When Religion Always Gets In The Way

I suppose that sounds like godless atheism, but then atheism is suppose to be godless.  No, my reference is to the perspective one adopts when viewing the world with godly piety covered glasses.  I have respect for the individual who believes that Jesus had more fun hanging out with the sinners.  The “saved” are such a dreary bunch, it’s a wonder that any god would want them in his heaven.  Now I have read the bible, maybe not as close as many, but close enough to see that Jesus expected people to behave like the humans they were.  If a man or woman has led a life of sin it is through habituation, not the “force of evil”.  He knew we chose sin and I would believe he knew why.  He asked, not commanded, when he said, “come, follow me.”  One cannot end bad habits overnight, it will never happen.  But one can change those habits, exchange them for good ones over time.  So I see that the perspective of Jesus, when looking at us human beings was that of looking at human behavior, not the “Oh god, you have sinned and must pay” claptrap.  I’ve never read where he ever used scripture for any of his arguments.  Not once in my recollection.  Yet, how fond are those christians of using scripture for every occasion regardless of the circumstances.

Now, what brought on this little outburst of religious piety?  First, it ain’t religious piety.  I am not a man of religion nor do I hold with any religious belief.  I was reading a post on some christian’s blog about the Black Lives Matter movement, something white christians should leave well enough alone.  The entire situation is one that is on the one hand, multifaceted while on the other hand is very intertwined.  This is a very complex  situation and one that is not amenable to religious preachings and scripture quoting.  First we should consider that most of the killing of Black people by the police occurs in the city or urban setting.  while ferguson is not a big city, it adjoins St Louis, which is certainly a big city and a rather large urban area.  too often we are use to the stereotype of areas in Harlem or other parts of New York City as ghettos.  East LA is a ghetto and yet most of the buildings are single story homes, two story apartments, and what many of us would thing the normal urban setting.  Most white people have never been to these places and never will.  So our perspective is colored by our ignorance about the areas, what they look like, what they smell like, and what they sound like.  This is the environment of a group of people who have a few complaints in life.  Well, how do I know?  I have worked in some of these places, I know some of the sights, the sounds, and the smells.  And at one time or another I have lived in similar places for periods of months to years.

The economics of the areas are different from the experiences of most white people.  First, everything costs more.  that pack of cigarettes you buy in the suburbs may be as much as a dollar more per pack.  A can of chili beans may be 50% more in a small mom and pop grocery than at the local Safeway.  The food chains don’t invest the money in the ghetto because there isn’t enough profit to make it worthwhile.  The normal margin on canned goods is one or two percent.  the property taxes are much higher, the pilferage rate much higher, and the sales generally lower because people must walk to the store, not drive.  There is little business in these urban outposts of poverty.  Maybe some small lunch counters, a bit of cheap clothing, a pawn shop or two.  These are very small businesses.  Pennies count in this economy where picking up pennies off the sidewalk in the normal economy doesn’t pay for the time it takes to do it.  If one wants to invest money here the best way is to buy rental housing.  Since the Federal Reserve has crashed interest rates to next to nothing it pays to buy rundown apartments and spare the expense of upkeep.  The American economy has passed so many of these people by, they lack jobs, they lack local banks, that lack many of the amenities we have.  But they all have television and and either cable or satellite access.  They see a world that is essentially forbidden to them.  What possible platitudes and correct scripture could you possibly offer them to make a difference?

