TheTheme of Compassion and Kinship in Boyle’s Tattoos on my heart
The book “Tattoos on the heart” by Father Gregory Boyle discussesthe strategies that the father used to rehabilitate ex-gang membersfrom two low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The author partlyexplains his work at the Dolores Mission located at the Boyle Heightsneighborhood of LA and the recovery and reintegration of ex-gangmembers back into society through an organization he founded calledHomeboy Industries. The author does not seek to narrate hisexperiences while working at Dolores Mission but rather narrate theinspiring stories of ex-gang members who were reformed andtransformed into upright members of society through the word of God.The change is largely attributed to the characters knowing God andbeing welcomed and embraced by a society that understood the love ofGod. By being taught about following Christian ways, theex-gangsters manage to delist from gangs and lead upward lifestylesand seek gainful employment. From the book, it is clear thatthe author perceives compassion and kinship not only as key pillarsof Christianity as a religion but also as key strategies inaddressing major social challenges including racism, socialstratification, and stigmatization.
Compassion removes human divisions and boundaries that characterizehuman relations in the modern world. According to narrationsprovided by Boyle, he believed that inter-gang violence was amanifestation of the differences the gangs saw in other people andeven in other gang members. For his reason, most gangs were organizedby nationality or ethnicity or other such common denominators. Boyleseeks to use compassion as enshrine in Christianity to show tointroduce another common denominators that transcends the ethnic andgang boundaries. He writes that “Compassion isn`t just aboutfeeling the pain of others it`s about bringing them in towardyourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins geterased. `Be compassionate as God is compassionate,` means thedismantling of barriers that exclude” (Boyle 75). By taking thisapproach, Boyle asserts that compassion as understood in Christianitycan be used to address social segregation, racism and evenstigmatization in society by eliminating all sorts of boundaries. Theapproach applies the same differential association model thatexplains gang membership as discussed by Kissner and Pyrooz (480).This means that Christians like Boyle himself should encourage othersto be Christians and live an upright life with the belief in one Godand His unconditional love being the common bonding factor.
Today, there are numerous forms of boundaries used to divide and actare sources of identity and they have has more negative than positiveimpact. They have given rise to different conceptualizations of ‘us’and ‘others’ as informed by their respective sense of identity(Kilp 203). However, such differences need not have positive ornegative implications. The negative and positive implications arelargely sourced from subjective feelings of insecurity, chaos andvulnerability (Kilp 197). As narrated by Boyle, some youths joinedgangs just as a source of security and protection. However, this viewof protection or threat to those who do not belong to such groups ishighly subjective. In the case of Boyle, he portrays Christianity asthe ultimate protection and security against all evils of the world.He portrays Christians as a large family where love and understandingare well shared. Thus, the whole world is simplified into a group ofbelievers and non-believers but all are treated as children of Godthus eliminating the boundaries.
Loving others as required of compassion as described by Boyle is amoral obligation that applies to all human beings. Boyle believesthat removing the boundaries that make people different is necessaryfor them to fulfill their ethical obligation of loving one another.Boyle calls for Christians to act in a manner desirable in the eyesof God at all times. The major way of doing so loving unconditionallyas Christ loves His own creation. Immanuel Kant as a philosopherborrows this Christian idea of loving one’s neighbor to create amoral concept. According to Kant, loving one another is part of thenatural law. Singer (13) discusses Kant’s views and writes that oneshould “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the sametime will that it should become a universal law.” The universalityof loving another person as one would love himself is also acceptedby other philosophers including Jea-PaulSartre, Jeremy Betham andJurgen Heabermas. These 18th century philosophers believedthat the concept of love is universal across religions, socialclasses, and religions (Singer 14). This view corresponds with whatBoyle is seeking to preach in his book that love overcomesself-loathing and hate towards others. By acknowledging the fact thatthey are worthy of Christ’s unconditional love, the ex-gang membersare able to love themselves and others. By extension, it implies thatthe universal application of loving one’s neighbor and wishing uponthem what one would wish upon him/herself has enabled people to becompassionate and enjoy a sense of belonging with one another.Therefore, human unity is a moral obligation that all human beingshave a duty to pursue.
Compassion and kinship are enough to reform racist elements withinthe global society. To achieve this, Boyle identifies gangsters andex-gangsters as people in need of love. He is aware that showing themlove specifically through compassion and kinship would alter theirview about themselves and others. Boyle (124) recognizes the power oflove in transforming people by saying that “There is no force inthe world better able to alter anything from its course than love.”This would mean spreading the message of love to those who need itmost such as racist groups and people with little lower levels ofphysiological wellbeing. Greenfields and Marks (249) cite lack ofreligious participation as a predictor of poor psychological health.Thus, reforming society would require targeting parsons with poorpsychological health as well declared racing groups such the Ku KluxKlan and the Nazis. However, to address the social ill that suchgroups represent, members should not be demonized but insteadembraced with love and kindness. Showing them love and making themunderstand God’s unconditional love would be the ultimate solutionin transforming their beliefs and attitudes towards other people.
Christianity as abelief system can successfully compete against gang membership bypracticing compassion and kinship. First and foremost, religion playsa huge role in the construction of the social and culturalself-identity. Sociologists through several social identity theoriesindicates that religion plays an integral part in formingself-concept with increased formal participation in religious mattersleading to a greater social identity leaning towards religion(Greenfield and Marks 247). Religion can work as a social institutionby offering a sense of identity and sense of belonging that providesprotection for members in the face of other competing interests.Boyle demonstrates how this can be simply achieved in fighting commonsocial ills such as drug use and early sexual engagement by providinga unique set of morals that Christians can follow.
Furthermore,fighting social ills associated with gang life requires use ofrealistic or tangible help alongside ideological options. In workingwith gang members, Boyle realized that gangs also provided a sourceof income for many members. He thus founded a nonprofit organizationto offer alternative employment means in order to provide realisticalternatives to gang life. This approach has been practiced bymissionaries and Christians in the 20th century withconsiderable success (Dehsen 184). Although Christianity is largelyideological, Boyle demonstrates ways in which these ideologies ofcompassion and kinship can be put into practice in order to providetangible solutions to challenges facing society. Greenfield and Marks(249) clearly indicates that one’s socioeconomic background is apredictor of gang involvement and drug abuse. Thus, providingsocioeconomic solutions to poor families within the larger goal ofteaching them about unconditional love protects them from exposure togang life and other social challenges.
From the discussion above, religion can play an integral part inaddressing key social problems. The gang menace in the US has beenongoing for a very long time and based on Boyle’s experiences,Christianity provides an amicable solution to the problem. Thechristen approach is also instrumental in addressing other socialchallenges such as drug use, and racism. Nonetheless, it is importantthat the Christian approach is applied alongside programs thataddress the socioeconomic conditions of most ghetto communities giventhat low socioeconomic status is the greatest motivator for gangmembership. Thus, Boyle’s book addresses way in which religion canbe applied in addressing common social problems in the modern world.
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