and Family Crises
According to the
Structural-Functional model of social organization,
Religious Institutions serve both society and its
These are important, even essential, aspects of social life.
As Neil Postman puts it:
- offering the necessary comfort
to those who suffer (so the other institutions don't
- aiding the family in providing
moral and ethical guidance for behavior
- providing sacraments for the
participation in "holiness" endeavors (weddings,
- serving as a form of community where social
differences are set aside
What happens to people when they have no gods to serve?
Some commit suicide. There is more of this in the United
States, particularly among our young, than in most other
places in the world. Some envelop themselves in drugs,
including alcohol. Some take whatever pleasure is to be
found in random violence. Some encase themselves in an
impenetrable egoism. Many, apparently, find a momentary
and pitiful release from dread in commercial
re-creations of once-powerful narratives of the past.
Postman was referring to gods with a little 'g' - guiding
principles, or narratives, he calls them.
(from The End of Education, p. 11-12).
Piaget, while remaining secular for the most part, describes
these same guiding ideals as schema.
It amounts to the same idea - if we are not given
meaning to our lives by family, church, or state -
meaning that defines our existence and our reason for being
alive - we'll try to make it up on our own. The results
usually are frightening.
The Federal Government has something to say about
religion and the schools:
August 10, 1995
Nothing in the First Amendment converts our public
schools into religion-free zones, or requires all
religious expression to be left behind at the
schoolhouse door. While the government may not use
schools to coerce the consciences of our students, or to
convey official endorsement of religion, the public
schools also may not discriminate against private
religious expression during the school day.
Religion is too important in our history and our
heritage for us to keep it out of our schools...[I]t
shouldn't be demanded, but as long as it is not
sponsored by school officials and doesn't interfere with
other children's rights, it mustn't be denied.
July 12, 1995
and this letter to all school
superintendents in the nation:
On July 12th, President Clinton directed the Secretary of
Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, to
provide every school district in America with a statement of
principles addressing the extent to which religious
expression and activity are permitted in our public schools.
In response to the President's request, I am sending to you
this statement of principles.
In the last two years, I have visited with many
educators, parents, students, and religious leaders. I
have become increasingly aware of the real need to find a
new common ground and inject fresh air into the growing
and, at times, divisive debate about religion in our
public schools. President Clinton and I hope that this
information will provide useful guidance to educators,
parents, and students in defining the proper place for
religious expression and religious freedom in our public
As the President explained, the First Amendment imposes
two basic and equally important obligations on public
school officials in their dealings with religion. First,
schools may not forbid students acting on their own from
expressing their personal religious views or beliefs
solely because they are of a religious nature. Schools may
not discriminate against private religious expression by
students, but must instead give students the same right to
engage in religious activity and discussion as they have
to engage in other comparable activity. Generally, this
means that students may pray in a nondisruptive manner
during the school day when they are not engaged in school
activities and instruction, subject to the same rules of
order as apply to other student speech.
At the same time, schools may not endorse religious
activity or doctrine, nor may they coerce participation in
religious activity. Among other things, of course, school
administrators and teachers may not organize or encourage
prayer exercises in the classroom. And the right of
religious expression in school does not include the right
to have a "captive audience" listen, or to compel other
students to participate. School officials should not
permit student religious speech to turn into religious
harassment aimed at a student or a small group of
students. Students do not have the right to make repeated
invitations to other students to participate in religious
activity in the face of a request to stop.
The statement of principles set forth below derives from
the First Amendment. Implementation of these principles,
of course, will depend on specific factual contexts and
will require careful consideration in particular cases.
Although most schools have been implementing these
principles already, some problems have arisen where people
are unaware of, or do not understand, these obligations.
It is my sincere hope that these principles will help to
end much of the confusion regarding religious expression
in public schools and that they can provide a basis for
school officials, teachers, parents, and students to work
together to find common ground -- helping us to get on
with the important work of education. I want to recognize
again the efforts of religious and other civic groups who
came together earlier this year to issue a statement of
current law on religion in the public schools, from which
we drew heavily in developing these principles.
I encourage you to share this information widely and in
the most appropriate manner with your school community.
Accept my sincere thanks for your continuing work on
behalf of all of America's children.
