Poverty, Puritanism, Politics, and Predestination*

I don’t believe in fate, preordination, predestination, or anything along those lines.  Things just happen–because people do stupid things, or kind things, or cruel things, or brilliant things, whatever.  Or because that’s just the way the universe works.  To accept predestination, I’d have to believe in some higher power who’s at least somewhat malevolent, and I don’t.

However, I do believe in history as a powerful force in shaping the present, especially when we’re not aware of its influence.  There’s a cultural narrative in the US (and probably in other English-speaking countries) that dates back to the Puritans, particularly Calvin’s doctrine of the Elect.  The wiki on prosperity theology explains it clearly.  It started with Puritans, but more recently this theology has been adopted by conservative, evangelical Christians, who are a strong force in Republican politics in this country.  I won’t give you the incredibly long history lesson, but the shaming of the “welfare queen,” and in fact the entire concept of the welfare queen, became very popular thanks to Ronald Reagan.  FDR-era social safety-net programs were slashed, which was justified by portraying welfare recipients as lazy frauds.  This intersects perfectly with the idea that poor people are poor because they are sinful, and the whole package deal creates in Republicans a belief that it is morally right to slash welfare programs.  They feel holy about it.

More recently, with a media culture that makes the effects of poverty and failing safety net programs more visible, we’ve seen conservatives condescendingly pretending they care about the plight of the poor.  (Take, for example, Paul Ryan’s recent poverty tour.)  These rich white men who’ve never actually experienced poverty tell us that they know how to help us, which is always by gutting the few programs that help us scrape out a subsistence survival.  (I can’t even call it a subsistence living because this is not living.)  They tell us it’s for our own good, these men who’ve never had to struggle to survive.

I do not believe in predestination.  I do not deserve this, and I refuse to listen to anyone who says or implies that I do.  I do believe things happen for a reason, and the reason is either 1) stuff people do, or 2) science.

I do believe in creating change.  I know that sounds like a hokey inspirational poster, but I am anything but that.  I work in politics.  I know how hard it is to change the status quo, but I also know that it’s possible.  It takes a ton of energy, and it takes way longer than it should, and it sucks while you’re working on changing things.  You know that some of the things you change will never directly affect you, or they won’t help in your lifetime, or they’ll help other people, or they might not change at all yet.  But it’s still worth the effort.  It’s worth hours on the phone and the computer.  It’s worth knocking doors in snow and rain and sun and mosquito swarms and getting lost because your map blew away and coming home with a sore back and sore feet but a finished canvass packet and a petition full of signatures.  I’ve been working on campaigns for three years, and my lot in life has not improved yet.  But I keep working on campaigns because I believe if we keep putting the right people in positions of power, eventually policies will change.  Once policies change, attitudes will start to change.  Things will get better.  Life will become more livable for me and for other people struggling to survive.  It can happen–not because it’s preordained but because we worked our asses off for it.

(You see?  I may be on welfare, but I am not lazy.)

In closing, I’d just like to quote from the best TV show in history, Babylon 5: “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

*This and the previous rant were sparked by an online town hall in which the candidate talked about how we needed to end child hunger and help homeless families find homes.  I tweeted a question (the sanctioned format for asking questions): “You talk about ending child poverty and homelessness, but why not end ALL poverty and homelessness?”  His field director favorited my tweet, but I didn’t get my question answered.  I felt left out of the conversation, and this is not the first time.  I’m not a child, and I’m not part of a family, but my poverty matters too.  I’m made invisible in poverty conversations because I’m a single, childless adult and because I’m disabled.  I want politicians to talk about me, too, and all the other people in similar situations.



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11 responses to “Poverty, Puritanism, Politics, and Predestination*

    • Thank you. I’m just glad it was comprehensible. I get on these hours-long rants, and I feel high and incoherently babbly. Somehow, though, I apparently come out all articulate. I have no idea how that even happens. It’s a really weird feeling, actually.

  1. Your right. Nothing happens without change. Change is the word to harp on in this post. People can change things, and must change things in order that they can get things moving and see things happen around them..

  2. kat

    i agree completely with you, about working for change. i am so impressed by people like you who are out there working on the ground floor, to get new candidates elected. the most i am able to contribute is signing petitions, calling elected officials, and sending letters to them. i hope what little i do helps to change things too.

  3. Amen to all that, Hope! I admire you getting out there and working with the politicians and the people and making sure the voice of the poor and disabled (single, childless, adult!) is heard. Keep keepin’ on, my friend…progress WILL come.

  4. Gel

    Hi Hope,
    I see that you visit my blog frequently and I came to check yours….I don’t see an “about” page….so I’m here

    I love your writing and I’m reading but it takes me time to get to know someone. so I haven’t commented yet/much.

    Your writing comes into my brain and it zig-zags around and stimulates deep thought and strong feelings of resonance. I don’t have a quick return time in terms of comments. Lets just say that it’s potent for me to read your blog and I appreciate the pollination.


    • Hmm, there should be an About page. Maybe I better check and see why it’s not showing up. Web/blog design is not my area of expertise.

      Don’t feel obligated to comment. There are a lot of people’s posts I don’t comment on just because I don’t have anything of substance to say, so I’m not going to get upset if you don’t comment. But also don’t be afraid to say something if you feel like it. I do like getting comments.

      My writing does zigzag, probably because my brain does too. I write about lots of different things, and I wonder sometimes if my blog confuses people. I know some people follow me mostly for UC/IBD stuff, and they also see the mental health stuff and the political stuff. And vice versa for people who follow me primarily out of interest in one of the other topics. But that’s just the way my mind goes, and here–as in the rest of my life–I’m trying to be all of myself, so I don’t restrict myself to one topic.

      • Gel

        I don’t mean that the “zig-zag” bothers me…it’s illuminating.

        I also appreciate getting to hear about the variety of things that interest you.

        I won’t feel obligated to write. Just wanted you to know that I’m interested. Life is pretty full here so It’s hard to take on new things right now. But I do also appreciate quality connections that emerge on line.

  5. Pingback: Check Your Privilege: Financial Stress Edition | Another Hope Entirely

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