It’s hardly news that upper and middle class people tend to view the poor as dirty, chaotic, and even dangerous. Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh contend that this habitus (set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste) needs to be understood if we’re to understand the structural barriers faced by homeless people:
Insofar as morality is a matter of making life safe and orderly, anything that will be a threat to safety and a force of disorder must be either eradicated or at least kept at a distance. Within this kind of habitus of exclusion, establishing boundaries that keep the homeless out of our neighborhoods (the “not-in-my-back-yard” dynamics that homeless shelters, haflway houses, and affordable housing must constantly confront) is not seen to be a moral failure, but a moral success! Protecting one’s family and community from contamination is a virtuous act. If a habitus serves to shape human habitation, then anything that threatens the order of that habitation must be excluded. The poor remain homeless.
Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 110-1.
2 responses to “Dangerous Moral Purity”
It’s amazing how, when I’m just thinking about the homeless and poor, my heart aches for them. But, when it comes down to meeting them, my first response is the pass them by on the other side of the street to avoid confrontation. It’s a barrier that must be broken down if we claim to live a life worthy of the gospel.
@William Exactly. Much easier to love people in the abstract than in the (smelly, threatening) flesh.