Richard W. Riley
U.S. Secretary of Education
Often, religious institutions perform their functions
well, offering assistance to the needy, succor to the
mournful, and joy to the believers:
From the International Union of Gospel
Missions (from the internet)
SURVEY OF 14,000 HOMELESS: MOST ARE NEW TO THE
STREETS; ONE IN FOUR IS UNDER 25 - Three-Quarters Are
Aware of New Welfare Reform Law And Two-Thirds Prefer
Spiritual Emphasis In Rehabilitation
For more information contact: Phil
Rydman(816) 471-8020, E-mail:email@example.com
November 21, 1996 (Kansas City, MO) -- Next week, as
America sits down to its thanksgiving dinner, the
homeless will be eating at RESCUE missions and other
community feeding programs. According to a nationwide
survey of 14,000 homeless men and women conducted by
the International Union of Gospel Missions (IUGM),
this will be the first Thanksgiving on the streets or
in homeless shelters for nearly 60 percent of
In terms of age, one in four of the homeless are
under 25, half are under 35 and nearly 80 percent are
"Most people think of the homeless as 55-year-old
alcoholic drifters," said Rev. Steve Burger, executive
director of the IUGM, "The stark reality is that a
majority of the men and women eating Thanksgiving
dinner at our missions next week are new to the street
and are in their 20s and 30s, often with children."
Addictions, broken relationships, job loss,
military-related traumas and mental illness all
contribute to homelessness, said Burger. Moreover, he
added, "Most of these people will have come to the
streets since last Thanksgiving -- and all this is
happening before welfare reform begins to take hold."
The survey was conducted by more than 130 US RESCUE
missions as part of IUGM's 1996 "Snap Shot Survey,"
its eighth annual demographic survey of the nation's
homeless. The vast majority of America's RESCUE
mission receive no federal or state funding. Instead,
they rely on volunteers and the charitable
contributions from individuals, foundations and
Burger said that several other survey results merit
attention. For example, 59 percent of mission clients
said they had received government assistance during
the past two years. "Obviously, a government check
alone does not meet the needs of many on the verge of
becoming homeless," said Burger, "Otherwise we
wouldn't have such large numbers of recipients in need
of the services our missions provide."
That idea is bolstered, said Burger, by another
survey result, namely that 66 percent said they prefer
spiritual emphasis in their rehabilitation. "That's
good news. dearly, homeless men and women see in
RESCUE missions the opportunities for education, job
training and spiritual guidance necessary to transform
their lives," said Burger, adding, "Our programs focus
on responsibility, long-term rehabilitation and
involvement in the community."
"People on the streets are concerned with keeping
body and soul together. Unlike government homeless
programs, RESCUE missions are able to deal with both
sides of that equation. That's why our programs are
The survey also found that 76 percent of respondents
were aware that Congress and President Clinton had
agreed on reforming the nation's welfare system.
Burger noted that this law includes a provision, the
Charitable Choice Clause, sponsored by US Sen. John
Ashcroft (MO) that explicitly allows states to
contract with faith-based o organizations.
The Snap Shot Survey results provide a detailed
insight into the demographic make-up of America's
homeless. For example:
This ratio has held fairly constant during the past
five years. Also holding relatively steady are the
racial and age breakdowns of the homeless:
- 79 percent of the homeless at RESCUE missions
- 21 percent are females.
The survey also dispels the myth that homeless are
transients, as 69 percent of respondents plan on
remaining in the city in which they currently reside.
- 24 percent are under age 25
- 26 percent are between 26 and 35
- 28 percent are between 36 and 45.
- Whites make up 45 percent of mission clients
- African-Americans comprise 38 percent
- Hispanics account for 11 percent.
The 1996 Snap Shot Survey provides a one-night look
at people coming to RESCUE missions for assistance.
IUGM collects basic demographic information, including
sex, age, ethnicity, and period of time being
homeless. The survey has been conducted every year
The IUGM is an a association of nearly 250 RESCUE
missions from across North America. Last year, IUGM
member missions provided more than 28 million meals 10
million nights of lodging, and 27 million pieces of
clothing to homeless" men, women, and children. Founded
in 1913, IUGM members provide emergency food, shelter,
youth and family services, community counseling, jail
ministries, rehabilitation programs for the addicted
services to the mentally ill persons on the streets, and
assistance to the elderly poor, inner-city youth and
street kids. For further information, please check the
IUGM web site at http:/www.iugm.org.
