March 4, 2009
Will Obama's Vision Sabotage Religion?--Part II
Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox responds to Mark Galli's post.
Mark Galli does not seem particularly concerned about the unintended consequences of the state meeting many of the important financial and physical needs of its citizens, such as health care. Then the Church is freed up, I suppose, to focus on people's spiritual needs.
But persons are creatures of body and spirit. Historically, the Church, and faith more generally, has played a key role in addressing both the spiritual and physical - including financial - needs of people. Moreover, the Church seems strongest when people connect both their bodily and spiritual lives and needs to the faith. Indeed, physical and financial suffering can open people up to the missing spiritual dimension of their lives.
Not surprisingly, the historical and sociological record suggests that when the state addresses most of the physical and financial needs of people, or when individuals are wealthy enough to care for those needs entirely on their own, that people are less likely to turn to God, their local church, charities, or their families for help, direction, and consolation.
This is why in some important respects the Church is healthier in Nairobi than it is in New York, or in Lagos than it is Los Angeles. In these African cities, the Church - and faith - is more likely to take, by force of necessity, a wholistic approach to ministering to the human person. In stable, affluent societies the Church is often reduced to a therapeutic role in people's lives. Any my worry is that a successful Obama revolution would only deepen that pattern in the United States, and reduce the size and vitality of the Christian faith in the process.
--Posted by Mark Galli on behalf of Brad Wilcox, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology,
University of Virginia