Saturday, May 29, 2021

Religious and Racial Dialogue: A Means of Reconciliation or a Bromide?

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.


Dialogue groups are often created to discuss and reconcile those racial and religious issues that fester into political conflict.  Meetings are held and reports are issued, but often they are superficial bromides--that is, trite or unoriginal ideas intended to soothe or placate.  Unless racial and religious dialogue results in new personal relationships it produces little reconciliation.

Black Lives Matter gained prominence advocating the need for police reform after the killing of George Floyd last year.  It has since expanded its activities to ending institutional racism and promoting reparations for slavery; and it has gone global, recently asserting that the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence is based on racism analogous to police brutality in America.


The interminable violence in the Middle East is based more on regional religious and political differences than on race.  Dialogue is a critical component to reconcile conflicts in both religion and race; but BLM has compromised its original purpose of police reform by promoting other controversial racial  issues that focus on economic entitlements for Blacks.


Civil rights laws are a first priority to prohibit religious and racial discrimination; then dialogue groups can focus on improving religious and racial relationships to foster better  understanding and reconciliation.  Political remedies that give preferences to a particular religion or race only worsen relations and preclude any meaningful reconciliation.


For dialogue on religious and racial differences to be effective, it must change personal relationships among participants; otherwise it’s mere window dressing and doesn’t result in meaningful reconciliation.  Talk is cheap in dialogue groups unless the dialogue promotes reconciliation; otherwise it does little more than allow the posturing of its participants.


Reconciliation requires changing our negative attitudes about those of other religions and races.  It should be based on the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those neighbors of other races and religions; and that’s a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.


It’s past time for police reform legislation, but BLM advocacy of other contentious racial issues, such as reparations for slavery and advocacy of Palestinian rights in the Middle East conflict distract from police reform in the U.S.  The interminable Middle East conflict between Jews and Palestinians requires an international political solution.  Dialogue over their conflicting claims in the Holy Land is important, but is no substitute for international diplomacy.      


Dialogue will not by itself reconcile religious and racial differences, but it can help resolve contentious differences with strangers if it leads to new relationships with them.  God's will is that we are reconciled with those not like us by loving them as we love ourselves.  That’s God’s truth and not a mere political bromide.



Notes:


Sean Sullivan and Cleve Wooten have reported that “Black Lives Matter activists recently took to the streets of Indianapolis to protest for Palestinians.  In Congress, a lawmaker who cut her teeth as a Black Lives Matter organizer and who has compared her clashes with police to those faced by Palestinians tweeted Friday, “A cease-fire ends the bombardment — not the violence.”

And during the height of the recent Gaza hostilities, the official Black Lives Matter organization called for “Palestinian liberation,” six years after the group’s early leaders took a trip to the Middle East that planted the seeds for the current alliance.

Black Lives Matter, which has grown into a potent political force amid a national reckoning on race, has responded forcefully to the violence in the Mideast to extend its reach into foreign policy, pressing the Democratic Party to adopt a dramatically different approach to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Whatever the aftermath of the violence in the region, it has starkly changed the Israeli-Palestinian debate in the United States, shifting it for many liberals from a tangled dispute over ancient, often-confusing claims to the far more familiar turf of police brutality and racial conflict.

“We understand that the liberation of Black people in the United States is tied to the liberation of Black people all over the world, and tied to the liberation of oppressed people all over the world,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter. “Being in solidarity with the Palestinian people is something that’s been part of our work as Black Lives Matter for almost as long as we’ve been an organization.”

 The tensions reflect the striking success of Black activists in shifting the Democratic Party’s frame of reference over the past year on a range of issues, so that racial justice undergirds the debate on everything from climate change to health care to tax cuts. The eruption in Gaza marks the extension of that shift into the international arena. 

Black Lives Matter activists say an alliance with Palestinians is natural, since, as they see it, Israeli police are brutalizing Palestinians much like American officers mistreat unarmed Black people and protesters.

Now that a cease-fire has been declared, however, it’s less clear that Black Lives Matter activists and their allies can coalesce around a set of demands that will drive the Mideast debate in the coming months.

Some critics of Israel support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, for example, while others are sharply opposed. And while some favor imposing conditions on Israel in exchange for U.S. aid, agreement is elusive on what those conditions should be.

And questions remain about whether prominent Democrats will distance themselves from Black Lives Matter activists if those activists continue to make outspoken statements on the Mideast.

