In the face of callous indifference to the suffering wrought by our [American] imperialism, we must draw on the prophetic. The Jewish invention of the prophetic commitment to justice -- also central to both Christianity and Islam -- is one of the great moral moments in human history. This was the commitment to justice of an oppressed people. It set in motion a prophetic tradition based on the belief that God had imparted this love of justice because God is first and foremost a lover of justice. The Judaic prophetic commitment to justice is therefore predicated on the divine love of justice. Israel -- a hated and enslaved people in the most powerful empire of its day (that of Egypt's pharaohs) -- is chosen by God because of God's love of justice. And the admonition against inhumane injustice is central to the message of the prophetic. "He who oppresses a poor man insults his maker / He who is kind to the needy honors him" (Proverbs 14:31). Prophetic witness consists of human acts of justice and kindness that attend to the unjust sources of human hurt and misery. Prophetic witness calls attention to the causes of unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery. It highlights personal and institutional evil, including especially the evil of being indifferent to person al and institutional evil.Cornel West denounces the corruption of the pure gospel of Jesus that permitted American Christianity to excuse bullying, oppression and exploitation perpetrated by raw violence as well as by the forces of unrighteous Mammon. Dr. West calls this corrupted Christianity "Constantinianism."
Prophetic Judaic figures appeal to us as individuals to join in transforming the world as communities. They shun individual conversation that precludes collective insurgency. They speak to all peoples and nations to be just and righteous. Amos prophesied not only to Israel but also to Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and Moab -- he spoke in the name of a God who decides the destiny of all nations (Amos 9:7 ). Isaiah's domain was addressed to "all you inhabitants of the world, you who dwell on the earth" (Isaiah 18:3; see also 33:13, 34:1). Jeremiah's calling was that of "a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5), including Israel, Ammon, Sidon, and the other peoples. Hundreds of years before the universalism of the Stoic sages (like Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus), Judaic prophets raised the banner of internationalism in the name of divine compassion and divine love of justice. There is nothing tribalistic or nationalistic about prophetic witness. Xenophobic prejudices and imperialistic practices are unequivocally condemned. Prophetic witness has no room for such petty and pernicious inflictions.
Prophetic Judaic figures also target the sole reliance on the love of power. Aggressive militarism is false security -- a mere diversion from attending to the necessary domestic policies of compassion that can "heal your wound" (Hosea 5:13). Escalating authoritarianism is a species of injustice that tightens the rope around one's own neck. ("for not by force shall man prevail"); 1 Samuel 2:9). The deadly charge of idolatry, which is the preeminent weapon in the arsenal against injustice, whether that idolatry is the worship of power or money, sits at the center of prophetic resistance to imperial nations. The golden calf of wealth, along with the blood---soaked flag that envelops it, is the true idol of empires, past and present.
The prophetic commitment to justice is fundamental in both Christianity and Islam. The gospel of love taught by Jesus and the message of mercy of Mohammad both build on the Jewish invention of the prophetic love of justice. This profound tradition should inform and embolden the struggle against the callous indifference of the plutocratic elites of the American empire about the suffering of our own poor and oppressed peoples. It should also help us to illuminate the effects of our imperialism on the poor and oppressed peoples around the world. Prophetic witness was a driving force to Martin Luther King Jr's vision for the civil rights movement, and lay behind the solidarity of Jews and blacks in the enactment of that movement, and it should inform and embolden us in revitalizing our democratic fires.
In criticizing Constantinianism in American Christianity, we must not lose sight of the crucial role of prophetic Christianity as a force for democratic good in our history. The values engendered by Christian belief were crucial in fueling first the democratic energy out of which the early religious settlers founded nascent Democratic projects and then the indignation with the abuses of the British Empire that drove the American Revolution. And the Founders took great pains to establish guarantees of religious freedom in the Constitution out of a deep conviction about the indispensable role of religion in civic life. The most influential movements for social justice in America have been led by prophetic Christians: the abolitionist, women's suffrage, and trade-union movements of the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement of the twentieth century. Though the Constantinian Christianity that has gained so much influence today is undermining the fundamental principles of our democracy regarding the proper role of religion in the public life of a democracy, the prophetic strains in American Christianity have done battle with imperialism and social injustice all along and represent the democratic ideal of religion in public life. This prophetic Christianity adds a moral fervor to our democracy that is a very good thing. It also holds that we must embrace those outside of the Christian faith and act with empathy toward them. This prophetic Christianity is an ecumenical force for good, and if we are to revitalize the democratic energies of the country, we must reassert the vital legitimacy of this prophetic Christianity in our public life, such as the principles of public service, care for the poor, and separation of church and state that this Christianity demands. And we must oppose the intrusions of the fundamentalist Constantinian Christianity that has so flagrantly violated those same democratic principles.
