There used to be a phrase: "the worthy poor." It dates back to Victorian times, if not before-the idea that some were poor through unfortunate circumstances, while others had only themselves to blame. That distinction is gone, of course. To suggest that some poverty might be due to poor lifestyle choices is mean-spirited, heartless, or racist. As far as national discourse is concerned, there's no such thing as unworthy poor.
That's why Mitt Romney's ill-considered word choice when he said he wasn't too concerned about the very poor raised such a ruckus. President Obama managed to get in a not-so-subtle jab at the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday when he insisted that we must raise taxes on the rich to help the poor so that the middle class won't be stretched even further. "[F]or me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that 'For unto whom much is given, much shall be required.'"
That makes sense. So, what have the poor been given? What we regard as poverty, most of the world would see as a pretty good living. In America, the poor have been given housing, food stamps, education opportunities-it might be fair to ask what has been required of them.
Rather than "Ask not what your country can do for you," the motto of the entitlement mindset is "Ask what more your country can do for you." The result has been a quashing of spirit, a poverty of mind that far surpasses material want. It's creeping into middle-class minds, nowhere more obviously than in the hardcore Occupy Wall Street crowd. Many of these people grew up in middle-class homes, but rather than put their energies to productive use, they choose to cast themselves as victims of the greedy 1 percent.
Last week, Pastor Robert Brashear reached his limit with the 60 or so protesters who had been sleeping at his church, West Park Presbyterian on West 86th Street in New York. Shortly after the group moved in, his office laptop went missing. A couple of weeks later the bronze lid of the baptismal font disappeared, and Rev. Brashear decided enough was enough. After a tense confrontation, the group agreed to find another place to stay, and to try to find an artisan to make another font cover. Which sounds like a nice gesture, except that they also offered to reimburse the church for the missing laptop, and that hasn't happened yet.
"I don't think you can blame the movement for not being able to deal with the issue of people that our culture and society has not been able to deal with, either," Brashear remarked, after cooling down a bit. In other words (I think), it's wrong to blame the group for the sins of one individual. But what does "the movement" want, except the transfer of money from haves to have-nots? Who's Rev. Brashear to claim a laptop, or a font cover, if someone might need it more? "The leech has two daughters. 'Give! Give!' they cry" (Proverbs 30:15 NIV). To give without requiring some sort of accountability is only to create fatter leeches.