Wednesday, September 19, 2012

For Sid


While I am preoccupied for a few days, you can ponder this passage from a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis on March 18, 1968 to striking sanitation workers:
"You know, Jesus reminded us in a magnificent parable one day that a man went to Hell because he didn't see the poor. And his name was Dives. There was a man by the name of Lazarus who came daily to his gate in need of the basic necessities of life. Dives didn't do anything about it. He ended up going to Hell.
"But there is nothing in that parable that says that Dives went to Hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came before him talking about eternal life. And he advised him to sell all. But in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery, and not setting forth a universal diagnosis.
"If you will go on and read that parable in all of its dimensions, and all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between Heaven and Hell. And on the other end of that long distance call between heaven and Hell was Abraham in Heaven talking to Dives in Hell. It wasn't a millionaire in Hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn't go to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus.
"Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
"And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."
"But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness." This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, "If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me."…
"Now you're doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issues. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights. That is distinct…
"Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
"So we assemble here tonight. You have assembled for more than thirty days now to say, "We are tired. We are tired of being at the bottom. We are tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded, inferior, quality-less schools. We are tired of having to live in dilapidated, substandard housing conditions where we don't have wall to wall carpet, but so often we end up with wall to wall rats and roaches.
"We are tired of smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. We are tired of walking up the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life. We are tired of our men being emasculated, so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white ladies' kitchens, cleaning up, unable to be with our children, to give them the time and the attention that they need. We are tired."
"So in Memphis we have begun. We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time."



EXTRA:

A sign from an Occupier:





Here are links to a couple of very thoughtful reflections on Romney's 47% gaffe and what it reveals about him and about issues of class and race in this country.

Here is an essay by Ezra Klein from Bloomberg News.

And here's a money quote:

The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier.
That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.
The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it. 


Then, there is this essay by Tanehisi Coates in The Atlantic.

And here's a money quote:

You can paint a similar history of the welfare state, which was first secured by assuring racist white Democrats that the pariah of black America would be cut out of it. When such machinations became untenable, the strategy became to claim the welfare state mainly benefited blacks. And as that has become untenable, the strategy has become to target the welfare state itself, with no obvious mention of color. At each interval the ostensible pariah grows, until one in two Americans are members of the pariah class.


MORE EXTRA:

Economist Paul Krugman weighs in.
And here's the money quote:

Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.
For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.
Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

And here's Eugene Robinson in the WaPo.

And here's his money quote:
But Romney’s ignorance is not as shocking as his callousness. Here’s what he says next about the 47 percent: “And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”To all the single parents holding down two minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet, all the seniors who saw their savings dwindle and had to go back to work part time, all the breadwinners who lost their jobs when private-equity firms swooped down to slash and burn — to all struggling Americans, it must come as a surprise to learn how irresponsible they’ve been. And it must be devastating to learn that, try as he might, Mitt Romney will never be able to show these unfortunates the error of their ways.


And finally, another sign from another Occupier.


5 comments:

it's margaret said...

Amen, amen and amen.

Sid said...

Hi Doug, thanks for this piece, and I look forward to hearing more. I just want to throw some pre-emptive thoughts out there.

Inasmuch as most of what Dr. King said was informed by his Christian faith, I almost always find much to agree with and ponder in his speeches and writings. That's true here, too. In the beginning part of the sermon, he really finds the key in that Dives "never really saw" Lazarus. I think you can say he reduced Lazarus to less than human, just as the priest and Levite did with the injured man in the parable of the good Samaritan. Or, more to the point, Dives fails to, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Again, Christ says that we will be judged according to how we have treated the least of us - feeding the hungry, healing the sick.

But my conceptual difference with where Dr. King takes this is the same as I think we had on the earlier thread. Jesus speaks these words to us as individuals, not to "America" as an entity. God isn't going to say to "America" that you fed me not or clothed me not; America's not a person, not a soul. I'm sure God will say that to many individual Americans, but, of course, He will have a huge advantage that our political enemies don't: He'll know that in our hearts, we advocated for policy with good faith belief that our particular approaches would create the conditions that would allow the greatest number of people to be fed and clothed. He'll also know whether or not those who think the government should spend a lot less on its various programs had, in their own lives, given generously to those in need (and vice versa).

For what it's worth, I've never once in my few decades of life met anyone, left or right, who wanted poor people to starve in the streets.

Now, it has to be said that, in terms of what America actually did following this sermon, trillions, probably, in inflation-adjusted dollars have been transferred from "rich" to "poor" just as Dr. King might have advocated. There's been no shortage of effort expended by the United States government, and, as has always been the case, by private individuals and organizations, to provide aid for those in need. If the results are less than desired, then I think it's fair to ask whether this approach, on this scale, was the right one, after all. The government can't replace the family, though it can certainly displace it, and the government can't meet spiritual needs, emotional needs, and other real-life human failings that play a huge role in whether particular people suffer or not. All it can really do, and it does even that inefficiently, is send a check.

I want to point out, finally, that it's odd to hear a progressive appeal to Christianity as a guide to policy. When that appeal is being made by others in support of pro-life legislation or traditional marriage, it's not unusual to hear accusations of "theocracy." I'd be interested in hearing your take on why that dichotomy is defensible. And I want you to know that I'm asking that generically; you're a Christian, I'm a Christian, and I would expect Christian motivation to come up. Still, what's being discussed bears on government policy, so it's hard not to notice what looks like a discrepancy.

JCF said...

There's been no shortage of effort expended by the United States government, and, as has always been the case, by private individuals and organizations, to provide aid for those in need.

HAHAhahahaha! Hahahaha! HAH!






{slinks away to weep now}

Ciss B said...

"We are tired of smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. We are tired of walking up the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life. We are tired of our men being emasculated, so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white ladies' kitchens, cleaning up, unable to be with our children, to give them the time and the attention that they need. We are tired."

Funny how this is still so true today....and sad.

MarkBrunson said...

Private companies can never, never, never be trusted. They made money by greed, and don't distribute it justly. Private enterprise has been the cancer on our government. The failure to provide for the citizenry has come because of the influence of private enterprise, not some imaginary evil called government. To hand more power to an under-regulated and under-taxed wealthy class by libertarian/tea-bagger means of laissez-faire capitalism to somehow magically ensure a just and decent society is the height of stupidity.

I, personally, have always found it odd that right-wingers and die-hard capitalists appeal to Christian tradition, as the first
Christians lived in a communal(communist) fashion, as do monastic communities, still, and Jesus eschewed property and lived by charity. I still maintain that you cannot be a Christian and a capitalist.