Introduction: Dr. Havers is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy (with a cross-appointment in the Department of Political Studies) at Trinity Western University. He has published and lectured widely on political philosophy, especially the Anglo-American conservative tradition. Havers' sfirst book, Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love, was published by the University of Missouri Press in late 2009. He is currently working on a book on the political philosopher Leo Strauss and his impact on the Christian West. As a long-term project, Havers also intends to write a book on Winston Churchill's contribution to political philosophy.
Daily Bell: Thanks for speaking to us. Have you found it tough to pursue your profession? Is there prejudice in academia against religious-oriented studies?
Dr. Grant Havers: There is a prejudice against Christian philosophers in academia, though not in the legal sense. Most philosophers in the Anglo-American world adhere to an austere positivistic position that reduces religion to either sentiment or illusion. What these individuals fail to grasp is that western philosophy would not even exist without the leavening influence of Christianity. It is very difficult to persuade this crowd that reason without faith is nihilistic skepticism, a position that destroys reason itself.
Daily Bell: Do you consider yourself a libertarian? A free-market conservative?
Dr. Grant Havers: I support the free market system as the indisputably best means to operate an economy, one that is far superior to any form of economic planning. I consider myself a "libertarian" only in the highly qualified sense that the great libertarian economist Murray Rothbard understood the term. Rothbard defended a libertarianism that appreciates and sustains the bourgeois Christian family, morality, and culture while he repudiated the pseudo-libertarianism that rejects all collective realities in favor of the false notion that we are all simply atomistic individuals without need of any public institutions. I share Rothbard's lament that most libertarians lack a sense of history as well as an appreciation for the one civilization that actually made the free market system work without destroying civilization in the process – bourgeois Christianity.
Daily Bell: There is an argument that Islam is a bad religion. Do you agree?
Dr. Grant Havers: As I argued in my book on Abraham Lincoln, Christianity is unique for teaching that human beings must love even their enemies in order to demonstrate their love of God. To my knowledge, no other faith teaches this demanding ethic. Although I am not an expert on Islam, the Koran teaches that Allah loves only those who love Allah in return. This highly conditional love is very difficult to reconcile with the relatively open nature of Christian faith or with the liberal democracies that build on this foundation.
Daily Bell: Our position is that no religion is bad until it becomes the law of the land – a theocracy, at which point abuses begin in the name of the religion. Agree? Disagree?
Dr. Grant Havers: As a believer in Protestant freedom of conscience, I oppose all forms of theocracy or the coercive imposition of belief on others. Indeed, this coercion is the opposite of true belief, which rests on an act of freedom. However, not all religions (and not all traditions of Christianity) oppose theocracy. It is naïve to think that there is ever a strict separation of church and state. As the American conservative Willmoore Kendall once quipped, the wall between church and state is always a "porous" one. Nevertheless, the Protestant fear of placing too much authority in the hands of a few individuals has historically put a restraint on the centralization of power that leads either to theocracy or some form of secular tyranny. Once again, not all faiths oppose this centralization of power.
Daily Bell: There is an argument that the Catholic church is superior to Protestantism because the Catholic Church emphasizes good works in addition to accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal savior. You probably disagree with this. Why?
Dr. Grant Havers: Actually, I am not opposed to the idea of good works per se. When Protestants initially opposed "good works," they did so on the grounds that these works must not be a substitute for a personal relation to God and the cultivation of a heart truly committed to faith in Him. If the motive behind good works is based on true love of God and His creation, then there is no reason to oppose good works.
Daily Bell: How did Protestant political philosophy, especially conservatism contribute to the emergence and triumph of liberal democracy in the West and especially in the US?
