Rabbi David Ellis of Halifax alerted me to a fine recent article by Martin Marty, the great historian of Christianity (a.k.a the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School).
Reflecting on the political and social upheavals underway in the modern West, Marty suggests that “revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite” (as Max Scheler [1874-1928] phrased it) are thriving in our contemporary societies.
“So much,” writes Marty, “for tolerance, civility, empathy, mutuality, and dialogue!”
Marty points to the phenomenon of resentment (again drawing from Scheler) as a way to account for these troubles. Populism, elitism, scapegoating, and other social forces arise, he argues, from the sense that one is not getting what one deserves or needs.
I would add to Marty’s analysis the way in which capitalism has exacerbated the sense of entitlement among so many of us … and once one feels deprived of these material goods in any way, one starts looking for evildoers (scapegoats?) who are the cause of one’s deprivation. Mass media only gives a megaphone to consumerist messaging.
So there is the problem. Most or many of us will recognize it.
I have been aware of a sense of gloom and foreboding among those I know best in recent weeks. We fear the worst.
Perhaps—as persons of faith—we ought also to hope for the best. Indeed, we ought to seek and work toward the best.
As a Christian, I am a person of hope, though my hope continues to be lodged not in the human capacity for self-rescue but in the transformative power of Jesus Christ, who through the Holy Spirit can and will bring about repentance, transformation, and renewal.
But there may be hard roads ahead. And the way in which the triune God will judge injustice may yet leave us squirming. Core to my convictions is the belief that God does not wink at injustice and inequity, but actively seeks to overcome it.
Martin Marty describes as “ever more urgent the work of civil volunteers, humanitarians, religious providers of opportunity, humane activists … [and those who] manifest what one scripture calls ‘the more excellent way’ of love.” Such persons are dearly needed in our time. To Marty’s list I would add artists, musicians, clowns, jesters, and tricksters…
Are you one of these people?
I wonder if you may have been born for a time such as this.
You can find Martin Marty’s full article here
Image: Reynard the Fox from Wikimedia.org
Rob Fennell is Acting Academic Dean of Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.