After BLM tweeted support for Palestinians, the BDS National Committee responded: “Thank you for your solidarity. From Ferguson to Palestine, our struggles against racism, white supremacy and for a just world are united!”  See

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gaza-violence-blm-democrats/2021/05/22/38a6186e-b980-11eb-a6b1-81296da0339b_story.html?utm_.


In Enough Bromides, Thomas Albert Howard has observed that “even as violence tied to religious identity still assails us in the daily news, we live in a booming heyday for interreligious dialogue. From a historical perspective, this phenomenon is remarkable, a noteworthy departure from the more isolationist and skeptical postures that faith traditions have exhibited toward one another in the past. For those involved, “dialogue” has become an umbrella term, signifying a wide range of peaceful exchanges, gatherings, and collaborations involving two or more religious traditions. At such events the consensus is that different faith traditions ought to get along and make the world a better place.

It is hard to disagree with such a goal, and, indeed, one finds much that is commendable in the current interfaith scene. But it is also a movement facing fundamental challenges and criticisms. The criticisms are best understood after surveying several recent developments. Together, these suggest that the jury is still out on the shape and future of interreligious dialogue. There is reason for both hope and concern.

Peter Ochs, who teaches at the University of Virginia, was tired of the parliament-style approach to interreligious dialogue that was in vogue for much of the twentieth century. This approach saw the mission of interreligious dialogue as issuing high-minded statements about peace while privileging a distinctively Western taxonomy of the “great world religions.” Deciding that something different was needed, Ochs launched the Scriptural Reasoning Project, which brings together Jews, Christians, and Muslims in deliberately small groups to read and discuss one another’s sacred texts. This format aims to work against the widespread canard that all religions teach basically the same thing. The mutual reading exercises invite participants not to downplay differences but to aim for “better quality disagreement” in an atmosphere of mutual respect. This method has its own society and its own journal (Journal of Scriptural Reasoning).

Chicago’s Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), founded in 2002, is a pioneer in inspiring young people with the ability of interfaith dialogue to nurture civil society and healthy pluralism. “Interfaith cooperation does not depend upon shared political, theological, and spiritual perspectives,” IFYC’s founder, Eboo Patel, insists. “People who engage in interfaith cooperation may disagree on such matters. The goal of interfaith leadership is to find ways to bring people together to build relationships, learn about each other, and participate in common action despite such differences.” Patel is also a critic of parliament-style dialogue, but he wants members of various faith communities to work together to increase “social capital” and sustain the virtues and practices necessary for self-government.

“What distinguishes the monastic approach to interreligious dialogue,” the organization’s secretary general, William Skudlarek, OSB, told me, “is an emphasis on hospitality and spiritual experience. Almost all events take place in monasteries, and the schedule is built around the liturgical horarium of the monastic community. In meetings with Buddhists, ample time is provided for common meditation. In meetings with Muslims, their times of prayer are also included in the schedule.”

Beyond interreligious studies, interreligious dialogue has given rise to another academic field: comparative theology. In contradistinction to dialogue proper and comparative religion (which strives for a more neutral approach), comparative theology insists that the theologian work from the standpoint of a particular tradition, but develop his or her thoughts in close conversation with another tradition. According to Harvard Divinity School’s Francis Clooney, SJ, comparative theology “marks acts of faith seeking understanding which are rooted in a particular faith tradition but which, from that foundation, venture into learning from one or more other faith traditions.” While novel in some respects, such an approach has venerable precedents in figures such as Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides, both of whom drew insights from all three Abrahamic traditions.

Intent on finding common ground, many dialogues have eschewed candidly discussing religious differences and settled for what the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has called “conversations of colorless compromise” [or bromides], which eventuate in “superficial joint declarations.” In many respects, this is an understandable goal, motivated by a desire to avoid the vitriolic polemics of the past. But perhaps an over-correction has now occurred. In a desire to arrive at tranquility, peace, not truth, has too often become the only goal of dialogue, and the (often unspoken) rules of dialogue work to reinforce this. But perhaps the time is ripe to retrieve an older Platonic sense of dialogue, in which mutual truth-seeking is the primary concern.

At the very least, boosters of dialogue should admit the downsides of producing, in the words of Cardinal Avery Dulles, “statements so diluted and broad that they become functionally meaningless [bromides].” Such an approach often rests on the debatable assumption that conflicts among “world religions” constitute the biggest impediment to global peace. To quote lines made famous by the late German Catholic theologian Hans K√ľng: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.” Of course, conflicts between large religious traditions—say, between Christianity and Islam—have been a source of violence in the past. But it is harder than one might think to isolate religion as the principal cause of conflict, because differences of religion are almost always connected to ethnic, political, linguistic, economic, and geographical differences.

