Rector, R. (1996, July). God and the underclass. National Review, XLVIII (13), pp. 30-33.
Crime is rampant. Ethics are passé. Children suffer at the hands of drug-numbed parents. Police officers are killed by people influenced by “gangsta-rap” fantasies. Children munch on dog food with canines while shivering in their freezing apartments. Mothers on welfare are oblivious to the needs of their children.
The list of these horrors goes on and on. These situations do not only occur in poor black neighborhoods; they are becoming widespread in the white neighborhoods as well. Many of society’s underclass have fallen below the concepts of values, morals, and purpose. One explanation for these erosions is the destruction caused by welfare. More and more people view welfare, instead of families, as their support and consistency. Welfare has become a crutch for many, and often does not lend to any healthy ambition: the checks come regardless of how little they do.
Rector places heavy blame on the welfare system in its service to single parent households and on the growing number of unwed, young mothers. This, in turn, breaks down other areas of life. He writes:
As an underclass community starts to emerge, increasing numbers of young women become married to a welfare check rather than to the fathers of their children….As marriage is no longer seen as a necessary prerequisite to childbearing, the behavior of young women also changes; self-control shrinks, promiscuity and early sexual activity flourish. Welfare’s deconstruction of marriage is thus behind the whole tangle of underclass pathology: eroded work ethic, dependence, illegitimacy, drug abuse, crime (this thesis developed largely by author Charles Murray). (p. 30)
Welfare, though, is only part of the problem. Rector goes on to point out that learning from the past is crucial. Charity workers, throughout time, have seen these problems stem, not only from individual character, but also from cultural moral standards. He states:
Historically, private charity organizations took as their central task the molding of character and self-discipline within vulnerable low-income communities. Efforts to deal with the economic aspects of behavior while ignoring the moral and spiritual would have been regarded as foolish. (p. 32)
Rector strongly asserts that religion needs to play a part in people developing into healthy, whole, and purposeful individuals. He notes that the church has been the one constant in reaching out to those in need. Studies frequently show that inappropriate and undesirable behaviors are far less prevalent, especially regarding youth, in those who attend church regularly. Religious schools also provide positive influence in the lives of young people. It is also stated that those children who do attend church regularly have greater positive influence on their peers.
The answer, then, according to Rector, is not a policy of welfare but a policy of regulating government funds as scholarships, providing parents more choices about which schools their children attend. With more choice, more religious schools might be formed, creating more wholesome environments for the youth of today. Religion and moral education should not be separate.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Should government take a part in teaching children morals and values? Why or why not?
- What are some governmental policies that are addressing major issues in society today (e.g., single parent homes, teen pregnancies, drug abuse, apathy)? Based on your knowledge of these programs, do they seem to be successful in resolving these issues? Explain.
- Is religion is a vital part of a healthy, wholesome community? Is it a necessary ingredient in moral education? Is it necessary in terms of having purpose in life? Give reasons for your answers.
- Should church and state be separate? Could one exist without the other? How can this happen?
- Do you agree with the author’s proposal for “school choice” and do you think it would impact society as heavily as he asserts?
- For centuries, it has been shown that the church has been effective in character building. It has reached out to those in need, providing more than financial relief. It has and does provide a purpose in life that extends beyond current circumstances. Youth workers can benefit from this knowledge so they may know that they do not labor in vain.
- Parents can use information, such as presented in this article, to increase awareness that they can make choices concerning where to involve their children (i.e., a solid youth fellowship). They can and should inquire about the local school curricula and seek options as to where their children will benefit most and what help is available. They should become involved, on a regular basis, in the schools their children attend.
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