Earlier this morning, I moderated a session at the National Student Conference at Claremont Lincoln University, where I’m a PhD student in process theology/philosophy. The theme of the session was Religion & Politics, and three students talked about the Occupy movement; Kafka, Marx, and economics; and native Hawaiian land rights.
A post-session discussion sparked some thoughts about what I think is troubling America.
The threads I want to weave together on this include comments Phyllis Tickle made in a recent address to Claremont about the “Great Emergence,” as well as an article I read online that made a good case for the argument that all this fighting about access to birth control coverage was really just a fight about sex. So let me see if I can bring this all together in a way that makes sense.
When I read the article about sex (and I really wish I’d kept the link), the author talked about how birth control loosened the power grip that men had over women and their bodies and who they had sex with, and how all this hoopla about health care coverage of birth control was all a struggle to keep women disempowered. I think there’s a lot of truth to that – as there’s been a long history of men controlling their daughters and their wives in this way in centuries of patriarchy. But I think the problem is deeper than that, and it’s one we’ve not been willing to face in the U.S.
I think it’s about the fact that everywhere we look, the foundations of life as we once knew it are crumbling and people are overwhelmed and very frightened deep down. There’s a lot of talk in religious circles these days about the “emergent church” but Phyllis Tickle thinks it’s not just the traditional structures of organized religion that are crumbling but that we are currently going through an epochal upheaval of the kind that seems to happen every 500 years or so.
Here are just a few of the foundations that have been crumbling around us (from a non-historian’s perspective):
Gender roles – women entering the work force during WWII, the feminist movement, and access to birth control have certainly played a part, and men, who were used to being the locus of power in the marriage, in the family, in the workplace, and in their communities are being asked to learn a different way of being (as are women).
Family relationships – this goes back even farther, to the start of the Industrial Revolution when people became much more mobile in order to follow the jobs and extended families no longer stayed near to each other. Moreover, whereas people who farmed or crafted things used to own their own means of production, industrial capitalism meant that the means of production became concentrated in the hands of a few capitalists and the laborers traded their labor for cash, losing more and more control over their economics but gaining what they thought was security. And for a while that was true, but that security has proved to be elusive, and workers now have less and less cash for their efforts while the capitalists take all the flow of profit that is earned by their workers’ increases in productivity.
Faith in an absolute, transcendent and powerful God – the Enlightenment and the rise of science tore assumptions about the existence of God right out from under us, and the predominance of scientific materialism – along with the horrendous genocide of WWII and the Holocaust – caused philosophers to proclaim the “death of God.” We’ve lost this access to the sacred – both in an outer way and in the inner way of soul – which is something humans cannot live without, and so we try to substitute sex, drugs, rock and roll, and other transient things that don’t deliver any lasting sense of meaning to life.
The illusion that we have control over anything – though humans have never really been in control, we’ve always thought we were, but economic collapse, the perception of increasing violence, constant war, unemployment, and a host of other chaotic realities have shaken us to the core.
Neither our religious leaders nor our political leaders seem to have a clue about the degree to which people feel shaken and crushed by the ever-increasing upheavals and changes that predominate. Though maybe it’s long overdue for those who’ve always been the recipients of status and privilege (white people in America) to experience their own dose of disempowerment, it’s still traumatic.
And so – I think – when we hear people yell “Let him die!” regarding lack of healthcare, or when people seem to care less and less about the poor, or about racism, or about sexism, or about homophobia, or about indigenous rights, or about the environment, or about the myriad of other looming problems that we face, and run for the hills into the safety of “Dancing with the Stars,” I think these are just symptoms that point to a much deeper loss of soul and a loss of center that has us feeling like we’re in the perpetual “spin cycle.”
I will write more about this as time goes on, but let me just say for starters that I think the only way we’ll survive this upheaval is for us to change the way we view embodied life on planet Earth. We must be willing to let go of the idea that there are bedrock and eternal doctrines and structures from which we must never deviate, and instead understand that life is inherently chaotic and riddled with change and that the only way to survive is to learn to ride the waves. We must learn how to release the anchors that were never really securing us anyway, and learn how to open to the flow of Life that comes to us every day with a mixture of novelty and order, beauty and terror, but which is girded underneath all surface appearances by the power and energy of Grace.
I welcome your thoughts; let’s have a conversation.