Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society

By Robert Wuthnow | Go to book overview

8
Experiencing Unlimited Love?

The one thing that religious organizations claim to be doing that truly makes a difference in the world is communicating love—unconditional love, the kind that comes from God and has been exemplified by great people of faith throughout the centuries. By serving the needy, religious organizations put into practice their traditions' teachings about love. Faithbased social services are surely one of the ways in which religious organizations demonstrate the value of love. Even if faith-based services had no special purchase on being effective or in solving the problems of lowincome families, we would need to consider the possibility that they convey important messages to the world about the value of love.

Like trust, love is an important part of what holds civil society together.1 We may not think of it immediately in this context. Love is more typically associated with romance and sexual intimacy. Yet the broader meaning of love includes the bonds of respect and acceptance that we sometimes refer to as filial relations and the selfless caring that we refer to as altruism.2 Civil society depends on these kinds of love. Even though many of our actions are driven by self-interest, it is necessary at times to show that we care for people for reasons other than the short-term benefit we may derive from them. We want the best for them, we want to alleviate suffering, and we want our world to be a better place. Unlike the marketplace (which is oriented toward self-interest) or government (which operates through its capacity to coerce), the vast domain of civil society is where expressions of love in its many forms must prevail if civil society is to flourish.

Love is chiefly evident in how we behave. If we only talk about love and do nothing to carry through on our fine language, then love is hardly present at all. It is for this reason that most of what interests us about service

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Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xiii
  • 1: Why “faith-Based”? Why Now? 1
  • 2: Congregation-Based Social Services 25
  • 3: Congregations as Caring Communities 64
  • 4: Religion and Volunteering 99
  • 5: Faith-Based Service Organizations 138
  • 6: The Recipients of Social Services 176
  • 7: Promoting Social Trust 217
  • 8: Experiencing Unlimited Love? 256
  • 9: Public Policy and Civil Society 286
  • Methodological Note 311
  • Notes 315
  • Select Bibliography 333
  • Index 349
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