Dr. Grant Havers: Protestants, in both the Reformation and Enlightenment periods, liberated political philosophy from the deadening influence of Greek and Roman thought. This "pagan" tradition of philosophy had hindered the development of what we now call classical liberalism, since it adhered to a fatalistic view of human nature. From a Greco-Roman perspective, one's fate or nature (telos) was unchanging from the beginning of one's life. For that reason, pagan civilization tolerated slavery and infanticide as acts in accordance with nature. What pagans understood as nature was coldly impersonal; Aristotle's concept of an "unmoved mover" was that of a deity unmoved by human suffering. Protestants by contrast defended the anti-pagan position that only God, not nature, decides one's destiny. Moreover, God gives us the freedom to decide it. God also loves all human beings, no matter how lowly. These revolutionary teachings paved the way for the modern enshrinement of individual freedom, dignity, and the rule of law. I should mention here that there were Catholics in the late Middle Ages (like William of Occam) or early modernity (like Pascal) who also understood God in this sense, but they were minorities struggling against the paganistic influence in the church.
Daily Bell: Can you expand on liberal democracy? Do you mean classical liberal (laissez faire) democracy or democracy in its current context of democratic socialism?
Dr. Grant Havers: I definitely mean "liberal" in the classical sense, as the early Enlightenment understood the term. I adhere to the political philosophy of Spinoza in this regard, who was the first defender of liberal democracy in the classical sense. Although Spinoza repudiated the pagan teleology to which I referred earlier, his concept of liberal democracy still retained some exclusivist features. Unlike so-called liberals today, Spinoza believed that it was essential for citizens in his democracy to be raised in biblical morality, especially Christian agape. Although he supported the rule of law and religious freedom, Spinoza did not believe that the social contract should be open to just anyone. Unlike so-called liberals today, Spinoza feared the seditious consequences that would result from the decline of a bourgeois Christian ethos. He would be shocked that "liberals" today are inclined to fling the doors and borders open to anyone who desires entry into today's modern democracies. Today's so-called liberals are actually leftist collectivists who use the power of the state and big business to eradicate what remains of the bourgeois Christian order.
Daily Bell: Can you briefly present to us the various forms of Protestantism – Methodism, Quakerism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, etc. We have in mind that each iteration removed more of the formalism between man and God. When you come to the Quakers and Shakers you have a very specific, informal and passionate relationship with your conception of your creator. The Quakers apparently used to strip nude during their worshipping sessions when the religion was young.
Dr. Grant Havers: I lack the expertise to expound on all these traditions in detail. As far as I know, however, only the Shakers stripped nude. In any case, there have been all kinds of Protestants throughout history, and new versions of Protestantism emerge every year; the Reformation is not over by a long shot. Some versions of Protestantism are far more personalistic than others in their relationship to God. American evangelism in particular stresses this personal relationship more than any other Protestant tradition. The obvious appeal of this theology is the egalitarian premise that everyone can be led to God without much need of human intermediaries (like an established church). The downside is that this individualistic approach can breed a narcissistic overvaluation of one's importance in the eyes of God.
Daily Bell: We have written a good deal about Thomas Jefferson and Deism. Can you give us the background on Deism, why it became so popular and then gradually diminished over time?
Dr. Grant Havers: Deism, which gained great influence during the Enlightenment, is simply the belief in an impersonal 1st cause. While this god might occasionally wind up the universe like a clock-maker, it does not personally intervene in the lives of human beings. What is fascinating about Jefferson is that his so-called Deism did not deter him from embracing Christian morality as superior to all other systems of ethics. That position is not classic Deism. Jefferson's famous statement on "trembling" for his nation when he considers that God is just also sounds like a belief in a personal and punitive God, a deity that does not fit the impersonal 1st cause of Deism. Jefferson is too complex to fit into a Deistic box. In any case, Deism was rapidly declining in influence by the time of the Second Great Awakening in the United States (1790-1830). This period of intense evangelical revivalism put to rest any popular temptation to see God as a mere clock-maker. The evangelical nature of American politics, which is usually manifested in the belief in America as a nation "chosen" by God, is not very fertile ground for Deism.
