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01 August 2011

The Displaced, the Marginalized and Social Hate Against Spiruality

Church History, and to a substantial but lesser degree, Black History, makes frequent mention of the "deeply spiritual" nature of the blacks during the era of enslavement in North America. I have connected that with a lecture I once attended where the professor sought to demonstrate his research which he believed indicated that the Church was always at its strongest, spiritually, when under persecution. He went on to suggest that both Jewish and Christian teaching articulate the spiritual value of suffering.

Image copyright 2011 W. Crews Giles

Perhaps that is a real human mechanism at work? Perhaps we are "wired" to seek spiritual understanding and spiritual "power" when the life in the world cannot be understood and offers insufficient power? My work with the homeless also suggests this mechanism at work.

At a university, I worked with a professor who specialized in the history of the East European Gypsies. Undeniably a wholly marginalized people, they demonstrates many of the cultural traits noted by many as shared between the cultures of the Jewish people and the North American blacks. Those parallels, and moreover, the distinct differences may point to yet another very human mechanism for the marginalized-- a rebellious contempt of social law.

The Gypsies are regarded and stereotyped by the cultures within which they move... to be thieves; the blacks to be drug-dealing gang-bangers, and the Jews to be greedy "white-collar" opportunists. Yet, without respect to the ethnic background, the homeless I have observed also generally fall into two categories... Perhaps I should say, "Two Ways?":
1) Deeply spiritual in despair, or
2) Criminally contemptuous of the society they hold to be the source and cause of their despair.

In the case of the all four peoples used in these examples-- the Jews, the Blacks, the Gypsies and the homeless-- there is considerable (but not perfect) merit to their casting blame on the greater society in which they live out their lives. Society really is content to marginalize them and ignore their pleas for justice; and if they rebel, society is content to characterize them all as lacking virtue-- stereo-typing without "walking a mile in their shoes."

Two stories come to mind:

My mother was shopping with a friend at an up-scale department store notorious for treating their customers with condescension. One of two Jewish women receiving the same disdain from the counter clerk observed to her companion, "She is being that way because we are Jewish." My mother commented to her own friend, "I wish I was Jewish, because I have to take the clerk's rudeness personally."

My scary-smart son, when he was six, brought me a book he had checked out at the library. To my horror, I saw he had a Time-Life book on World War II, complete with graphic photos of the Nazi concentration camps. He was too young. He came to me with the book and said, "Is this true? Did the Nazis really do these things?" I said, "Yes." He answered, "I hate them! I hate the Nazis! Can we fight them?" I told him about the war, and got some milder movies to watch with me to help tell the story.   9/11 occurred soon after and his teacher announced to a gathering of parents that my son had responded by saying he wanted to be a Marine when he grew up.

So on the one hand, you see the injustice of claiming victim-hood to gather sympathy and remove oneself from any responsibility; and on the other you see the rational response to a very real injustice. Is it not the former false sense (or claim) of being a victim which is in part what fuels the failure to act? But moreover, is not the failure to act fueling a self-justifying marginalization of persons who accurately perceive injustice?

Put another way: It is much easier not to act when we see others marginalized-- easier until conscience kicks in-- then it is easiest to blame the victim.

The history of the Jews, the Blacks, the Gypsies and the homeless all include being a displaced people and, for the most part, the greater society has chosen not to act for its own reasons. Do I want protections from rebellious persons seeking to prey on me as a mere token of the greater society which they blame? Yes. Do I also see the responsibility society has for bringing about the despair which caused it? Yes.

Would I prefer that all despairing peoples find a "deeply spiritual" means of coping with life in this world? Yes.

So I then ask...

Does our society encourage or deny the existence of the "deeply spiritual?"

Not long ago, a study declared that just over half of Americans attend a worship service at least once a month. Yet, within the faith-based organizations there is an increasing debate and outrage that the faith-based groups have become social tools and not spiritual tools. I turn on the TV and hear a televangelist. Is he "preaching" money and power as a reward for faith, or is he preaching quiet faith in the face of despair? You already know the answer. We all know the answer. The deeply spiritual is held in disdain in our society-- and even most of the Church has embraced its very enemy... again.