The Victim of Oppression Has Few Choices
Here’s a popular quote, attributed to an unknown source, that comes across my Facebook far too often:
Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and ONLY you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period.
There is a popular idea in the Christian and the New Age communities that there are no victims, only “bad choices” or challenges on one’s “life path.”In this magical thinking, there is no inequality or oppressive systems of hierarchy.
The Christian right occasionally talks about helping the poor, but they qualify it with a bunch of statements about how the “true” poor only live in developing nations. Somehow, in their twisted mind, there are no true poor in America because “all Americans have big screen televisions and cell phones” or some other nonsense.
I am not trying to downplay the poverty and horrors people face in other places, especially war-torn countries, but there are so many people suffering so greatly within American borders, too. There are many victims of oppression in America. Victims of racial barriers to employment and justice. Victims of generational or situational poverty created by oppression. Victims of the housing crisis, a bad economy and other faces of an American system oppressive to the poor.
Both the New Age and the Christian right are guilty of throwing around the loaded word, “choices,” saying there are no victims of oppression, only people who make bad choices. Or the worst, Christians proclaiming that people are lazy and have a “victim mentality.” Somehow I do not find this anywhere in the Bible. This is blasphemy, and I never use that term lightly.
Look again at the quote. “You and only you are responsible… ” As if we all live in an individual bubble of equality. Think about the meaning of “choices.” Consider the “victim mentality” insinuated in this quote. It is an ignorant statement spoken from a position of power and privilege.
If you are fortunate in this society, if you have Money, the right connections, the right skin color, a nice upbringing, good health, and other privileges, then you have many choices, a plethora of decisions big and small. But if you find yourself at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, through birth or through tragedy, your choices become ever more narrow.
The Choices of Power versus the Choices of Oppression
Consider these sort of choices:
Choice of privilege: Should I take this meaningful, enjoyable job, or the other offer that pays better? Or do I have enough savings to start my own business?
Victim of oppression: Can I find any work to keep my electricity on for another month?
Choice of privilege: Can I get a good rate on a mortgage in the suburbs, or should I keep paying rent on my luxury apartment in the city?
Victim of oppression: Should I go home to my abusive husband or should I spend another night in the homeless shelter?
Choice of privilege: Should I enroll my child in this desirable school district or would private school help more in college admissions?
Victim of oppression: Should I send my child to school today? Will she get bullied or shot? Will his teacher even believe in him, try to prepare him for college?
Choice of privilege: The budget is tight. Should I give up cable or consider a more limited cell phone plan?
Victim of oppression: The budget is tight. Should I give up this week’s groceries or should I risk being late on the rent? Again?
In the heartbreaking choices above, I see people who are victims. I see people who have been victimized by a bad job market, by abusive spouses or parents, by a terribly unequal housing and school system, by a lack of living wages, and by many other situations. Per the quote above, yes even the weather can create victims when hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, and fires destroy people’s homes and jobs.
Jesus Loved the Victim of Oppression
Jesus never once spoke of a “victim mentality” or “choices” leading to poverty and oppression. But he had much to say about helping the poor and the weak, about the Father looking on these victims as precious sons and daughters in his kingdom.
Jesus opened his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) People argue that poor in spirit doesn’t mean physically poor, but the Greek here can be translated “reduced to a beggar” (Biblical Hermaneutics). Jesus hung out with “sinners” and prostitutes, the victims of oppression in his society. He loved them and never blamed them for “choices.”
As a society, we must wake up and show compassion to all the victims. Stop oppressing and blaming and making foolish statements about choices.
Start loving. This is the cross of Jesus. This is the way of holy justice.