Friday, September 18, 2009

Homelessness & Gunslingers

Like drug abuse, homelessness is one of those issues that draws clear divides in America. Probably one-third of America believes that homelessness, like drug abuse, is a person's own fault and that society has no responsibility to help people who make poor choices. About an equal one-third believe that homelessness, like drug abuse, is usually the result of some kind of social injustice and that society has a responsibility to help these unfortunate people. The remaining third just wish the problem would go away and won't think about it until forced to by a political referendum in Washington or a panhandler on the street corner. Or a teacher in an English class. :-) Joseph Perkins does think about the issue in his essay Homeless: Expose the Myths, and he falls quite clearly on the conservative, individualistic side.

Mr. Perkins clearly believes that homelessness is the individual's own fault. In paragraph 4, Perkins says of the homeless people he observed one night in New York's Grand Central Station:

Some were afflicted with mental problems. Others were drug or alcohol abusers. Clearly their homelessness owed not to economic dislocation, but simply to self-destruction.

For Mr. Perkins, and others like him, homelessness is the result of willful self-destruction on the part of the individual. Though he doesn't say so explicitly in this essay, the conclusion of this attitude is that if people choose to self-destruct, then society should let them. This is similar to the attitude of those who think the best response to a suicidally depressed person is to forget counseling and medication and instead give them a gun and aim it for them. This is an understandable attitude for school boys to take on the play ground, but is it any way to run a country? I don't think so—at least, not a country that I want to live in.

Mr. Perkins is appealing to a common and deep American myth: the rugged individual, the gunslinger who needs no one and who makes it by his own grit, muscle, and ingenuity. It's an appealing vision that we see in the movies all the time, from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone.

But there is another vision of how to behave in society, one captured by a figure as big as Clint Eastwood: Jesus. There is no image of Jesus in Scripture that supports the abandonment of the suicidally depressed, certainly no image of Jesus giving the depressed person a gun to finish the job with. Instead, Jesus repeatedly says that he came to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless, and he repeatedly calls us to do the same (see Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 19:16-30, Matthew 25:31-46).

Mr. Perkins doesn't like this image of Jesus; rather, he likes the Jesus who cleanses the Temple (John 2:13-22), the Jesus who kicks ass and takes no prisoners. He likes the Clint Eastwood Jesus, the conservative, gunslinger Jesus. He doesn't like the sissy Jesus who wants to take care of the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and the incarcerated. He also overlooks the obvious: only one story about Jesus kicking ass like a gunslinger and many stories about Jesus healing the sick and feeding the hungry, or that Jesus only attacked the wealthy and powerful, never the poor and weak.

I, for one, just can't reconcile Mr. Perkins' bias against the homeless with the model of human behavior represented by the life of Jesus. Jesus said quite clearly to take care of "the least of these." The homeless are definitely the least of these, so let's take care of them. The question is how. I'll tackle that in another post.

4 comments:

Justin said...

I am not one to ask for a hand out from, I feel as you get what you earn. If you work hard and truly give it your all then you will be rewarded...usually. I know there are many times where someone has worked their entire life and at the end of it have nothing to show but a lifetime of debt. Those occasions are sad no doubt about it but is that any reason not to try your best and earn your keep...so to speak? I do believe there are people that worked hard and an incident accured causing them to lose everything and be left to the street.

Homelessness is a growing problem in America and if you don't believe me then take a trip to any major city. My problem with these major city bums is alot of them aren't bums at all they are people that have discovered they can make more money begging others instead of working a 9-5.

I will admit to being somewhat of a heartless individual when it comes to society an all its problems. I would save a animal's life well before saving a human life, Humans are the most capable beings and yet they desire help from everything else. So honestly I don't care about homeless people, I know that sounds bad but I can't feel bad for people who don't try to get more out of life.

Corey said...

When I think of homelessness, my mind opens to more than just money or material issues. The writer in this article is trying to move the blame away from the government about homelessness. I can agree with the author on most of the article. I do not believet that the problem was created by the government. In some cases, I do believe that people should be aided on case by case issues. Everyone that is on the streets are not there by choice, but still it is not the workings man fault, but that doesn't mean that you can't give a person a helping hand. I have found out that helping people goes a long way in life.
I do not believe everyone on the streets are looking for a hand out. Homelessness is a problem, just like drugs, that will never be solved in our lifetime. All we can do is do our part as human beings and lend a helping hand. Homelessness is not only in big cities. It stares people in the face in small towns too. If you take a ride to the Gray Line in Albany,Ga in the morning, you will see many homeless people trying to get work. It's not a man, women, or a race problem. It is a human problem. It is very sad that a person will help an animal before helping a human being. I love my all of my pets, but I will not turn my back on a human being. I have enough love in my heart to help the homeless people and animals. No, it is not my problem or fault that a man is homeless, but on the other hand I do not have to much pride to lend a helping hand. It's just the human thing to do.

Sharon said...

Things happend but every thing that Happend in this life journey has its course.Tha author said "one third of America believes homelessness, like drug abuse is a person's own fault and that society has no resposibity to people who make wrong choices", Well this will take me back to my counrty, people from neighboring countries used to come to my country and beg money on the streets. Some of them slee on the streets at night and when rain falls some sleep under office building and shops. ALl this is to get a place to sleep and wait fro the next day. Most this people have no where to get help in their own countries so they had to migrate to the closest countries and get help. I don't think it is an individuals fault. Mr. perkins said that "he claerly believes that homelessness is the individual's own fault." I don't believe that homelessness is some ones fault. Lets the the Katrina disaster, when that incidents occured, it was so devastating and most people not only lost thier family but lost their homes. Will this kind of homelessnes be attributed as an individual's fault?
The Carlifornia Wild fire where some peoples' houses got burned in the fire. This kind of hmelessness should be attriuted as the individuals' fault?
I have a story about a new friend I made.When I was so curious about her family she said both her mom and dad died in a car accidents and she was the only one who survived the accidents. She didn't have no where to go to because her story started when she was just three years old. What kind of case is this homelessnes. Thanks to the orphanage home who took her in and cared for, one certain family came and adopted her and so she got a momo and dad again.
I think Mr. Perkins if trying to compare homelesssness to drug. People who are taking drugs often are homeless.
In another aspect I think Mr. perkins is right even though we all acn't judge the genuine homless person and some lazy person who doesn't want to work and just want to seat and see other s working. He might be right but we are not certain just as life itself is not certain.
I really don't have a stand about homelessness because I will help some one base on how my spirit moves me even though most of the time. Because we all our human we should help each other becase a saying goes " Clear conciouse fears no Accusition" ANd the bible says he that welcome this people in my name has welcome me and he that clothe this people in my name has clothe me and he that gave foo to the hungry gave me. Since we don't who Jesus was then I will say we have to this ebverybody known as human.

tanora said...

umm i agree with corey, homelessness will never be resolved in our lifetime. i also think if you work hard in life you will get what you deserve. there are going to be times when you don't get what you think you deserve but you just have to work harder.