A comment in praise of Salvation Army on my post about overestimating atheists’ power in the US has gotten me thinking about the pseudo-charity that the fundamentalist right espouses.
Like the Islamist welfare organizations that donate clothes to the poor and pay Bin Laden a percentage of their donations, Salvation Army and similar Christian groups are in the business primarily for ideological reasons. They seek poverty, which they often encourage, in order to be able to descend on the poor and exploit them for their own agendas.
Whereas an inspired fundamentalist might join some welfare group and distribute people food in exchange for prayer, an inspired secularist will generally make sure they’re not poor in the first place. Charity is a necessary evil as long as poverty exists, but groups without a nefarious social agenda often focus on helping people help themselves the way the Goodwill does.
On the one hand, religious charity groups give the poor food and clothes and shelter. On the other they lobby for discrimination against gays and atheists – Salvation Army even threatened to pull the plug on its activities in New York State if it required it to stop discriminating against gays – and generally ally with people whose political activities increase the number of poor people.
Helping people in New Orleans means shit if the policies you support will ensure such disasters keep happening; giving hungry people food means shit if your political allies make sure the state won’t give them food; being first on the scene after an earthquake means shit if you donate money to terrorist groups that impoverish the people they don’t kill.
In a way, it makes perfect sense for the conservative coalition to consist both of anti-welfare people and fundamentalists. They feed each other, since the elimination of welfare will necessarily drive people to the arms of fundamentalist groups, while fundamentalism will keep people ignorant enough to support economic policies that rob them.