Back when I was in the service, serving my time in hell, it got so that I could identify when a man wore civilian clothing what branch of service he was in.  Often times the walk gave him away.  But there were other signs to read if you took the time to learn them.  This is a type of profiling.  We, as humans, have various group identities.  Our clothing says a great deal about us.  As a teenager I wore the Madras plaid shirts with the button down collard, the button in the back of the collar and the froot look on the yoke of the shirt.  Black shoes, preferably loafers, and black socks.  Pants were white ducks or white denim.  Yep, I was preppy a mile wide and ten miles long.  Did I belong to that particular group?  Actually not.  But I tried to fit in with that crowd since they were the popular group in my high school.  Of course I never was accepted because I didn’t act close enough to their standards, I was an imposter.  What does this have to do with Black Lives Matter?  Attitude, a sense of identity and belonging to the prevalent group, a sense of place.  Back in my day the blue collar class kids in certain parts of Philadelphia walked with an exaggerated right arm swing and bop in their right step.  We called it ditty bopping.  this was also a common behavior of Black youths and young men.  Unlike being in the service where everyone has a name tag, a rank, and other identifying badges, in the urban areas one must depend of the ability to read the visual cues.  From the walk to the talk to the clothes to the other signs of membership, everyone broadcast his or her identity to others in the area.  If you were from out of town you might recognize the general signs but those more specific to the local group were not as obvious in their meanings.

So a lot of the talk about racial profiling is bullshit.  The cop doesn’t pull you over because you are Black or acting Black while driving.  Cops aren’t that dumb and stupid.  they can recognize patterns of behavior, visual cues, and so forth, enough to determine that you may belong to a specific group or at least a more general group.  If you flash gang signs and are not a gang member the cop may not know the difference while most gangbangers would.  And it is easy to convince most whites and a great many judges that profiling is wrong when the fact is, it’s not.  I am surprised that a good cultural anthropologist or two hasn’t written a book or tow on the subject.  William T Hall was the last great anthropologist to have written on visual language.  The irony is that these poverty stricken areas have an exclusive membership.  You and I would never fit in, never.  We would never assimilate into that particular culture.  On the other hand these same poor people, assuming some sudden wealth and good paying job, would never really fit into our culture, either.  Yes, there really are different cultural strata in America.  We would not fit into the cultural of the rich and famous.  Would we fit in with the faculty at Harvard?  I doubt it.  Then how does a white christian even start to emphasize with this culture of Black poverty?  What words of comfort do your scriptures have for these people?  Blessed are the poor?  Hey, god, where’s my bling?

So what if we could locate some sort of big business close enough to the ghetto so that people could have good paying jobs?  That might work, right?  If you have spent your life not working or working very little then suddenly having a job that one has to routinely arise every morning and report to work on time and do what is required, can be a very disorienting experience.  Teenagers who get that first full time job often have that difficulty making the adjustment to working full time and all its attendant requirements.  A work ethic is something that one learns, one acquires through practice.  And of course we haven’t started to address crime yet.  That is another problem that is not easily solved.  You see, one of the problems is the concentration of population.  The higher the population density the more estranged individuals feel from each other.  In a small town and even in a small city, one can be known by name and reputation.  The dynamics are different in a big city or urban center.  There are communities within communities, according to one’s special interest.  Where family is important in the Hispanic culture, it is almost irrelevant in the black culture.  Our welfare state has decreed that in order for a mother to receive aid for her dependent children the father or fathers must be absent from the family role as father.  The black male is almost a useless figure in black culture.  He exists to get women pregnant and then abandon them and his children.  He does this because the law requires it.  And we want him to be a law abiding citizen, don’t we.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall win the lottery, or some such nonsense.

Shall I continue?  I’m sure I could do another thousand words and still leave out ten thousand words of detail.  I told you that there were no easy answers, no simple solutions.  What if the BLM movement were to achieve its goals, the list of demands it has presented.  Would anything change?  My personal answer is no, little would be accomplished.  Oh the number of Blacks killed by the police may decrease but Black upon black crime would greatly increase.  Crime is endemic to the poor neighborhoods because they all too often have no other way of making a living.  Put handcuffs of cops and crime gets a free ride.  It’s not that community policing works, because clearly it doesn’t.  But it is better than no policing at all.  The problem is the concentration of poor into relatively small areas.  Okay, so every suburb gets its share of poor blacks.  That is one way to break up poor neighborhoods.  I doubt that it would be a good workable long term solution.  But like throwing money at a problem, throwing scriptures at a problem has the same effect.  One might as well have kept silent for all the good it might have done and acknowledge the harm it has done.

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