Might We Strive for Some Insight Amidst the Agonies of Our Sociopolitical Life?  [2-21-14]


You and I awaken every morning in the midst of a world over which we, individually, seem bereft of power to shape and change for the better. I trust the Christians among my readers also believe that the Triune God is the final judge of the moral/spiritual patterns of living of all humans. For Christians there must be a really tough theological judgment on the failure of our sociopolitical lives to seek the good of the least of those among us. It is a virtual universal fact that most of us are hugely and unrelievedly neglectful of the least of these. Without in any way diminishing that profound theological and universal guilt, Christians should also confess and live as though they really believe that the Triune God is ultimately gracious. Drop out that grace, and life can easily seem no more than a pismire of the one against the many: the agony of having to live in relation to other fallen creatures and amidst corruptible sociopolitical arrangements, procedures, and governance.

But the Christian not only needs to worship with other Christians regularly, but needs as well to not live in ignorance of the principalities and powers that shape human life daily and everywhere, which is always somewhere in particular.

But how do we identify these powers and how will we identify the scapegoats that are guilty of our distress, fear, and anger? Church might occasionally discuss such matters, but the church itself often seems to be no more than a mirror image of the powers local and at large.

I find some relief in reading books, newspapers, and journals about which I have developed a reasonable respect for their informative and diagnostic capacities to help me understand and cope with the powers.

Among other sources, over several decades I have found reading the New York Times to be helpful—not always convincing but appreciative of the cacophony of voices internal to it—in grasping the principalities and powers among us, within us, and over us.

This Friday morning there were some articles of particular poignancy that are identified below, including internet access to:

David Brooks is a so-called conservative sociopolitical analyst and critic. Here he is trying to identify some less-harsh capitalist theorists stirring around in the Republican Party.

David Brooks: Capitalism for the Masses

Roger Cohen is stationed in London, writes astonishingly insightful critical commentary on culture and sociopolitical agonies. I do not always agree with him, but his erudite articles almost invariably illuminate, wound, and uplift.

Roger Cohen: Memories of Chile

Paul Krugman, the reigning liberal economist and Nobel Prize winner, is the kicking-boy for the far right. But I think he has been more diagnostically insightful than his critics. But he is tough and can take care of himself.

Paul Krugman on the tragedy of misunderstanding and missing the mark on the economic stimulus plan.

Timothy Egan lives on the west coast and writes occasional articles that cut to the bone about the practical implications of our politics and culture.

Timothy Egan on Ecology, California, and Politics

Carolyn McCarthy is a New York congresswoman for whom gun violence was the reason for her getting into politics eighteen years ago and from which she is departing at the end of this term. It is interesting that so many of those passionate about gun control are persons thrown into the fray as a result of gun deaths in the family. I do not know whether to celebrate her bravery over these years or simply to weep for the thousands who die from gunshot year after year. Of course, I should do both. Francis X. Cline’s article on her is sobering.

It is immaterial to me whether any of these writers would claim to be Christian. And these writers are not just one voice falling into line. Yet their writings are deeply humane, literate, and aware of just how profoundly interconnected human life is in these times—and yet also passionate about framing that life with care and hope.

And do I ever read and hear the Right at all? Well, I do live in Oklahoma and the Right, utterly bereft of nuance, screams at me daily on the TV and in the newspapers, and sometimes in the hallways. Sometimes I just need some fresh air.

Comments welcomed.




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Reader Responses

Amy Rogers

responded on 02/22/14

thank you for this, Joe.  It is helpful as I work with my congregation in trying to interpret the Beatitudes.

Roger Sizemore

responded on 02/22/14

Good insights, Joe, and resources. Thanks.

Craig Watts

responded on 02/22/14

Joe, I had already read several of the pieces you recommend. I confess, the Brooks piece left me frustrated again because he seems to propose a “divide and conquer strategy:  “Republicans need to declare a truce on the social safety net. They need to assure the country that the net will always be there for the truly needy. Then they need to point out that it is the web of middle-class entitlements, even the home mortgage deduction, that really threaten benefits to the poor.” Does it not occur to him that a low capital gains tax the benefits the rich most of all are a threat the poor?

I’ve started a Facebook group “Fix the Inequality” that deals with such issues on a daily basis. I post relevant articles and offer comments. Here: I’ve also been doing some blog writings on the Red Letter Christians site, many of which deal with economics and scripture, here:

I always enjoy you writings. Very few have more to offer than you. Thanks.

Walter Lambert

responded on 02/22/14

Yes, living in Oklahoma definitely requires the NY Times to maintain sanity and perspective.  PBS NewsHour also promotes a thoughtful alternative to the terrible local newscasts and newspaper.

Charles Ragland

responded on 03/20/14

Joe, many thanks for these interesting and wide-ranging links and for your comments, reposted to my facebook page. I was especially captured by David Brooks’ commentary about the new director of the AEI advocating a more humanely nuanced capitalism. Shalom. Charles