Daily Bell: How did Jefferson conceive of natural rights and why were they important to him?
Dr. Grant Havers: At least in principle, Jefferson supported natural rights in a limited sense. He believed in the natural right to one's property (including slaves) and the natural right to form any government that one likes. Jefferson did not believe that this government should necessarily be a democratic one; he only insisted that the consent of the people (usually aristocratic gentlemen of property) be given to a new form of government. Despite what many libertarians claim about Jefferson, his record on civil liberties is pretty mixed. As Leonard Levy shows in his Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side (1963), Jefferson supported loyalty oaths, laws against seditious libel, and unreasonable search and seizure of property. He was not a consistent libertarian. I know of many libertarians who demonize Lincoln as the great anti-Jeffersonian violator of basic liberties. They should go farther back in history and actually study the record of their hero, Jefferson.
Daily Bell: How are they important within a common law legal framework?
Dr. Grant Havers: The power of precedent is important, or at least one would like to think so. Britain, the United States, and my own country, Canada, all have long-enshrined protection of individual rights against statist tyranny. The problem is that there is no guarantee even in a liberal democracy that governments will respect these natural rights. All the legal safeguards in the world can be trampled on by governments that are determined to crush dissent. My own country has some of the most draconian anti-hate speech laws of any democracy in recent history, despite a long tradition of freedom of speech in Canada. If citizens no longer care to protect their rights, then democracies are quite happy to take them away.
Daily Bell: Are you in favor, generally, of common law (private law) or are you comfortable with the current state-run system of justice? We think it is complex and rife with conflicts of interest.
Dr. Grant Havers: I am in favor of common law, yes, but it has no authority whatsoever if the citizens of a democracy are too lazy or indifferent to use legal precedent to protect their liberties. It is bemusing to see western government today preach the verities of democratic values and call for the universalization of these across the globe while they increase surveillance over their own citizens and monitor their lack of commitment to state-imposed notions of "tolerance" and "diversity." The surveillance powers that democracies enjoy today would be the envy of monarchies in a bygone age.
Daily Bell: Why are you comfortable with your faith versus another?
Dr. Grant Havers: As I mentioned, I was raised a Protestant. I also married a Catholic woman, who has fairly "Protestant" views on individual conscience and religious freedom. For that reason, our marriage has been quite a success. What I find admirable about Western Christianity as a whole is the spirit of self-criticism that pervades this faith tradition; Christians in the West have tried to create decent societies that atone for the sins of the past. They alone stress the need to love their enemies. Of course, the downside here is that this self-criticism can lead to excessive self-incrimination, where Christian politicians apologize for all kinds of crimes that were committed ages ago. This incessant apologizing both weakens the faith and the civilization of the West, a weakness that is exploited by people who feel very little guilt for the crimes of their ancestors.
Daily Bell: Why are there so many faiths to choose from? Do these different faiths in a way detract from godhead? So many interpretations means that the concept of God is not certain?
Dr. Grant Havers: If I had the answer to these questions, I would have solved the mysteries of life some time ago! As an historian of ideas, I am impressed by the fact that only bourgeois Christian societies even allow the freedom to practice a variety of faiths. Once this historical influence vanishes, this easy tolerance may disappear with it. Unlike today's leftist "liberals," I am unconvinced that a multicultural society will increase religious freedom for all. Indeed, this mode of society is far less tolerant of dissent than the old bourgeois order, since hardly anyone wants to offend the historically oppressed minorities who benefit from this new multiculturalism.
Daily Bell: How do we know that God exists?
Dr. Grant Havers: We do not "know" that He exists. If we did, there would be no need for faith. I agree with Kant that any attempt to "know" God, to reduce His authority to an object of time and space, is idolatry. Kant well understood that science and faith, for the most part, should be separate in their tasks. Kant follows Spinoza in arguing that the true evidence for God is love of humanity, or what he calls the "categorical imperative." I see no difference here between Kant and the Gospels.
