Christianity and The Least of Us

The series of political firestorms about Planned Parenthood/Komen Foundation, contraception coverage in insurance plans, and Senator Santorum’s views of gay people have led to many public and private debates about what Christianity really means, what it requires of believers and whether it is a good or bad force in society.

This week’s Economist article about the remarkable work of Jesuit Priest Greg Boyle could thus not be better timed. Father Boyle’s “Homeboy Industries” in Los Angeles has turned around the lives of thousands of gang members. Many of Boyle’s flock have committed terrible crimes, had terrible crimes committed against them, or both. Heart-killing time in prison figures prominently in their histories. Most people couldn’t reach these lost souls. Indeed, most people wouldn’t even try, even if the commandments of their faith so instructed them.

On this Sunday morning, consider doing something for Homeboy Industries and yourself by purchasing Father Boyle’s moving book Tattoos on the Heart. It’s both a vivid profile of urban gang life and an inspiring example of what faith in action can do for economically impoverished and emotionally desolate human beings. You need be neither a Catholic nor a Christian to be touched by the stories and observations of a profoundly good man who “seeks a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment of how they carry it.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “Christianity and The Least of Us”

  1. Mr. Boyle is a compassionate and brave man. I will buy his book. That said, I don’t believe his religion made him that way. Ideology, especially religion is not what motivates people. It’s the story used to justify what we do. And it’s what we do, not what we say we believe, that’s important. Haters have hateful gods. Compassionate people have compassionate gods. Culture decides what we call our god, (Jesus, Mohammed, etc) Arguing about theology only obscures reality. Just point out what they do, and leave it at that.
    Remember, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter were both southern Baptists. They didn’t behave the same way at all. Falwell went to his grave a bigot, all justified with “scripture”, of course.

  2. I’d take Mutt50’s comment one step further and say that it has nothing to do with religion at all. Atheists can be deeply compassionate as well. I tire of the implication, particularly in American public life, that one needs religion to have values and morals. Thoughtful atheists are among the most committed and dedicated humanists I know.

    I wish there were more room for the conversation about NOT being religious in our public life. My extended family are deeply Catholic and don’t actually know that I don’t believe in god–they lump atheists in with Satanists. No joke. To not believe is to be apostate, heretical, damned.

    I believe that there are far more closeted atheists in America than we know. Once we see widespread acceptance of being gay in the US (a heartening inevitability, I think) the next divide to cross will be for atheists to come out in great numbers and be accepted. I can’t wait for our first openly atheist president, for instance.

    1. well, there’s certainly no point in waiting for him or her, in any event. It won’t happen in our grandchildren’s lifetime.

  3. I suppose the triumph here is that Father Boyle has set a high moral & civic example for us despite his religious orientation. I’m always moved when I see it in religious people. Why?

    I’m touched by the quote you included. It reminds me of a passage from Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed“:

    When someone works for less pay than she can live on … she has made a great sacrifice for you …. The “working poor” … are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.

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