Religious concepts are powerful moral teachers for
children and adults and should not be overlooked by
parents, educators, or social control agents. Our
religious views are part of our identity and can
positively guide our behavior, provided we temper our
religiosity with common sense and logic.
Religious beliefs offer a ready made set of values,
through teachings, religious books, and collective
behavior (religious rituals and services), for us to rely
upon without too much thought. Despite the wisdom of most
religious perspectives, there is a danger that the
individual will cease thinking for themselves and simply
accept religious dogma whole-cloth.
Even among the most widely accepted forms of religion -
Protestantism, Catholicism, Judiasm, Hinduism, and Islamic
faiths - there are overzealous factions. Further, each one
also has at least some tenets (distinctive rules) that may
run contrary to the good of the individual.
For example, 80% of Catholic women either use or support
the use of contraceptives.
75% of all American women are in favor of abortion under
In other words, there is the real world in which we all
live, and there is the ideal world we all would like to
live in. Religion can help us close this gap - and it can
also serve to widen it.
The extremes of religious fervor can be found in
religious cults and hate groups.
Cults have always been operating in our society.
In fact, most Protestant faiths were, at one time or
another, splinter groups or cults. The Lutheran Church, a
fine organization that offers comfort and guidance to
millions of people, started out as a splinter group of
Catholicism when Martin Luther nailed his complaints to
the door of the church and began the protestant
reformation. If it's philosophy and theology is sound
enough, a cult will endure to full religion status.
It appears that latter day cults almost always have at
their center the idea of controlling the minds of the
converted for purposes of gaining control of their
personal finances. The standard operating procedure for
most cults is to draw in converts at their most sensitive
and vulnerable times - as adolescents. These teenagers,
intensely interested in achieving some resolution for the
contradictions and disappointments they experience, are
easy targets. Once recruited, these kids are immediately
put to work - selling flowers, peddling books at the
airport, or even selling their bodies in some cases - for
the glorification of some self-styled messenger of god.
The kind of people drawn to cults have some common traits:
There are about 2500 cults with a religious base, operating
in the U.S. today. In addition, there are many Cult-like
organizations such as separatists, hate groups, and
nationalists, which intermingle issues of race,
anti-government sentiments, and old-time religion. Note that
there are national organizations devoted to "deprogramming"
or otherwise saving teenagers that have been "spellbound" by
- isolated or alienated from their families
- seeking identity
- sometimes these kids just don't "fit in" with the
normal crowd - too fat, too skinny, not pretty
enough, not handsome enough, and so on.
Religion is not so distinct from the larger values (Big
Picture Narratives) of the society in which it exists.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. He
escaped from slavery after teaching himself to read, and
became a major abolitionist voice. Below, he describes the
many reasons that slave owners, most of whom would easily
define themselves as God-fearing Christians, might find
need to whip slaves.
A mere look, word, or motion,- - a mistake,
accident, or want of power,- - are all matters for
which a slave may be whipped at any time. Does a slave
look dissatisfied? It is said, he has the devil in
him, and it must be whipped out. Does he speak
loudly when spoken to by his master? Then he is
getting high- minded, and should be taken down a
button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off his hat
at the approach of a white person? Then he is wanting
in reverence, and should be whipped for it. Does he
ever venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured
for it? Then he is guilty of impudence,- - one of the
greatest crimes of which a slave can be guilty. Does
he ever venture to suggest a different mode of doing
things from that pointed out by his master? He is
indeed presumptuous, and getting above himself....
Source: Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (3rd.
English ed., Leeds, 1846).
Now try a little experiment - replace the word slave with
child, white person with parent, an so on:
A mere look, word, or motion,- - a mistake, accident, or
want of power,- - are all matters for which a child may be
spanked at any time. Does a child look dissatisfied? It
is said, he has the devil in him, and it must be spanked
out. Does he speak loudly when spoken to by his
mother? Then he is getting high-minded, and should be
taken down a button-hole lower. Does he forget to pull off
his hat at the approach of an adult? Then he is wanting in
reverence, and should be punished for it. Does he ever
venture to vindicate his conduct, when censured for it?
Then he is guilty of impudence,- - one of the greatest
insults of which a child can be guilty. Does he ever
venture to suggest a different mode of doing things from
that pointed out by his father? He is indeed presumptuous,
and getting above himself.... hmmmm? Spare the rod, spoil
the slave, I mean -child.
