Monday, March 20, 2017

I No Longer Expect That Change Is Going To Come From The Affluent Secular Left

In my approximately two-decade long return trip to the religion of The Law, The Prophets and the Gospel, a lot of the old assumptions I made about how to get equal justice, economic justice, justice for women, Black people, Latinos.... and my own LGBT minority were left behind.  They were left behind because of seeing those assumptions fail under testing and how other things which had succeeded were foolishly given up by the left.   I could make two lists of those things but it would not be news to those who understood it and it wouldn't make the slightest difference to those who didn't.

One of the problems with the secularism of the failed left is that secularism is a weak fuel to motivate people in the resistance they need to overthrow the entrenched power of the privileged.  The assertion of Constitutional texts is a very weak fuel, especially by the lawyers who are congenial colleagues with their classmates working for privilege.  Its results are certainly mixed and, as we see one after another of those hard won rights fall to the Republican-fascist court, somewhat ephemeral.  The assertion of identity and the self-interest of people on that basis is hardly effective to attain unity of purpose and, I think, has made conquering a self-divided left easier.   I was encouraged, last night, listening to Callie Crossley's Under the Radar* program from last week, to hear a discussion of Intersectional Feminism which has the potential to get past the divisive aspects of identity while maintaining the empowerment that identity politics can have.  If they manage to make their intentions of one for all and all for one work, it will be very important.

But I don't see the left, in general, making such an effort, I don't really have faith that it will work.  I really don't think anything that excludes the belief that we are to sacrifice and labor, without giving up because that is how God has made the human presence in the world and it is, in fact, a binding commandment will be strong enough to make change.  From Walter Brueggemann's book, The Bible Makes Sense

A fresh perspective of a covenental- historical kind transmits to us a special expectation for the future and a dynamic which lets that promised future come among us.  The shape of our expectation is quite concrete even though it tends to be expressed in poetic imagery.  We live toward and await the coming of a community of justice and righteousness,  in which the last ones will be first (Luke 13:30), in which the humbled ones will exalted (Luke 14:11), in which the hungry ones will be fed (Luke 1:53) and in which the ones who mourn will be comforted (Matt, 5:4).  Our expected future, which God has promised in the Bible, has many points of commonality with the best of civil religion and with the substance of the American dream.  But the texture of this future is expressed in the staggering inversions of a life which contains not only gifts, but also harsh judgments against those who resist the vision or seek to have a piece of it on their own terms.  The future held for us by the Bible is not a blissful blur.  It is a promise of an historical future in which human dignity and human joy are valued and human worth is celebrated.  This vision seriously challenges present arrangements for the sake of what is promised.  

Moreover,  this future, which staggers us by envisioning what we think not possible, offers the dynamic of a Promise-Maker and a Promise-Keeper,  God himself.  That is what is covenantal about this tradition.  We are not in covenant with a good idea which is simply there or with our best intentions which depend on us.  We are in covenant with an active, caring intervening God who keeps his promise.  Thus the Bible strangely affirms that we are to embrace the promise of a quite different society which God himself initiates.  Yet this future to which we look forward is peculiarly historical which is to say the future is breaking in now, and when it breaks in, it does so peculiarly among the powerless, despised, and weak.  Bible reading is for the sake of remembering where we peculiarly come from and what is not peculiarly promised by this God who is graciously committed especially to those who have lost their utility and who have been written off by the world.  The future here envisioned is not a withdrawal from history, but a renewal of humanness in history, so the new humanness may emerge especially among those whom we treat with disdain.  It is of course a shock and an affront to us to notice how the power of the Bible is especially received among the powerless.  But we can not avoid the evidence that it was especially the poor and the powerless who responded to Jesus and who were able to trust God's promises.  It may give us pause to wonder that the poor may be strangely open to such promises, and perhaps in our affluence, it becomes more difficult and problematic to let God's promises have power among us. 

Elsewhere Brueggemann makes two points which are important.   One, from the Book of Exodus, in which God, after giving a detailed list of what he promises to do to free the Israelites from the Pharonic system, he tells Moses that he is going to be his agent of making them free.  Human agency is an essential and, apparently, non-negotiable part of this covenantal relationship.   It's not going to just happen by a natural process but will be a product of human intention in concert with the intention of God.

