The relationship between government and religion in the US seems odd. The current conflict between President Obama and the Catholic Church about mandating funding for contraception shows how uncomfortable the relationship can be.
In general, religious leaders seem to support big government. I see this in our current and previous synagogues, where rabbis support President Obama’s expansion of government involvement in health care.
Underlying this is a sound religious attitude supporting charity. Most religions advocate helping the poor. But does religious doctrine really advocate that this be done through government?
Religions advocate helping the poor through charity. Typically members of the religion give money to their church, temple, mosque, or related institutions. The religious institutions then provide hospitals, schools, shelters, food, etc. to those in need. “Historically, hospitals were often founded and funded by religious orders or charitable individuals and leaders.” (Wikipedia on Hospitals)
Government, by contrast, takes money from people through involuntary taxes. And in general government does not deliver help through religious institutions.
The unpleasant truth? Big government is bad for religion and religious institutions.
There is substantial evidence that government involvement in charity crowds out private giving. In other words, when government does more, people give less to charity.
Also, when government takes on these roles, it diminishes the importance of religion. Government in effect takes the place of religion, or even becomes the religion. The leaders can become so powerful that they develop a cult of personality. North Korea is a present day example. Past examples include Mao in China, Stalin in Russia, and Hitler in Nazi Germany. Marx famously referred to religion as the opiate of the masses.
There are stark differences between religions and government in how they help people. Religions tend to operate on a very local level. The work is mostly done by volunteers or workers willing to work for less money because of their affinity with the religious mission. Fraud is rare because things happen on a local level and the volunteers and workers share a common interest in helping those in need. And through providing services to the needy, religions are able to spread their religious message and values.
Government inherently tends toward centralization. Decisions are made at the national level rather than locally. Volunteers are rare in government “charity”, replaced by highly paid bureaucrats. Government employees are typically concerned with moving up the ladder, increasing their power and pay, and especially their pensions and other benefits. And of course, government in the US is prohibited from spreading any kind of religious message or values.
What a surprise then, that atheism is more common in Europe than in the US. Europe has had bigger government for longer, and is often touted by big government liberals as a shining example of government run health care. As long as you ignore the looming Greek healthcare catastrophe.
Most government insiders view religion with contempt, most famously shown by then-candidate Obama’s reference to people clinging to guns or religion (in the audio below around 40 seconds in):
While I am a registered Republican, this is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. George W. Bush dramatically increased government involvement in schools with No Child Left Behind and in health care with Medicare Part D.
Typically support for big government comes mainly from Democrats and liberals. But insiders of both parties expand government because it increases their power.
It always amazes me that liberals don’t see why big government is particularly bad from their perspective – because liberals aren’t always in charge. If you’re a liberal, do you really want someone like Rick Santorum in charge of a powerful federal government? President Obama has been accused of abusing the power of the executive branch. Do you really like the precedent this sets for the next time the GOP wins the White House?
When does big government become dangerous to the people? What are the warning signs?
The Obama administration is developing a plan to fly combat drones over US territory. Hmm …