Hey everyone, Ron Gold here:
When I hear President Obama talk about his plans to beef up the office of faith-based initiatives, it irritates me twofold. First of all, as an atheist, it’s only natural that religious groups receiving federal funding would bother me. But additionally, the very words “faith-based” get to me, as they are intentionally misleading. We should call them what they really are: religious-based initiatives.
These days, it seems that very few Americans mind the massive rip that “faith-based” initiatives have put into the separation of church and state. But this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2001 when President Bush created the original office of faith-based initiatives, this was a much more contentious issue, as many were not yet complacent with the government being so cozy with religion. So to dampen the controversy, the Bush administration did what they did best and created a euphemism — remember, these are also the people who gave us “enhanced interrogation techniques” — and the phrase “faith-based” was born.
I know many of you might be thinking that there is little difference between “faith-based” and “religious-based.” It’s true that the differences are subtle, but they are significant.
To begin with, “religion” can have many negative connotations, while the word “faith” usually gives off vibes that are non-threatening, if not cool. Think of it this way: a lot of individuals like to fancy themselves as “people of faith” or as “spiritual but not religious.” However, bad people are never described in this manner. Osama bin Laden, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and fanatical abortion clinic bombers could all accurately be described as people of faith, but you would never hear that; instead, they are religious extremists.
Also, the term “faith-based” is so vague that its meaning would be ambiguous if you had never heard it used before. For instance, even a non-believer like me uses the word “faith” occasionally, as in “I had faith that the Steelers would win the Super Bowl.” On the other hand, if they were called “religious-based” initiatives, it would be more difficult to disguise their unconstitutionality. After all, the start of the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but as I’m sure the Bush administration realized, the Constitution says nothing about faith.
Mr. Obama, I know that you’re not about to abandon your plans for the new office of faith-based initiatives, but please, just once, could you say “religious-based” initiatives instead?