Decency trumps ideology

01:45, Jan 31 2012

The Bible is an interesting book. There's something for everyone. If you're a fan of psychedelica, you'll find much to enjoy in the Revelation of St John.

Do you have obsessive-compulsive disorder? Then the lists of rules and regulations that span three chapters at a time will give you endless satisfaction.

There's even some worryingly racy stuff in there if you know where to look (and after a childhood full of Sunday sermons so acid boring you'd rather read Deuteronomy again than listen to another word, believe me, you know where to look.)

If I was reviewing the Old Testament, and I am, I would say it "contains a bubbling, frothy mix of magic stories, much like Harry Potter, combined with any number of Bronze Age middle-eastern genocidal wars. And God – what a character.

There's nothing like him in modern fiction. Happy and placated by the sweet stench of mass animal sacrifice one moment, enraged and genocidal the next. The following verse is perhaps my favourite example of God's, shall we say, changeable character:


"... the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6-7)

Isn't that nice. He forgives you, but he doesn't, and he doesn't leave the kids out either. However, let's put phsychotheology aside for a minute, while I argue that this Bible verse is only one of many that, sadly, are quite true.

I grew up in Northland, our poorest district. I can't remember a time where my parents weren't struggling financially – many a Christmas was enhanced by a visit from the food bank people – but by the standards of many around us, we weren't poor at all.

I attended a small country primary school, and even though there were plenty of kids from families worse off than us, I don't remember anyone going without lunch. They were lucky. Plenty of kids do.

I'd wager that in most cases when a kid goes to school without lunch, it's not simply because the parents are poor. Many parents make colossal sacrifices to continue feeding their children. It can be pretty touch and go, but short of full destitution, if you aren't giving your child a lunch to take to school you've failed as a parent.

But it's inescapable that for many poor people, supplying a decent lunch is difficult, to say the least.

Then there are people – and I hesitate to refer to them as such – who, it would seem, just can't be bothered, packing their children off to school without a second thought as to what they'll be eating.

In both situations, there's a common denominator: there's a kid going hungry, and it's not that kid's fault.

This last point seems to be lost on Mike Sabin, National MP for Northland.

Recently, a Maori trust found itself rapped over the knuckles for providing free school lunches for children, because doing so was not part of their contract with Child, Youth and Family.

Board member Eric Reid told a meeting, chaired by Mr Sabin, that "[Free lunches were] reducing thefts. It was reducing truancy. These are things that you can address just through school lunches."

Mr Sabin, showing the kind of political acumen normally only achieved by African dictators, responded swiftly.

He "warned that if schools provided lunches then mothers and fathers would never have to do it", according to one newspaper. The rest of the conversation went like this. "But they are not doing that anyway," said Mr Reid. "You can walk around every pub in Kaitaia and mums and dads are investing in the poker machines."

Mr Sabin retorted: "We have to investigate that, otherwise we'll have 50,000 more parents who are not feeding their children."

I can't think of anything that better sums up the attitude of the National Party to the poor. It's clearly unintentional, but Mr Sabin for the nation's most poverty-stricken district, is saying: "If schools give kids free lunches, they might be getting food. CAN'T HAVE THAT."

At some point, decency simply must transcend ideology. Being the Party of Individual Freedom and Responsibility means bugger all in this case, because kids are by nature too young to be Individually Free and Responsible. If the parents will not, or can not, care for them, society must.

To do anything less means we are perpetuating a cycle of hunger, poverty and abuse, where some of us get far less of a chance than others. We have a society where we punish the children and their children for the sin of the fathers, to the third and fourth generation.

Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance writer who always won at Bible trivia.