Last night I finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. The following passages were written in a monograph by a fictional character, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who had once been a fairly well-known playwright:
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘it ain’t no disgrace to be poor but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their better. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand–glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.”
“Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.”
Slaughterhouse Five was written in 1969 but these sentiments ring just as true today, maybe truer. Our society seems to favor, respect and glorify the rich while the poor and shrinking middle-class are shamed into thinking they are not clever or smart enough to figure out how to be in the more respected sector of society.
What a juxtaposition this is with all the excitement and anticipation of the first visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. He so far has proven to be a Pope not focused on wealth and power but instead on the poor. His messages are more about love and kindness and humility rather than greed and self-aggrandizement. What a breath of fresh air!! I think our society is hungering for this and why so many of us– many who aren’t even Catholic or religious at all, or who have issues with organized religion– are drawn to this man. His message seems to be one of hope, that virtues of love and kindness and looking out for one another are more estimable than power and gold.
2 responses to “On the eve of the Pope’s visit”
If rhetoric is removed and we focus on action, I wonder if there is a juxtaposition between the systematic greed, found in the United States, and the Catholic Church. Would the biblical Jesus be in favor of spending large sums of money to parade a man around the world, who represents an institution of immense wealth, decadence, and political influence to scold others about greed? Or would those resources be better used for more practical purposes (i.e help the millions of starving, diseased, and sick peoples)?
In a similar way, and what Vonnegut was getting at, is it is a matter of resources. Self-blame is tool used to keep people in their roles. The story of the American Dream tells us anyone can “make it”? But, do we really believe there is an even playing field? Resources, like: time, education, money, moral support/helpful advice is consolidated (on a sliding scale) to a certain demographic in or society. In comparison, the Catholic Church has succeeded during the last 1000+ years at consolidating wealth, land, and spiritual matters while rarely recognizing their own human rights violations, exploitation of the poor, and “unfettered pursuit of money” (a direct quote from the Pope’s speech to Congress).
I am less impressed with the new papal rhetoric than I am struck by its hypocrisy.
Really good points. I see the parallels with the US and the Catholic Church in terms of their focus on wealth and power. I was commenting more on this particular Pope rather than the Catholic Church. But maybe that’s naive. Maybe you can’t separate the two. Can someone like Pope Francis get to that position without buying into those aspects of the Church? I imagine many priests and nuns join the Church when they’re young and idealistic, truly wanting to serve others as the Biblical Jesus did, and seeing the Catholic Church as a venue to do so. I don’t know when and what drew Pope Francis to the Church. It just looks to me like he is about action and is behaving more as I imagine the Biblical Jesus would than any other Pope in my lifetime, but perhaps the Biblical Jesus would’ve denounced the Church a long time ago!?!