Does the Occupy Movement Have a Future?
As income inequality in America has grown over the last 30 years (for a detailed account of how this has happened, click here or see Hacker and Pierson’s “Winner Take All Politics”), the prevailing sentiment is that such income inequality is inevitable– the result of globalization, or the ultimately fair and benevolent outcome of competitive markets at work. Hacker and Pierson challenge the prevailing sentiment in their book; the “Occupy” crowd is challenging the prevailing sentiment by protesting.
My personal interest is not to see Wall Street come crashing down (I’m too much on the “winner” side– by luck, not skill– to hope for that); nor am I interested in the equality of economic outcomes (people who are uncommonly creative or industrious ought to be rewarded)– but I am interested in the good of American democracy and the long-term viability– if not flourishing– of American society. Too much income inequality skews the democratic process (as moneyed interests buy disproportionate influence); a government too far removed from the needs of the many leaks the legitimacy it needs, in order to maintain the political stability that fosters creativity and innovation in the longer term. While income inequality can be socially useful, too much income inequality creates a braking effect, as economic insecurity and its resulting anxieties erode the trust, confidence, and hope of all but the few at the top, and those connected to them.
Parallels have been drawn between the “Occupy” crowd and the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. These comparisons should not be overdrawn; still, one virtue is shared by these movements at their best: the virtue of hope. The God of the Older and Newer Testaments is a God who continually works surprising and life-affirming new beginnings for people who have labored in a world where the future is no different than the monotonous, enervating present. Hope, in this God, opens possibilities for a different future.
It would be irresponsible and foolish for anyone to say what, if anything, God is doing in Egypt, in Tunisia, or on Wall Street. God reveals Herself in Her own good time. The hope, then, is that in the fullness of time– when the account is made– we can say that we chose life: life shared and life generous; life in abundant and life unafraid– life with creative possibilities for all.
via Paperback Charlie Brown: Occupy Wall Street Charlie Brown.
Here’s a real shocker (he says sarcastically) from Al Jazeera:
How did Egypt become so corrupt?
A picture is emerging of a state where wealth fuels political power and political power buys wealth.
(via How did Egypt become so corrupt? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.)
The old story (as old as human civilization) is the self-reinforcing connection between wealth and this-worldly power. The prophetic voice of the Hebrew scriptures exposes this self-seeking aggrandizement as unjust: not simply as unfair, but even more, as an affront to God’s word that wise rulers– people with power– express their faithfulness by taking care of their poor, and their widows and orphans. In the prophetic understanding, such care is not merely ritual observance; nor is it the hollow and lifeless, going-through-the-motions obedience to a Divine Tyrant– far from it. On the contrary: such care takes part in– participates in– the very life of God.
When I was in Jerusalem last January, one evening we heard an Israeli Jew give an Israeli perspective on the peace process; on another evening we heard a Palestinian Arab Muslim give a Palestinian perspective on the peace process. After the second presentation, my friend Rich said to me, “That was depressing.” I asked him why? He said, “The two guys we’ve heard are moderate, intelligent, articulate people– and if we put them in a room together to figure this out, EVEN THEY wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement.”
Add people to the mix– extremists on both sides who are not interested in co-existence– and you get a snarl of conflicting desires and stoked passions. And you get violence; and vengeance– and the vicious cycle of pain for pain. That’s what happened near Hebron last night.
The Middle East can seem very far away from us, but it’s not. What happens there affects us: as has been observed, the world is closer and hotter than it has ever been. A viable Palestinian state, side-by-side and at peace with Israel, is in our interest. It wouldn’t be a cure-all for the challenges in that part of the world, but it would be helpful.
Hopelessness is easy: the experience of the last 120-or-so years suggests– and it is utterly reasonable to conclude– that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not issue from the direct talks starting today in Washington. Faith, however, holds to a hope that the world does not know– that the world cannot know– because it is a hope grounded in God’s nature to break open new possibilities for life. Despair puts limits on what God can do; despair says, “I know the darkness, and the darkness cannot be overcome.” Hope says, for a start: “I don’t know. Maybe.” Sometimes that’s enough.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
A January 2010 Newsweek article by Ted Olson makes what is entitled “the conservative case for gay marriage.” You can read his case here. His attempt is good, but he doesn’t go far enough. A truly conservative case for (that’s right, for) gay marriage is actually stronger than what Mr. Olson proffers.
He makes a two-pronged argument. First, since (as conservatives maintain) marriage is the foundation of a stable society, so all the more should marriage be extended to those people (homosexual couples) who want to be married. The more marriages, the better. Second, he identifies equality before the law as a bedrock American principle; marriage equality must inevitably follow.
As I pointed out in a recent post here, the deeper conservative argument on this question has to do with God’s nature as Creator, and humanity’s special relationship with that God. While nodding in that direction, Olson doesn’t go there.
What the conservative case for gay marriage needs to show, is that the union of two committed, loving, same-sexed humans has a place in the divine life: that there are ways to manifest the life of God in and through homosexual unions, and that those ways are life-producing and life-affirming, even if they don’t include begetting children. Rowan Williams, currently the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects theologically on sexuality in a piece called “The Body’s Grace.” His reflections are directly relevant to a truly conservative case for gay marriage. We’ll look at “The Body’s Grace” next time.
Two arguments against the recognition of same-sex marriage are: 1. that it goes against the tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman; and 2. that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law. Neither argument is trifling. The second argument– that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law– is the one that so-called “conservatives” need to trace more finely.
If they did trace it more finely, it would go something like this: Humanity has a special relationship to God. God is our Creator; we are God’s creatures. Our purpose on Earth is to praise and glorify God, which means to show forth– in thought, word, and deed– the divine image in which we are made, and to manifest the life of God in our lives. One of God’s most powerful attributes is that God creates; God brings forth life– in a profound way, God’s very essence is Life itself. Therefore, to create– and especially to create life– is a sacred power in the human being, precisely because of its closeness to God’s own creating, creative nature. Homosexual sex is against natural moral law because such sex does not– cannot– produce life, and is therefore contrary to humanity’s purpose in life– which, again, is to manifest the life of God in our lives. (Please bear in mind that I am not owning this argument. I am merely setting it forth).
Most conservative arguments against same-sex marriage stop at moralizing (heterosexual sex is good; homosexual sex is bad– it says so in the Bible), and don’t reveal the moral and theological reasoning behind the conclusion. Liberals are rightly critical this kind of peremptory moral judgment.
For their part, liberals have largely failed to engage the questions that this strong version of the conservative argument raises, namely, What is humanity’s relationship to God?; and How does sexuality relate to the purpose of human life?