Thursday, 17 March 2011

Christianity and Social Service in Modern Britain: The Disinherited Spirit

Christianity and Social Service in Modern Britain: The Disinherited Spirit
Frank Prochaska | 2006-02-16 00:00:00 | Oxford University Press, USA | 228 | England
An elegantly written study that charts the relationship between Christianity and social service in Britain since the eighteenth century and presents a challenging new interpretation of the links between Christian decline and democratic traditions.
This book gives a detailed account of the pre-eminent role played by Christianity and the churches in meeting a sweeping array of social needs, from nursing to education, from poor relief to mothers' meetings, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prochaska's argument, in brief, is that the arrogation of those roles by the state through the taxation system did more to secularise Britain than anything else. Prochaska makes it plain from the start that he is not a religious believer, and has no personal axe to grind on this matter. But I am, and I do. And the story he tells is almost heartbreaking. As taxes and 'state provision' rose, so the charitable instincts of the populace were progressively strangled. As the meeting of needs was depersonalised and bureaucratised, so individuals became the clients of the state -- and less self-reliant, more self-assertive, and less pious into the bargain. Prochaska also shows that the state takeover meant, among other things, a male takeover of social services; most of the Christian volunteers had been women; most of the government bureaucrats, men. The central argument of the statists was that government intervention would mean greater uniformity of service, and would be less hit-and-miss; services would be doled out on the basis of need, without the making of moral judgments. By now it has long since become clear that the making of such judgments is precisely what is needed, and that benefits subsidise fecklessness as often as they meet real needs. And, what is just as much to the point, convey no sense of obligation nor imply any need for gratitude in the recipient: the benefits are a 'right'. So who needs God?

This book is an insightful guide to what has happened in Britain -- and a cautionary tale about the fate of America, if the statist road is travelled too far. Superb stuff.

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