Daily Bell: What about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc? How does a religious-philosopher account for so many variants in terms of religious belief? What about the idea that unbelievers in this religion or that religion will be punished in the afterlife? How do you know which faith is the "right" one?
Dr. Grant Havers: What interests me as a Christian and a political philosopher is the uniqueness of the Christian faith. As I mentioned, Christianity is unique for teaching love of one's enemies. I am not denying that other faiths also have strict concepts of moral obligation, but their understanding of duty is quite different. Confucianism, which is often compared with Christianity, appears to teach a version of moral obligation to others that sounds Christian. Both religions promote the idea of selfless duty to others. However, unlike Christianity, Confucianism teaches that obligation to one's ancestors and family is paramount; there is no equivalently demanding obligation to strangers or enemies. A Confucian would be shocked at what Christ says about the family (Luke 14: 26): that one cannot be his follower if one loves his family above all.
Daily Bell: Tell us more about the separation between church and state in America. Is the perception accurate? If not, why not?
Dr. Grant Havers: A separation is not the same as a divorce. This separation also implies a relation between the two realms. As Spinoza argued, this separation makes sense as long as both state and church adhere to the ethic of charity; indeed, this was Abraham Lincoln's understanding as well. The American Constitution forbids the federal government from suppressing individual freedom of speech and belief. It does not prevent the church or other private institutions from regulating the practices of its members (as long as this regulation does not take the form of violent coercion). Leftist libertarians, of course, find this state of affairs intolerable, and call on the state to intrude upon the private realm of belief in order to make churches more "tolerant" and "open" to all lifestyles.
Daily Bell: We tend to believe that societies with the least government have the most religion. That is, society needs an organization mechanism and if it is not to be the heavy hand of government it will be the voluntary and spiritual mechanism of communal faith. Agree? Disagree?
Dr. Grant Havers: It is interesting that the growth of the modern Leviathan state coincides with a decline in traditional religious belief. One can see these developments in Canada as well as the European Union. Quebec, the sole French-speaking province in my nation, has dramatically experienced a simultaneous decline in the membership and influence of the Catholic church and a rise in the powers of the state. As the state takes on the church's traditional role of providing comfort (both material and even spiritual) to its citizens, the church becomes less important. What citizens in today's democracies do not seem to understand is that this statism is almost impossible to reverse, without a revolution. It is easy to leave the church; it is not so easy to leave the new surveillance state.
Daily Bell: What does this tell us about anarchy? One of the dominant social themes of government is that absent the political leadership that government provides, society would sink into anarchy and chaos with hordes of marauding people looting and rioting. Is this an accurate perception of how people might behave in the absence of our current regulatory democracy?
Dr. Grant Havers: I seriously doubt that human beings are stuck with the grim choice between anarchy and big government. I am not opposed to all forms of government, but I support the decentralization of authority as much as possible. Local governments and communities need more powers over taxation, policing, immigration, etc. In my own country, the federal and provincial governments have awesome powers of control over these areas of jurisdiction. Unlike many libertarians, I support the right of local neighborhoods to say "No" to economic development. It is not that I am opposed to a nation-state per se. Indeed, it is unfortunate that so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA are eroding the powers of nation-states and giving more authority to unelected world trade organizations. I simply support the Rousseauvian notion that power over a community should be given mainly to those who actually live in the community, so that they can be held more accountable for their actions. Mandarins who make decisions in Washington, Ottawa, or Brussels rarely have to live with the consequences of their decisions, since they do not live in the communities or regions most affected by their policies.
Daily Bell: Is the US a spiritual country? Is it getting more so or less so?
