Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Many of them are also being evicted from their places of residence. In the light of such tragedies, I ask: What is a human life, a life that is befitting of the dignity of a human person? It involves, at the very least, having shelter, a place to live, and food to eat. From a moral standpoint, I cannot believe that there is a legal system put in place in the United States of America that will evict economically vulnerable families. Where do they go? Who, from a legal standpoint, cares about them, without them having to “slip” even further into debt by paying legal fees to hire lawyers to stop the foreclosures and evictions?
Wealth is a form of power and when American families do not have the money to pay their mortgage or rent, they become economically vulnerable, susceptible to being evicted. Legally, eviction is an America tragedy! It is the triumph of the economically powerful over the economically disadvantaged.
Yet, even right now, America can learn both moral and legal lessons from the Hebrew prophet Amos, whom biblical scholars call “the prophet of social justice.” Amos teaches that it is a perversion of justice to use the courts of law to oppress the economically disadvantaged, saying to Israel’s leaders, “You turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground” (Amos 5:7, NIV). “You trample on the poor” (Amos 5:11a, NIV). “You … deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12c, NIV). Amos then calls for a moral reform of Israel, saying, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15a, NIV). “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24, NIV).
It is both inhumane and not befitting of the dignity of the human person to use the law to evict human beings from their places of residence, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Such human beings are not faceless, nameless abstractions; anonymous entities in the vast “ocean” of being; statistics of homeless Americans. They are flesh-and-blood, sentient human beings. They feel. They weep. Yet they are “tossed out” of their places of residence as though they were nothing, worthless junk, unwanted trash. They are treated as even less than the property, which owners value more than the persons on it.
In a truly human hierarchy of value, persons are to be loved and things are to be used. But, unfortunately, in America’s free market economy, the value of a human being may become obscured, even lost, with persons loving things and using other persons. That results in an inversion of the hierarchy of value, treating objects, such as possessions, as though they were subjects; treating profits as if they were more important than persons; treating things as though they are worth more than persons.
I wonder, especially as the holidays are approaching: How many Americans feel a sense of anxiety at the prospect of being evicted, of being homeless? How many of them are in despair, even suicidal? Legally, who will come to their aid, recognizing and defending the economically vulnerable as persons of indelible dignity or worth, so that they may remain in their homes or places of residence? I hope that just and merciful lawyers and judges will come to the aid of individuals and families that are facing eviction! I hope that mercy will be raised above the strict justice of the law!