We’ve all heard of the idea of a general worker’s strike. In her tome Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand posed a provocative question. What if, in response to an increasingly overbearing regulatory state, the entrepreneurs of America decided to go on strike?
The resulting 1000 pages, if you can get through them, constitute one of the most creative, if overwrought, dystopias ever envisioned. Society’s producers quietly disappear, enclosed in their own hidden capitalist utopia, while innovation grinds to a halt, intellectual property languishes, and overconfident, arrogant bureaucrats run world-class factories into the ground. When all’s said and done, all that was required to liberate America’s unappreciated geniuses and creators was for them to walk away and leave society to pick up the pieces.
American Christians may find themselves in a position closer to John Galt than to Saint Benedict, with apologies to Rod Dreher. Many of the services Americans take for granted are provided by churches and Christian organizations. It is not hyperbolic to say that core areas of American life would languish or collapse without the contributions of Christian people and organizations. These enormous social contributions are frequently underappreciated, but would certainly be missed.
Perhaps the most important is health care. John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, wrote in an article titled “No Christianity, No Hospitals: Don’t Take Christian Contributions for Granted”:
One in six hospital beds in our country is located in a Catholic hospital. In at least thirty communities, the Catholic hospital is the only hospital in a 35-mile radius. This doesn’t even take into account hospitals run by other Christian bodies such as Baptists, Methodists, and especially Seventh-Day Adventists.
Catholic hospitals are the largest single category within non-profit hospitals, which themselves account for about half of all hospitals.
Christians also run thousands of private schools that often meet or exceed the quality of public schools; a full 70 percent of all private schools are either Catholic or affiliated with another religion, generally some form of Protestantism (a much smaller percentage of these are Jewish or run by a non-Abrahamic religion).
In addition to health care and education, it is churches which minister to the neediest and most marginalized members of society. Matthew Robare reported in these pages:
According to the nonprofit Partners for Sacred Places, churches and religious buildings of all faiths continue to have an economic impact on their neighborhoods. Their research found that almost all have some sort of community-service programs, and most have at least four running concurrently. The same study estimated that in Philadelphia alone religious congregations contribute over $100 million to their community annually—about $144,000 per congregation. Most of that comes from measuring volunteer time as though it were paid labor, but they also provide space, staff, and direct financial support to neighborhood services. Sixty percent of churches surveyed had food pantries, and nearly as many hosted music performances and clothing donations. Over 40 percent had soup kitchens.
Churches also offer meals for the homebound, place children with foster parents, offer marriage counseling, run crisis pregnancy centers, and perform countless other ministries and social and cultural activities. And yet bureaucrats heap nothing but contempt or suspicion on orthodox Christians, and policymakers increasingly do nothing but circumscribe their rights in the public square. The reward for managing more healthcare than could ever be provided by the state? Catholic nuns compelled to provide artificial birth control. The reward for taking some weight off the broken foster care system? Being compelled to place children in same-sex households.
The utility and morality of orthodox Christian social beliefs can be debated. But according to Christian teaching, it is licit, perhaps even mandatory, to withdraw and walk away—“shake the dust off your feet”—rather than violate one’s conscience or become corrupted by the world.
At a lecture once in my college Catholic center, our priest said that if laws required Catholic agencies to place children in same-sex households, the church should suspend its adoption placements entirely. What about the children who won’t get placed in homes, I asked? Can the church sacrifice real people for its own survival? Of course it can, he explained; it is more important to preserve the integrity of the church for the future, because it is the church’s moral and spiritual integrity which inspires it to do social good in the first place. That argument may not be watertight, but it is one Christians must grapple with.
Orthodox Christians in America have gotten into the habit of bemoaning their inexorably shrinking political power and the rising hostility to religious freedom. But they actually possess enormous political power: the ability to grind to a halt the health care, educational, and social services infrastructure of the United States. Will they use it?
Addison Del Mastro is Assistant Editor for The American Conservative. He tweets at @ad_mastro.