Thursday, February 02, 2006

Eschatological Reservations

Sharon Welch

The memories of the middle class often hinder the move from critique to action. Shaped by memories of conquest in the name of the common good (settling the West, the growth of technology, economic affluence, the military power of the U. S. during and after World War II), many middle-class people are paralyzed when we see that our work against the dangerous costs of this legacy of conquest does not have the same amount of immediate success. Given this disparity, the lack of control and precision in work for justice seems almost irresponsible. If control is the norm, then responsible action for justice is a contradiction in terms. American culture relegates such concerns to the young and the terminally idealistic. Responsibility is equated with action that is more likely to succeed, thus identifying responsibility with action that is by definition supportive of the status quo.
Memories of military and economic victories serve as a barrier to work for liberation. Any strategy may be criticized as woefully inadequate when it cannot ensure long-lasting, thorough change. The members of a study group at Harvard, for example, argued against disarmament because of its failure to provide guaranteed results:

Disarmament would not necessarily ensure a state's position in the international contest between states. It would not necessarily ensure a state's security. Nor would disarmament guarantee that the funds saved from weapons would necessarily be devoted to raising the living standards of poor peoples.

According to these strategists, it is not enough for an act, such as disarmament to be an ingredient in a larger process - i.e., releasing money that could be spent in other ways.
The search for guarantees, and for single solutions, is often paralyzing. Taking as the norm of power the ability of the political and economic establishment to meet its goals, middle-class activists often become trapped in cultured despair. They are well aware of the costs of systems of injustice, but find it impossible to act against them because no definitive solutions are in sight. The memories of the middle class are all too often enervating and deceptive: deceptive in their accounts of cultural victory without victims, enervating in their emphasis on the failure of "utopian ideals."

While a denial of the fragility of our political strategies and structures is undoubtedly dangerous, the evasion of the resiliency of our work for justice is equally devastating. Sole attention to the failures in history can blind us to the partial successes; the realization that more is yet to be done masks the fact that some good has been obtained.

Theologians have examined the relationship between continued human fault and the power of divine presence in terms of the concept of eschatology and the eschatological reservation. (13) The eschatological reservation is the reminder that all of our good works are partial. Though inspired and guided by God, they cannot be directly identified as the work of God, nor identified as the kingdom of God.
A search for only absolute victory leads to "faith and hope in something metahistorical and a disgusted turning away from real-life history."

I don't have time to really give this the time it deserves today. But I think Welch nails in when she talks about what hinders the move from critique to action. Too often, we like to critique but keep our hands clean. It reminds me a lot of a Rosemary Bray McNatt article in the UU World:

I have come to the painful realization that we sometimes conflate our dreams of the Beloved Community with the difficult and grueling work that might lead to its achievement. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that “one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified as a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.” It isn’t hard to notice that power without love surrounds us in this country today. But think too of the extent to which we live our lives amid expressions of love without political power. Think of the countless acts of mercy with which each of us may have aligned ourselves: We work with Habitat for Humanity, we volunteer at shelters and mentor children, we testify before hostile legislators unwilling to extend human rights to the whole human family; we lobby for an end to punitive drug laws that target people of color; we do a thousand things in an effort to make our love visible. And yet, if we had power, real political power, would not the hungry already be fed, those children already joyful? Would not Habitat be out of business and our legislators obsessed with supporting human dignity rather than denying it? Would not captives of every variety already be freed? If we had real power, is it not possible that our work would already be done?

King continues to challenge us: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”


At 9:52 AM, Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I'm formulating my own post about love and this was a welcome read. When we talk about overcoming fear and apathy it probably helps to have an understanding of the places where F&A come from.


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