Odds are that most of you, like me, sit near the top of a screaming, straining pile of human beings, enjoying our privilege without dwelling excessively on the costs. If you think this is the result of your fortitude and hard work, and not an accident of geopolitical birthright, you're deluding yourself. Our lifestyle is the result of a grossly disproportionate distribution of wealth and power. We just can't seem to figure out how to share resources we did little to deserve, even when lives are at stake. I can't help but feel that makes us some of the worst people in recorded history.
I'm not a religious person, but yesterday I was reading the Sermon on the Mount. I remembered it as a document that addressed social inequality, and I was looking for some insight after working with a patient no one wanted to treat or even be near. He was living in his car, and he smelled very, very bad, because his feet were starting to rot in his shoes.
I wanted some insight into why my society, in which many people profess Judeo-Christian views, was tossing away a human being, unwilling to deal with him because he had no money and no one left who gave a shit. Not an unsalvageable person, merely someone who no longer played a meaningful role in economic growth.
The Sermon on the Mount advocates a social philosophy that isn't reflected in any viable institution in my part of the world. Organized religion, from where I stand, has utterly failed to hold its adherents to the standards of its message. Nor does it have any substance in the rhetoric of any electable political party. To be clear, some of its invective (on adultery, for example) is best left 2000 years in the past. But who these days is saying (and meaning) anything like this:
“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
I keep telling myself that I can't save everyone. Sometimes that feels like reality, and sometimes it feels like a convenience that allows me to rationalize an unjustifiable life.