I have said on several occasions that one of the biggest problems we have when coming to any subject or problem is the ideas or beliefs we bring with us. The ideas are not something that we formulate as we analyze the situation. Rather, these ideas are pre-formed or presumed even before we know the problem exists. This is not a condition of left or right politics. It is not a condition of Christian or non-Christian. We all suffer from this presuppositional thinking.
We see this kind of presuppositional ideas come through when people speak of the problem of intercity poverty, violence, and crime.
Michael Gerson of the Washington Post posits
Police and prisons are the successful answer to a rather narrow question: Can overwhelming force and routine incarceration bring temporary order to impoverished and isolated urban communities?
Michael has asked a very good question. It is one that should be in the forefront of our minds as we watch city after city explode with violence. But, there is a deeper understanding and idea at work in this question. It reveals much that Michael would treat the “impoverished and isolated” as a thing to be manipulated and controlled. And though Michael has not thought of these people in these terms, at least probably not in any conscious way. The question points out that these people are simply a problem to be solved. In essence, they are in need of a solution.
Next Michael brings out statistics that show that in the short term, the answer has been yes. But, in the long run, a massive show of force and imprisoning people is too costly and becomes counter productive. And though he has the right understanding of the data, he and almost everyone else he quotes misses the cause. The reason is that Michael thinks that people are mostly molded by their surroundings and the events of their lives. People, under the right circumstances and conditions, can be reformed; this is Michael’s presupposition.
Then he asks
Public policy related to concentrated, intergenerational urban poverty requires a better question. What can be done to encourage economically and socially healthy communities where order is self-creating rather than imposed?
Now we get to the main problem. Michael and politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed to see that this mess was created and is being perpetuated by them and their “public policy.” The welfare system and government housing set out to fix a serious problem in our country. Men and woman were excluded from good paying jobs and fair housing because of the color of their skin. Now, though this is not something that many Americans like to remember it was a reality for Blacks before the 1970’s.
But the answer has given substandard housing, set policies that perpetuate the break-up of the family and has encouraged and enabled the generational poverty that he mentioned. And to Michael’s credit, there is a sign that he sees that there needs to be less state involvement.
Government has not been very good at this project. It has been good over the past several decades at taking the elderly out of poverty. But it has been far less successful in encouraging the type of urban renewal that runs deeper than gentrification.
We cannot expect police power to confront these complex, interrelated difficulties. But someone, in addition to local religious and community leaders, needs to try.
We have to recognize that the government was never intended to make its citizens successful but to guarantee the environment where success could be safely and equally pursued. If we as a people will recognize that the government is a tool of force and not a monitor of economic growth or prosperity, we will look to ourselves and our God for our success.
Lastly, we must also recognize the false presupposition of incarceration as a means of dealing with law-breaking. When you cage a man or woman for a long period, they being treated like animals will begin to live as animals. If our crimes are so severe that we cannot be allowed to live among our neighbors, families, and friends we have forfeited our right to live. And think about the fact that there is no example in God’s word where incarceration is given as the penalty of law-breaking. We have left God’s Law and our consequence is the cruelty of man.