06 November 2008

Biblical realism

As the U.S. president-elect Barack Obama prepares himself and his leadership team for the tasks ahead, I find my optimism tempered by these sober words from Chris Hedges' elegant rant against fundamentalisms*, both religious and atheist, entitled I Don't Believe in Atheists. [Republished as When Atheism Becomes Religion: America's New Fundamentalists.] 
The prospects for the human race are bleak. The worse things get in human societies, the more powerful the yearning for illusion and false hope. The reality of what we face as a species is increasingly frightening. We cannot stop the destructive forces we have unleashed. We can hope only to lessen the disasters looming before us. This will require a sober, dispassionate response, one that accepts the severe limitations of humanity and gives up utopian fantasies. It will require empathy, the ability to see the world from the perspective of those outside our culture and our nation. Dreams of fantastic miracles and collective salvation, whether through science or God, will accelerate our doom, for they permit us to ignore reality. Our survival as a species depends on accelerating our narrowing possibilities, doing what we can to mitigate disaster, and reaching out to the rest of the planet in ways that promote cooperation rather than conflict.
As Christians, we do have incredibly good news, but it is not the "Good News®" the rest of the world sourly thinks we are peddling. (Why do they think that? Because the heretical celebrities who claim to exemplify Christian certainty indeed peddle it.)

Our good news is, first of all, that we love this planet and its inhabitants with Godly love; and that passionate love fuels our search for ways to meet the challenges and dilemmas listed by Hedges.

Secondly, God has not just granted us, through the Holy Spirit, a share in the divine Love that flows throughout creation. (I envision it as a universal subatomic weak force, never coercing a particular outcome in any case but always drawing us toward ultimate reconciliation.) God has also arranged for us to have (at least!) two awesome resources for discernment: the Bible and each other. The Bible's utter realism about sin (as Hedges points out more than once) inoculates us against destructive certainty. Biblical faithfulness and Christian arrogance are completely incompatible!! And our capacity for relationship, for dialogue, with people inside and outside our communities of faith, means we can draw on a planetary web of observers, thinkers, doers, to study and act. The scientist and the steward need each other; the activist and the contemplative need each other; and who would be better able to point out the mystic's blind spots than the sympathetic cynic?

As much as I resist looking toward larger-than-life heroes to catalyze the global social resources we need to face the future, I do have high hopes for Barack Obama. I hope that he can help us commit ourselves, not to false certainties, utopian fantasies, or a fatal dependence on hero-figures, but to overcoming what Obama himself called our "empathy deficit." May we experience new patterns of dialogue and collaboration in national and global stewardship--and may Quakers, whose values would seem to be completely consistent with this hope, be joyfully in the mix.

* I continue to protest that the word "fundamentalist" once referred to a specific stream of Christianity, many of whose proponents did not (and still do not) display any of the arrogance and meanness now often associated with the word.

Quaker Friends and Readers Voting Poll: If you are an American Friend (Quaker), Wess Daniels would like to know whether and how you voted in the November 4 elections. He's researching an article for The Friend. The anonymous survey is here; the poll closes on the morning of November 10.

If all goes well, my next post will be from back home in Elektrostal, Russia. We met hundreds of Friends during these six weeks in Oregon and Washington. You gave us so much encouragement--we'll take some of your warmth and energy back with us. Special thanks to Northwest Yearly Meeting staff and the Global Outreach board; Eugene Friends; Metolius Friends; Newberg Friends; Spokane Friends; Ministerios Restauración (Portland); Reedwood Friends.

More election links: From the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: "How the Faithful Voted." ~~ The experience of one Friendly voter. ~~ And another. ~~ Thanks to Carol Holmes for referring this election commentary from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ~~ And here's a Kenyan commentary on the substance of Obama-hope, as distinguished from hypocritical hoopla. ~~ Office of the President-Elect: change.gov.

Finally, deep appreciation for Aj Schwanz's moving post. I can't help meditating on the cathartic element in Tuesday's election of Barack Obama--very evidently cathartic for many black people and many white people, but often for different reasons. What would my late mother think?--she of the Germanic "master race" mythology, mother of a murder victim and unable to consider any feature of the murderer of her daughter other than his race? --She who put Swastikas up on our Skokie lawn when the Nazis wanted to march? One common element in many people's Tuesday stories (mine included) is tears. My prayer is that they are tears unto life.

Other links: More biblical realism: weak, beautiful people. ~~ Juan Enriquez on saving the U.S. economy. ~~ Leave it to the Swiss to commemorate John Calvin with chocolate! ~~ Nancy Thomas: "What stands out is the beauty of God's church."

Corey Harris, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?"


Anonymous said...

Thanks for spreading the word Johan.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for the initiative!

Thorny Quaker said...

Good Words, Johan.

I had a chuckle while reading this quote from Hedges: "Dream of fantastic miracles and collective salvation...will accelerate our doom...." Maybe the economic collapse of the first world is God doing a fantastic miracle on behalf of the third world. Perhaps it will lead to collective salvation. Probably not, but its fun to think about.