Dr. Grant Havers: America is, and always will be, a spiritual country. It is also a predominantly Christian country, despite declining church attendance. Both major parties pay lip service to the faith. However, it is no longer a predominantly bourgeois Christian nation. The traditional bourgeois Christian class opposed statism, whether it involved fighting "intolerance" at home or abroad. The current warfare-welfare state, which is a post-bourgeois creation, is supported by both parties and at least a majority of Americans across the political spectrum. Since the end of World War 2, most American Christians have supported this state to varying degrees. White evangelical Protestant Republicans are still the most reliable supporters of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though there is something rather blasphemous about using massive firepower to democratize howling wildernesses.
Daily Bell: We tend to believe that government squeezes out religion. Agree? Disagree?
Dr. Grant Havers: Not even the most secular governments want to squeeze out religion altogether. Some years ago, a Canadian Minister of Justice praised human rights as the new "secular" religion. The state today desires a population that worships at the shrine of human rights, since this allows the state to increase its powers of surveillance. If any religion is being squeezed out, it is the old bourgeois Christianity that opposed this statism. Both in Canada and the United States, there have been impressive right-wing populist movements with Christian roots that have resisted this new Leviathan, but their success has been almost nil.
Daily Bell: We tend to believe that government welfare squeezes out charity. In other words, in the absence of government, charity has a resurgence because human beings are naturally programmed to help each other. Agree? Disagree?
Dr. Grant Havers: Since I believe that all human beings are fallen sinners, I doubt that we are "naturally programmed" to help each other. However, it is true that the post-WW 2 state took over the traditional "private" sector of churches and charitable organizations that tended the needs of the poor. The tax burden that this state imposes on the middle class as the means of paying for these entitlements predictably discourages less giving. If the state can no longer pay for these programs, due to a mounting economic crisis, it's possible that the middle class might open its pocketbooks (provided that a middle class still exists after this recession passes).
Daily Bell: Tell us about the concept of agape – the Greek word for love – and why it is important within a religious context.
Dr. Grant Havers: Agape, or the command "to love thy neighbor (and enemy) as one would love God," is most central to the Christian tradition. This is the true ethic of charity. As far as I know, other religions are not nearly as universalistic in their understanding of moral duty as Christianity. Confucianism and even a biblically-based faith like Islam tend to have more conditional and restrictive notions, as I have mentioned. Agape is important in the political context as well. As I argued in my Lincoln book, it is impossible to comprehend Lincoln's opposition to slavery, his call for merciful treatment of the defeated Confederacy in the Civil War, and his warnings against the dangers of self-righteous triumphalism without understanding his indebtedness to charity. What I stress in my book is that this liberal Protestant understanding of morality, which Lincoln so brilliantly articulated in his rhetoric, is not transferable to other cultures or faiths. It is absurd of both neoconservatives and leftists to assume that all peoples around the world want a democracy in the Lincolnian sense, when they have not been exposed to the American version of Christianity upon which Lincoln built his moral appeal to end slavery. Many cultures are quite happy to tolerate slavery today; only a Protestant Christian republic like America would have torn itself apart over slavery.
Daily Bell: Should societies be organized more around faith or government? Is there an ideal balance?
Dr. Grant Havers: I am unsure what you mean by "organized." A healthy tension between faith and the state is essential to a functioning polity. Theocracies tried to stamp out this tension by subordinating the state to the authority of the church. Today, we have a "secular theocracy" (Paul Gottfried's term) that does just the reverse, often with the eager cooperation of the Christian masses. I doubt that the Bush Republicans could have taken their country to war against Iraq, without the mass support of white evangelical Protestants. Although they did not have any part in instigating the war (that dubious honor goes to the irreligious neoconservatives), their support was certainly crucial.
Daily Bell: Are you worried for the future of the US?
Dr. Grant Havers: Absolutely! America is currently fighting two wars, with no sign of victory in sight. The Obama administration has also piled monstrous levels of debt onto the American economy, with no end in sight. Both political parties have dramatically converged in the areas of foreign and domestic policy, leaving Americans with an echo rather than a choice. It would not be an exaggeration to call the American political system an "oligarchy," given the massive bail-outs to the brokerage firms that helped to engineer the current economic crisis. Despite some Spenglerian predictions about America's declining influence in the world, I suspect that the republic's hegemony in the world's affairs is not waning. American popular culture still shapes the world, and her military reach is still unrivalled. Although Ron Paul and others have properly called attention to the dangers of the warfare-welfare state, I see nothing changing until the great mass of American Christians rise up and put an end to this vast apparatus.
