Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Donate to the Salvation Army—Ever

With Thanksgiving days away, you know that means the Christmas lights will be out. And with them will be the bell ringers and their Salvation Army kettles. But libertarians and liberals may well wish to keep their change to themselves. Even conservatives should think twice. The Salvation Army is not exactly a charity, as many people assume. It is a religious sect, and a fundamentalist one at that. It is part of the Religious Right and it has an agenda like they do.

Like other fundamentalists they think abortion should be outlawed. They write: “The Salvation Army deplores society’s ready acceptance of abortion, which reflects insufficient concern for vulnerable persons, including the unborn.” Get that? The “unborn” are persons. That is in line with the “personhood” campaign to define every fetus as legally a person. Similarly you can count them out when it comes to defending the rights of individuals to terminate their own lives in the face of unbearable pain and misery. They say: “The Salvation Army believes that euthanasia and assisted suicide undermine human dignity and are morally wrong regardless of age or disability.” Yep, I sure would feel more dignified, if my mind was gone, and I was bedridden, lying in my own urine and feces while suffering pain—instead of being able to choose to terminate my life before that happens.

On alcohol and drugs they don’t want legalization or harm reduction strategies. As they note there are “both spiritual and temporal dangers inherent in the use of alcoholic beverages” and the church “believes total abstinence to be the only certain guarantee against overindulgence and the evils attendant on addiction.” They also believe there is a “direct connection between the incidence of addiction and the easy availability of alcoholic beverages and the increasing social acceptance of their consumption.”

No gambling either, they say that “engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching.” “We believe gambling is wrong, regardless of any perceived benefit of entertainment, charity, or personal gain, even when its destructive influences may not be seen on an individual basis.”

How about gay people? Well, they try to sound enlightened by saying that “same-sex orientation” is not blameworthy but “requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural authority.” If they stopped at “individual responsibility” there would be no problem. Instead they toss in the Bible and then say this means homosexuals “are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.” Sure, celibacy, that worked so well with Catholic priests, didn’t it. Thus they oppose marriage rights for gay couples because “There is no scriptural support for same-sex marriage as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.” I would note there is also no “scriptural support for cars as an equal to, or as an alternative to, riding an ass into town.” They even try to say they will accept gay people in their church and don’t discriminate, provided they “accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.” In other words, gay people are fine provided they don’t actually have a relationship, remain celibate, only shake their tambourine to raise money for the sect.

The church, remember the Salvation Army is a church, says that marriage is “the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.” I think that “for life” part precludes divorce for heterosexuals, and, of course, it precludes all marriages for gay people at all. And marriage “is the only proper context for sexual intimacy.” Otherwise it is “abstinence before, and faithfulness within, marriage” but only for opposite-sex couples. Gay people are NEVER, NEVER, NEVER to have sex. They also push the myth that marriage is “God’s institution” and that God invented it. They no more believe that marriage evolved than they believe humans did.

And, since gays can’t marry, can they at least have a wank? Well, it's not clear but they can’t if they look at erotica which the Salvation Army opposes “in all of its forms.” They also promote the lie of the Right that porn “is clearly linked with prostitution, sexual abuse and assault, and other forms of sexual exploitation.” They claim it “promotes deviant sex and violence”—I was so naïve I thought the Old Testament did that; it is pretty kinky book with fathers and daughters fornicating, multiple wives, etc., and there is more genocide there than in the worst blood and gore film around.

And don’t think you have a private right to erotica. They say it is “not an issue of private morality alone,” and that people “have the right to protection from enterprises that erode society and exploit persons.” What does it mean when you say people have a “right to protection from” something? If you have a right to protection from assault it means that the act of assault is a crime. It means those who assault are arrested and may be imprisoned. When you have a right to protection from murder it means that murder is a crime, as is attempted murder, and those who try, or succeed, in such an endeavor are arrested, tried, sentenced and imprisoned. It is clear they want the low to censor erotica under penalty of prison.

They also urge people to “start or join grassroots efforts to protect your community against pornography.” And they even have a “click here” button so you can download information on how to do that. And where does that information come from? Focus on the Family, of course. In other words, the Salvation Army directly promotes one of the most active Religious Right groups around. And Focus on the Family then quotes a Salvation Army official who says erotica “is prostitution for mass consumption.” (Note to libertarians, they would oppose legalize prostitution as well.) The brochure the Salvationists distribute says that all porn is technically illegal and that the problem is that “law enforcement agencies at the local, state or federal level do not enforce obscenity laws.” The Salvationists, and Focus on the Family, note “Active, informed and vigilant citizens are needed in every community to ensure laws are enforced and community standards are maintained.” Get that, what we need are more vigilant fundamentalists trying to impose their moral values, through the force of law, on the rest of us.

So, the “right to protection from enterprises that erode society and exploit persons” means that people should be arrested for producing and selling porn, perhaps even for owning it. And since it is not just “an issue of private morality alone” don’t take naughty videos of yourself and your partner, presumably even if you married (which means straight, and for life).

But, wait a second. If there is a “right to protection from enterprises that erode society and exploit persons,” and since the Salvation Army already said that alcohol and gambling do just that, then aren’t they also hinting that gambling and alcohol production should be criminal offenses as well?.

They also say they support human equality and then put in enough loopholes to indicate that they don’t. They say they support “the Biblical and Christian imperatives of human and civil rights.” So, if the Bible says you can have the right they are fine, otherwise, not so much. They don’t oppose discrimination per se, just “unlawful, unjust, or immoral discrimination.” Apparently “moral discrimination” is fine, such as denying gays the right to marry because it isn’t a “Biblical and Christian… civil right.”

Libertarians, and conservatives will both be appalled to learn that the Salvation Army believes: “All people have a right to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security.) So along with their socially conservative agenda they are very Obamanesque when it comes to a “right” to health care and a “right” to shelter, education and “economic security.” They claim all people have a “right” to a “just wages and benefits” but fail to define what that means. Rights are something other people have to respect, and how do they respect your right to health care? Not by leaving you alone, but by being forced to fund your health plan.

So what kind of governance would exist if we implemented the ethical system of the Salvationists. First, there would be no decriminalization of drugs, a reimplentation of prohibition, a war on gambling, and erotica would be illegal. Gay people would not be allowed to have sex, let alone marry. Abortions would be illegal. And if you think all of this is rather unbearable you aren’t allowed to commit suicide either. And before the Religious Right starts having wet dreams over the Salvationist ideal society they should remember that it also teaches that every person has a “right” to health care, economic security, just wages and benefits, education, etc. We are talking about very active government with fingers in every aspect of human existence.

Next time you see one of those annoying bell ringers, remember your donations do more than feed some hungry people. It goes to a fundamentalist sect with the same agenda as the rest of the Religious Right. It allows them to promote brochures on how to bring the law down on people who don’t live according to their religious morality. It is used by them to promote a political/religious agenda, not just to help people in need.

There is nothing wrong with helping people in need. If you want to feed hungry people give to a food kitchen for the hungry. What you don’t have to do is donate to an organization that has a “charitable” public face, while pushing a fundamentalist, religious agenda behind the scenes. The only reason the Salvationists are not as open as their good friends at Focus on the Family, is that they, unlike FOTF, rely on naïve, charitable people for their donations. In a way, that makes them worse. At least Focus on the Family is upfront about their political agenda and only people who support that agenda donate to them. But the Salvation Army has their agenda hidden behind a wall of “human needs” and that allows them to dupe a lot of well-meaning individuals to fund an agenda they would not normally support.

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