Anger, Fear, Politics, Steinbeck, Springsteen, and Jesus

Anger and fear. These seem to be the defining terms for our nation at this time. Everyone seems to have something to be angry about. Those without are angry with their lack of opportunity—perceived or real. Those with are angry at…well, I’m not sure at what. If you’ve got a belly full of food, a roof over head, a tank full of gas, and steady income I guess it is fear that your comforts may be ephemeral. It is this combination of anger and fear that drive this cycle’s politics. And I’ve learned from personal experience that making decisions based on fear and anger rarely leads to wise choices.

I recently finished The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. Tom says to his mother at one point recounting what Casy, the former preacher who was killed for being a rabble-rousing red,

“Lookie, Ma. I been all day an’ all night hidin’ alone. Guess who I been thinkin’ about? Casy! He talked a lot. Used ta bother me. But now I been thinkin’ what he said an’ I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ foun’ he didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, ‘cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn’ think I was even listenin’. But I know now a fella ain’t no good alone.”

Fear, anger, discontent are not strong foundations around which to build a community—though they might by strong starting points for a movement. But at some point one has to get past the fear and anger and realize that a soul ain’t no good on its own. But yet our politics, our media, our religion, our access to schooling, clean water, air, and healthy food continue to divide. Thom Hartmann in The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight quotes some startling United Nations statistics.

  • The difference in wealth between the world’s richest and poorest people slowly grew over the first two-thirds of this century. But in 1960, an explosion began: between then and 1989, the distance between rich and poor doubled.
  • As of 2003, the richest 20 percent of the world’s population controlled over 87 percent of the world’s wealth, whereas the poorest fifth of the world had access to only 1.4 percent. That’s a ratio of 60:1. We approached such an imbalance just before the stock market crash of 1929 (around 40:1), but other than that time, such an imbalance has never been seen in a “democratic” economy that survived, although it’s common in ones that have flipped from democracy to dictatorship or anarchy, such as numerous African nations, pre-World War II Germany, pre Revolutionary France, etc.

This should strike some fear in all of us. If we value our democracy and the freedoms we claim to be endemic to that democracy we should be fearful of a democracy that is dependent on an economy of perpetual growth and continued division of equity.

Within this fight over the future direction of our ever-dividing politics (and nation?) is religion—or more specifically Christianity. For many of the electorate and apparently all that seek the Republican nomination, this is a non-negotiable—Christianity is the foundation. But I continue to struggle to reconcile the Christianity enacted by actions and speeches of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with my understanding of the teachings of Jesus (who apparently could also get angry). According to Matthew 21:12-13,

 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

It seems to me that those screaming the loudest right now (often in the name of Christ), seem more like the robbers than Jesus. And yet, their voices are being heard. If this is the voice of Christianity, then, it isn’t telling a story for which I want to be a part of enacting. So when in doubt, turn to the Boss. Springsteen writes in the song, Jesus Was An Only Son,

Well Jesus kissed his mother’s hands

And whispered mother still your tears

For remember the soul of the universe

Willed a world and it appeared

It does appear that Jesus is an only son and I hate to believe that the “soul of the universe” willed a world of division, anger, fear, and hatred. We can do better.

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