The fact that Muslims and Christians might get along in Seattle or Toronto but not in Sarajevo or Cairo suggests that far more than religious difference alone is at work in putatively religious conflicts. A comparable point is developed by William T. Cavanaugh in his book The Myth of Religious Violence (2009), where he argues that the category of “religious violence,” viewed in historical perspective, has insidiously drawn attention away from the more pervasive and enduring violence caused by the modern secular nation-state.

The key fault-lines have less to do with religious divisions per se than with social and political divisions expressed in a religious idiom. In recent decades, one also observes conflicts within particular traditions between anti-modern traditionalists and pro-modern reformers. In many respects, we might today be witnessing the globalization of the kind of “culture war” that the sociologist James Davison Hunter has explored in contemporary America. In Hunter’s analysis, the deepest disagreements in American society were no longer between Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, as had historically been the case, but between conservatives within these traditions (whom Hunter calls “the Orthodox”) and their more latitudinarian co-religionists (whom he calls “the Progressives”). In other words, the key fault-lines have less to do with religious divisions per se than with social and political divisions expressed in a religious idiom.

Ironically, interfaith dialogue itself has often produced internecine divisions within particular faith communities, divisions that fall roughly along “orthodox” and “progressive” lines. This is easy to see in the cases of Christianity and Judaism: progressive voices within these communities have strongly championed interreligious dialogue, whereas more conservative voices have worried that it will lead down a slippery slope toward relativism or feel-good syncretism. Interfaith ventures often fail, as Robert Wuthnow has noted, “because of opposition from other religious groups in the [same] religious community.” Today, the regnant ethos governing interreligious dialogue, especially in the academy, is that of pluralism—an ethos heartily embraced by progressives.

Interfaith engagement that self-selects—that attracts only those who are most open to it in the first place—profoundly misconstrues the reason for interfaith dialogue.

Whatever the future may bring, one can safely predict that it will not be wholly secular, as various prophets of modernity once predicted. Indeed, as Britain’s recently deceased Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written: “great responsibility now lies with the world’s religious communities. Against expectations, they have emerged in the twenty-first century as key forces in a global age.” Insofar as interfaith dialogue can rise to address challenges and learn from criticisms as it continues to bring different religious communities together, it too can be a force for good, helping to shoulder this weighty responsibility.”  See https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/enough-bromides?utm_source=Main+Reader+List&utm_campaign=d1b1af8582-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_03_16_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_407bf353a2-d1b1af8582-92511949.  

 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Musings on Morality and Politics and the Need for a Civil Religion in America

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Religion and politics have always been interwoven; but it’s the moral imperatives of religion, not its mystical beliefs, that provide the standards of political legitimacy in a democracy.  Altruistic moral standards promote a politics of reconciliation among people of all races and religions, while exclusivist religious beliefs promote religious and political divisions.


The greatest commandment is a universal and altruistic moral imperative to love God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races, religions and political persuasions.  It’s a common word of faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims that should be at the foundation of political legitimacy in America’s pluralistic democracy--but it’s not.


Instead, the altruistic morality that once defined political legitimacy in America has fizzled out, leaving a moral vacuum.  It was a gradual process until 2016, when a majority of White Christians sacrificed Jesus on the altar of Republican politics and elected Donald Trump their President.  American democracy now needs a civil “religion” to restore its political legitimacy.


The church planted the seeds of its own demise long ago when it subordinated following the moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist belief in Jesus Christ as the alter ego of God.  That opened the door to the church supporting the Moral Majority, which led to Trump’s election in 2016.  That was likely the beginning of the end of the White church as a major political power.


It’s doubtful that the church will ever change its evangelical priority from worshipping Jesus to following him.  The church is committed to being a popular social institution, and Jesus taught that following him would never be popular (Mt 7:13-14).  To abandon the cheap grace of worshipping Christ as the only means of salvation would undermine the popularity of the church.    


Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who never claimed to be divine and never advocated any religion, not even his own.  Thomas Jefferson was a deist who considered the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  It’s time to pick up where Jefferson left off and codify an American civil religion based on the moral teachings of Jesus.


