In this election cycle, America is getting a close-up look at the effects of living in the bubble of excess. Those we traditionally have envied as winners in the American Dream are unmasked in the iconic privilege of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who struggles to identify with the average person laboring over day-to-day survival. In a very real sense, all who have climbed the social and economic ladder have contributed to this ethic.
As a freshman Republican legislator in 2003, I was stunned by the business community bellying up to the trough of government largess, complaining of being victimized. I was further stunned by the persecution complex of a religious community lusting for power at the ballot box against all presumed enemies that these days seem to be legion. Of all cultures, I naively had attributed to entrepreneurs and the faith community powers that transcend our futile efforts to legislate morality and success.
America, it seems, has a new entitlement class in the bonding of business and religion — entitled to power, entitled to more wealth and success, entitled to unearned respect, entitled to set public policy that affects us all in order to salve its own insecurities. Reflected in this new entitlement class is the marginalization of those unwilling, incapable or, by circumstances, prohibited from reaching the American Dream.
Worshipped by both business and religion, the American Dream has become the hallmark of industriousness and the evidence of God’s blessing poured out on a faithful people. It follows, then, that those pinned or struggling beneath the wheel of progress must either be lazy or living evidence of God’s chastisement or condemnation.
Having attended a recent session of the Bangor City Council on the application of Hope House for additional beds for the homeless, it became clear that Bangor faces a growing problem of the disenfranchised spilling over into the lives of the silent majority. Homelessness and substance abuse are no longer the problems of “other.” We as private citizens own their cause, their effect and their solution.
Nowhere is this more evident than in my recent work in re-entry of the incarcerated into our communities. As a nation of 5 percent of the world’s population, we boast 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, more than either Russia or China.
It is time for the new entitlement class to address this cancer encroaching on our protected enclaves. Business must demonstrate by sharing and by example the marvels and rewards of entrepreneurial instincts. Religion must move out of its clubhouses, abandon its Thanksgiving-basket mentality and take its message of love and hope to the streets where are found those deemed least among us. The leadership that both groups have demonstrated in their success must be for the benefit of all, lest all our entitlements become empty dreams.
The guarantees of free enterprise and freedom of religion are not opportunities for hoarding our largesse or indemnifying the validity of our truth claims. They are privileges to be shared with the community at large. That to which we feel entitled presents only opportunity and responsibility for nation building by those who have earned the right to speak.
In fact, there are hundreds of caring people out there in Maine who have opted out of the business world, do not wear their religion or lack thereof on their sleeves and are willing to wade into this exploding and seemingly futile world of mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, homelessness and criminal behavior. They live by a unique and refreshing ethic — “touch a life” — and are not distracted from their mission by those who may well game the system. Theirs is an acute sense of accountability.
It is not Romney’s conscious doing that has focused attention on this cultural divide between the haves and the have-nots. It is we who have exalted success above our responsibility to the least successful among us that has given voice to this new unholy alliance.
The business community professes no righteous agenda. It seems rather too obvious, however, that the church and its faithful, of all people, ought to be cognizant that in a spiritual sense, we all are bottom feeders in need of grace and forgiveness.
Stan Moody, founder of Maine Prison Chaplaincy Corps, is a former state representative and most recently served as a chaplain at Maine State Prison in Warren. Moody, of Bangor, is an advisory board member of Solitary Watch. His articles on prison reform may be read at www.scribd.com/stanmoody.