In the midst of a raging discussion about what it means to be American, it is worthwhile to reflect on the profound ambivalence of American civil religion — perhaps the most powerful force for creating a shared national identity.
In 1967, Robert N. Bellah’s seminal essay, “Civil Religion in America,” created a template for how both the right and the left defined civil religion to cultivate a sense of belonging, particularly in an era of turbulence. During this period of increasing polarization, Bellah’s words are more relevant than ever.
China is experiencing “one of the great religious revivals of our time,” Johnson writes. “Across China, hundreds of temples, mosques, and churches open each year, attracting millions of new worshippers. … Faith and values are returning to the center of a national discussion over how to organize Chinese life.
“This is not,” he continues, “the China we used to know.”
BY THE TIME you read this, all of the important appointments in the new Trump administration will have been made, and the shape of the disaster that awaits us will be clear. Maybe the new president never did, as New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz suggested, appoint cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. But with the appointment of fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder as secretary of labor, vulture capitalist Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce, and Wall Street vampire Steven Mnuchin as secretary of treasury, Trump certainly spit in the face of the low-income white voters who put him over the top in the industrial Midwest.
Which brings us back to the recurring question: Why did so many blue-collar white people vote for a greedy, self-dealing billionaire in the first place? One answer is that Trump very effectively pushed the buttons of racial resentment (mostly about immigrants and Muslims) that are especially sensitive in less-educated, white areas. There is certainly something to that theory. But it doesn’t account for the fact that, as New York Times polling whiz Nate Cohn has noted, “Clinton suffered her biggest losses in the places where Obama was strongest among white voters.”
I would argue instead that Trump won primarily because he finally named the shadow that has hung, unacknowledged, over American life for at least the past 25 years: globalism. On June 28, 2016, during one of candidate Trump’s rare attempts to stay on message and give a serious public policy statement, he said, “Today, we import nearly $800 billion more in goods than we export. This is not some natural disaster. ... It is the consequence of a leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism.”
A Vatican envoy urged the World Trade Organization to keep promises made to the poor, amid concerns that its tariff-cutting efforts are disproportionately benefiting rich countries. The appeal came as the WTO, a Geneva-based organization that regulates international trade, was holding a four-day meeting ending Dec. 18 in the Kenyan capital.
Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.
And then we had kids …
I believe that most people are good, decent folks who want to see their community thrive and be healthy. The can of worms with the globalized economic system we live with, however, is twofold. Firstly, it is pathologically designed to function towards injustice, and injustice implicates the exploitation, destitution, and ultimate collapse of local communities around the world, especially in the poorer countries. Secondly, this global economic system does all that it can to make “community” invisible. The vast majority of those coffee drinkers who stop by the local supermarket or coffee shop to buy a pound of coffee have no idea where there coffee came from, who picked it and under what consequences.
Thus, when one is confronted with the inevitability of making a “global” economic choice, my advice would be to take the time to think about what one would want for his or her own community, and then to question how that far-off, distant community across the world where this or that product is being produced is going to be affected. This is not going to be easy for it requires the determination to discover what is purposely being hidden by the designs of the global economic system. But that is perhaps the price we should be paying to be able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee grown thousands of miles away.
We are connected with people and places through ways and means unlike any previous generation. We live in a “global village."
We are connected through worldwide round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones, Skype, and wonders of the Internet. But while such connections are indeed profound, the bonds of our global village run far deeper, for we are also linked through global events and international endeavors. Whether it is sporting events like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters that capture worldwide attention and compassion, the reach and depth of our global village passes through time zones and crosses national boundaries.
While these characteristics of the global village are astounding, our connections run even deeper as a result of the global process of production, distribution, consumption, and waste. In other words, the architects of our global economy intentionally linked local communities with others that are thousands of miles away. And so, while these massive multinational connections are often unnoticed in daily North American life, once we take a deeper look, we recognize that they are not only evident, but are also far from impartial.
It often seems that just as we begin to get our heads around how we might understand our world, everything changes. There have been tipping points at various moments in history; events or advances which move us from one epoch to another in such a way that we can never see the world with the same eyes again. It happened during the Industrial Revolution; it happened with the Communications Revolution; and it happened on September 11, 2001.
And according to Ayesha and Parag Khanna, we are approaching (or indeed, have already reached) another of these defining moments—what they call “The Hybrid Age.” In their book, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, published as part of the TED Books series, they examine how we have reached this moment, and what that means for our futures, and for generations beyond our own.
Hybrid Reality, in a similar fashion to many of the e-books that have developed out of the popular series of talks, reads like a manifesto – and in this case, it is a manifesto for navigating the unknown, exciting, and at times, downright terrifying potential futures which we are opening ourselves up to as technology becomes more and more sophisticated and more and more a part of us.
If we look at what is happening this week – elections in Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo, an aid effectiveness conference in South Korea, the continuing Arab Spring in Syria and beyond, World Aids Day Thursday – and in the coming weeks -- the U.N. climate change conference, COP17 -- we cannot pretend that these events have no impact on our lives here and now.
Every one of these events is a matter of justice. The citizens of Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo deserve the opportunity to express freely, without fear of intimidation or violence, how they believe their country should be governed. Having spent some time in the region, I believe that the people of the DRC deserve more than any other to live in a country where they are safe and secure.
How we assist other countries in their development is an issue of justice.
I just returned from a very moving convocation at the Claremont School of Theology where I am on the faculty. We were celebrating the historic founding of a new interreligious theological university that brings together institutions representing the three Abrahamic faiths, along with our newest partner, the Jains. The Jains are an eastern religion founded in India over 2,500 years ago who are perhaps best known for their deep commitment to the concept of no-harm or ahimsa.
While each partner institution will continue to train religious leaders in their own traditions, the Claremont Lincoln University will be a space where future religious leaders and scholars can learn from each other and collaboratively seek solutions to major global issues that no one single religion can solve alone. The CLU's founding vision of desegregating religion was reflected in the extraordinary religious diversity present at the convocation held in a standing room-only auditorium. I sat next to a Jewish cantor and a Muslim woman who had tears flowing down her face as we listened to the prayers offered in all four religions along with a reflection from a Humanist speaker.
After having spoken at the Greenbelt Festival in England a number of times now, we at the Center for Action and Contemplation always hoped and planned that we create a similar festival for spirituality and the arts in the United States. We had nothing comparable, and it was a niche waiting and needing to be filled. Therefore, we were honored to be a part of the first Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last June, and hope that we can convene a truly ecumenical, radical, and socially engaged crowd of people living at the intersection of justice, spirituality, and creativity -- and those who want to be!