August 13, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 33

Dr. Wes

When bad things happen to good people, were they good, bad or just persecuted?

By Dr. Wes Browning

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We’ve been saying it here forever: Stop criminalizing homelessness. Ending homelessness can’t happen by making it illegal. The only news about this is the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) has studied the criminalization of homelessness in hundreds of cities and now has released a handy report on it. So now it’s not just true, it’s like homework. Your assignment is to read No Safe Place by NLCHP with special attention to the part about how criminalizing homelessness harms the entire community.

We’ve also been saying, forever, that the United States jails way too many people. We’re the most jail-happy country in history, and we jail African Americans so disproportionately that deliberate policies to increase the excessive incarceration can only be understood as intentional racial oppression. The only news this week on that is that a study at Stanford concluded, “Yep.” Researchers found out that telling white people about racial disparity in the jails induces more of them to want more of it.

If white people are shown scenes of jail and all the prisoners are white, they are more likely to care that the U.S. rate of incarceration is too high.

Alongside those items was this widely circulated quote by televangelist Rick Wiles concerning ebola: “It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming. Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.” 

By, uh, killing all the atheists, homosexuals, prostitutes, etc.

There is one single human stupidity at work in all this. People have allowed their political thinking to be driven by the idea that bad things only happen to bad people.

Let’s see how that works.

Say you see a prison scene. All those prisoners are having something bad happen to them. Therefore they must be bad people. Therefore it is right that they are being punished. We should punish more of them.

Say you see people being homeless. Homelessness is obviously awful. The only people who are homeless are homeless people. Therefore homeless people must be bad people. Therefore it only makes sense that homelessness is awful. We should make it more awful to teach them a lesson not to be homeless.

Rick Wiles carries it to its Biblical extreme, going beyond the message of Exodus to suggest that if the plague of ebola were to become epidemic it would only kill bad people. So, goodbye pornographers and atheists. Decent Christians will have nothing to fear, because, being good, they can’t come down with ebola.

Even Rick Wiles would probably see the error in his thinking if the following scenario played out. Suppose Rick Wiles were kidnapped by a coven of atheists, gays, whores and porn addicts, and suppose they told Rick they were going to inject him with live ebola virus precisely because he was a Christian. In that instant he would remember that the Bible does in fact admit one category of people for whom bad things can happen even though they are good: martyrs.

Rick Wiles couldn’t see how an atheist could ever be the martyr. He can’t recognize that his cruel statement amounts to oppression and a justification of persecution.

With that thought it suddenly hit me that there is something missing in the discussions in America about homelessness, incarceration and racial disparity. It’s a word that doesn’t get used even though it fits like a glove — persecution.

Why is it that word doesn’t get used? What else do you call it when you pass laws that make it illegal for a class of people to sleep?

I think people can’t bring themselves to admit that it’s persecution precisely because they want to hang on to the fantasy that good people don’t suffer abuse and that they are good people (compared to those people) and therefore they are immune. These days, those who do speak of persecution only mean they suffer from other peoples’ disagreement with them.

No one is safe from abuse when people are that stupid.

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