Thursday, February 07, 2008

Nonprofits and Charity

Guest post:

There are interesting items at the First Things blog (like a recent commentary by Robert Spencer on slavery in western and eastern cultures). The post that particularly piqued my interest was the one by Charles Chaput, the Catholic Archbishop of Denver, discussing Colorado HB 1080, a law promoted by the leftist Anti-Defamation League. Ostensibly an "anti-discriminatory" measure it is in fact aimed at preventing the
legitimate freedom of religiously affiliated nonprofits to hire employees of like faith to carry out their mission. In practice, HB 1080 would strike down the freedom of Catholic Charities to preferentially hire Catholics for its leadership jobs if it takes state funds.
Now one may ask why nonprofits would want to enter into that devil's bargain in the first place. Chaput, speaking for his own church, says that
Catholic Charities can always decline public funds and continue its core mission with private money. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we’re ready to do exactly that. But the issues involved in HB 1080, and the troubling agenda behind it, are worth some hard reflection.
But the "big lesson" behind all this is that
Religious groups have been delivering services to the poor a great deal longer than the government. The government uses religious social service agencies precisely because they’re good at it and typically more cost-effective in their work than the government could be.
Chaput is well known for his outspokenness on moral issues. But perhaps even more surprising is this unambiguous endorsement of market economics.

Sadly, Catholics have bought heavily into statist/socialist economic schemes since the late 19th century. Just look at the northern urban trade union vote which caused many Catholics to support the New Deal and subsequent Democratic policies. No doubt much of this was well intentioned—unlike outright utopianism which is less interested in charity and more interested in arrogant social engineering. Still, the damage has been done (for background on this, see "The Rise of the Religious Left," from The Wall Street Journal).

One might think that there is something analogous, after all, between the social gospel and socialism. Yet there can be no doubt that collectivism involves a very different set of assumptions from the Christian creed. While traditional Christianity is not an individualist creed (it can never endorse anarchism) it rests on the fundamental belief in individual responsibility, which is the antithesis of collective virtue/collective guilt ideologies. When, for example, clerics embraced "liberation theology" and similar theories in the 1960s and '70s, the core issues fell by the wayside and one saw (at least until recently) prominent Catholic prelates endorsing Democratic leftist politicians.

These things will take a long time to sort out. Statism is really nothing new to western culture—though it has become more obnoxious over time. And for most religious traditionalists moral issues will still trump economic ones (either way), since even a good social order will fall part without ethical fortitude. Nevertheless, it's about time that Christians recovered not only their spiritual but the best of their socio-political heritage.

For related comments, see "The Economic Divide on the Right: Distributists vs. Capitalists."