Christianity set out to change the world--but the world changed Christianity.  The church sacrificed the altruistic teachings of Jesus to become popular in a materialistic and hedonistic culture.  Democracy was nonexistent in the 1st century Palestinian world of Jesus.  America now needs a civil religion that defines political legitimacy for its 21st century democracy.  


Christianity has failed to address the challenges of democracy.  The teachings of Jesus are timeless standards of legitimacy, but they are silent on the stewardship of democracy, including human rights, political freedom and a just economy.  America needs a secular civil religion to preserve its libertarian democracy.  It must promote a politics of reconciliation and balance individual rights and partisan objectives with providing for the common good.

  


Notes on related commentaries:


Thomas Jefferson 

(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/jeffersons-jesus-and-moral-standards-in.html


Christian universalism  

(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/02/promoting-religion-through-evangelism.html

(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/02/is-religion-good-or-evil.html

(4/5/15): Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/04/seeing-resurrection-in-new-light.html

(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/08/the-universalist-teachings-of-jesus-as.html.

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.

((11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/11/musings-on-jesus-and-christ-as.html.


Civil religion

(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.

(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/09/musings-on-american-civil-religion-and.html.

(3/27/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Civil Religion in a Divided America

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-civil.html.


Notes on the future of a church that has lost its moral compass:

(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/the-relevance-of-jesus-and-irrelevance.html

(4/29/17): A Wesleyan Alternative for an Irrelevant Church

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/04/a-wesleyan-alternative-to-irrelevant.html

(7/22/17): Hell No! 

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/07/hell-no.html.

(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy? http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/12/if-democracy-survives-trump-era-can.html.

(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/musings-on-why-christians-should-put.html.

(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/09/musings-on-self-destruction-of.html.

(9/14/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Chaos as a Prelude to a New Creation

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/09/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-chaos.html

(11/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Virtual Alternative to a Failing Church

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/11/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_9.html.

(12/28/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the End as a New Beginning

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/12/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-end-as.html.

(4/17/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of the Church

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/04/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on-future.html?

(5/15/21): Musings on the Moral Failure of American Christianity and Democracy

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2021/05/musings-on-moral-failure-of-american.html.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Musings on the Moral Failure of American Christianity and Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Following World War II American democracy was seen as a light on a hill to the rest of the world; but that light dimmed after most white Christians lost their moral compass and elected Donald Trump as their President in 2016.  A Godless Chinese autocracy now challenges America’s materialistic and hedonistic democracy as the world’s economic and political ideal.  


Senator Josh Hawley (R Mo) and Doug Mastriono, a state senator from Pennsylvania, represent the moral failure of American Christianity and democracy.  They both have impressive credentials and claim to be Christians, but they extol Donald Trump as God’s chosen leader of America even though Trump exemplifies evil as described by Jesus (see Mark 7:21-23).


American democracy is stifled by a two-party duopoly that’s hopelessly polarized.  Republicans can’t break away from Trump as their iconic leader and Democrats are weakening the economy with excessive spending that’s increasing an astronomical national debt as they seek to convert a libertarian democracy into a socialist democracy.


Jesus taught that God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions.  In politics, that requires an emphasis on providing for the common good.  For America’s polarized democracy to survive, there must be a politics of reconciliation to provide for the common good.


The lyrics of America the Beautiful describe a mythical utopia that never existed.  When that patriotic hymn was published in 1904, America’s culture was far from beautiful; yet for many in my generation those lyrics described an ideal worth living, fighting and dying for.  Sadly, that noble ideal dissipated in the election of 2016.


Over my 78 years, I’ve seen a degradation of American Christianity and democracy.  I share the libertarian dreams of my forebears.  I have served my nation in public office at home and in uniform overseas, and shared the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus as a UMC pastor.   In that time I have lost faith in religion and politics, but not in God’s power to restore America.

 

As a witness to how human depravity has corrupted Christianity and democracy, I have to doubt whether they can be saved from the dustbin of history.  Even so, as masters of our destiny, we must try to salvage our religion and democracy from their demise.  Can we transform an ugly America into America the Beautiful?  


Most Americans claim to be Christians.  They can restore the legitimacy of American Christianity and politics by asserting the primacy of the universal moral teachings of Jesus over exclusivist and divisive Christian beliefs never taught by Jesus.  They must become good stewards of democracy by promoting a politics of reconciliation to end partisan polarization, and then balance individual rights and partisan objectives with providing for the common good.



Notes:


Senator Josh Hawley (R Mo) has impressive credentials, but his personal history and his continuing support of Donald Trump’s anti-democratic assertions mark him as a radical-right Republican ideologue.