Daily Bell: Is it possible to have a religious and moral resurgence in the US? What about in the West generally?
Dr. Grant Havers: In other words, is it possible to revive the old bourgeois Christian order? I have my doubts, since few leading politicians desire such a restoration, which would seriously reduce the power of both Big Government and Big Business. Perhaps the masses will stir if the current economic crisis deepens, but by that time there may be no middle class left. The problem is not a lack of religion per se; there are plenty of believers in the West today. The problem is to convince Christians (and others) that the true threat to their freedom and faith is this oligarchic state that promotes a politically correct socialistic capitalism.
Daily Bell: Is Protestantism on the rise today in the West? Roman Catholicism?
Dr. Grant Havers: Protestant guilt for past sins is strong today, even though most Protestant denominations that play the apology game are losing members in droves. If Catholicism is on the rise today, that is only because Protestantism is on the decline. However, Catholic nations and regions (e.g., Quebec) have not been noticeably more successful than their Protestant brethren in beating back the politically correct Leviathan state.
Daily Bell: Has the internet had an impact on religion? Has it sparked a resurgence of faith? Will it?
Dr. Grant Havers: I assume that the Internet has changed everything, religion included. It certainly makes available all kinds of information, grand and trivial, on all subjects. Yet the Internet is not teaching anyone how to analyze or interpret this smorgasbord of data. I must confess my bias here; only books and essays, in my view, encourage and demand a hermeneutical sense. A reader of print media must develop the patience and the intelligence to make sense of language. The Internet's easy delivery of "answers" to all questions does not encourage any of this. As a professor, I see the consequences of this techno-revolution all the time in my classes. Far from encouraging individualism or creativity, the easy access to information that the Internet provides has actually discouraged youth from thinking for themselves or taking intellectual initiatives on their own. This technologically induced sheepishness surely bodes ill for democracy in our time.
Daily Bell: Tell us a little more about your books.
Dr. Grant Havers: My book on Christian agape (charity) turned out to be a book on Abraham Lincoln's concept of democracy. My book, which was published during the Lincoln Bicentennial (2009), praised Lincoln's understanding of charity while it warned against the attempt to spread Lincolnian ideals abroad. The great danger to the Christian ethic of charity is another biblical idea, the concept of "chosenness." In my book, I argued that Lincoln's warnings against seeing America as a "chosen" nation that must impose her will on the world has fallen on deaf ears. Both parties in the US still see the republic as "chosen" by God to democratize the globe. I particularly target neoconservatives and leftist liberals who dogmatically assume that America's ideals are the world's ideals. My projected books on Leo Strauss and Winston Churchill will discuss how today's democracies suffer from an historical amnesia, an ignorance of history, that does not take into account the differences between the West and the rest of the world. This ignorance leads to the assumption that the entire world wants democracy as Jefferson and Lincoln understood it.
Daily Bell: Are there any books or articles you would like to recommend for further reading?
Dr. Grant Havers: Spinoza's Theologico-Political Tractatus (1670) is the classic defense of bourgeois Christian democracy; see also Brayton Polka's 2 volume study, Between Philosophy and Religion: Spinoza, the Bible, and Modernity (2007). Anyone interested in the transformation of the old bourgeois order should read the following: George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935); Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition (1970); Paul Edward Gottfried, After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (1999).
Daily Bell: Thank you for your time. We look forward to your next book.