This from the American Religion
Their Document of the month "Acres of Diamonds"
Delivered over six thousand times, Russell
Conwell's lecture "Acres of Diamonds" reflects the tight
connection between religious and material yearnings in
American culture. Conwell, a Civil War veteran and
lawyer, became a Baptist preacher in the 1870s; he built
a struggling Philadelphia congregation into the
Philadelphia Temple, which spawned what became Temple
University. Firmly rooted in the "gospel of wealth"
common around the end of the nineteenth century,
Conwell's lecture proudly tells listeners that it is
their opportunity - their Christian duty - to become
rich. (Note that he also justifies his own salary and
success.) The back cover of a 1978 paperback edition
proclaims: "This is the beloved, all-time bestseller
that has helped more Americans find more happiness than
any other book besides the Bible!"
As our society has become more technologically (and some say
mindlessly) proficient, the lines between institutions has
blurred. Do a simpleinternet search on the keywords "family
and religion" and a very wide range of belief systems
results.One can find, for example, without much effort,
plenty of religious authorities calling for governmental
action, even though such action is probably not
constitutionally or legally possible.
I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty
to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me,
"Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up
and down the country advising young people to get rich,
to get money?" "Yes, of course I do. They say, "Isn't
that awful! Why don't you preach the gospel instead of
preaching about man's making money?" "Because to make
money honestly is to preach the gospel." That is the
reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men
you find in the community.
"Oh," but says some young man here tonight "I have been
told all my life that if a person has money he is very
dishonest and dishonorable and mean and contemptible."
My friend, that is the reason why you have none, because
you have that idea of people. The foundation of your
faith is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and
say it briefly, though subject to discussion which I
have not time for here, ninety-eight out of one hundred
of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they
are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That
is why they carry on great enterprises and find plenty
of people to work with them. It is because they are
Says another young man, "I hear sometimes of men that
get millions of dollars dishonestly." Yes, of course you
do, and so do I. But they are so rare a thing in fact
that the newspapers talk about them all the time as a
matter of news until you get the idea that all the other
rich men got rich dishonestly.
My friend, you take and drive me—if you furnish the
auto—out into the suburbs of Philadelphia, and introduce
me to the people who own their homes around this great
city, those beautiful homes with gardens and flowers,
those magnificent homes so lovely in their art, and I
will introduce you to the very best people in character
as well as in enterprise in our city, and you know I
will. A man is not really a true man until he owns his
own home, and they that own their homes are made more
honorable and honest and pure and true and economical
and careful, by owning the home.
For a man to have money, even in large sums, is not an
inconsistent thing. We preach against covetousness, and
you know we do, in the pulpit, and oftentimes preach
against it so long and use the terms about "filthy
lucre" so extremely that Christians get the idea that
when we stand in the pulpit we believe it is wicked for
any man to have money—until the collection basket goes
around, and then we almost swear at the people because
they don't give more money. Oh, the inconsistency of
such doctrines as that.
Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably
ambitious to have it! You ought because you can do more
good with it than you could without it. Money printed
your Bible, money builds your churches, money sends your
missionaries, and money pays your preachers, and you
would not have many of them, either, if you did not pay
them. I am always willing that my church should raise my
salary, because the church that pays the largest salary
always raises it the easiest. You never knew an
exception to it in your life. The man who gets the
largest salary can do the most good with the power that
is furnished to him. Of course he can if his spirit be
right to use it for what it is given to him.
I say, then, you ought to have money. If you can
honestly attain unto riches in Philadelphia, it is your
Christian and godly duty to do so. It is an awful
mistake of these pious people to think you must be
awfully poor in order to be pious.
Some men say, "Don't you sympathize with the poor
people?" Of course I do, or else I would not have been
lecturing these years. I won't give in but what I
sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are
to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with
a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help
him when God would still continue a just punishment, is
to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than
we help those who are deserving. While we should
sympathize with God's poor—that is, those who cannot
help themselves---let us remember there is not a poor
person in the United States who was not made poor by his
own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of someone
else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow. Let us give in
to that argument and pass that to one side.
A gentleman gets back there, and says, "Don't you think
there are some things in this world that are better than
money?" Of course I do, but I am talking about money,
now. Of course there are some things higher than money.
