Extra ecclesiam nulla salus: outside the Church there is no salvation. The doctrine is based on the idea that man is so wicked that he deserves eternal damnation, but he can receive eternal life by confessing and serving God.
After Saint Cyprian first made his edict, 1,760 years later, our society is far more secular, and many of our institutions have adjusted. In the United States, amendments are made to adjust to the times. Given this flexibility, there is no reason why both sides religious believers and anti-religionists (those who oppose any religious affairs in our government) should not find a happy medium.
Suppose society went back to holding ecumenical councils. The first thing that should come to the table is Salvation vs. salvation. While Salvation is a Christian belief in a need for Christ, salvation should recognize the universal needs of mankind. If the churches brought food, shelter, education and moral support to the forefront of their missions, then Cyprian’s idea should lose some of its opponents. When a person of any belief is down and out of luck, basic human needs are a part of a salvation that should always be accessible through churches.
Are churches living up to those standards? The government seems to think so when it spends money, though controversially, on faith-based charities: access to Recovery (grants for charities focused on increasing the availability of drug and alcohol treatment programs), the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (which funds charities focused on helping individuals returning from prison re-integrate themselves back into society) and the Compassion Capital fund (designed to fortify the role of faith-based organizations in human services).
Anti-religionists can disagree if they wish, but there is no reason why the government should not help organizations, whether faith-based or not, that want to help people. It is hard to argue that there are not good intentions when the Rochester Salvation Army, raised $558,000 last year for food and shelter, when Brooklyn’s Park Slope Christian Help serves 70,000 meals and provides temporary shelter for over 2,000 annually or when Catholic Charities USA raised $1.8 million last year to fund its various objectives: homeless prevention, substance abuse rehabilitation, tutoring programs and housing for the elderly.
Despite all of these deeds, there seems to be an innate human obsession with highlighting the worst of all establishments. Obviously, religion does not make a good name for itself when 10 American Baptist priests kidnap Haitian children. But assuming that all religious believers seek to convert is no better than assuming that all anti-religionists seek to repress.
The government should support good charities and shun the hypocrites, whether faith-based or not. However, that raises objections from the anti-religionists who gripe about ‘separation of church and state.” John Locke’s concept has been misconstrued, creating an impending fear that the nation will be intellectually oppressed the second the government deals with any religious establishment.
If you refer to Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Wall of Separation Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association,” you would find the roots of the Establishment Clause that the legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But, if you read on to its rationale, there is an often-overlooked conundrum.
‘Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
What happens when churches support those natural rights? Or, what happens when churches recognize a social duty to provide basic sustenance to those who can not find it elsewhere?
If the religious charities can save some of the roughest parts of Rochester better than any welfare program, then the government should consider switching over to what works. If money goes to those who not only do good deeds, but also do it for mankind because it is a social duty, then society could benefit. By subsidizing salvation, the churches can do a lot more for those in need.
Although it is not necessary for a good charity to be faith-based, it certainly is not necessary to undermine the credibility and effectiveness of a charity that is. If the served feel something religious from their servers’ kindness, sincerity and acceptance, then praise God and call it a day we should not apologize for wanting to save a soul.
Nathaniel is a member of
the class of 2011.