By Hank Zumach, January 19, 2014
Published in the La Crosse Tribune.
It will not surprise the regular readers of these columns that I have serious theological disagreements with the major religions. It may surprise, even shock, readers that I do agree with the teachings of Jesus Christ on basic social issues and what Catholic Pope Francis has recently advocated. If you are wondering how that can be, please consider that every functional society has the same basic social values of not allowing its citizens to starve to death, or to die from lack of shelter, or suffer from lack of medical treatment for common illnesses or injury. Some readers may need to be reminded that Freethinkers have a wide range of viewpoints on economics and politics and their economic status varies from poor to very wealthy. I know the same is true of religious believers. I recognize that some non-theist readers will strongly disagree with some of my following comments but this is one Freethinker’s Perspective on the political scene in today’s America.
I am writing about this because it should be obvious to everyone that, while some denominations maintain important assistance programs, the large majority of religious denominations pay little more than lip service to using their extensive financial resources to help the poor. Because our Constitution requires the separation of church and state, religions do not have to disclose financial information to the government. This makes it impossible to gather uncontested data on how much money religions take in and how it is spent. However, the generally accepted research that has been done shows that 70% to 75% of the income to religions goes to such things as building and maintaining churches, ministers’ salaries and housing, Sunday schools, full time schools, the occasional shrine, and various support staff such as assistant ministers, office staff, etc. None of those expenses are required to meet the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In fact, here in the United States in recent years some Christian leaders have encouraged their denomination’s members to support political organizations and candidates who advocate policies that will cause more people to be homeless, poorly fed, and unable to get basic medical care. This process began years ago when a few very wealthy people (the most well known are the Koch brothers) came together and outlined a plan to significantly increase their political influence. Recognizing the need to get politicians elected to office who would support their goals, they realized that they could most easily garner the necessary votes of people whose primary focus is on single contrived issues such as “attacking family values,” “killing babies,” “the War on Christmas,” “restoring America to a Christian nation,” and “the government attacking Christianity.” This long running campaign promotes the idea of “keeping the government out of our lives.” What this means to some of the economic elite is that they should be free to do whatever it takes to make even more money and have more control over the political process. By their values, laws about minimum wage, industrial pollution and other environmental damages, the right of workers to unionize, gender discrimination, and workplace safety, should be eliminated.
The Catholic Church, and some of its members, is morally opposed to any form of birth control. But how is it possible that its leaders oppose the entire Affordable Care Act since the enactment of the law will help treat the illnesses of many who will otherwise suffer or die? Why don’t the leaders of the various other Christian denominations take strong public positions supporting the Affordable Care Act? Why are the religious leaders silent about efforts to cut off unemployment benefits and greatly reduce the food stamp program? Why don’t they advocate for publicly financed shelters for our homeless population?
Shouldn’t the various denominations come together to pool their resources to develop and start actual, effective programs for the poor? If they did, there would be much less need for government run programs. Apparently their often arcane theological differences are more important than meeting the simple social teachings of the man they claim is the Son of God.
It seems appropriate to remind everyone that religious denominations are subsidized by the general society. Donations to churches are tax deductible. Churches are exempt from property and sale taxes. Churches receive free government services such as police and fire protection, street and sidewalk maintenance. These free services are justified by the argument that religions help the needy. If that is true, I suggest that religions that want to receive these free services should open their financial records to the public. If they are following the basic social commandments of Jesus there should be no reason to object.
If the leader of a group of Freethinkers, and perhaps the majority of non-theists, can support values of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Pope, can’t we all just agree to treat the unfortunate the way we would want to be treated?