14 01 2009

I was talking to a liberal friend the other day, and the talk turned to our respective futures, and, since we are both unfamlied single men of significant age, we perhaps predictably concluded with the subject of destitution. We each related instances of homeless people encountered in various states of misery on the streets of our town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I said that I do not feel very patriotic toward the United States and said why. Here Garrison Keillor says it much better than I:

Keillor speaks.

Here is the pertinent part of Keillor’s comment:

“Liberals hold that the test of a civilized society is how it deals with the weak, the sick, the powerless. As William Blake wrote:

A Dog starv’d at his Master’s Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus’d upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.

Or as Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these” and so forth. And so the test of the state is the state of the public schools and the treatment of the elderly, the ill, the demented, the incarcerated. And so the adoption of torture as American policy and loosing the darkness of the soul upon some poor manacled wretch at Guantánamo is no small matter.”


I grew up in the South under the influence of evangelical Christianity. As a little boy I loved “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” But I grew a little more and discovered that that particularly species of Christianity, which purports to be the kindest of religions, habitually produces here in the South people who will dismiss in an instant any homeless person with some version of “He deserves it.”

Anthropologically I understand why they do so–some of them, at least. In this society without a safety net, many working people spend their lives so close to homelessness themselves that they must believe that, since they clearly DON’T deserve it, it will therefore never happen to them.

But as a connoisseur of human folly I laugh myself sick at them every time one of them utters one of those cruel dismissals. All that churchgoing and Sunday-school sending, and Bible-reading, and being hectored by pastors Sunday after Sunday, and what is routinely produced in the end is persons who are precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught, or was!




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