This was a most interesting interview; unlike several we have run recently, Dr. Havers was obviously not overly-cautious about revealing his opinions, which always helps when one is engaged in a dialogue of ideas. Because Dr. Havers knows so much and is so deeply read on the issues discussed above, it is perhaps somewhat easy to lose track of what we were driving at in the interview, which is that a spiritual – religious – society is likely to be more supportive of freedom and free-markets than a statist one. This is for the very reason that Dr. Havers elucidates: It is a lot easier to leave an organized belief structure than a modern state.
The modern state is ubiquitous and most hard to leave. Likely it has always been this way. This is why a religious environment is good while an overwhelmingly statist one is not, at least from the point of view of human freedom. Dr. Havers points out that there has always been tension between church and state and that in the past this tension has been resolved by making the state subordinate to religion, thus forming theocracies. Dr. Havers also provides us with some insights into Protestantism and the ongoing debate over the Reformation and the demise of the universal Roman Catholic church.
It is instructive to read some of the available writing about the Great Schism and to see how it has been interpreted by those who study such things. One interpretation is that Protestantism, by de-emphasizing the universality of redemption and salvation, ended up encouraging secularism, the idea that it is glorious to be rich. This in turn dovetailed with modern-day capitalism, bringing the church and state closer together.
The trouble with such interpretations is that they can inevitably be contradicted by other interpretations. Ultimately, it may be that there is not such a great deal of difference between Protestantism and Catholicism after all, despite the many difficulties that believers seem to have with each others' theology. Here's something from GotQuestions.org, a religious site that seems to sum it up rather well:
… Protestants distinguish between the one time act of justification (when we are declared righteous and holy by God based on our faith in Christ's atonement on the cross), and sanctification (the ongoing process of being made righteous that continues throughout our lives on earth.) While Protestants recognize that works are important, they believe they are the result or fruit of salvation, but never the means to it. Catholics blend justification and sanctification together into one ongoing process, which leads to confusion about how one is saved.
We can see from this excerpt that there is no prohibition of good works within Protestantism, only a different perspective on how good works are integrated into Godly life. Similarly, other religions emphasize good works and charity within their own contexts. Islam for instance, is forceful about charity but emphasizes charity within the context of the faith itself and encourages charity between believers. Most if not all of the world's major religions in some sense support selfless good works and charity.
We would argue the reason for emphasis on charity and charitable works has to do with human psychology itself, with the way human beings have evolved culturally and practically. One has to go back to ancient days to fully appreciate the force of this sort of evolution but if one simplifies human relationships and regards them tribally, the outcome is clear enough. Tribal people – and there are plenty of examples today – relate to one another in clan and familial settings and are generous with one another in times of trouble.
Tribal groups do not tend to be overlarge and there is an easy relationship between the family, elder-authority and religious practices. It would seem within this context that authority provides the practical, day-to-day glue for survival while religion provides the larger cultural context that gives people a sense of how behave from a moral and ethical standpoint. Familial bonds provide a third layer of behavioral context.
Once one has boiled down human behavior to these three elements it is fairly easy to see what is occurring today. As the state becomes ever more omnipresent in people's lives, familial and religious values are diminished. This is no accident either as the state's ineluctable logic tends to reduce these influences no matter where or when Leviathan is seen to operate. Especially pernicious are modern religious perspectives, which tend to justify state activism under the pretext that the goals of state and church are the same – assuaging poverty, protecting the helpless, etc.
The difference between state and church, of course, is in how one arrives at the generally accepted and appropriate destination. The church, being a private and voluntary entity (in its non-theocratic formulations), relies on moral suasion while the state, unfortunately, relies on force. Ultimately, this is the difference between religion and state and those who, with "modern" views, disdain religion as superstition misunderstand its organizational importance in human affairs.
It is not the belief structure itself that is so important as its presence within human society as a counterweight to the aggression of the state. Seen in this context religion, or at least spirituality, ought to be welcomed (certainly tolerated) by those concerned about maintaining a balance between secular authoritarianism and the rights of an individual to live freely and in peace.