The Good that Churches Do

There is so much to deplore in organized religion. History is littered with the tragic consequences of good intentions gone astray and bad intentions festering beneath the masks of false prophets. But, on the plus side, churches have done a lot of good in the world.

Their contributions are not just spiritual. They have attended to the body as well as the soul.

In my native Jamaica, the churches gave us hospitals and schools, orphanages and old folks homes. I suspect these institutions were not always as benevolent as they could be.  Private charity can be mean and cruel, as Charles Dickens and other authors have so vividly illustrated. Personally, I would prefer a society in which the state ensures that all members of society are protected and cared for.

But thin gruel is better than no gruel at all. And, back in my boyhood days, the British government provided almost no social welfare for colonial societies like ours.

Let’s be clear, I know of no abuse in Jamaica’s church-run charities. Thankfully, all I know about them is second-hand.  And from what I know, the island would have been much worse off without them.

So I was saddened to read in Jean Lowrie Chin’s Jamaica Observer column recently that the Alpha home for abused and abandoned boys, on South Camp Road in Kingston, is closing down.  She writes that:

After almost 130 years of nurturing Jamaican boys, the Alpha Boys School is closing its residential facilities…  You would think that an institution like Alpha would have no difficulty receiving a decent subvention for its good work, but like many others of its kind, it has been struggling financially.

Yes, Jean, I would think that a facility like Alpha Boys School should be able to get by financially. And I wonder why it can’t.

Is the Jamaican government – which claims to be Socialist – taking the place of the churches in providing succor to the island’s needy youth? Are the churches no longer necessary in an increasngly benevolent secular society?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Jean’s column explains that “inadequate government funding” is a key factor in the the boys home’s closing. And she mentions no government-run alternatives for this and similar charities.

She says the Sisters of Mercy will make up for the residential program’s loss by expanding Alpha’s educational program, which is renowned for its musical achievements. So the church’s good work is continuing.

But as Jamaica – and the world – changes, and the churches’ mission evolves, I wonder whether society will also evolve to compensate for the loss of services that organized religions have traditionally provided.

Click for Jean Lowrie Chin’s column

Click for information on the boys home