Monday, July 11, 2005

Katherine Kersten on...Haitian Orphans

Rarely do I find something to compliment Katherine Kersten on, but I have found at least one: She manages to find and write some tear-jerkers, as evidenced in today's column about a Christian (naturally) woman living in the Philips neighborhood who has adopted four Haitian orphans, and in a previous article about a boy with one arm.

Today's article is dripping with tragedy: the young girls growing up in a frequently war-torn dysfunctional country, the deep-seeded poverty of one of Minneapolis' most notorious neighborhoods, starvation, drug-dealers, shootings, and then some. Rising above it all, of course, is the Christian faith of Linda Leonard, the adoptive mother of the four children, a highly educated missionary and community activist.

I'm not going to debate this woman's intentions, nor am I going to debase Kersten's description of her life. Leonard has obviously made some very difficult personal sacrfices, and in doing so, she has made the lives of four little girls unbelieveably better than they would have been had they stayed in Haiti. I will also not demean this woman because that is precisely what Kersten wants from people who oppose many of her views.

Kersten is employing yet another common conservative strategy of playing up a particular individual's story and attempting to apply it to the broad spectrum. The reasoning goes: Linda Leonard is a Christian who has done this wonderful thing and has lived a life of dramatic sacrifice in order to make the lives of others better; therefore, Christianity is a wholly (and holy) institution that makes the lives of all better.

What if Leonard were a "secular humanist," who had no ties to Christianity or any other religion? Would Kersten still give this woman's acts of (secular) faith the same credibility? Would this woman still be as sympathetic a character if she espoused outright liberal views? Kersten is also careful to sidestep any description outside of Leonard's Christian faith that may make readers question her motivations.

Kersten also employs a deceptive device in writing about this woman living within an impoverished area (it is difficult to tell whether Leonard, in fact, lives in "poverty," but for the sake of my argument I'll presume that she does). In her most recent column, Kersten just disavowed a health care system that allows many people in Leonard's position to obtain affordable health insurance, MinnesotaCare. What I find remarkable, and deplorable, are Kersten's ability to use poverty to espouse one view - that Christianity is a religious faith whose believers make exceptional sacrifices for the benefit of others - and demonize those in poverty who receive state-supported benefits meant to give them a hand up. What I find even more remarkable is the fact that so many people can read, and agree, with this article and her previous article, and not see the inherent contradictions of conservative philosophy.

1 comment:

Ilya said...

Piper, you draw the connection between Kersten's two columns like a regular political theorist. Good job. You're absolutely right about the increasing prevalence of personal anecdotes in political arguments. It's a pox on progressive politics no matter who does it:

“The new information technology, with its cascades of rumour and limitless outlets for personal histories, is more often than not the enemy of informed public discussion. In the face of an endless readiness on all sides to heed the unmediated voice of personal experience, it has become harder to sustain the bigger picture needed for any plausible defense of progressive politics.”
—David Runciman, “Tax Breaks for Rich Murderers,” London Review of Books, 2 June 2005.

Read the rest of the article here.