When culture gets stuck
Classical music wasn’t always ‘classical’.
Once something makes its way to the mass market, the mass market doesn’t want it to change. And once it moves from that big hump in the middle of the market to become a classic, the market doesn’t just want it to not change, they insist.
If you want change, you’ve got to leave. Change comes, almost always, from the outside. The people who reinvented music, food, technology and politics have always gone outside the existing dominant channels to create something new and vital and important.
~Set Godin (via MINemergent: a daily communiqué, November 3, 2011)
Jeffrey Winters, a professor at Northwestern University, offers up a category to describe the economic inequality reflected in our “democratic” nation: Oligarchy. His research sheds light on where true economic growth currently occurs, and where it does not. While the tax rate for the wealthiest is listed as 35%, the actual rate contributed amounts to 16%. Furthermore, are these super-wealthy Job-creators? In fact, they are not. The degree of disparity and zeal with which these people hoard their money is precisely what is found in an Oligarchy.
It is true that productivity of the average American has increased, but, these more productive citizens are not compensated in kind. There has been no income gain for the average American since the 1970s. And while those who earn in the top 1% might pay some taxes, “The U.S. Senate … estimates that the losses to the U.S. Treasury each year just from off-shore placement of resources … [are] roughly $70 billion…” the equivalent amount of the Bush tax cuts. Furthermore, those who fund campaigns for political office are comprised of roughly 4% and only ½% of that fund the majority campaign effort. It is this “wealth campaign” that decides which issues will be the focused on in the campaign and who will represent those issues.
And so, in the case of Social Security, enacted in 1913, dictated that everyone below a certain income would pay nothing while those in the top 1% would, we now maintain the opposite tack. Today, those who earn up to $108,000 contribute 2 ½% on total income toward Social Security; everything earned above that amount is not taxed for Social Security. By blindly accepting these terms, we are excusing the wealthy from paying on their entire income, and the rapidly increasing number of senior citizens is facing a crisis of poverty in retirement. How do we resolve this? Remove the cap.
Why is it that we continue to enable this oligarchy? The Occupy movements are vehemently condemned by elites who claim to have God’s interests in view, and, in turn, fiercely defended by those who are themselves oppressed by this condition. So it was with great attentiveness that I processed an article in the October, 2011 issue of Christianity Today.
Aaron Franzen, of Baylor University reflected on research concerning frequency of Bible reading independent of religious services, and the relationship to political left-ward affinities. “In 2007, the Baylor Religion Survey asked Americans how often they read the Bible on their own…. It also asked whether the federal government should expand its authority to fight terrorism—a reference to the Patriot Act. For each increased level of Bible-reading frequency, support for the Patriot Act decreased by about 13 percent.”Since support for the Patriot Act is often associated with conservative (and very often, conservative biblical-literalist Christians) this finding was a surprise among the researchers. What’s more, “Support for abolishing the death penalty increased by about 45 percent for each increase on the five-point scale…[they were] more likely to believe science and religion are compatible…and, they were almost 35 percent more likely” supportive of social and economic justice. These are evangelicals and biblical literalists, “those who tend to be more conservative on these topics,” but, the more they read the Bible on their own, the more politically liberal on these topics they become.
One conclusion seems obvious. The more those who regard scripture as authoritative actually read the content, its narrative form the more these readers. God cannot endure unrighteousness and injustice. Twisting laws and hanging heavy burdens on the already depleted is antithetical to God’s creative purposes. The life and words of Jesus are not precepts and weighty rules (he ascribed those to the “whitewashed Pharisees”). Indeed, there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests a tithe. Rather, Jesus instructs that those who follow him give up everything. 100%. How can I call myself a follower of Jesus if my neighbor does not have enough to eat while I broil chicken breast and prepare dairy-free mashed potatoes for my family?
I feel like I am a dripping faucet. But I am continuously flummoxed by the insistence of those who claim to believe the same God as I and seek to align their lives with the same Jesus I read about in the Bible and know by the witness of the Holy Spirit left for me after his death and resurrection, that we must protect the “rights” of those who hoard the balance of wealth that the 99.9% of the nation has worked to make possible. They assume that in doing so they protect their own rights, but, as Winters observes, “[In America], wealth is two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave and farmer society. That’s how huge the gap is.” This is not compatible with a democracy, nor, to an even greater degree is it compatible with God’s desire for all of creation.
As I wrestle with my own culpability, desperately wanting to take care of the plank in my own eye before addressing the speck in my brother’s or sister’s, I am reminded again of the character and magnitude of God’s love in a book I’m reading. The Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho, confesses his realization, “forgiveness works only if you accept it.” In his, Aleph, he recalls the narrative in Scripture of the Last Supper when Jesus discloses that one disciple would betray him and another would deny him—Jesus regarding both to be equally egregious. “Judas betrays him, is eaten away by guilt and hangs himself. Peter denies him, not just once, but, three times. He had time to think about it, and still persists in his error. However, instead of punishing himself, he makes a strength of his weakness and becomes the first great preacher of the message taught to him by the man whom he had denied in his hour of need. The message of Love was greater than the sin. Judas failed to understand this, but Peter used it as a working tool.”
And, such is my prayer: that Love is unleashed to overtake my neglect of the poor. That Love is revealed as more powerful than the coercions of the wealthy-powerful and the lies they feed the many. That become a working tool of Love to be an agent of hope to the hopeless, and support to those who are in positions to effect change. We are stuck as Americans. If change comes most from the outside as suggested in the reflection at the start of this essay, I am game for reinventing something and challenging the “existing dominant channels.” I want to “create something new and vital and important,” and since I believe in a creative God, I am sure this God would delight in such a venture. Who’s with me?! What shall we do?! Let’s get actively involved in this Kingdom-on-earth business!
Interview with Jeffrey Winters can be found in the October 28, 2011 WBEZ, Worldviewspot: http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-28/oligarchy-history-how-super-rich-defend-their-wealth-93577
Franzen, Aaron B. “A Left-Leaning Text,” Christianity Today. October 2011, 55 (10), 32.
Coelho, Paulo. Translated by, Margaret Jull Costa. Aleph. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 2011, 107-108.