Monday, December 21, 2009

Listening to Cornel

Cornel West's podcast interview with KPFK [90.7 in LA] is a fine blend of West's autobiography and philosophy. He is one of the most fascinating Christians in North America and there's no doubt that God's Spirit will use him to transform the thought and lifestyle of many younger white post-evangelicals [like me] for years to come. We desperately need his voice! Here are some highlights:

On the Myth of the Self-Made Man:
I am a person with my own individuality, and I try to forge my own voice and style, but I'm very much a part of a tradition. I'm not a self-made man, that American myth that goes back to Ben Franklin. There are even elements of it in Frederick Douglas. I am the opposite of that, I am in no way self-made, I come out of a tradition, a community of struggle, a heritage that exemplifies struggle for justice and freedom.

On the Supreme Court's likely De-regulation of Corporate Campaign Contributions:
...we're locked in an iron cage of a neo-liberal or neo-conservative mediocrity, which means the needs of the people will never be fundamentally met if they're poor and working class. That either leads toward a thickening of the cynicism or it leads toward new expressions of social chaos.

On What Christian Tradition He is Rooted in:
When you bring together the power of love on the one hand -- a fundamental commitment to the welfare of others, especially beginning with the least of these I go back again to prophetic Judaism, which is of course the very source of my own Christianity -- the first chapter of Isaiah, the orphan, the widow, the fatherless, the oppressed and then mediated through this love in which justice is what love looks like in public, so you're fighting for justice motivated by compassion, raising Socratic questions.

On Obama's Presidency So Far:
Barack Obama leans toward Wall Street, mesmerized by the elites, wants to be embraced by the establishment, wants to preserve his legacy as a president, more in the language of the neo-liberal and neo-conservative columnists than in the hearts and minds of everyday people.

On Economist Larry Summers' Influence on Obama:
...he has a braininess that lacks wisdom and vision. He has a smartness that lacks a sensitivity to the poor and the marginal...I don't find that attractive or appealing at all. I think that it's empty in a certain sense. I was surprised that Barack Obama could be seduced by that kind of braininess and smartness that leads to policies that don't put jobs and homes at the center, but as an afterthought.

On Health Care Reform:
You've got a majority of fellow citizens who want truly universal health care, and he can't even view public option as indispensable and untouchable. What's going on? Pharmaceutical companies, powerful, $300 million spent for lobbyists. That's a broken system.

Cornel West is a Christian committed to justice for poor and working people. He speaks at length, in interviews and writings, about the failure of Reagan-style economic and social policies to help the oppressed in our society. West is probably the best example of what it looks like to possess what Walter Brueggemann calls 'the prophetic imagination' of Moses, Jeremiah and Jesus--and their modern-day followers. It is a mind-set or mentality that pervades our entire life. It is not about random (or even systematic) acts of charity. Philanthropy is good, but it does not work to restructure the system that is causing the injustice. Ched Myers calls this 'the perspective of the periphery.' It is the social location of the kingdom of God. We cannot see the world clearly by peering through the eyes of the popular, rich and powerful. Only a movement of people in solidarity with the poor and marginalized can have their lenses adjusted to see how unjust the world really is. Only when progressive communities (like churches!) are transformed by this kind of empathy and wisdom that is sensitive to the poor and downcast, will Obama and rest of our political elite be moved to change our world. This is at the heart of what EasyYolk is yearning for in Christian faith. Our prayer is that God's Spirit will lavish wisdom, discernment and energy on to us and millions of others to actually embody it.

*Transcript of the interview is here

--Theological Autopilot

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