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       Civil Society, Changing Contemporary Politics with the return of multi-party politics in the Third World & Religion: An Introduction, p.2

           Terry R. Lynch
 
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We have covered what civil society is in the political context but what about in the religious, how it fits-in and within the natural order, within the fabric of humanity itself. The Pope Benedict XVI teaches that civil society starts with the family. The Pope teaches that “marriage and the family constitute a decisive foundation for 

  the healthy development of civil society, countries and peoples.” And, as “the reception and transmission of divine love are realized in the mutual commitment of the spouses, in generous and responsible procreation, in the care and education of children, work and social relationships, with attention to the needy, in participation in church activities, in commitment to civil society”. 18

  But does the cell of the family lead to greater commitment to civil society and how does this notion relate to humanity, how does it fit-in? Andrew Copson, citing a government survey looks at the figures in table six and measures the "civic engagement and formal volunteering at least once in the past year" and finds that the person with no faith is just as active as one of faith. 19

  Copson is saying that it is not the preserve of the religious to do well within civil society, showing that this is indeed a shared responsibility. In fact by statistics alone one may say that religious affiliation makes little difference to the numbers of volunteers.

  The desire to help and serve is engraved on the human heart and as I said in my previous book Prayer: teach us to pray (Luke 11: 1-13) “Heart speaks unto heart and people find comfort in groups that feel the same longing for truth.” 20

  Philanthropy, volunteering, charity are areas which both humanists and people of faith can share a common interest, however it is within the realm of faith that truth and salvation can be found, the notion which is most puzzling to humanists. Yet as charity is found in truth, religious charities can and indeed are run by both religious and non-religious people such as Jeremy Paxman, of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Newsnight who has no fixed belief. Paxman is a patron of two major Catholic charities for the homeless such as the Cardinal Hume Centre and Anchor House.

  As Copson writes "if a person doing good is doing it because she thinks God wants her to or out of a humanist sense of obligation to fellow human beings".

  The parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37) is to an extent an example of civil society in action that of empathy across boundaries, showing that the religious who are not of the right spirit are actually somewhat ignorant of their civic duties and that of being human. And as such Pope Benedict reveals that we should not forget the origins of charity in truth as Britain must acknowledge its Christian tradition and Christians be part of the national conversation, not removing themselves from the world and instructed in the spirit as Christ says in John 17:15.

  Knowing that everyone however objectionable their behaviour, or pitiful their demeanour is a child of a loving God should help religious people to turn to secular people in need and as Leviticus 19:18 teaches us must be loved.

  Catholic tradition is full of heroes who reach out over the boundaries of social prejudice and disgust, from Peter Claver and St. Damien tending suppurating lepers to Blessed Mother Teresa, whose mission was to bring dignity to the dying whom others recoiled from touching. Humanists, too, can point to many great heroes who were as moved by empathy into acting for others as heart speaks unto heart.

  With the instructional formation of faith schools and the gift of the Holy Spirit that guides act of charity, religion builds civil society in a way that secular civic participation does not.

  Prime Minister David Cameron’s big society is an aim at strengthening and maintaining civic society which can sympathise with traditional conservatism (with less government involvement and private enterprise) and this is revealed in Robert Putnam's research that big society (civil society) and charitable civic action is closely linked to organisation and membership.

  Networks of participation deepen involvement with others: most people get involved because someone they trust suggests it. While this is as true of religious as non-religious people, it is simply a fact that religion generates networks of participation that are far stronger, more lasting, and more committed than secular civic organisations are capable of.

  The organisational capacity of the Catholic church in England and Wales is some 2,300 schools, 3,000 parishes and the wealth of activity that it generates (19,000 volunteers, 9,000 employees, spending some £170m a year in the service of approximately 800,000 people) religious contribution to the civic society cannot be under-estimated.

  Religious communities invest much with the sunk costs stimulating the capacity for generating participation and engagement through this social capital.

  This where civil society and religious social capital is disproportionately important to the poor, because they lack other forms of capital – financial and human (educational) and allows for a more socially responsible capitalism. That is why logically speaking religious contribution is especially important among the less well-off, not just in meeting material needs and wants but, more significantly, in generating civic and political participation which in turn builds human and financial capital. This strengthens the relations between communities and strengthens civil society.

  Civil groups such as London Citizens, Blue Labour and Red Tories with their organisational structure make this contribution work effectively; and they make it because the evidence for it is overwhelming, especially so of the church.

  There are many ways of meeting needs: through privately-funded charities, secular or religious; through the state via welfare provision. Strong civil society can relieve the burden on state obligations and can further welfare provision at no extra cost to the state and this is why Cameron’s big society can be alluring if more is done to stimulate and integrate. Most of them require people to support them, through time and money and with increasing disposable funds in the economy, or to an extent, global economy through strengthened socially responsible capitalism might be religious or non-religious. But social capital that is networks of belonging, trust, and engagement is increased disproportionately by faith institutions which are the primary motors of civil society and strengthened by the family unit which ensures its legacy. What the Putnam research showed is that the rapid shrinking of civil society of most of the 20th century closely correlates to the diminution of religious practice and arguably we have been here before which is why renewal and inheritance through family participation is so important.

  In the early 19th century (as today) there was feral individualism, social-Darwinism, unbridled global capitalism, social inequalities, disintegration of the family, violent riots etcetera but within a few generations from the late 19th century, that had been put right.

  The revitalisation of civic life in the last decades of the 19th century saw an explosion of forms of civic engagement (not just religious, but ethnic, fraternal, labour, professional, philanthropic, humanist) which over time reduced crime, restored order, and led to profound social reforms. In this revitalisation of civic life the role of faith institutions, alongside that of others, was crucial, and will be again. The defence of marriage in relation to the family is equally important as civil society itself as it is the unit whereby divine love manifests into charitable action in truth with generational instruction through the Spirit.

  .

  3 Accounting for the return of multi-party democracy to the Third World AND CAN democratisation be said to have improved the lives of poor people?

 
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