Sometimes I carry this delusion that my faith can be this polite and tame thing. I pretend, for example, that I can practice my faith on a personal level but divorce it from my politics.
As I was reading the book of Isaiah I realized that there are limits to this. I read “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field until no space is left and you live alone in the land.”
The first thing I thought about was farms. In “The Grapes of Wrath” there are plows that come in and just tear down the homes of the farmers whose homes are being dispossed. More recently– within my memory– was the farm crisis in the early 80’s, when corporate farms came in again and dispossed the families who’s ancestors had been working the land for hundreds of years.
And then I got to be thinking the mortgage crisis. Emails and other records indicate that these slimy banks who were bailed out figured out ways to turn things around and make a profit even while being subsidized with federal dollars.
The image from scripture is powerful: Individuals being cast out of their homes and farms while the rich get richer, while their lands grow larger, until eventually there is no one left.
And then, as I was pondering all this, I found myself enmeshed in a “discussion” online. It was about immigration. One of the points I was trying to make is that the employers of illegal immigrants are not accountable for their actions. I shared my concern that this is part of a wider pattern:
There are so many examples of white-collar versions of crime resulting in a slap on the wrist, when the blue-collar version is one that is dealt with much more harshly. I think that this was all on my mind because Isaiah so frequently calls for equal treatment of the rich and poor, fair courts, and care-taking of the least among us.
I’m thinking about how suburban pirating of songs and movies is smirked at by most people; but somebody who actually went into a store and stole the CD or DVD would be looked down on.
I’m thinking about how we all agree that somebody who robs a thousand dollars from a house ought to go to a high security jail. But we’re comfortable with sending an executive who robs millions to a “country club.”
Somebody who finds loopholes in the corporate end of the tax code, or manipulates the corporate welfare system is called a lawyer. Somebody who manipulates the individual welfare system is considered a parasite.
Compare the treatment of the guy whose negligence behind a wheel kills one person with the treatment of a C.E.O. who negligence to a river leads to toxins that kill dozens.
The thing that is on my mind and heart right now? Stealing songs is stealing songs. Defrauding the system is defrauding the system. Stealing money is stealing money. Killing people is killing people.
In each of these cases, the white-collar version usually occurs on a bigger scale. And yet, the consequences are less. This isn’t justice at all, and someday, I fear that we’ll answer for that.