is falling all over itself apologizing for the event, since under Catholic policy the fetus is always at least as important as the mother, and in many cases more so. Rather than take into account the ghastly burden an infant would be on a teenaged girl who has no legal right to live in the US at all, CCC is treating the abortion as a tragedy equivalent to infanticide.
I’m aware that the Catholic church demands this of its followers. Many other religions expect the same of their membership. The phrase sanctity of life is trotted out so often that it’s effectively a verbal blind spot; we gloss it over without generally asking whose life, precisely, is being considered in the equation. And because we have a tendency in the US to treat religious belief with utter respect – even when it is intellectually, logically, ethically and humanely void – we might be apt to shrug and say, hey, if the Catholics want to believe that, it’s none of our business.
But with Federal money being poured into church-driven charities, it actually is our business. One serious issue with what happened in the CCC case is that they are accepting Federal money, and it is illegal for Federal money to be used to obtain an abortion.
Illegality aside, the influence that CCC would otherwise have exerted on this girl – essentially forcing her to give birth – based solely on religious reasons should give any of us pause. That they are working under the aegis of being a faith-based initiative moneytaker is a considerable indictment of the entire concept that our government, which should be and must always remain secular, can play fringe games with religious establishment in this fashion.
The faith-based initiative is bad enough as it is. That Barack Obama wants to expand it should damn well be a major issue to anyone who plans to live in the US until at least 2012.
W.B. Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming, keeps coming back to me, more and more, as this dreadfully-overdrawn election cycle drags on:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Is this election going to produce a hawk in patriot’s clothing, or a new bush waiting to burn in the desert and lead a nation into forty years of blind wandering?
1. Relatively centrist. Against the backdrop of our current social framework, he’s still too liberal for many; however, his “center” shift here is approximately as right-wing fruitcake as Jerry Falwell was when he started the Moral Majority (which is neither) in the late 1970s.
2. I realize this phrase might be read as elitist by some. I have no problem being labeled an elitist, as it implies anyone so labeling me is inferior to me by default.
Crossposted from The Indigestible.