I'm no socialist, and neither am I surprised by the frenzy that arises in the American populace when they believe their freedoms are endangered. What people used to call "the American experiment" is still, to me at least, amazing--and I say that vehemently, having just come out of two or three days of faculty meetings. The idea that we can rule ourselves is just as radical today as it was in 1776. Freedom--and democracy--requires, as Franklin told us, immense vigilance.
What does surprise me, however, is the tenacity by which some good praying Christians honor freedom, as if freedom were the cardinal principle of the Christian life. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the virtues of freedom aren't so vehemently preached in the New Testament--or Old, for that matter. And, if you want to measure importance by column inches, justice certainly appears to me at least to be a far more important matter--making sure nobody goes without. I'm no socialist, and I'm certainly not a Nazi.
"It is the paradox of modernity that as choice and material prosperity increase, health and personal satisfaction decline. That is now accepted truth," or so says Peter Whybrown, author of American Mania: When More Is Not Enough. I don't know Whybrown, but if that sounds like the mutterings of a pinko, it also sounds a ton like Jesus. "And yet it is the rare American who managed to step off the hedonistic treadmill long enough to savor his or her good fortune." [Seems right to me--that I don't really need another digital camera certainly doesn't mean I don't want one--I mean, really want one.] "Indeed," writes Whybrown in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education, "for most of us, regardless of what we have, we want more, and we want it now."
Sheesh. Feels like something close to "the American way." But then, what can one expect from the Chronicle of Higher Education, right?
The first time in my life I heard the phrase "free enterprise" publicly heralded was when, 37 years ago, we moved to Arizona. There, the schools were tangling with the legislature, who wanted to make every Arizona kid take a course in "free enterprise." I was 26 years old or so, had taught high school English in Wisconsin for a couple of years, and had a college education--a Christian college education; but I didn't know what the Arizona legislature meant exactly by "free enterprise." I learned quickly.
Apparently, we must have succeeded. After all, Phoenix--where I taught--set a national record for number of gun-toters at a Presidential town hall last week, with a dozen. By the way, that's a record I hope stands forever.
Whybrown thinks our present economic woes may change all of this. "Now," he says, "with reality challenging the laissez-faire ideology of recent decades, we have the opportunity to take stock with a renewed self-awareness, curb our addictive striving, and reach beyond immediate reward to craft a vigorous, equitable, and sustainable market society--one where technology and profit serve as instruments in achieving the good life and are not confused with the good life itself. The dream that material markets will ultimately deliver social perfection and human happiness is an illusion."
Okay, I'm not telling the whole truth. There are moments in the essay, moments I'm not quoting, when Whybrown refers to our "evolutionary history." Some of us can breath easily because the guy's got to be a Darwinist.
Still, he does sound a ton like Jesus. Okay, not quite as radical. After all, for Christ, the love of money was the root of all evil. But then Jesus was sometimes given to hyperbole--just read the Sermon on the Mount sometime.