Sunday, March 06, 2011

What Would Baha'u'llah Cut?

The blog for Faith in Public Life called Bold Faith Type has some excellent information about the impact of some of the proposed budget cuts coming out of Capital Hill. I've included them for your review.

Program Amount Cut
(From FY10 Total)
Percentage Cut
(From Y10 Total)
Head Start: A national program that promotes school readiness. More than 200,000 disadvantaged children ages five and under could lose services. The cut would also mean 50,000 lost jobs and 16,000 empty classrooms. $1.08 billion 15 percent
Food Aid (P.L. 480 and McGovern-Dole): These cuts would eliminate feeding programs for 18 million of the world's hungriest and poorest people, including 15 million people suffering from hunger due to natural disasters and conflicts and 2.5 million children who get school meals through the McGovern-Dole program. $946.5 million 46 percent
PEPFAR: The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief supports life-saving drugs and treatment for more than 3.2 million men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR also provides care and support to 11 million people in more than 30 countries, including approximately 3.8 million orphaned and vulnerable children. Nearly 33 million people receive HIV counseling and testing through PEPFAR. $513 million 10 percent
Peace Corps: Right now, 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in 77 developing countries in the areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, environment, agriculture, and youth development. Since 1961, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries. $69.2 million 17.3 percent

This information is provided by Bread for the World an organization I encourage you to learn more about if you aren't already familiar with it. Regarding these cuts, Bold Faith Type points out that:

"The total savings from these cuts add up to around $5.2 billion, which may seem large, but is really less than one-half of one percent (.35%) of the budget deficit 'necessitating' these drastic reductions. In comparison, Congress spent $81.5 billion in December to meet Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans."

Bold Faith Type also has information about efforts by religious leaders to underscore the moral dimension of the current budget battle, asking "What Would Jesus Cut?".

My favorite evangelical Jim Wallis recently made comments on the Huffington Post similar to points made on this blog about a week ago:

"But, of course, I have been asked, 'Okay then, what would you cut?' This debate has reminded me of the famous statement by bank robber Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he famously replied, 'Because that's where the money is.' If we really want to reduce the deficit, we also have to go where the real money is: our massive military spending, corporate welfare subsides to big businesses, and corporate tax loopholes, as well as the long term costs of health care and Social Security, which will require important future reforms. On a television program yesterday evening, I said that I want those who now propose major cuts to critical low-income family support programs to say, out loud, that every item of Pentagon spending is more important to our well-being and security than school lunches, child health, and early education programs." (Read the whole thing here)

As I Baha'i, my question would be "What Would Baha'u'llah Cut?" While a review of His Writings does not provide direct answers to this question, like the Bible they provide a spiritual and moral basis for reflection and debate. For example, about the responsibility of political leaders and the wealthy toward the poor Baha'u'llah has written:

"Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous. Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust on the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto every one shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 251)

"Fear the sighs of the poor and of the upright in heart who, at every break of day, bewail their plight, and be unto them a benignant sovereign. They, verily, are thy treasures on earth. It behoveth thee, therefore, to safeguard thy treasures from the assaults of them who wish to rob thee. Inquire into their affairs, and ascertain, every year, nay every month, their condition, and be not of them that are careless of their duty." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 235)

"Blessed is the ruler who succoureth the captive, and the rich one who careth for the poor, and the just one who secureth from the wrong doer the rights of the downtrodden, and happy the trustee who observeth that which the Ordainer, the Ancient of Days hath prescribed unto him." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 69)

Those involved in the budget debate could also benefit from reflecting upon what Baha'u'llah has written regarding "elected representatives" and "statesmanship":

"O ye the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind, and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully. Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires, and have erred grievously. And if, at one time, through the care of an able physician, a member of that body was healed, the rest remained afflicted as before. Thus informeth you the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

We behold it, in this day, at the mercy of rulers so drunk with pride that they cannot discern clearly their own best advantage, much less recognize a Revelation so bewildering and challenging as this. And whenever any one of them hath striven to improve its condition, his motive hath been his own gain, whether confessedly so or not; and the unworthiness of this motive hath limited his power to heal or cure." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 254)

