Toynbee’s paradigm, that the collapse of a civilization begins when the creative minority is replaced by a dominant minority, applies to the current situation in our country. The dominant minority in this case consists of straight white males who claim to be Christian, but whose only value is selfishness. Their domination can be ended if the vast majority—women, genuine Christians, practicing members of all religions, people of any color other than white, people who believe in and practice compassion—ally with one another and fight back. Alliances must be real and local, with neighbors, with one’s own network of family, friends, and colleagues, within one’s city and state. Local governments will need to oppose and resist the coming corruption of the federal government.
What I mean is that we must all reach out in our own communities to rescue people who will otherwise be destroyed as the federal government becomes destructive. We do not now have a good track record on being compassionate. For example, we have homeless families because our local governments fail to do what they can in fact legally do to house those families. Therefore, we must demand that our local governments do what is necessary to rescue such families. And what can you do? If you have an empty room in your house, or even several empty rooms, find the homeless and shelter them. If you think that would be inconvenient, get your priorities straight. You should be picky about whom you will bring into your home, but if you don’t pick at all, you are failing as a human being.As Pope Francis has said, “If people are hungry, first you pray for them, and then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” I interpret this as meaning that the reason for praying is to make you fully aware of your moral obligations. As St. Bonaventura said, “If you have two coats, the second coat belongs to the man who has no coat.” I recently learned that the Hebrew tzedakah, usually translated as “charity,” actually means “justice.” That is, failing to share what you have but don’t need with those who are in want is unjust, unfair, and, fundamentally, selfish.
You will need to take full responsibility for knowing what is going on with your neighbors and everyone you know. If they are in trouble, you must do what you can to help them get the help they need in order to survive: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, the necessities. I will remind you of what the great Hillel taught: “If you are not for yourself, who will be? If you are only for yourself, what are you? And if not now, when?”
(One advantage of teaching Ethics is that it forces one to think about such matters.)