Another point which has to be made is given in this Youtube in the Bar Theology series, in which in response to a question about the "mean God" of the First Testament and the "nice God" of the Second Testament,  Brueggemann points out that the Old Testament God is far from the stereotype of him and that the divine will as presented by Jesus was far from being without serious consequences for not doing justice, not supporting the poor, etc.   In one of the most meaningful parts of the Second Testament, Matthew 25:31-49. we generally stop reading about verse 40 in which the reward of those who "did to the least among you what you did" to God is promised.  But the next part of it tells what awaits those who don't feed God, clothe  God, give God drink, welcome God into their homes, see them while they are sick or in prison.  Judgment.   "I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’  These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.”   I won't quibble about the meaning of "eternal" as a universalist, but I think even avoiding long term confinement in a house of correction wouldn't be worth risking when it will be God giving judgement from the bench, as it were.

I look at the secular left, those who will say nice things about Neil Gorsuch this week, his liberal teachers, fellow students, colleagues, law clerks, etc. who will say what a swell guy he is and how smart he is and, yeah, he might screw the poor to death but, well, he's a nice clean proper member of the club - don't bother looking at his youthful, privileged pigishness and frat boy years.  That secular left, the ACLU - free speech industry, etc. certainly don't figure that that screwing of the poor is anything they need to worry about because, well, they'll get paid to make the losing argument before the Roberts court and they'll fight the good impotent fight.

I don't have any faith that secularism will, in the end, have the power to do it and I think the very people who those affluent lefties figure should make the change are the very ones who will not make it, a few reversible advances, here and there, notwithstanding.

*  Callie Crossley is about my current favorite radio host.   You might find this segment about the importance of and promotion of the books of the late Octavia Butler, one of the rare, black women who had success in the science fiction genre interesting.



    I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back

    And started walkin' toward a coffee colored Cadillac

    I was pushin' through the crowd to get to where she's at

    And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

    are not five better lyrics in all of American music better than that
    verse. Hell, I'm not entirely sure if I can come up with five better
    verses in all of English poetry if you spotted me Mr. Yeats and the
    entire Oxford Anthology.
    The comic desperation of the protagonist is impeccably limned. The
    meter's perfect, the imagery sublime. Have you ever seen a
    coffee-colored Cadillac? Me, neither, but I have heard Southern
    diplomats campaign-shoutin'. I surely know what that's about so, yeah, I
    trust the poet on the Cadillac, too.

    Chuck Berry invented
    the language of rock and roll and, through that, reinvented the English
    language for several generations. He did it in that most American way
    possible, the way Mark Twain did it, or Walt Whitman, or Kerouac. He did
    it by experimenting, by playing with the language as though it were the
    greatest toy he'd ever found. Consider the other things he did with it.

    As I was motorvatin' up over the hill/I saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville. (Maybellene)

    You'd motorvated in your time, too. You just didn't know the word for it.

    Pay phone, somethin' wrong, dime gone, will mail/ I ought to sue the operator for tellin' me a tale

    Ah, too much monkey business, too much monkey business/ Too much monkey business for me to be involved in. (Too Much Monkey Business)

    observation of the human condition. (You had similar botheration last
    week, didn't you?) And, from it, Bob Dylan was inspired to write
    "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

    They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale/ The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale. (C'est La Vie).

    Coolerator. It's where you get the cold drink after a hard day of motorvatin' and campaign shoutin', I guess.

    And, finally, the restatement of the American Dream for a new century, just the way Walt Whitman yawped it in the streets of Manhattan.

    His mother told him, "Someday you will be a man,/ And you will be the leader of a big old band.

    Many people coming from miles around/ To hear you play your music when the sun go down.

    Maybe someday your name will be in lights/ Saying 'Johnny B. Goode tonight'."

    "maybe" is the poet's touch. It's depthless in its possibilities. It
    might happen. It might not happen. But it has a chance to happen, and
    that's all that ever has mattered in America. That chance. Of course,
    the possibility gets a little brighter when you hang it on that riff.
    The Riff. The only Riff. The riff that reached across the Atlantic and
    into Keith Richards and John Lennon and also reached all the way down
    through the years, like the faint echoes of The Big Bang, unto the

    (And, let us be honest, in his personal life, Chuck Berry really was a remarkable sort of pervert. Art would be a noble pursuit if it weren't for, you know, artists.)

    That last graf is my favorite, Sparkles. Nails you completely.

  2. "In my approximately
    two-decade long return trip to the religion of The Law, The Prophets and
    the Gospel, a lot of the old assumptions I made about how to get equal
    justice, economic justice, justice for women, Black people, Latinos....
    and my own LGBT minority were left behind. They were left behind
    because of seeing those assumptions fail under testing"

    Right, under testing. I totally believe you were wearing a lab coat.