I imagine that you know someone who is either underwater in their house or perhaps has lost their house. You may even know someone who is homeless.
The housing crisis has raised serious moral issues: what are the duties of people who take out loans to understand the loan and to understand the laws and circumstances that make a loan possible? To what extent should those who took out loans for houses they would not otherwise be able to afford to understand the mechanics banks used to make such loans possible? How can a hopeful home owner mitigate the excitement of owning a house to clear his or her mind to understand the contract and see that this loan is too good to be true?
And if someone did get themselves and their families into a bad situation and ended up homeless, do we as a society have any obligations to that family to see that they have some shelter? To the adults that signed the loan? And what about to the children who had no say in the loan?
These questions are difficult questions to answer, and we often get lost in the legal technicalities of who is responsible for what. In the United States, we believe that each individual is responsible for herself and must take care of herself and live with the consequences of her actions.
This idea is admirable and fine, but it misses one thing — need!
What should be the human response in the face of need? Can we separate the individual response in the face of need from the community response in the face of need?
It seems to me only one answer suffices — the proper response in the face of need is to mitigate, even alleviate, that need.
We did a lot in this society to bail out banks and lending institutions, but we fail to respond to the truly human need that faces us everyday. Portland, OR, for instance, is trying to pass city ordinances that take away needed shelter from those who are homeless. At a basic human level, such ordinances violate the natural law — the law that says we must uplift human personality. And any law that bails out banks but fails to provide the means for individuals and families to stay in their houses, and any people who say that it’s their responsibility not to have taken out the loan or to make their payments, are missing out in the basic call of natural law — to do good and to avoid evil. That is, they are lacking the correct response in the face of need.
I hope and pray that one day, need will be at the center of these discussions.