The Impoverished Are Owed Justice, Not Charity

By SAM FLEISCHACKER, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois, Chicago

[1.1] I am an Orthodox Jew, and I give much of my charitable money to Jewish organizations.
[1.2a] I do not, however, want the government to start putting its welfare energies into "faith-based" organizations,
[1.2b] even if that were to benefit the very charities Isupport.

[2.1] Why not?
[2.2] First, because faith-based organizations cannot solve large-scale, ingrained social problems like the lack of decent education and health care available to the poor.
[2.3] In any case, religious communities have priorities other than solving social problems.
[2.4] They tend either to direct their aid primarily to members of their own flock, or to tie it to a mission of spreading their churches' teachings.

[3] Second, many religious groups accomplish good social ends while simultaneously promoting doctrines that are morally unsavory and politically dangerous.

[4.1] Finally, it is inappropriate for aid to the poor to be given merely out of compassion.
[4.2] The poor deserve not to be poor.
[4.3] The basic means necessary to secure equality of opportunity--universal health care, high quality education and the like--is something the poor are owed by justice rather than charity.
[4.4] They should neither be forced to feel grateful to their helpers nor should their helpers congratulate themselves on their wonderful generosity or compassion.
[4.5] The anonymous procedures of state organizations are the best way to make sure that equality of opportunity is seen as a right, not a mere gift.

[5.1a] The man President Bush has chosen to run his experiment with this faith-based approach, John DiIulio Jr., is a thoughtful and careful political scientist,
[5.1b] he may find a way of making these charities complement other welfare programs.
[5.2] But he has a difficult task.
[5.3a] The idea could easily become a baleful distraction,
[5.3b] adding little to the struggle against poverty
[5.3c] while strengthening intolerant religions and contributing to the decline of the notion that justice, not charity, gives us reason to end poverty.

[6] And that, after all, is not just a secular teaching but a deeply rooted religious one.