Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Universalism is a Process
While you were watching the shutdown/debt limit situation in Washington DC, you may have noticed that I had nothing to say here. You shouldn't expect to hear from me at times like that. It is not that I am not interested; in reality, I am completely absorbed in the those events. October before an election is the same thing.
I don't have anything particularly unique to say during periods of heightened political conflict. Calling out the political desperadoes of the House GOP is a task already made light by the work of many hands. Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow do it smarter; Josh Marshall does it quicker; Charles P. Pierce does it with more style; Wonkette does it dirtier; and Andrew Sullivan meep-meeps it more portentously. What would I have to add?
Anyway, my focus has been on the intersection of liberal religion and current events. What are the implications of our liberal theologies for the political, social and economic conflicts of the day?
Some thoughts: what we are witnessing with the Republican Party is desperate resistance to the will of the majority. A reformist tide is gathering strength in American society and it seeks a broad range of new policies that will benefit more of the people. Those reforms will come at the expense of the 1% and so they are resisting them. But they will not be able to hold out forever.
I think that it is very possible that the period of 2015-2016 could be period of great progressive reform that would change the our society for the good. A Democratic majority in the House and the return to majority rule in the Senate could result in immigration reform, national voting rights safeguards, gun control, further improvements in the health care reform, a minimum wage increase, a carbon tax and even more. It could be a period like 1965-1966. Such opportunities come rarely. ( I also believe that it is possible that the GOP will keep the House in 2014, and impeach Obama for something, even though they can't hope to remove him from office.)
Why? And what does this have to do with liberal religion? What is happening that makes social reform possible?
Universalism is not just a Christian doctrine of salvation. Universalism is not simply a high moral ideal, a banner lifted up by the most cosmopolitan of elites. Universalism is, I suggest, a concrete historical process, an unfolding process within which we are only in the middle. It is just beginning to be possible to imagine a self-conscious and self-aware humanity, a humanity that takes all of its members seriously as worthy of full dignity and power. Universalism is the process by which the subordinated human beings claim their full power, throw off the habits of deference (and entitlements) and see their universality, in all their diversity. Universalism imagines a democratic world.
Liberal Religion is the belief that this unfolding process of universalism will ultimately prevail. This is not a given. Probably more people in this country believe that history is moving inexorably toward an armageddon where good and evil will wage war and God does the dirty work of genocide. Illiberal Religion believes in the apocalypse and the End Times and the war of civilizations. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Liberals who do not see the longer view have been shocked by the desperation with which the Republican Party has been resisting social reform since Obama was elected. And every ounce of militancy and fight is called for to break the back of their resistance. Universalist hope is not pollyannish, centrist, both sides are to blame, let's all just get along. But Universalism is hope, nonetheless.
There will be much conflict in the years ahead. There will be more political struggles, in Washington, and in State Capitols, and in Cities, in the streets and in workplaces that will seem all-consuming. They will drive me to occasional radio silence.
Liberal Religion, if it is to be of any use in the future, will be in the thick of these struggles. But we will be the people of hope and confidence, not fear and panic. We will be determined, but not desperate. What we have faith in is the unfolding of universalism; that innate human ability to see the connections of each to the other, and to enrobe each other with worth and dignity, and to empower ourselves by empowering all.