Our hopes are a measure of our greatness. When they shrink, we ourselves are diminished. The story of American hope over the past two centuries is one of increasing narrowing—or so argues Andrew Delbanco in The Real American Dream.
About ten years ago I started to become vegetarian. But although my menu shifted, my Christian observance continued pretty much the same. A cradle Anglican, I was a graduate student at King’s College, Cambridge. Evensong in chapel was a staple of my spiritual diet, often followed by dinner in the hall. Although physical sustenance came right after spiritual sustenance, I had little sense of a link between the two beyond the notion that sharing food with others was a good thing to do and that one should not take too much food in order to leave plenty for others. As a Christian, I was not unusual in failing to make connections between faith and food.
I have read most of what Harvey Cox has written over the decades. One sign of Cox’s longevity is the relative price of his books: my dog-eared paperback copy of Secular City bears a printed price of $1.45. The Future of Faith, published last fall, which I just finished reading, cost $24.99.
The poverty in the immigrant Dutch Reformed community where I grew up was not grinding poverty, but almost all families were poor. It was egalitarian; people were treated alike. Had there been any wealth to be displayed, the community would have firmly disapproved of such a display. Much later I learned about Max Weber’s thesis that the origins of capitalism are to be found in the ethos of early Calvinism; the Calvinists, said Weber, regarded financial success as a sign of God’s favor. My father's attitude was the exact opposite. If someone in the community was beginning to accumulate substantial wealth, my father assumed that it was due, not to God’s favor, but to shady dealing.
Have you got good religion? Enslaved Africans in the antebellum South asked this question when they created a spiritual that offers a poignant and penetrating perspective on the state of Western Christianity. The famous line from “Have You Got Good Religion?” is a critique of Americanized Christianity.
What the widow in the Luke parable wants from the judge is vengeance or vindication. True, some have translated the original into something more polite such as “give the verdict to my side” or “give me justice.” Well, it is true the widow wanted justice done, and to her benefit. But it seems she wanted more.
President Bush may truly care about the poor and about people down on their luck, and he may want the public and private sectors to join in efforts to help. But his actions suggest he is engaged in what the Wall Street Journal calls a “war on the war on poverty.”
Samuel, the Billy Graham of his day, was adviser to the political leader Saul, the Pete Rose of ancient Israel. Samuel anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. But soon (to quote James Thurber), “confusion got its foot in the door” and went through the entire “system.” Samuel observed Saul disobeying the explicit word of God, and it became Samuel’s job to inform Saul that God had rejected him as king.