Thursday, July 16, 2009

The best we can do is love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts

That's Cornell West paraphrasing W.H. Auden in a Bill Moyers Journal podcast. The topic was Faith and Social Justice and has to be the best podcast I have heard in a long time. The transcript is here.

What makes this so wonderful is that it is a reminder that, despite the popularity of religious conservatives in American politics, there is a religious movement that actually makes sense. It also is a reminder that Kant, perhaps the most important moral philosopher in history, was a religious progressive.

The entire discussion is very open for a secular moral philosophy that I can agree very strongly with. I especially appreciated Serene Jones' description of sin: "Sin, for me, describes the fact that we are born thrown into this world, and we are, no matter how hard we try, because of the complexity of how we're put together, destined to make massive mistakes."

Much of the discussion perhaps can best be described as about the moral implications of economics and the recent crisis. Again from West:
Are you concerned about those on the margins, or do we define a catastrophe only when it relates to investment bankers and Wall Street elites, as opposed to the precious children in chocolate cities? ... Tom Friedmans and others, they're looking at the world from the vantage point of the top. Very much like brother Obama's economic team. They're not looking at the world through the lens of poor people and working people. They got Wall Street elites as their buddies, their cronies, intimate ties, so the vantage point through which they look at the world is very, very different. Christians begin with the catastrophic.
They seem the financial crisis as a moral crisis, in the same way that many have critiqued capitalism as a morally vacant force. I don't like to give people the excuse of being immoral and unhappy simply because they live in a capitalistic economy though. I consider myself at the same time a capitalist, a moral person and very happy. It just takes a lot of work in this world to remind yourself that owning junk is not the secret to a good life.

Responding to Moyers' question "But isn't it a fantasy to think that love can tame capitalism?", West I think gets the answer right:
But that's part of the escapism. If they define success by how the world conceives of prosperity, rather than greatness. In the biblical text the greatness says what? He or she is greatest among you be your servant. There's a clash here. A very important clash.

But love is not a real small thing. Love is not just the key that unlocks the door to ultimate reality. But there would be no weekend if there were not a trade union movement that loved justice enough, and loved working people enough, so that bosses wouldn't treat them like commodities to be marginalized.

There would not be racial, the racial justice that we have of Martin King and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Phil Berrigan. There wouldn't be, without the love that you all had for justice, and the love enough for black people, to say, "Quit niggerizing these people. Quit intimidating them. Quit trying to make them so scared that they won't stand up and fight." Love is a serious thing. When you love your mamma, you take a bullet for her if she's treated unjustly. That's why justice is what love looks like in public.

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