Oh yes, I know by the grave that has left me standing
alone that there are some things in this world that are
higher and sweeter and purer than money. Well do, I know
there are some things higher and grander than gold. Love
is the grandest thing on God's earth, but fortunate the
lover who has plenty of money. Money is power, money is
force, money will do good as well as harm. In the hands
of good men and women it could accomplish, and it has
I hate to leave that behind me. I heard a man get up in
a prayer-meeting in our city and thank the Lord he was
"one of God's poor." Well, I wonder what his wife thinks
about that? She earns all the money that comes into that
house, and he smokes a part of that on the veranda. I
don't want to see I any more of the Lord's poor of that
kind, I and I don't believe the Lord does. And yet there
are some people who think in order to be pious you must
be awfully poor and awfully dirty. That does not follow
at all. While we sympathize with the poor, let us not
teach a doctrine like that. Russell
H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds (Old Tappan, New
Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1960), 20-24.
From such a search, I found a paper entitled "Why
Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on
Social Stability" by Patrick F. Fagan
and William H.G. FitzGerald (the Heritage Foundation
Backgrounder No. 1064 - January 25, 1996), in which the
authors call for some rather sweeping changes in the way
our constitution views the separation between church and
First they cite evidence that religious practice is a
good thing (and it probably is):
Each of the bullets above are properly cited and
- The strength of the family unit is intertwined
with the practice of religion.
- Churchgoers are more likely to be married, less
likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to
manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage.
- Church attendance is the most important
predictor of marital stability and happiness.
- The regular practice of religion helps poor
persons move out of poverty. Regular church
attendance, for example, is particularly
instrumental in helping young people to escape the
poverty of inner-city life.
- Religious belief and practice contribute
substantially to the formation of personal moral
criteria and sound moral judgment.
- Regular religious practice generally inoculates
individuals against a host of social problems,
including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock
births, crime, and divorce.
- The regular practice of religion also
encourages such beneficial effects on mental health
as less depression (a modern epidemic), more
self-esteem, and greater family and marital
- In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug
addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief
and practice are a major source of strength and
- Regular practice of religion is good for
personal physical health: It increases longevity,
improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and
lessens the incidence of many killer diseases.
Given this evidence, they offer the following suggestions:
- Congress should:
- Begin a new national debate to help renew the
role of religion in American life;
Ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the
evidence on the beneficial effects of religious
practice in the relevant social science literature and
report its findings to a national commission formed to
promote the consideration of religious practice among
- Fund federal experiments with school choice
that include religiously affiliated schools;
- Pass a sense-of-the-Congress resolution that
data on religious practice are useful for policy
makers and researchers as part of the public policy
- Mandate a census question on religious
practice. It violates nobody's freedom of religion
for Congress to know the level and intensity of
religious practice in America.
- The President should:
- Appoint judges who are more sensitive to the
role of religion in public life, with the Senate
ensuring that such is the case by ascertaining the
stand of judges on matters of religion and its
relationship to the Constitution;
- Direct the Bureau of the Census to record
levels of religious practice in the census for the
year 2000 (time is running out for preparation of
the census questionnaire); and
- Issue a directive to all federal agencies
making clear that cooperation between government
entities and the social, medical, and educational
services of faith-based organizations does not
violate separation of church and state.
- The U.S. Supreme Court should:
- Review the decisions in which it has changed
the laws of the land by changing commonly held
beliefs regarding the Constitution and religion and
send to Congress those that should have been the
object of legislative action rather than judicial
Of course, there are easily as many nonreligious, or
anti-religious internet cites as religious ones. And the
continued debate is probably healthy for the nation.
- America's religious leaders should:
Be much more assertive in emphasizing the
contribution of religion to the health of the nation
and in resisting efforts to minimize religion in
- Make clear to their congregations that they are
contributing not only to their own welfare, but also
to the well-being of the nation by their regular
attendance at religious worship;
- Take special care of the religious formation of
children, especially during the transition period
from childhood to adolescence, when they are most
likely to lose their religious faith;
- Recognize that the church in the inner city,
especially the black church, has a vital role to
play in helping its people escape from the degrading
culture of inner-city poverty;
- Encourage education leaders, social scientists,
and social policy practitioners to rely more on
religious belief and worship to achieve social
policy and social work goals.