Originally I began this post as an odds and ends piece, but when I selected an article on “Obama’s killer economy” as my first topic of discussion I made the executive decision that this subject needed more than a few words.
As it turns out, lately I have seen a few articles crop up about the hopelessness of a certain class of Americans, and whether it leads to a conscious suicide or the slow death of a thousand drinks, cigarettes, and pills doesn’t matter so much as the fact this is an issue. There are thousands of Americans who are right about my age (I’m 51) who somehow have decided to check out mentally, which often leads to their physical demise. To be perfectly blunt, if the Good Lord hadn’t brought Kim and I together there’s the chance I could be one of those statistics given the fact I needed to subsist for several years on a range of part-time work thanks to the utter destruction of the local building industry. If you look as possessions as “stuff,” I lost a lot of stuff over those years. Rather than focus on that, though, I thank God I was one of those who approached the edge of the abyss yet came back. (In the terms of our pastor at church, I am “the blessed man.”)
But somehow I have always had the optimism that there was something better on the horizon; indeed it panned out with Kim. I will grant it’s harder and harder to be optimistic about the world, but believers still persist.
Yet not everyone has that luxury of good fortune, or the faith that God is in control. And perhaps that’s part of the issue, as organized religion is slowly losing its influence on society – at least according to national surveys. (Of course, this is not to say that the devout have any fewer struggles than the unbeliever, nor is it fair to say that many of those who succumbed to the world didn’t believe in God and go to church. Church attendance or even leadership is, by itself, not a guarantee of doing good works either – there is no one who stands above temptation.)
However, there is the economic argument Kevin Williamson at National Review made (subscription required, so no link) that simply said “downscale communities deserve to die.” If you live in upstate New York, rural Oklahoma, or a place like the Eastern Shore (parts of which are slowly losing population) you need to go where the opportunities are. But NR‘s David French adds a key component I believe is missing from the argument:
For generations, conservatives have rightly railed against deterministic progressive notions that put human choices at the mercy of race, class, history, or economics. Those factors can create additional challenges, but they do not relieve any human being of the moral obligation to do their best. Yet millions of Americans aren’t doing their best. Indeed, they’re barely trying. As I’ve related before, my church in Kentucky made a determined attempt to reach kids and families that were falling between the cracks, and it was consistently astounding how little effort most parents and their teen children made to improve their lives. If they couldn’t find a job in a few days – or perhaps even as little as a few hours – they’d stop looking. If they got angry at teachers or coaches, they’d drop out of school. If they fought with their wife, they had sex with a neighbor. And always – always – there was a sense of entitlement.
If you look at it through the lens of those people “falling between the cracks” this may be what they define as “doing their best”:
And that’s where disability or other government programs kicked in. They were there, beckoning, giving men and women alternatives to gainful employment. You don’t have to do any work (your disability lawyer does all the heavy lifting), you make money, and you get drugs.
So let’s recap: we have an entire class of people in this country, counted in the tens of millions, whose very existence is defined as getting up in the morning, spending their day watching television or perusing the internet, eating courtesy of the taxpayers through their EBT card, lather, rinse, repeat, day after day. To break up the monotony they go out and buy their case of Bud Light, shop for the provider of their pills, and sleep with different people. It’s a community of strangers, of users.
Those who have known me for a time (and for the vast majority who do, it’s been a period of no more than 12 years since that’s when I moved here) know the sort of person I am, and alas I can be defined by my faults. Over the last couple years as I’ve become a regular church goer, though, I’ve found an extended family – granted, I couldn’t tell you the names of everyone who attends with me on Sundays, but they know me and if something were amiss they would ask about me and place me in their prayers. Sometimes that’s just the lift I need.
In the Book of Luke there is the tale of the prodigal son, who squandered the half of his father’s fortune he was entitled to on worldly things, yet grew despondent when the money ran out – so he returned feeling unworthy of being more than a lowly servant. Yet the father provided for him the best robe and the fatted calf, for as the father told the other brother, the one who was upset because had done as he was expected but received no reward:
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)
America has become a nation full of prodigal sons and daughters, but ones who are still in need of return. We have all the riches to which anyone could aspire, yet millions are squandering their share on lives of loneliness, misery, and envy for those who have more than they do. As I note above, Americans have also turned from God – perhaps there is a parallel there?
I can’t sit here and tell someone in the predicament of dire poverty that simply returning to God and getting back to church will solve their problems. But what I can say is that having the church family may give those who are trapped in this vicious cycle something to live for – if they want to put the work in. It’s not something that takes a Sunday and you’re done, nor is it an easy path. But if one can feel better without taking the drugs, drinking the alcohol, or abusing relationships, why not take the opportunity?