"The Great Being saith: The heaven of statesmanship is made luminous and resplendent by the brightness of the light of these blessed words which hath dawned from the dayspring of the Will of God: It behoveth every ruler to weigh his own being every day in the balance of equity and justice and then to judge between men and counsel them to do that which would direct their steps unto the path of wisdom and understanding. This is the cornerstone of statesmanship and the essence thereof. From these words every enlightened man of wisdom will readily perceive that which will foster such aims as the welfare, security and protection of mankind and the safety of human lives." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 166)

I applaud the many people of faith who are striving to elevate the budget debate by pointing out its moral and spiritual dimensions. Like so many challenges facing America, solutions will involve meaningful engagement with both the material and the spiritual and a revolution in values.

As Abdu'l-Baha has prayed, "Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees..." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 67)


  1. Anonymous2:32 PM

    I'm saddened and disheartened that our elected representatives would cut funding to our neediest citizens and foreign aid while cutting taxes to our wealthiest citizens and spending outrageous amounts on the military. Our values are distorted.

  2. Anonymous, I would have to agree with that one.

  3. Pardon the pet peeve: Put single quotation marks within a passage set off by double quotation marks. You did "double-within-double" in you Jim Wallis paragraph and I was confused as to who was citing whom.

  4. I look at things like the Peace Corps cuts and wonder how much further that $69.2 million is going in positive international relations than an equivalent amount spent through government agencies for similar purposes. That same program creates such a positive change within the individual participants that we can also see it as vital human-resource building for this country. With the state of our school systems falling in international rankings and the growing number of people who are "under-educated" for the jobs that already exist, human-resource development is an area we need to focus on for a strong future workforce.

  5. Anonymous1:19 PM

    This is a good start toward challenging people to actually THINK about priorities. I would like very much to have all politicians read this. Maybe they would even take it to heart? It is important for 'neighbors to help neighbors' and we must find a way to get out of the "let the government do it" mentality,- (which eventually leads us to total government intervention). I think we also need to challenge the "career polititian" mentality, with all its corruption, lobbying, buying and selling of votes,etc.

  6. Joe Bradley10:54 PM

    Point taken, absolutely. Care for the poor has been a pretty basic tenant of every major religion. When you start to hear clergymen start making excuses for this sort of stuff, that's when you know they're doing nothing but getting in the way.

  7. Thank you for giving us some important facts about decisions that are being made in the United States that can affect the lives of many poor people who deserve the right to equal opportunity in food, shelter, education, meaningful work. Your links to blogs etc. are very interesting and I appreciate the opportunity you are providing to broaden one's horizons.

  8. Anonymous, thinking about priorities is exactly what folks are trying to encourage. It is true that neighbors should help neighbors. I also believe that collaborations between government, private citizens, the private sector and faith communities is necessary. We all have a role and it is a legitimate debate about what role government should play in promoting the well-being of citizens.

    Joe, it is ironic to hear some clergy appear to rationalize some of these cuts. However, I do think that there is a meaningful debate about whether government spending or private philanthropy, such as charity from faith based organizations is the best way to serve people in need. My sense is that the Baha'i advocates a collaboration among individuals, communities and institutions (including government). We all have a part to play.

    Nona, glad to see that you found this post useful and informative. It is true that many of us do not have sufficient information about decisions that are being made by our governments.

  9. President Obama is talking up education this week, with a visit to Boston Tech, a cool school really helping kids in Dorchester. His talk there highlighted the necessity of investment in education for our nation to remain competitive. But here in the trenches (I teach in Gloucester MA public schools) our budget will be cut by $1.7 M, costing us six positions here at our school. You have seen the news from other parts of the country. The schools that are thriving are those that are privately funded (like Boston Tech that receives millions from the Gates Foundation). Perhaps the answer is just that: private philanthropy, just as Abdul Baha describes. When taxpayers are asked to invest, it really only raises their resentment. But when a philanthropist (a lover of humanity) or a community foundation supports schools, they take more than a financial interest. Here we greatly benefit from the community supported Gloucester Education Foundation.

  10. Roger, very good point. 'Abdu'l-Baha remarked that voluntary giving is better than forced efforts at redistribution of wealth, while also making the point that public policy should strive for a more equitable distribution of wealth.

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