The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).
I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.
On Friday’s PBS NewsHour, several factoids scrolled across the screen from a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, accompanied only by the program’s theme music. The one that grabbed my attention was “62% of Republicans are not accepting of candidates that openly criticize Donald Trump.”
This was right after I had read David Brooks’ piece about the dangers of “essentialist” thinking (see Saturday’s post). Here’s a discussion starter at your next coffee conversation with friends: “Is it more surprising that 62% of Republicans won’t accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump?” Or, is it more surprising that 38% of Republicans will accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump?”
Maybe the answer for which is “more surprising” depends in part on one’s location. As someone domiciled in Alabama, it was more surprising to me that 38% of Republicans are willing to accept a candidate that openly criticizes Donald Trump. I think most of the 38% live outside Alabama.
Lee McIntyre is a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. In his 2018 book Post-Truth, he defines post-truth as “the political subordination of reality.”
McIntyre has researched the origins of science denial. He connects the roots of our current political situation where lying to the public brings shrugs rather than shame to something that began happening with science 70+ years ago.
In a fascinating 1/14/20 Amanpour & Co. interview with Michel Martin on PBS, McIntyre said it’s important to remember that disinformation has a purpose behind it. In the 1950s, the tobacco industry’s ads competed against each other over whose cigarettes were healthier. In preparation for a looming scientific study that virtually connected smoking with cancer, a public relations consultant told tobacco industry leaders, “You have to fight the science. You have to create doubt. You have to give to the public another side to this story.”
McIntyre said, “That really created the blueprint for the next 70 years of science denial. … I think there is a straight line that you can draw from the science denial that started with the tobacco industry … to present day through climate change, anti-vaxx, evolution and flat earth … to today’s post-truth in the political arena.”
In Europe, there were three estates: nobility, clergy and commoners. Over time, various groups were called “the fourth estate.” Thomas Carlyle wrote that when Parliament allowed press reporting in 1787, Edmund Burke said “in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder,” sits “a Fourth Estate more important” by far than they all the members of Parliament assembled.
A chess board has eight nobles, four bishops and sixteen commoners. I like to think of the four rooks (or “castles”) as representatives of the press. It’s fashionable in many circles today to have a low, derisive opinion of the news media, but I hold them in high esteem. Like nobles and clergy, some are better than others, but done right, it’s a demanding, honorable profession.
Photo journalists covering the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s revealed the ugly face of racism and helped bring change. Good investigative journalism is a bulwark of freedom and one of our best defenses against authoritarians who seek to control dissenting opinions. The Founders were wise to insist that the Freedom of the Press be listed among our Bill of Rights.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played chess, but (if and) when I play again, my name for the rooks will be bulwarks, standing on the four corners of the board, providing a civilian “check and balance” for the other three estates.
Retirement, like grace, is widely misunderstood and underrated. In retirement my dad stayed busy working on clocks and doing things for friends and relatives. He said, “I don’t know how I ever had time to work.” I thought it was quaint that the old boy was staying busy in his dotage. Now that I’m the old boy in my dotage, I understand what he meant. Life is full.
I may have said this in an earlier post. If so, and you’re young, just consider it doubly important. If you’re old, you (like me) probably won’t remember. When you’re old you can tell (or hear) the same stories over and over and they’re always new.
Mondays are more fun in retirement. Yesterday, I woke eagerly at 5:30. I made a pot of coffee and sat down to read a daily meditation, check email and scan some online news sources. As the coffee percolated, I discovered that it was 3:45, not 5:45. When you’re old, glasses help you see better. They can also make you look better, as demonstrated by these old friends.
Which reminds me, this is Election Day, so it must be Tuesday. Tuesdays are more fun in retirement, too. Cheers!
The last letter of the Greek alphabet, ωμέγα (omega), is part of a description of God in Revelation 1.8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (NRSV). The Message translates it this way: The Master declares, “I’m A to Z. I’m The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I’m the Sovereign-Strong.”
Whether you and I are alive for the cosmic omega, each of us experiences a personal, earthly omega. A key element of faith is trust that our physical death is not the last word: In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. I see a connection between the opus of our lives and the omega that we share, and help create, with the universe.
Omega is an undervalued faith theme because we may avoid thinking about death. Trust in a victorious, joyous omega sometimes is overshadowed by ecclesial judgments about morality and obedience.