The separation of church and state us a pillar for any genuine democratic regime. All non-Christian citizens must have the same rights and liberties under the law as Christian citizens. But religion will always play a fundamental role in the shaping of the culture and politics of a democracy. [As Henri Bergson has observed]. All citizens must be free to speak out if their respective traditions with a sense of tolerance -- and even respect -- for other traditions. And in a society where Christians are the vast majority, we Christians must never promote a tyranny off this majority over an outnumbered minority in the name of Jesus.
The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
My defense of King's legacy requires that we accent justice as a Christian ideal and become even more active as citizens to change America without succumbing to secular idols or imperial fetishes. To be a prophetic Christian is not to be against the world in the name of church purity; it is to be in the world but not of the world's nihilism in the name of a loving Christ who proclaims the this-worldly justice of a kingdom to come.
Constantinian ChristianityPower, might, size, status, and material possessions -- all paraphernalia of the nihilism of the American empire -- became major themes of American Christianity. It now seems that all Christians speak with one voice when in fact it is only that the loudness of the Constantinian element of American Christianity has so totally drowned out the prophetic voices. Imperial Christianity, market spirituality, money-obsessed churches, gospels of prosperity, prayers of let's make-a-deal with God or help me turn my wheel of fortune have become the prevailing voice of American Christianity. In this version of Christianity the precious blood at the foot of the cross becomes mere Kool-Aid to refresh eager upwardly mobile aspirants in the nihilistic American game of power and might. And there is hardly a mumbling word heard about social justice, resistance to institutional evil, or courage to confront the powers that be -- with the glaring exception of abortion.
Where I'm Coming From
I speak as a Christian -- one whose commitment to democracy is very deep but whose Christian convictions are even deeper. Democracy is not my faith. And American democracy is not my idol. To see the Gospel of Jesus Christ bastardized by imperial Christians and pulverized by Constantinian believers and then exploited by nihilistic elites makes my blood boil. To be a Christian -- a follower of Jesus Christ -- is to love wisdom, love justice, love freedom. This is the radical love in Christian freedom and the radical freedom in Christian love that embraces Socratic questioning, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope. If Christians do not exemplify this love and freedom, then we side with the nihilists of the Roman empire (cowardly elite Romans and subjugated Jews) who put Jesus to a humiliating death. Instead of receiving his love in freedom as a life-enhancing gift of grace, we end up believing in the idols of the empire that nailed him to the cross. I do not want to be numbered among those who sold their sold for a mess of pottage -- who surrendered their democratic Christian identity for a comfortable place at the table of the American empire while, like Lazarus, the least of these cried out and I was too intoxicated with worldly power and might to hear, beckon and heed their cries. To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely -- to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give and no empire can take away. This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Ten days earlier, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of the classic study The Prophets, introduced him to an assembly of rabbis: "Where in America today do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America. His mission is sacred, his leadership of supreme importance to every one of us. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a voice, a vision and a way. The whole future of America will depend on the impact and influence of Dr. King."
2 Chronicles 7:14
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit
[Dr. West encourages the younger generation in their criticism of the dogmas of free-market fundamentalism and the increasing wealth inequality all around the world that the slavish devotion to the dogma has produced.]
Free-market fundamentalism -- just as dangerous as the Constantinian religious fundamentalism of our day -- trivializes the concern for public interest. The overwhelming power and influence of plutocrats and oligarchs in the economy put fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers and render money-driven, poll-obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit, often at the cost of the common good. This illicit marriage of corporate and political elites -- so blatant and flagrant in our time -- not only undermines the trust of informed citizens in those who rule over them. It also promotes the pervasive sleepwalking of the populace, who see the false prophets are handsomely rewarded with money, status, and access to more power. This profit-driven vision is sucking the life out of American society.Putting on Our Democratic Armor
Therefore put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand [Epesians 6:11]Cornel West is an American philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist; long teaching in African American studies and in Religion at Princeton. West is known for his combination of political and moral insight and his contribution to the post-1960s civil rights movement. The bulk of his work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their "radical conditionedness." West draws intellectual inspiration from such diverse traditions as the African American Baptist Church, from pragmatism and from transcendentalism.
The Prophetic Witness The Jewish invention of the prophetic begins with the cries for help and tears of sorrow of an oppressed people. This profound grief and particular grievances are directed against imperial Egypt. God hears their cries and is moved by their tears because God is first and foremost a lover of justice. (Psalms 99:4 and 37: 28; Isaiah 61:8). The Judaic God says, I will surely hear their cry . . . For I am compassionate (Exodus 22: 23, 27). Divine compassion undergirds the divine love of justice. The premier prophetic language is the language of cries and tears because human hurt and misery give rise to visions of justice and deeds of compassion. For the prophetic tradition, the cries and tears of an oppressed people signify an alternative to oppression and symbolize an allegiance to a God who requires human deeds that address those cries and tears. Why are Jews often liberals.
