Spiritualizing the Poitical Without Politicizing Religion: R. Sargent Shriver's Leadership of the "War on Poverty"
Joseph, Robert Thomas
In early 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson declared his administration's "unconditional war on poverty in America," urging Congress and the American people to join with him in the effort. As part of the War on Poverty, Congress later that year passed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (EOA). It created an Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) that would be headed by R. Sargent Shriver.Shriver had a strong Catholic piety and was an intellectually ardent student of theology and political philosophy. This paper examines how, in leading OEO, Shriver expressed, used, or reflected various religious or spiritual values, ideals, and concepts, but without "politicizing religion." The analysis draws on biographic information about Shriver and materials pertaining to the history of the EOA. Speeches by Shriver are extensively cited.Chapter One briefly reviews the EOA. Chapter Two provides a short biography of Shriver, with attention to Shriver's Catholic faith and interest in religious figures and thinkers. With this background, Chapter Three reviews how Shriver involved faith-based organizations in EOA programs. While Shriver acknowledged the "separateness" of Church and State, he claimed that there were common problems of justice that both should address, and on which they could collaborate, without trespassing on the First Amendment. Chapter Three analyzes Shriver's use of religious sources and themes in enlisting faith-based organizations' participation in EOA programs, in fighting poverty, and in thinking about the poor. Shriver sought to build a moral consensus on the need to alleviate poverty, emphasizing, among other things, the sacredness of individual persons who are poor, the social substance of human existence linking all segments of society, and spiritual values and themes such as love, service, dignity, compassion, humility, forgiveness, and respect. Finally, Chapter Four focuses on how Shriver's work at the OEO implicated and reflected what is known as Catholic Social Teaching. Particular emphasis is placed on the principles of the dignity of each person, the solidarity of all humans, what is known as "the option for the poor and vulnerable," and on the social organizing principle known as "subsidiarity."
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