A friend passes on an article (subscription may be required) by Yonce Shelton of Sojourners magazine in which he calls for a greater sense of community in the wake of Katrina, all the while implying that such community is presently deficient in the United States. It is, of course, true that we could always benefit from stronger social bonds and that there are centrifugal forces in our culture which pull us away from each other, but his article reads as if it were written in 1960 rather than in the wake of Katrina. He tells us:
We have to wonder exactly what Mr. Shelton means by that last sentence. What does he base his judgment upon when he concludes that the top leadership of the country, i.e. President Bush, seems not to understand what the common good is about? Perhaps he doesn't feel the need to explain any uncomplimentary things he might say about the Bush administration because "everybody knows" Bush only cares about his rich buddies at Halliburton.
We wish to respectfully remind Mr. Shelton, though, that to "fear, love, and respect God" also means to honor our neighbor who is trying hard to do the right thing, even if that neighbor is a Republican president. It means making sure that whatever criticism we offer of him is absolutely justified, and it means avoiding the drive-by cheap shot, especially when our neighbor is also a brother in the Lord.
Mr. Shelton goes on to note that:
Mr. Shelton's implication here - that Americans are not sharing their wealth with the less fortunate - demonstrates a stunning lack of historical perspective. Since 1965 the American people have spent over 6.5 trillion dollars on the War on Poverty. That sounds like a lot of sharing to me. No one is being deliberately left behind in our society. Indeed, New Orleans is a synedoche for the last forty years of government efforts to rescue the underclass from chronic poverty. The municipal government in New Orleans urged the people to move out, and offered assistance to those who couldn't move, but a lot of people refused to go. They were willing to take their chances and accept their fate. The mayor of New Orleans decided that he couldn't force people to save themselves so they were left to their own devices.
Similarly, over the last forty years the federal government has done virtually everything possible to raise people out of poverty, but it can't force them out. People still choose to squander their schooling, they still choose to spurn marriage even while they're having children, they still choose to emulate the most degenerate characters in our depauperate culture and scoff at the examples of those who have made their way to a better life, and they still choose to do drugs even though a multitude of voices cautions them against it. Many, if not most, people who remain poor in our society, who find themselves stuck in the underclass, have only their own choices to blame.
Mr. Shelton adds this:
Mr. Shelton's point here is not clear because he doesn't offer an explanation for why the gap between rich and poor is widening. There are perhaps two causes of the growing disparity.The rich and poor might both be growing richer, but the rich may be gaining wealth faster than are the poor; or, the poor are actually getting poorer in absolute terms while the rich are staying the same or getting even richer.
Which is it? Mr. Shelton doesn't say, but it makes a lot of difference. If the poor are getting wealthier then to complain because they're not catching the rich is not only an absurd complaint, but it is also to fall prey to the sin of envy. It is to resent that the improvement in my life is not coming as fast as it is for someone else who made better choices in his life. The poor in this country have every opportunity to improve their lot, and indeed, the poor in this country have a higher standard of living than most people in the world today and are certainly "richer" than most people who've ever lived. To complain because they're still not as rich as the very wealthiest is not going to garner them much sympathy.
Unlike 9/11 where Bush was able to point to an enemy, the enemy which caused the current calamity, Mr. Shelton suggests, is God:
In telling us that it was God who caused the devastation that was visited upon the poor and infirm along the Gulf coast, Mr. Shelton is asserting that the same God who has a special love for the poor and who insists we treat them with compassion, nevertheless demonstrates His wrath against the callous Bush administration by pretty much wiping out the very people He demands we save. What a strange theology this is that Mr. Shelton holds to. Mr. Shelton's God destroys the lives and property of poor people in order to punish the rich for not caring enough about the poor.
Perhaps wishing to avoid further embarrassment, he draws his essay to a close, but not before tossing the reader one more odd remark:
We can only conclude from this that Mr. Shelton has been living in a cave for the last three weeks. Hasn't he seen the incredible outpouring of community that followed hard upon the storm? Hasn't he seen the outpouring of compassion and generosity that has surged toward the devastated residents of the Gulf coast? Has he not heard of the citizens of Texas and other states who are welcoming millions of evacuees into their communities, or the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations made by Americans everywhere to charitable and relief organizations, or the thousands of volunteers who have rushed to the disaster area to render aid and rescue.
How can he say that "we must move beyond 'me' and to 'we' " as if we haven't done precisely that? The obliviousness and self-righteousness of this statement in light of what has happened in this country as millions have opened their hearts and pocketbooks makes Mr. Shelton seem completely out of touch with the America he is writing for.
He would do well, before once again taking pen in hand on this topic, to read Anne Applebaum's recent column in the Washington Post. He might wish that he had read it before writing his own unfortunate piece.
He might also keep in mind that calls to "do something" are callow and silly in the absence of solid suggestions as to specific courses of action that people and governments can follow. Mr. Shelton's essay is one long call to "do something" but he never says precisely what he has in mind for us to do.
Moreover, to the extent that a sense of community is wanting in this country it's largely the fault of race hustlers and other African-American "leaders" who, rather than express gratitude for the enormous outpouring of assistance from white America, have chosen instead to whine about how the plight of the New Orleans poor reflects the racism still extant in white America. This is the sort of offensive stupidity that only engenders resentments among the millions of whites who are trying hard, sometimes at considerable personal sacrifice, to do what they can to mitigate the suffering of the storm's victims regardless of their race.
The day when money can be extorted from white pockets by calling whites racist and trying to make them feel guilty is largely fading, except perhaps among Democratic liberals. If Shelton wants a stronger sense of community he might direct some of his chastisement toward these black "leaders" for their intemperate and addlepated remarks.