When I was in college, I had the privilege of doing an internship in Los Angeles that was connected to a vibrant inner-city church. While I was there, I was introduced to some of the most radical leftist politics I’ve ever known. It was in this setting that I saw vibrant programs for the working class and for youth being implemented by Black churches. It is also where I learned about Liberation Theology, a Christian movement that was transforming communities all over Latin America at the time as a direct challenge to capitalism and American imperialism.
“One day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” Aug. 16, 1967
Lately, I’ve been musing about religion and politics. And more specifically, the thought that keeps recurring to me is the following: Is the idea of born agains and other Christians becoming political radicals, a far-fetched one? Or, should the question be, how could they not become politically radical Christians?
“And those who expected lightning and thunder, are disappointed. And those who expected signs and archangel’s trumps do not believe it is happening now. As long as the sun and the moon are above, as long as the bumblebee visits a rose, as long as rosy infants are born, no one believes it is happening now…” — from “A Song at the End of the World,” Czesalw Milosz, Warsaw 1944
If you’ve never traveled around the state of Texas, you won’t really get an accurate picture of this odd land of extremes. The cities, especially Austin and Houston, are islands of relative sanity surrounded by a sea of crazy. All this considered, the unveiling of the Texas GOP’s platform should come as no surprise. They have merely tapped into the paranoid, hyper-nationalist, fascist zeitgeist so prevalent among a large swath of its white, Christian population.
Author’s note: this essay is an updated and expanded upon version of one published in May of this year.
There was a part of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, that is perhaps the most unsettling to me. The protagonist, Offred, is walking past the notorious Wall in the Republic of Gilead. This Wall, once part of a prestigious university in Cambridge Massachusetts, is now being used as a place of public execution, where corpses are left hanging for days to send a message of compliance and terror to the citizens of this authoritarian, theocratic state. Defy “God’s law” and you will suffer the punishment for doing so.
Dr. Cornel West is the most important standard bearer for the Black prophetic tradition, the most important intellectual and spiritual movement in our history. Rooted in the experience of American racism, capitalist exploitation, and imperialism, this tradition has provided an ongoing critique of our economic, social, and political institutions and beliefs, as well as calling out the country’s spiritual bankruptcy.