And Now A Word From the Fantasy-Based Community

I read Dispatches from the Culture Wars regularly. Ed Brayton is a witty and perceptive commentator with an excellent grasp of America’s constitutional foundations–but his greatest appeal (for me) comes from the fact that he monitors behaviors that I wouldn’t have the stomach to follow. He keeps tabs on the kooks of the far, far right (and sometimes the far, far left)–the “celebrities” of the wacko fringes.

Most of the time, when reading about the pronouncements and delusions of these characters, I take comfort in reminding myself of the limited appeal of whatever brand of crazy a particular figure is peddling.

But this was truly appalling.

Earlier this month, the city of San Antonio (Texas) held a mayoral forum in which candidates talked about the impact of and challenges for non-profit groups in the community.

At one point, current Mayor Ivy Taylor was asked about the “deepest systemic cause of generational poverty.” There’s no simple answer to that, of course, but Taylor’s response wasn’t even close.

“Not even close” is an understatement. Here’s the Mayor’s response.

To me, it’s broken people. People not being in a relationship with their Creator, and therefore, not being in good relationship with their families and their communities, and not being productive members of society. I think that’s the ultimate answer.

As Ed points out, that not only isn’t the “ultimate answer,” it’s an answer that betrays vast ignorance of American economic realities and that displays the sort of breathtakingly smug religious arrogance that you encounter from time to time from people who give religion a very bad name. As Brayton puts it,

Poor people aren’t all poor because they’re “broken” or atheists or in need of a better relationship with their families. (While we’re at it, they’re also not poor because they’re lazy and addicted to welfare checks.)

People are poor, in many cases, because they don’t have opportunities to put their skills to work, they never had access to a quality education, and they live in areas where upward mobility is hard to come by. In some cases, they can work multiple jobs with little sleep and still have a hard time getting out of whatever debt they’re already in. Poverty is tough to overcome. Generational poverty, even tougher.

The vast majority of poor Americans work 40 or more hours a week at jobs that don’t pay a living wage. (Not that it is relevant, but a sizable majority of them identify as Christian, and profess a “relationship” with a “Creator.” Atheists in the U.S. actually tend to be well-educated and financially comfortable–when you aren’t constantly struggling to put food on the table, you have the time and resources to ponder theological questions and consider counter-majoritarian conclusions…But I digress.)

I’ve written before about the United Way of Indiana’s description of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and the huge gap between what those families need simply in order to survive and the pitifully inadequate public and private resources available to them.

There are a lot of things policymakers could do to decrease poverty: raise the minimum wage, reinstitute Reagan-era tax brackets, strengthen unions, eliminate the ACA in favor of “Medicare for All”…and jettison a self-satisfied ideology that blames poverty on a lack of productivity and an inadequate “relationship with the Creator.”

The fact that Americans elect people who mouth such inanities (beginning with Donald Trump and definitely including Mayor Ivy Taylor) is evidence of a different kind of poverty.


  1. Those remarks keep them in office. The lower the level of critical thinking in the voting public, the better for them. I question whether politicians actually believe their own bullshit or just recognize that they need to make such statements to win votes. Either way it’s a convenient way to avoid any social responsibility by blaming the victims.

  2. The mental thought process (if you can even call it that) of this administration is truly erratic and frightening. To blame the poor for being poor shows a total lack of compassion, understanding and humanity toward our fellow citizens. While a very few abuse the system, the vast majority do not. While I was born into a working class family where my dad was a union printer, due to his major illness and the major illness of my mother, by the time I was 13 we were poor, very poor. Mine was a very religious family where church on Sunday was mandatory. No amount of church attendance, prayers or bible reading made our financial situation any better. You have no care free childhood when you are poor. The stress, fear and depression felt by your parents transfers to you. Instead of parties, proms and fun, your focus is just on survival. It is easy to become angry and resentful at the cards life has dealt to you. Even angry and resentful toward God. I remember watching that old television show “Queen for a Day” and dreamed of having a carefree life for just a day. To those who write works based upon ignorance I recommend that they become “Poor for a Day” to experience the reality of that life.

