Monday, September 23, 2013
Hating the Poor, but Loving Jesus
Craig M. Watts, writing for Red Letter Christians, calls attention to research that indicates the disdain many people feel toward poor people. He refers to the work of a Princeton University psychology professor, Dr. Susan Fiske, who for 12 years has studied attitudes toward the poor, concluding from her research that “Americans react to the poor with disgust.” Watts quotes a statement by a formerly homeless person who now counsels others and who has explained how it feels to be a person on the streets: “You’re looked at like you’re trash. It’s like they think you want nothing out of life. Like you’re not still a person.” Watts says that “once people are dehumanized, it is easier to ignore their misery and even oppose efforts to help them.” In the U.S. at present, opposition to aiding the poor is widespread, and many falsehoods are being spread about people living in poverty. (A number of the comments that followed Watts’s blog post were critical of the points he made, accusing him of taking a one-sided political position, even though Watts was basing his article on morality, human empathy, and especially on numerous Scripture passages.)
Related: Eight years ago, John Scalzi wrote a post titled, “Being Poor” and provided a long list of what that means in daily life. The comments which followed from people who had been poor expanded his list further and underscored the everyday experiences of poverty. Being poor includes the embarrassment and shame people feel asking for help, even when finding themselves in circumstances they never expected to face, experiences that so often occur through no fault of their own (being laid off from a job, becoming seriously ill and having no health insurance or flood insurance or being hit with other such catastrophes). Katha Pollitt has an article in The Nation entitled, “When even diapers are a luxury.” (And no, it’s not simply a matter of switching to cloth diapers, Pollitt points out —not when people in poverty don’t have a washing machine and are prohibited from washing diapers in public laundry facilities, and cloth diapers are forbidden in daycare). You might also want to read about Susan Campbell’s experiment in empathy by “taking the food stamp challenge” and living for five days on the daily amount of money for food allotted by the government’s SNAP program (the acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and which keeps getting complained about and cut). Campbell invites readers of her Hot Dogma blog to join her— if their health permits— and she will blog about it daily. The CEO of the Panera Bread chain of restaurants also participated in such a food challenge recently and describes what it felt like.