I've been thinking a lot lately about the space between people--not in a physical, tangible sense, more like the facts around one person that prevent him from being just like another person. I'm aware of a growing sense of frustration that more and more people in the world prefer to distance themselves from one another, then examine the space between them and judge themselves and others based on the nature of that space. Maybe this is an old lesson for some people, but to me it feels frighteningly fresh.
I used to be a part of this small group of women; we'd get together to talk about things of faith, and of life, of relationship and work. One Sunday afternoon the subject of pedophilia came up. I don't remember how, I just remember that we were talking about men who, for whatever reason, felt the need to sexually prey upon young children. I do remember that we talked about 20/20, and the episodes wherein the show would hire pedophile catchers to pose as teens and then the anchor and cameraman would humiliate the pedophile who thought he'd come for a prepubescent roll in the hay with Taylor or Carlie, or whatever made up profile they'd been attracted to.
The small group conversation was rife with judgement and vitriol for these men, calling them monsters and animals, completely deriding them. Some of these women spoke so swiftly about how awful they were and spoke without a trace of the grace that their God gifts to people if they just believe. I was stunned. I'd never seen these women go from zero to malevolently inhuman quite so fast. Yes, it's a deplorable subject and it's incredibly easy to find the bad guy in it. The bad guy is the one who wants to touch the kids, we've caught him red-handed, on video even, case closed, check please. What I was unable to understand was that many of these women seemed unable to recognize that it was only the smallest of margins that separated these men from themselves. If the world is truly a fallen place, then we who know Christ are only rescued from the worst that humanity is capable of, by His presence in our lives. There is nothing, nothing, that allows us to think that we are any better than anyone else; if we hold up our "good person-ness" or our ability to "give back to the community" or our good kind hearts, we're just fooling ourselves, because all of these things are able to be corrupted, to be ruined, and then we are no better than the very ones we sneered at in the gutter, who are ruled by their base natures and forced to feed their hideous deplorable appetites.
It could be that I'm biased. When I was growing up, an ex-con moved into the house next door; it was his mother's house, and he must have had no other place to go, so in he moved with the heavyset old lady with the cottony white hair. We got one of those Amber letters or Katie letters or whatever requires the state of Ohio to tell you when a sex offender is moving onto your block. Now, I have no idea what kind of law he broke. I read a story about a man here in the state of Illinois who killed a seventeen-year-old who attacked him, and the state registered him as a sex offender (which cut off a good bit of his life possibilities post-prison) because the victim of the crime was under 18. It could be that this man wasn't a sex offender at all, but was registered as one on a similar technicality. It could be that he made and distributed kiddie porn, or that he abducted little boys, or that he liked to expose himself to kids on playgrounds. None of it is good or appropriate, or healthy, and the good folks in Columbus mailed us a letter about it when he got out. I always felt sorry for him; we never met--my parents saw to that--but I thought he couldn't have had much of a life taking care of his infirm mother and being an ex-con. Notwithstanding, I saw the cannon of judgement that my folks leveled and fired at him over and over while we lived next door, and I thought every family on the block must be thinking things similar. It was as if whatever debt he'd paid to society was unimportant. There was no second chance, and everyone who knew was content to, perhaps wanting to, label him as a ne'er-do-well, a pervert, a deviant without hope of change.
Recently, I heard a woman on NPR who attended one of these raucous town hall meeting to discuss our President's plan for health care. It was a while ago, but she argued that some policy of universality would make this country, this proud bastion of democracy, "into Russia, or China." She said this with such derision in her voice, as if citizens of Russia are dogs, and Heaven forfend that we consider ourselves anything similar. We are Americans, and anything that does not look like our system is most certainly the dregs of society. Someone should remind her that these are people, people as we are people. They love their country, like we do, and they chose a system of government that they thought would serve their citizens in the best way possible. Unfortunately for them, they were wrong, and now, like just about every country in the world, they're trying to get their feet back underneath them.
But can someone tell me what makes democracy and capitalism so great? I don't know if I'm a socialist or not, mainly because I don't understand politics or economics that well. I love my country, because I can write this kind of a blog posting, and I know that the odds are good that the government won't completely edit it out. I love that I can be grateful for the people who are serving in my military, I love that I can choose to protest the war they fight in, and I love that I don't have to go. I love that I am absolutely doing my duty by disagreeing with the way my government runs, and anyone who says that questioning authority of government it unpatriotic can sod off. Our government does its best for its citizens, but it fucks over just as many as any communist or socialist country. We Americans aren't really as free as we think we are, are we? Isn't that the dirty little secret of our free market, one man one vote system over here, that it's really all a big machine that makes the same kind of scary and sobering decisions that happen in countries we love to pretend we're better than? That the manipulation and movement is so stealth and so swift that if we blink we miss it? The system works us all over, and flying red white and blue instead of stars and scythe is just a technicality.
My point is this: inside, where all the labels don't matter and where very little distinguishes one from the other, I am no better than he, and you are no better than she, and we are no better than they. We are all human, and we cannot rely on the flimsy idea of "I could never do that," or "I don't understand how anyone can be capable of such things" to make us feel better. The fact is that you are lucky enough to have avoided the acrid, eye-watering mixture of things that makes men into pedophiles, that turns women to rock hoes, that ruins governments. To pretend anything within ourselves has made us better than them, is deception. Perhaps it is the kind of deception that people need to tell themselves in order to sleep at night. But I fear this pervasive dehumanizing of others. No good can come of this.