Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Checking the Time: The Clocks of the World

What time is it on the clock of the world? (Grace Lee Boggs)

Politically, in the short term, it is high noon.  Today, as I write, the Senate is considering the most basic measure of anti-recessionary stimulus, and simple human decency: the extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.  If it can pass the Senate, its prospects are still doubtful in the House.

National policy is being fought way over in conservative territory (should we have unemployment insurance?) because of the power of a very conservative faction of the Republican Party.  This is what we see every day: government shutdowns, abortion restrictions, voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, the Koch brothers and the superwealthy creating political power whole cloth with money. Everyday, somewhere it is a showdown.

But in longer term politics, it is the dark before the dawn. The demographic base of this ultra-
conservative movement is rapidly declining. The young are more liberal; the nation is less white; women are becoming more independent politically; GOP reputation among Latinos and Asian-Americans is declining; the GOP is losing the elders as the more liberal baby-boomers replace the elders of yesterday. In terms of the long-term trend, it is easy to see that the current power of the GOP is built on sand, particularly the sand of the lower voter turnout in mid-term elections. That lesson is being learned. Their power is built on redistricting, which is temporary, and voter suppression, which does not work, and that strain of cultural resentments which started in the late 60's and has about run its course as a majority maker. In the long term, the spread of marriage equality is much more a sign of the future than many of the measures now being passed by reactionary state legislatures. The latter will be reversed when the balance of power shifts; the former is permanent.

But politics is only the surface. The processes of wealth accumulation at the top and the monopoly of economic power in the hands of financial capital (the 1% who direct the flow of capital and credit in the world economy) continues unabated. The routine operation of the world provides an unlimited flow of capital to invest in fossil fuel. There is plenty of capital to invest in moving productive capacity and jobs to Mexico and China. Stock prices go up when when workforces are reduced. Against the routine operations of the world, government policies, regulations and taxes are tiny and shrinking counterweights.


At this level, the clock is reading a few minutes to midnight. The routine operations of the world, the way that economic decisions of the world are made, is resulting in two things.  One is the baking of the planet. The other is the impoverishment of the world's people. The two are inextricably linked.

Do you see the contradiction developing here? We are approaching a time when the political situation in the United States will result in a political movement that might challenge the financial power that sustains the routine operations of the world. Not a revolution, for sure, but a movement that articulates a different vision: a US government that wrestles more capital away from Wall Street, a government that loosens restriction on the flow of labor across borders, a US government that regulates carbons, a government which supports the political and economic empowerment of the poor and the working class.

What would happen next? Who knows? The future is not written yet; it is barely perceived. But there are times, short periods of time, when reforms get made that change the power dynamics for a while.  Surely, the Wagner Act during the Depression which enabled mass unionization changed the country for 50+ years; surely the Voting Rights Act in 1965 changed the country for quite awhile. If they were unimportant, they would not have been targets all this time. Such a time of reform is possible in the new future.

I am not saying anything terribly new here. I am weaving together analyses that are commonplace, with more hope than many of the analysts who have read the times. I am mostly concerned with Unitarian Universalist public theology.  What does liberal religion have to say about this moment in time?  What do we say to ourselves and to the people who listen to us?

What time is it on the clock of Unitarian Universalism? I think that it is late afternoon.
  My sense is that we are exhausted and about done with the day's labor. I think that we have reached our full potential in the way that we have conceived and organized ourselves. The work of building multi-generational religious communities around and through "congregations" with buildings and ministers and Sunday morning worship services and Sunday schools has been done as well as we are going to do it.  You can tell that the work is done because we have no real strategy to create anymore. Our creative energy is mostly directed at perfecting what we have, and most of our energy is devoted to just sustaining what we have. But the work has been good; we see the fruits of that work in the number of young leaders our congregations have grown and nurtured, and who are ready to carry the work forward.

We are already beginning to think of the work that we might do tomorrow. After all, it is only late afternoon on a Tuesday. It seems to me that the work for tomorrow is bring ourselves to this moment of potential reform that is opening up. We have the opportunity to make our theological approaches concrete in the midst of history.

We should make our humanist realism concrete in a hard-headed analysis of the powers that be, and the world's routine processing.  We should make our Emersonian idealism concrete in the faith that the imagination of a better world is as powerful as the status quo. It matters how we see the world. We should make our universalism concrete in the broadness of our loyalties, coalitions and alliances. We should make our affirmation of worth and dignity concrete in our ability to "respect, include and empower".  We fight for the democratic process and equity and peace in the concrete world.

Unitarian Universalism is a very small, but influential, denomination that is a part of a middle class that is being squeezed out by forces way beyond our control.  The chances of clawing our way up into the safe and protected upper strata, becoming a religion of the upper classes, are frankly small. Mostly likely, we will go out with a whimper, as unsustainable churches close as more and more of the nation is abandoned as poor places to invest.

But we could jump down.  What would James Luther Adams have us do?

It is late afternoon.  Let's spend this evening planning new tasks, and new ways of working for tomorrow.


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