Secular Welfare vs. Religious Based Welfare
NOTE: Your comments, inputs, and suggestions are requested to add to this proposal.
Reading a new book, God is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (The Penguin Press, NY, NY 2009) made the point, “There appears to be an inverse relationship between the generosity of the welfare state (meaning Government involvement) and the success of religion: the more generous the secular welfare state, the more it will ‘crowd out’ religious-based charities and reduce demand for religion in general.” (pg. 150) I am not here to refute this statement, but I’d like to argue whether the Government, representing the secular culture, should be in the direct welfare provision business.
Providing for the welfare of the poor is a noble and godly exercise. It can also be costly and require significant administrative infrastructure. Historically much of the administrative functions, as well as many day-to-day operational needs of charities (consider the staffing at ‘soup kitchens’), when conducted by community or religious organizations separate from the Government, are staffed by volunteers. Government sponsored welfare agencies tend to have administrative and management layers paid by the government, receiving all the benefits the government has to offer; those workers often dedicated to having a job more than to the service they provide. They could be working for Medicaid recipients or in the DMV and in either case see themselves as an employee of the government more than serving the needs of those receiving benefits or being processed. Also the Government in providing aid accompanies most of such aide (if not all) with quantities of paperwork – there is paper work for the beneficiary and the provider, and for the provider of services often there are significant regulatory requirements that involve inspections, record keeping and storage, standards of service to be accompanied by ever changing policies and procedures that may subject the providers of services to penalties or impositions on receipts of needed funding to deliver the service, care or attention the welfare recipient needs. The provider may also be subject to costs associated with Government inspections or even having their activity suspended from handling the needy until some resolution with the administrative oversight group is achieved.
Satisfying the demands of Government Administrative oversight bodies can take time, cause the needy to wait or find alternative care, even subject the provider to providing care without reimbursement, all due to the Administration’s power over the system of welfare being given. Yes the Government actions can replace charity, but at what cost to the desire to give, to care, and to provide services to those in need. The statement made by the authors suggests religion declines when the Government takes over charity, but they may be missing the essential point. The quality of services provided may decline and the value of the dollar, the full benefit of the dollar, may not be realized when having to pass through the channels of Government. It is an inefficient system that leads to bigger government and more dollars necessary to deliver the same amount of food, clothing, shelter, advisory services, job assistance, or medical care. Having no statistics on how much more the cost of Government intervention adds to the provision of welfare I can only offer an educated guess (whether educated or not, it is a guess) – that would be 50%. But there is also a social savings. More volunteers, at no pay, would be involved; hearts would be healed by the act of giving as well as more love offered from those providing services to those receiving services. Services would be provided, food plates filled, advice given, training offered, shelter made available and in general help for those in need by persons with no expectations of receiving a paycheck, watching a time clock, or having concerns for themselves over those in need of their time, energy, treasure or talents. The welfare system would be the social responsibility of the people, people caring for each other, their neighbors, people of all colors. The volunteer system would arise from community groups and indeed religious organizations that have in their constituent’s hearts, in the blood flowing through their veins, a command from an invisible force that has always existed to help those not as fortunate as themselves.
The innate concern for Government actions being corrupted, inefficient, not designed entirely for the outcomes suggested, alternative hidden reasons always possible, makes the Government as the welfare provider a party naturally under suspicion. We have seen this today with Acorn, in the debate over health care reform, concerns for Cap and Trade, and the role Government suggests for itself. People do not trust government. Sad to say, but true. Even an honest government is under suspicion if not today then tomorrow. Our Government has a bad history in managing its affairs. At the same time our Representatives are constantly being exposed for their personal interests, desire for Pork (legislative benefits to constituents of the representatives), enticements accepted from third parties, lobbyists, for support, support more for the businesses paying the lobbyists than for the representatives voters, the constituency to whom they as elected officials are expected to satisfy – the will of the people.