  3. I hate to use the word “ironic” to describe a situation in which people who criticize those who need government assistance of some sort (e.g. food stamps) are not at all ashamed when their state receives more money from Washington than it sends in taxes collected. Ironic does not nearly describe that situation.

  4. The religious right lost all credibility when they backed 45, a man completely devoid of principle, character, and faith, but the politicians know that their flocks will follow them unquestioningly into the voting booth. So the question is, “Is it cynicism or just facing reality when they pander to the Evangelicals?” Probably a little bit of both.

  5. Ah yes, the, “I Got Mine” Christians. The people that think God let’s you know what he thinks of how you’re doing in his book by the amount of material wealth lavished upon you whilst earth-bound. These are the same people who fail to understand what a blessing is versus good fortune. Their house, their good job, their healthy family…it’s all because they’re right with Jesus. These are the same people who blithely ignore Christ’s commandment to lift the poor out of poverty and to help them, not judge them. Why…because, “I Got Mine” and God helps those who helps themselves so you just dig yourself out of that poverty you got yourself into. That ecclesiastical vomit is spewed from more pulpits than we can possibly imagine.

  6. “Ivy Ruth Taylor is an American politician and urban planner who is the current mayor of San Antonio, Texas. She is a nonpartisan officeholder, although she is registered as a Democrat. “-Wikipedia.
    I am a surprised Texan.

  7. STEPHEN; that web site is proof positive that the Bible, originally written by men from their personal perspective has been rewritten countless times through the years by other men with other perspectives. Indiana is living with Pence’s perspective of Christianity via his second writing of RFRA; his perspective of protecting his pack of Christians denies civil and human rights to other Christians…those who happen to be LGBTQs or women who seek birth control or an abortion to save their lives. His plan is to take RFRA to the federal level; Trump has just kept him too busy picking up unsigned documents behind him, explaining and upholding his idiotic comments and sending him into foreign countries to deal with their leaders so he can play golf.

    I’m not sure where Trump’s family fantasy-based presidential leadership is headed but…sending Ivanka to the W20 meeting to speak for him is NOT teaching his child chores to learn responsibility as most of us taught our children to make their bed, wash dishes, mow the lawn and carry out trash. This is an insult to all other nations and their leaders who are there to do serious business; they will not be handed another few million dollars to buy their way out if things collapse around them as Ivanka will be. Where is our religious leader, Pence, if Trump opts not to go? We are being sucked deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit with his spoiled brat antics; having a religious fanatic such as Pence is preferable to a fool.

    Anyone here know who I can contact to become a member of the First Church of Cannabis?

  8. The last two days, I’ve been walking into my office considering thoughts that are almost exactly in the same vein. This morning it was Piketty’s r<g and how being born with capital is such an entirely different way of life than being born without it. Trump can never know what that is like.

    Being in Birmingham constantly reminds me of the racial disparity in that regard, and how white people, on average, have 16 times the capital of black people. It would take 228 years to build the wealth of white families (see

    It's good to know that we're all seeing the same reality.

  9. Cherry picking scripture is a favorite indoor and outdoor sport for many, but for me the overriding scriptural statement as applied to one’s secular duties as a citizen is: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” So, it seems to me, whether you believe there is a god or not, you are still obligated to render unto Caesar, and why and how you are so obligated has nothing to do with religion and a lot to do with the folkways and mores we humans have developed through living together in community.

    Some clergy without historical perspective wrongly take full credit for the development of our mores and folkways which I think would have come to pass even if religion were unknown in the human experience, thus predictably giving rise to countervailing agnosticism and atheism. The scriptures themselves when cleansed of miracles are little more than a snapshot in mores and folkways of a given time and age whose lessons were set in stone by medieval monks, lessons which may have faint application today – or perhaps even then had the Enlightenment occurred earlier on the Christian calendar.