“As a U.S. senator, Hawley had led the charge to object to the 2020 election on the false premise that some states failed to follow the law, bolstering the baseless claims from President Donald Trump that the election was stolen and should be overturned. Hawley had said the ascent of Joe Biden to the presidency “depends” on what would happen on Jan. 6, the day of a pro forma congressional vote to affirm the election. He had been photographed that day pumping his fist in the air as some Trump supporters were gathering on the grounds outside the U.S. Capitol. Later, as rioters ransacked the building and several senators huddled in a secure room, fearing for their lives and trying to persuade their pro-Trump colleagues to withdraw their efforts to undermine democracy, Hawley remained combative in pushing the very falsehoods that had helped stoke the violence.

At 41, the freshman senator had become a face of a movement built on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent. “You have caused this!” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) erupted at him, referring to the events building up to the storming of the Capitol. Over the course of his rapid rise in politics — from law school professor to state attorney general to his 2018 election to the Senate — Hawley has followed two parallel paths, each reflecting a different political persona. On one, he has pursued elite privilege, even relative to other senators, commuting to a private high school, attending Stanford University and Yale Law School, clerking at the Supreme Court, and working for a powerful Washington law firm, all while courting liberal professors and establishment Republicans who enabled his ascent.On the other, he has expressed sympathy with some of the country’s most far-right, anti-government extremists, demonstrating a willingness to see the world through their grievance-infused prism even after horrific attacks — from Oklahoma City in 1995, when he was 15, to the Capitol attack in 2021. In the wake of Jan. 6, Hawley has made clear that he is committed to just one of those personas...the one that propelled him to promote Trump’s baseless election claims and help inspire an insurrection, and it has made Hawley an instant star in today’s far-right Republican Party.”

Hawley, an evangelical, had seen how Trump captured the presidency in 2016, in part by winning the White evangelical vote by 80 to 16 percent. So, when Hawley spoke before a group of ministers in Kansas City in December 2017, he sounded like a different person than the one who had written five years earlier that there were “distinct missions of church and state — is it really the role of government, for instance, to promote ‘Christian values’ or refurbish America’s Christian heritage?” The state, he had written, should not be used “to convert non-believers.” But in his 2017 speech, he advocated going into “the public realm and to seek the obedience of the nations, of our nation … to transform our society to reflect the gospel truth and lordship of Jesus Christ.” The speech drew a rebuke from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is dedicated to upholding the separation of church and state. The foundation wrote to the former constitutional law professor that his remark “stands in glaring defiance of the very Constitution that you swore an oath to uphold.”

Hawley’s position has increasingly taken hold in the party, where leaders at every level have embraced the false claims of election fraud. Trump remains the most popular figure in the country among GOP voters, and lawmakers who opposed the electoral college challenge have been booed at home and faced withering criticism from local party officials. On April 17, in his first public appearance in Missouri since the events of Jan. 6, Hawley...was swarmed by several hundred people who had gathered at a Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser for Christian County’s Republican Party. “We love Josh Hawley because he stands up for Missouri’s values,” said Wanda Marteen, 78, who organized the event. “The first thing, the big thing he stood up for, is the election. We feel like it was fraudulent.” See

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/11/senator-josh-hawley/.


Doug Mastriono is a state senator from Pennsylvania who, like Josh Hawley, has impressive credentials and a significant Republican following in his state.  He is an even more of an advocate than Hawley for Christian nationalism and Trump’s antidemocratic rhetoric that the 2020 election was stolen. See   https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/a-pennsylvania-lawmaker-and-the-resurgence-of-christian-nationalism?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm.


On America the Beautiful, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it? at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2019/02/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_16.html,


America the Beautiful, By Katharine Lee Bates, from UMH Hymnal, p 696:  


O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain!

America, America!

God shed his grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

 

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!

America! America!

May God thy gold refine,

Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!

 

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!

America! America!

God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Musings on the Need for Wisdom at the Inflection Point of American Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Wisdom has been defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment.”  Wisdom is a timeless virtue that transcends knowledge and religious beliefs, requiring years of experience and mature spiritual inspiration.  Jesus was a wisdom teacher, and his altruistic moral teachings provide timeless and universal standards of truth and legitimacy.


The Enlightenment transformed politics and religion in the Western World with advances in knowledge and reason.  Americans became masters of their destiny with libertarian democracy; but America’s politics and religion seem to have run their course.  American democracy has come to an inflection point, and political wisdom is needed to light the way ahead--but it’s in short supply.