The Government should seriously consider getting out of the Welfare Business. Sure money can be made available, from the Government, given to areas having disaster needs, to community groups – not one but many, including religious groups – to provide assistance in all forms for the needy. To the religious groups proselytizing would be verboten, but not their active involvement and role and desire to provide for the needy in their communities. And for the Government this would be win-win as in good years – high Revenue producing years – the Government can use excess funds to reduce Government debt and increase that given to charitable groups. In the bad years – less tax Revenue – the Government can simply say ‘no’, this year we cannot be as generous. Those providing for the needy will understand – and they will also seek other sources for resources and handle the administrative dilemma and shortfall in a fashion much better, and less bitter, than our Government (or any Government). With the Government out of the Welfare business the control over expenditures to provide such services would be reduced dramatically. Government would get smaller, become less costly and be enabled to focus on the primary role of Government.
The primary role of Government cannot be forgotten. Keep us safe in our homes and on the streets, free from invasion from foreign powers, maintain a military, and provide for the educational needs of our people to insure literacy and a common language. It is not to be a socialistic environment to care for all needs of its people. People will care for themselves, their families, friends and neighbors, and anyone else should the need be evident. The encourager to provide for others will come from independent community organizations (no government involvement), church groups, fraternal organizations, and school factions. They will be thankful for any funds they receive, both from givers and from the Government (no strings attached). They will be funded for serving and being recognized for providing honest, efficient and loving services of all kinds. Red Cross and Salvation Army are large national and community groups that grew into a more secular charitable functionality, borne though out of religious activities. The fire did not come from the Government, but was ignited by people who care for people in need throughout the world.
A decline in religion is not what happens when the Government takes on the welfare state; it becomes a heartless endeavor, a day-to-day function, a job, but not a love affair with giving. We give up the love when the Government takes on the charity.
The authors (God is Back) mentioned a few important items relative to religion that need repeating and are critical to this proposal, first, “There are few places nowadays where adults can meet and take a trusting relationship for granted.” (pg. 148) Certainly the divisiveness in Washington between major political parties and even agencies suggests a lack of trust. Also a concern for trustworthiness arises in community organizations greatly dependent on Government funds, such as Acorn, where policies and actions of employees do not always seem focused on the good of the group, or are less than trustworthy in their actions, trying to scam the system, break the rules and instructing others accordingly. Similarly the leadership of such government dependent organizations caters to the government (that feeds them – so to speak), their contacts, to insure a continued flow of funds – at times consequently tempted to provide pay back or assistance in campaigns, or the like, to keep the money flow and their power base in tact.
Another statement, “Churches offer a safe place where people can get to know each other and pool information and expertise. They put people with problems in contact with people with solutions…through informal connections rather than through bureaucratic fiat.” (pg. 148-149) This says that the help is for free, no quid pro quo, only to help, and for no remuneration, such as pay for service. President Obama’s history in Chicago through his affiliation with Valerie Jarrett and her family and friends shows contacts made and developed for a reason, an agenda, not one for the people, but for those connected. That is not the case with church charity groups – the people there are there for one reason, to serve others – not to get elected.
The authors also suggest the duration of religious-based social support is more lasting than secular-based social support. Religious people, in their discussion, are 3.5 times more prone to give to charity than secular ones. Government gives for different reasons, more of power, control, and distrust for the decisions of the people. Lastly when religious people give, their commitments are more real, saying, “The fact that signs of religious commitment are hard to fake means that they provide a reliable signal to others in the group that people who are engaging in them are committed to the group.” (pg. 149) It is this sense of genuine commitment that is not visible from government supported secular groups or agencies, thus the lack of apparent trust, that suggests the need for continued and greater, even increasing (displacing) involvement of religious groups in community giving, feeding and caring.
The Government’s role in welfare needs to be one to incentivize others to give of their time, their gifts and their treasures to help others, directly and not through the Government. To encourage community groups and religions groups to expand their community assistance programs with grant money or other forms of government – no strings attached – funding available.