Monday, August 01, 2005

Better Angels

As the Tennessean headlines a story today stating the power, influence, celebrity, and political connections of a local pastor, his super-sized church, and their dominant denomination, I am reminded of a more modest, less conventional reflection on faith and politics:
When people speak of loving their country, they mean, without having reflected on the matter, its spirit, its essence, what it stands for, its image in their minds and before the world. Naming this angel makes it possible to distinguish the soul of the nation from the actions of any given administration, or leaders, or dominant class, race, or group. This distinction is crucial. It means we can censure, criticize, and oppose unjust policies without having to dissociate ourselves from ourselves from our love and concern for the land, its history, traditions and contributions to humanity. The angel makes it possible to relativize the psychic authority with which our leaders tend to become invested, and to recall people to the transcendent, spiritual vocation to which they are ordained and by which they--and their leaders--are judged.
--Walter Wink, Unmasking the Powers, p. 103.

It takes a lot of courage these dark days to criticize foreign and domestic policies without being castigated as un-American, un-patriotic, and even irreligious. Wink's comments on the better angel of American culture reminds me of the import of the virtue of courage and of the spiritual viciousness of confusing what makes America great with a single president or his policies.

Dissent from unjust policies and from even the largest, most plugged-into-powers-that-be interest groups that support them constitutes the American soul. Apart from dissent, our homeland has no spirit. Without those with backbones stiff enough to say, "Thou shalt not ...," to tyrannical majorities, our land is merely a realm of infinitely lesser angels.


  1. Bravo! This piece complements Bob Herbert's op-ed piece today in the NY Times Who we are. Calls for courage, sacrifice and dissent are not threads running through the American flag as presented by the current ruling class.

    Thanks for this.

  2. And thanks to you, John, for referring me to the NYT piece. It's a good one. Although, Senator McCain always leaves me scratching my head. One minute he seems to be acting opportunistically; the next minute he seems to be dissenting from an administration where loyalty matters more than truth, justice, or the American way. I can't ever tell what he's going to do next, but his words in this debate--"[Treatment of Gitmo prisoners is] not about who they are. It's about who we are"--are better than anything I could have said and consistent with the appeal to the better angels of our nature.