From the birth of American democracy, Christian morality has been the primary source of its standards of political legitimacy.   Jesus emphasized the wisdom of reconciliation, but most white Christians rejected that wisdom when they elected Donald Trump in 2016.  The election reflected a church that has lost its moral compass and polarized partisan politics that defy reconciliation.


The moral teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, including those of other races, religions and politics, as we love ourselves.  It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and has been accepted by Muslims as a common word of faith; and in politics it requires providing for reconciliation and the common good.        


God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; and Satan does a convincing imitation of God in religion and politics.  In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, Satan is winning the popularity contest in America’s polarized politics.  That’s bad news for democracy; but wisdom and God’s will are not determined by majority rule.

David Brooks sees wisdom as a process of interacting rather than promoting common standards of political legitimacy; but it should be both.  While the tolerance of political differences is important; tolerance has its limits in seeking a politics of reconciliation.  There must be a consensus on the moral standards of political legitimacy to sustain a democracy.  


Obaid Omer is a Canadian Muslim who returned to Canada after being away for a number of years and found that its tolerant cultural norms had changed.  It was no longer acceptable to criticize religion or the politics of “woke” liberals.  Omer had the wisdom to seek a better understanding of opposing views before criticizing them, but he found little tolerance for his informed criticism.

The American experiment in democracy has reached its inflection point.  A polarized partisan duopoly has limited political choices to either radical right Republican populist nationalism or leftist Democratic socialism.  A libertarian democracy requires that individual rights and partisan objectives are balanced with providing for the common good.  It will take political wisdom and a politics of reconciliation to provide such a balance in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.



Notes:


Democracy is based on majority rule, and wisdom questions whether it can survive human depravity. 

Jesus taught that few will follow God’s truth.  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13,14.  

Mark Twain once said,  “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Mark 3:25  

Abraham Lincoln affirmed the relevance of that wisdom to American democracy in the Civil War.

 

David Brooks has said that “when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realization. An emphasis on pervasive racism grew exponentially. To even question the extent to which racism was everywhere resulted in accusations of being a racist. Like with religious blasphemy codes, you can only talk about certain topics in specific ways. I couldn't help but notice there was an almost fundamentalist, faith-like aspect to these claims. It was as if in the years since I'd been gone, our society had decided to adopt the blasphemy codes of my youth. Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.”

Brooks concludes, “We live in an ideological age, which reduces people to public categories — red/blue, Black/white — and pulverizes the personal knowledge I’m talking about here. But we all have the choice to see people as persons, not types. As the educator Parker J. Palmer put it, “the shape of our knowledge becomes the shape of our living.”  See https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/15/opinion/wisdom-attention-listening.html?.


Obaid Omer is a libertarian Muslim from Canada who promotes the freedom of speech.  After being overseas in Kosovo, Sudan, Bosnia Haiti and Afghanistan as a secular man for a decade,  Omer says, “When I came back to Canada in 2014, I returned to a different country than the one I had left.

I had left a country that was proud of being the opposite of what bothered me about Islam, that was proud of a tradition of free inquiry and free speech, open debate and civil discourse. The Canada I returned to resembled the religion of my youth more than it did its opposite.  ...An emphasis on pervasive racism grew exponentially. To even question the extent to which racism was everywhere resulted in accusations of being a racist. Like with religious blasphemy codes, you can only talk about certain topics in specific ways.  I couldn't help but notice there was an almost fundamentalist, faith-like aspect to these claims. It was as if in the years since I'd been gone, our society had decided to adopt the blasphemy codes of my youth.  ...How did the religious tenets I had abandoned come to take over the liberal culture I had abandoned them for?  To answer this question, I did what I had once done with the texts of Islam: I educated myself. I started reading about critical race theory and Intersectionality. I spent eighteen months reading critical social justice scholarship, and gender and queer theories. It was here I found the rejection of the Enlightenment values that made these theories closer to religion than to its opposite.”  Omer ’s classic libertarian wisdom challenges the “woke” wisdom of leftist politics that discourages criticism, illustrating the competing perspectives of wisdom in politics.  See  

https://www.newsweek.com/i-left-islam-liberal-values-now-woke-liberals-are-embracing-new-religion-opinion-1586128.

  

On balancing rights with the common good, see Musings on Rights and Responsibilities at 

http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2020/07/musings-on-rights-and-responsibilities.html.