General Patton once (famously) said “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard die for his country.” When it comes throwing soldiers into the horrid meat-grinder of war it becomes much easier to call them bastards, rather than soldiers. In fact, it’s quite natural to call others bastards in order to trivialize, minimalize, or belittle them. If I remember public school correctly, the word bastard was commonly used as though it were simple curse word mean to “put down” someone you didn’t like. Few people actually knew what it meant to be a bastard.
A bastard is an illegitimate child; one who is always born outside of wedlock and often born of a “whore” (I find that term distasteful, for many such “whores” were nothing but abused illegitimate children themselves, but is the only historic word available). An alternative name for a bastard is a whoreson (1). He is a child who is not loved nor recognized by his parents, he is without a home, family, or inheritance. He is an endless wanderer who does not belong. He is often pitied at a distance, but rarely loved up close.
I had, at one time, adopted this language from film and literature. In our culture poor bastard is often used to represent an unlucky fellow, whom we can be sorry for, yet not deeply care about. When I would see someone who was suffering hardship, yet was very distant from me, I would think “poor bastard, it must be hard to be him.” I genuinely recognized his sufferings were bad, but did not have any emotional connection with him. I think you can imagine this with me: as you are driving down the highway, you see a drunk “bum” stumbling down the highway. He is dirty, hungry, and frustrated at his inability to walk in straight line. You shake your head in empathy and sadness, and under your breath utter, “poor bastard.” You are sad that he is in this state, you genuinely don’t want any evil for him. And you drive by. And you forget it. And you do it every day.
What if that was someone you knew and loved? If you are a parent, what if that was your child? What if that was your wife/husband/fiancé? You would react with more than just sadness at the “bums” miserable state, your car would immediately screech to a halt and you would run to save the “bum.” This is what is the difference between an illegitimate poor bastard and someone who has a legitimate relationship with you.
4 Reasons you are not a bastard
1. You do have a Father
A poor bastard is a child who was abandoned by his father. Perhaps the father was a upper class man who had a short fling with a “whore,” or a soldier, passing by, who snuck in to see a poor farmers daughter. Whatever the case may be, the Father refused to recognize the child as his. The father cared more about obtaining his his own pleasure (rather than starting a family, he seduced, raped, or paid for sex), his own reputation (a child out of wedlock is a scandal), or his own plans/goals (a soldier in search of fame and fortune doesn’t need a child). In the end, the result was the same, the father chose himself over the child. Perhaps you have been as well, and your earthly father did the same, by walking out on you when you were a kid or rejecting you in some other way. Yet as a Christian, you can trust that God the Father is not ashamed to call you his (1 John 3:1). He is not only seeking His own things, at the loss of yours; but rather He made you his own, and does all things for your good (Rom 8:28).
2. You do have a family
One of the toughest situations would have been in the event when a wealthy family man engaged with a “whore” and an illegitimate child was born from that “relationship.” That little child would grow up in the filthy streets, while his/her blood family was living in luxury. That child would always want to fit in and belong, but be always excluded outside of the family. If he found out who his father was, he could peer over the gates and look into a warm house, and see his father loving all the other children, who are wearing fancy clothes and eating warm food. Then this “poor bastard” would go back to his dirty corner in the whorehouse and eat crusty bread. It all sounds very Oliver Twist, and indeed, it is. Yet, as a Christian, you are no longer excluded by your family. Even if your earthly family has excluded you, there is a new family, who is even closer to you than your birth family (Luke 14:26). In this new family “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow… saints… of the household of God” (Eph 2:19-21)
3. You do have a home
The etymology of the word bastard is traced from bastum, which means ‘packsaddle’ (2). The connection with bastard and packsaddle (a horse saddle with a baggage compartment) being that a bastard has no home, and is always traveling. There is also an old French term that is likely associated, fils de bast, meaning “packsaddle son.” Because the bastard has no father or family, he or she often had no place of belonging, no home. He was a nomadic scavenger roaming the world, or in modern language he is part of the transient population. Though you may be experiencing this right now, I can assure you as a Christian you do have a home, you do have a place of belonging. Because you have a Father who is not ashamed to call you his, and you have a church family who suffers with you (1 Cor 12:26) you have a home. You belong. You are in. There is a place where everything evil is undone, every tear is un-cried, every wound is un-cut, and you have a home there (John 14:2).
4. You do have an inheritance
Some cases of bastardry did not include “whores” but were the result of a scandalous affair where the parents had a child out of wedlock. The child may have been born into a home that did not suffer poverty and have some form of family. He might have even known who the father way, and perhaps even know him personally. Perhaps some even lived in a family with the fathers other children, and were known as the “bastard son.” Yet in all of these cases the bastard could not inherit any property or possessions. It could very well be that the fathers oldest son was a bastard, and younger son was legitimate. Through no fault of his own, the older son would be deprived of everything, fame, fortune, even the family name. He would be left completely on his own while his younger brother would obtain everything. As a Christian, you have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4). But even more than that, your inheritance cannot be taken away, for God has given us the Holy Spirit, as a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14).