This concludes 14 posts about “undervalued faith themes.” Since Advent means coming and the season includes a focus on the parousia, a few more posts about omega seem appropriate.
A favorite feature of this season is the announcement by a vast army from heaven: “And on earth, peace among people of good will!” (Luke 2.14)
The cosmic chorus reminds us that peace and good will go hand in hand. Good will is an essential ingredient of peace. So, this season my question is: What can I do to cultivate within me good will toward others?
An attitude of good will usually involves some kind of repentance, which means “turning,” as in an “attitude adjustment.” Peace and good will contagiously flow out of our attitude adjustments.
A rain gauge indicates how much rain we’ve received. It would be nice to have a gauge to measure the level of peace and good will around the house, neighborhood, school, workplace, church or Congress.
When I was a child, I heard the angel announcement as something magically “out there,” with no involvement on my part. Now, I hear the cosmic chorus as an invitation to turn, change and adjust my attitude.
Individually and corporately, our finely-tuned resistance to change makes peace an undervalued faith theme.
Concern for the world (κόσμος in Greek) is not new. The Romans addressed air and water pollution. Soil conservation was practiced in China, India and Peru 2,000 years ago. The modern environmental movement began in the late 19th century in Europe and the U.S. in response to the Industrial Revolution. Humans, individually and corporately, impact the cosmos, whether by planting a garden or detonating a nuclear weapon.
Lake Erie was almost devoid of fish in the 1960s and partly responsible for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. My first awareness of the word “ecology” was around 1970 when I saw it on a campus poster. Young people today are aware of the cosmos at an earlier age than my generation, and exercise more responsibility, as demonstrated by Greta Thunberg.
Perhaps you’ve that noticed that sustainability is an important focus among today’s companies. Some large corporations now have a Chief Sustainability Officer. “ESG” (environmental, social and governance) is prominent in corporate annual reports and presentations. ESG is a significant investment theme and there’s a growing number of sustainability-themed mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs).
Children are leading. Corporations are leading. Cosmos has been an undervalued faith theme because some faith groups have been slower to lead, but that appears to be changing.
Community is where we practice freedom. Our tempting illusion is that if we could “fix” those around us, our problems would go away. How might your day be different if you viewed the most troublesome thorns in your flesh as treasures? Congress, perhaps? If you want a “sea change” in your life, view community as a gift or a playground, not a problem or a burden.
Community is us, not them. Thus, the desire to fight becomes a respectful pursuit of what is right. The urge to flee becomes contentment with “the things we cannot change.” In Divine Therapy and Addiction (pp. 63-64), Thomas Keating (1923-2018) provides insight into the Serenity Prayer:
“Humility is the capacity to accept whatever happens, peacefully. Then you can decide whether God is calling you simply to accept the situation, or to do something to improve or correct it. Humility … puts one in tune with the universe and with whatever is happening in the present moment, whether to oneself or others.”
Alienation, and the violence that may accompany it, is rooted in feeling powerless, disconnected from community. True freedom gives one the power to connect, to create. Where isolation and powerlessness abound, community is an undervalued faith theme.
“Justice is the societal expression of love,” said Ted Runyon (1930-2017) in a a long ago lecture. He was a theology professor with deep faith and quiet joy. He was my seminary faculty advisor. I’m grateful for his wisdom and confident vision of “how things ought to be and one day shall be.”
Runyon was a great interpreter of John Wesley (1703-1791). On page 164 of The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today he cites “On Living Without God,” Wesley’s Sermon 130: “True Christianity cannot exist without both the inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy and truth.”
Congress is a forum for competing self-interests to find consensus for the common good. This week will remind us that consensus about justice can be elusive. For Runyon (pp. 183-184), the “measures taken by God to preserve freedom should set the standards by which human institutions gauge their efforts to protect freedom and responsibility.”
“Arbitrary power that does not honor justice and the rights of all is never consistent with the final reality, divine love. This structure of the divine-human relation, and the freedom that is essential to it, was at the center of Methodist preaching. And it was this structure that was to contribute to the underpinnings of the emerging democracies in England and America as well as to the fight against slavery, for it combines freedom from arbitrary, oppressive power with freedom for the common good as perceived by love.”
Amid conflicting self-interests, justice is an undervalued faith theme.