Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare

By Mary Jo Bane; Brent Coffin et al. | Go to book overview

Preface

Mark H. Moore

POOR HUMANS! Blessed and cursed with self-consciousness, reason, and empathy, we find it difficult to know what we live for, and with whom we must live.

We feel an obligation to take care of those "near and dear" to us. But we are uncertain about how widely we should draw this circle of care. Are our obligations only to our extended family, and those we choose to have as neighbors and friends? Or do they extend to the fellow citizens with whom we share a common government, or to human beings throughout the world?

We long to achieve virtue, but many of us have come to believe that it is best to consider that quest a private affair and to leave the important questions of how to organize our collective life to reason and science divorced from moral argument or religious belief. Yet, partly as a consequence of this, we find that we are unpracticed in public discussions about the important purposes that we ought to be seeking. And without those purposes, reason and science alone provide little assistance to our restless minds and hearts.

While these issues have long troubled humans, recent history has given us a strong shove in a particular direction. The growth of markets and the rise of liberal political ideologies have all pushed in a consistent direction: toward individualism and away from interdependence; toward materialism and away from the pursuit of moral virtue; toward reason, science, and secular life and away from faith, spirituality, and religion.

One might easily think that this is all for the best -- a triumph of human progress towards individual liberation and economic progress. And so it might be.

But there is also a price to be paid for these advances. One of these costs is a loss of "community" -- that strong sense of both mutual vulnerability and mutual responsibility. With that loss comes both a loss to individuals who need communities to live well and flourish, and to the polity that needs communities and communal spirit to be able to do its work of helping to define and achieve collective aspirations. The result is less engagement in the public institutions and common life on which the health of our democracy depends.

-ix-

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