Last night I had dinner with some people with whom I don’t want to dine again for a very long time. I don’t see them on a regular basis, but I’ve known them for many years.
Our dinner conversation turned, of course, to the Katrina disaster, New Orleans in particular, and for the next ten minutes I heard nothing but abuse of the city and its inhabitants. One person who had grown up there flatly said it should not be rebuilt, that it was a hell-hole. Others repeated right-wing half-truths that clearly had already taken root after being planted by that President’s team of spinners. No one expressed any sympathy for the people who had lost everything. No one expressed horror at the terrible catastrophe that overtaken fellow Americans. No one mentioned the failure of our national government to provide the kind of assistance before and after the disaster that is clearly its function.
Here are phrases I heard last night: “New Orleans has more public housing than anywhere else”; “Why would they go back? They were all renting anyway”; “The oil companies wouldn’t locate their refineries there because the cost of the bribery was too high”; “Everybody knew you bought your drugs from the cop. He got it free from people he busted”; “It was just a dirty place”; “You can’t tell me they couldn’t have gotten out.”
The last few times I’ve gotten together with these people I have had uncomfortable experiences because it’s been clear that they’ve drifted farther and farther to the right, but last night I was repulsed. Unable to think of anything to say without absolutely losing it or without embarrassing my hostess, I maintained a stony silence and left the table as soon as I had finished eating. This has gnawed at me; I should have rebuked them and left entirely.
These are people who are extremely active in their church. You would call them religious. The empty Baptist phrases spill out of their mouths with the ease given to the true believers. But last night, I strained to hear even an echo of “whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me,” and I failed.
I’ll tell you what I did hear, however. I heard that if some other person or group of persons is different from you, i.e., not middle class, white, and sanctimonious, if those persons are poor, or lazy, or criminal, it is appropriate and just to wish them misery, destruction, and death. If they do not fit within the narrow parameters of your narrow faith/vision, then let them die.
And what I want to know is, how is this different from those faithful who drove the planes into skyscrapers?