The Christian movement that emerged out of prophetic Judaism made the language of cries and tears a new way of life and struggle in the world. My philosophy of democracy is deeply shaped by that particular Jew named Jesus who put the love of God and neighbor at the core of his vision of justice and his deeds of compassion. His vision of a just future consoles those cry and his deeds of compassion comfort those who shed tears. His loving gift of ministry, grace and death under the rule of nihilistic imperial elites enacts divine compassion and justice in human flesh. The ultimate paradox of God crucified in history under the Roman empire is that love and justice that appear so weak may be strong, that seem so foolish may be wise, and that strike imperial elites as easily disposable may be inescapably indispensable. The prophetic tradition is fueled by a righteous indignation at injustice -- a moral urgency to address the cries and tears of oppressed peoples.
Despite the Constantinian captivity of much of the Christian movement here and abroad, the prophetic tradition has a deep legacy of providing extraordinary strength of commitment and vision that helps us to care in a palpable way about the injustices we see around us. In our own time this was he fire that drove Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dorothy Day and millions of other Americans to deepen our democratic project. This prophetic tradition is an infectious and invigorating way of life and struggle. It generates the courage to care and act in light of a universal moral vision that indicts the pervasive corruption, greed, and bigotry in our souls and society. It awakens us from the fashionable ways of being indifferent to other people's suffering or from the subtle ways of remaining numb to the social misery in our midst. Prophetic love of justice unleashes ethical energy and political engagement that explodes all forms of our egocentric predicaments or tribalistic mind-sets. Its telling signs are ethical witness (including maybe martyrdom for some), moral consistency, and political activism -- all crucial elements in our democratic armor for the fight against corrupt elite power.
One Nation Under God : there must be liberty and justice for all
Prince Hall - he has been called our hidden Founding Father
The poor are rich in faith : religious "renewal simmering from below"
Howard Thurman :: WE SHALL OVERCOME (triumph of faith)
The American Moses : lift every voice and sing
America's historic gospelism : underground river of vibrancy
LOVE that confronts evil : prophetic "martyrs" for justice
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Feminine apparel for Christian handmaidens
Peace and Justice : the quaker story (race matters)
"It is written" biblical message of peace (SHALOM)
Pastor to his times: MLK above all a man of God
The Legacy of Martin Luther King : still growing
Social Gospel : let justice run down like the waters
The Bible urges compassion and mercy toward the poor (Jewish liberalism)
Naturally Christian - why Africa (the birthright enigma)
Praying with their feet : Abraham Joshua Heschel
City on a Hill : America's destiny with greatness?
The morality slide : America is cheating on God
Liberal founders : our godless Constitution
Judgment must begin at the house of God
Why liberals are exasperated with ObamaPresident Obama from the beginning seemed to promise an uplifting idealism that heralded a long overdue shift toward godly idealism, hope, and inspiration. Instead, once he got in office, either the exigencies and demands of the real world, or the constant negativity of those who hated him, required a course correction in favor of pragmatism, realism, and compromise with the status quo.
Along with other consistent or "real" liberals, Cornel West has lashed out bitterly at Obama for "settling" with moderates and centrists, and for compromising America's great liberal vision for a bowl of pottage. Instead of following through with the implied Democratic agenda, Obama as president has turned out to be, in effect, an Eisenhower Republican --- all moderation and pragmatism.
So yes. That's what has Cornel West and other real liberals all worked up.
President John F. Kennedy exhorts: We cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.
We need our values still
Jesus is liberal !
It is important to speak out : Be heard
|Desmond Tutu has said|
If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality
Likewise, Dante wrote "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
We need to see that we are not an island. We are all in this together. The suffering of others is our suffering too. We really are our brothers' keepers. It would be a luxury to "stay out of it" or say it is not my business.
The problem is. It truly ... IS ... our business. We really are involved.
Gandhi said, "I want to identify myself with everything that lives. In the language of the Gita, I want to live at peace with both friend and foe. So my patriotism is for me a stage on my journey to the land of eternal freedom and peace. ..... For me there [is] no politics devoid of religion. .... Politics bereft of religion [is] a death-trap because it kills the soul."
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The composer Dvorak came to America and fell in love with it, clearly taking inspiration not from America's elites, but from -- of all places -- the lowly, the humble, the work camps and slave camps, their plaintive spirituals and haunting lyricism. How grateful we can be for the students who finally put down into writing these "oral" creations by unknown "slaves" who themselves were denied literacy, denied formal education. Yet "God was still with them." Their talent and genius shine through. The singer here is Amanda Marie.