    Jesse Jackson, like him or not, once said that people called him a politician, and he said: “Yes, I am; but I am also a preacher and I have read that Bible through many times and there are hundreds of commands to help the poor and not a single one to help the rich.” The bible therefore, like the idea or not, had and has some influence on our mores and folkways as they apply to the poor and sick (Jesus is said to have associated with lepers) but the problem is that the bible itself is but a compilation of then-held mores and folkways that we may have as a practical matter outgrown since its canonization in 381 A.D. I am personally in favor of cherry picking an amalgamation of the divine and profane and, devoid of miracles, go from there, realizing that our mores and folkways of today are subject to change tomorrow and the day after that. Haven’t seen any changes of note within your lifetime? How many pictures do you have of your great grandmother in a bikini? How many women have you seen play prime minister and/or chancellor of Great Britain and Germany in history? Per the minstrel, “The times, they are achanging.” Let’s accommodate such change by including both the religious and the irreligious as we render unto Caesar in accord with our democratic institutions of today, however they were developed.

  10. Of course the chief reason for the bad mayor’s words is that now he/she’s off the hook for doing anything.

  11. Gerald; I’m with you regarding that overriding scripture. Now; if only we could get politicians to couple that with the 1st Amendment we could reach a humanitarian level never before known.

  12. Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man. Thomas Paine

    Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Thomas Paine

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. Thomas Paine
    In 2013, when Taylor was still a councilwoman, she voted against a nondiscrimination ordinance that would protect LGBT San Antonians from being discriminated against by public and private business owners. Her reasoning? People shouldn’t be forced to treat everyone equally if it goes against their faith or “moral values.”

    Mayor Ivy Taylor: I grew up in a strict religious household without a lot of exposure to the world beyond my family and church.

    Ivy: As I stated in 2013, although I wanted to vote “yes” on the ordinance because I believe that all human beings deserve respect and should be free from harassment for any reason, I also strongly believe that individuals should be free to exercise their faith or moral values. For that reason I voted against the ordinance and would do so again.
    Sounds like Ivy would get along rather well with Mike Pence.

  13. The “I got mine” Christians arrived on these shores with the Puritans, who imported the ideas of the Calvinists and Knox. The idea that wealth is an indication of a god’s blessing and special protection is as old as any written or verbal history we have. You don’t have to look very far to see that it comes from the uncomfortable need to justify unequal ownership of wealth and power, without doing anything real that would actually repair inequities, and help others get a leg up, which would strengthen the whole community long term, rather than just a few. It sounds especially idiotic coming from people who pretend to support democracy. Unfortunately, under greed obsessed trump, that old hypocrisy got plenty of new wind. You’d think they’d realize how stupid it sounds, but apparently, they don’t.

  14. Most people miss the irony in many passages of scripture because the context is far, far removed from our own experience. Jesus first asks whose likeness is on the coins that were used to pay taxes. Of course, it was that of Ceasar. Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and the late Marcus Borg gifted those who have eyes to read, with many contexual illuminating discussions of NT passages. In Roman Imperial theology, Ceasar *was* God, just not the YHWH of the Hebrew tradition. “The First Christmas” by Borg and Crossan gives us a glimpse of that other side of the story and why the Nativity stories were told. In essence, Jesus was saying it ALL comes from and belongs to YHWH. It is the responsibility of believers to use as best honor the source.

  15. the ironic part, IMHO, is that the economy is hurt from taxes, and so many taxes are used to provide jobs to people who work for “the gov” dragging down poor people. I recall a situation in Bloomington (Monroe County) several years ago where a female Chinese chemistry professor had one small child that she used mild restraints on, a traditional method in China for the child’s problems. The social workers (IIRC IU grads) took the child away, and the child died in custody during litigation. Now single mom, no family. The odd part was there was a criminal charge, probably because the mother was well educated and NOT super poor. Otherwise no mention would have been made of it. This is a much more common scenario than thought. If you remember that so many government jobs exist to provide jobs to government employees, and often harm more than help, the situation becomes clarified.
    As to the relationship with The Creator, getting assistance from a religious NGO is likely to be as least as beneficial as consulting with the post office or similar. Personally, I prefer Thomas Sowell and his articles on family structure promoting good performance. Government – Cabrini Green, Henry Horner Homes, and more recent variants, spend the $$ without result. Why ASSUME otherwise when so many results are negative?

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