Thursday, June 05, 2008

Reviving the Social Gospel

At the turn of the last century, many reform-minded religious leaders advanced the social gospel as a means of responding to the often-exploitative transition of a largely agricultural economy to a largely industrial economy. We have been for the past couple decades going through similar times of great transition. We have, slowly but quite inevitably moved from the industrial to the information age; as with any change, we are caught between competing theories and overwhelmingly paralyzed by factionalism.

John McCain referred to this dynamic in part today while he spoke in Florida. While addressing the major leaders of that swing state's press, he proposed clear-cut specifics, which have been famously lacking in Obama's rhetorical flourishes. It was a shrewd, smart tactical move: much of the personable, off-the-cuff charm of the moderate McCain of eight years ago was clearly evident. One wonders how Obama will respond to this in his own speeches.

What must be noted is that this time around we have two reform-minded individuals running for the highest office of the land. Both of them believe that government has a decided role in regulating our free-enterprise system, but they differ greatly in its application on a wide scale. Obama advances a more classic government-as-savior perspective while McCain is more cautious about regulating big business. Today McCain proposed point-by-point examples where he believes reform measures would best suit the American people. Pointing out the flaws in legislative earmarks and proposing to make needed changes to an antiquated passenger airline system were the two strongest instances outlined that jumped out at me today.

Change and reform run nearly synonymous now that we are in a minor recession, involved in an unpopular war, stuck with an incumbent President no one wants in the White House, and being forced to cut back on our expenditures in general.

So, having identified the political dynamics that face us come November, I propose we consider a new social gospel.

Here the definition for those unaware...

...part of an emerging liberal movement in American religion. Scholars associated with this movement discredited the literal accuracy of the Bible and emphasized instead its general moral and ethical lessons. As modernists they abandoned theological dogmatism for a greater tolerance of other faiths and became more interested in social problems.

It provided an ethical justification for government intervention to improve the social order. Scholars in the social sciences also gradually helped turn public attitudes in favor of reform by challenging the [strictly] lassiez-faire views of social Darwinists and traditional academics.

-The American Journey

After the Reverend Wright controversy, Obama denied that his planned reforms were any kind of resumption of the social gospel, but he did make note in The Audacity of Hope about the failings and overall unfairness of the social Darwinism often advanced in our society, even covertly, as some kind of cynical wisdom. Obama advances smarter government and I doubt even McCain would disagree that his proposed reforms advocate much the same thing, although certainly McCain's would be applied far differently.

What I bring light to in this post is my contention that we need a revival of some degree of altruistic moral principles applied to a nation desperately in need of a new direction. In these times where the religious left has often overwhelmingly endorsed secularism and in the process unintentionally emasculated itself, we must not be afraid to step on toes. We must not forget the example of those who came before, but we must not be merely content to embrace a kind of seen-it-all, done-it-all inertia. We have been running in place basking in the nearly-dead embers of battles previously fought for too long.

If Obama's rise to power reveals anything it reveals how merely cleaving to the old ways of conducting business are no guarantee of its inevitable success. We have trod in place for too long. We may argue over the methodology but we cannot afford to lose what stature we have left.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I, I believe that the religious left thinks religion is a personal matter, its not something that should be a part of our political landscape. Sort of like whether one wears underwear or not..its not something we go about discussing in public..ya know what I mean?

And thats my story and I am sticking to it. ;p