Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A veiled attack on the American Dream?

Economic justice arrives only when everyone recognises some kind of shared vulnerability and limitation in a world of limits and processes (psychological as well as material) that cannot be bypassed. We are delivered or converted not simply by resolving in a vacuum to be less greedy, but by understanding what it is to live as an organism which grows and changes and thus is involved in risk. We change because our minds or mindsets are changed and steered away from certain powerful but toxic myths.
Rowan Williams Ethics, Economics and Global Justice

The Archbishop of Canterbury has given a speech (read the whole thing here or here). In order to even begin to grasp what he is talking about, one needs to define terms. He's a master at sweeping rhetoric, but is not so easily defined. In fact, his definitions are inferred, which narrows the appeal of his address. Why can't he just say it: "Woe to you foolish and selfish Americans, you think only of yourselves and your dreams."

Of course, he's giving the speech in England, where it seems the American Dream departed with Tony Blair.

His mind is brilliant, one could write an entire thesis on the speech. He speaks in such a way that one feels that one should stirred by the soaring rhetoric, if it weren't for that pit in one's stomach. For example, shall we just take a look at this this particular section?

1. Economic justice - A nice way to say socialism?

2. Everyone recognises - The only way "everyone" will ever "recognize" anything is at the end of a bayonet.

3. Shared vulnerability and limitation - As opposed to the Manifest Destiny of power and expansion?

4. A world of limits and processes - Life in the Collective?

5. Psychological as well as material - Reductionist, soulless.

6. Cannot be bypassed - Or questioned?

7. Delivered or converted - By whom? By what?

8. Not simply - Dismissive? Elitist?

9. Resolving in a vacuum - As opposed to waning in the Collective?

10. Less greedy - Similar to slightly pregnant?

11. Understanding - Progressively enlightened?

12. Live as an organism - In the Collective?

13. Grows and changes - Progressive enlightenment?

14. Risk - As opposed to individual discernment?

15. Change because our minds or mindsets are changed - Though the heart may remain stone cold?

16. Steered away - By whom? By what?

17. Certain powerful but toxic myths - Could that possibly be the American Dream?

It's not greed anymore, so much as a lack of enlightenment and the whole world should be a University. Is this not what he describes as his model for "economic justice?" We are what we think and trust means suspending belief in our individual dreams, even the crash of the American Dream.

Perhaps an American writer put it best, this loss of a dream:
And as I sat there, brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out Daisy's light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby

The words are empty unless there is spiritual conversion, one heart at a time. The transformation of our minds and our hearts is individually through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Good News of Jesus Christ transforms a nation, as we've seen in England, as we've seen in America. Spiritual renewal. Anything else so lofty as to assume the enlightenment of the university mind will ultimately save us is utopian wishful thinking that often leads to the guillotine. Other wise the problem remains, as even Gatbsy found out faced down in his pool.

A limited government assumes that the people will govern themselves ethically and morally and socially and politically and spiritually - that is the call of the Church. When the Church removes itself from the ground of truth, then the people are left adrift to whatever idol they construct, even to a green light at the end of a dock. The economic crisis is merely a symptom of a far greater crisis - the battle of the human heart.

Wilberforce changed a world because his heart was changed.

Fear in economic upheaval leads many to retreat into a collective. The American Dream will not survive life in a collective, as it squashes out human creativity and human ingenuity - two virtues not found in Rowan Williams' speech. In fact, he faults both virtues, reducing the virtues as a little less than evil collaborators of "modern production" that "creates markets by creating new 'needs' – or more properly, new expectations." In other words, human creativity and human ingenuity creates consumerism, therefore. again to quote Dr. Williams, "Human creativity moves on and human ingenuity constantly enlarges the reach of human management of the environment." Obviously, in Dr. Williams world, there is no discernment, no trust of a free market, for the people are too stupid to say no. And creativity and ingenuity not the virtues we find in the American Dream.

Is the American Dream now nothing but a powerful and toxic myth, reduced by Dr. Williams to be nothing more than mere consumerism. Perhaps it's not so veiled after all.

Here's what Rowan Williams says:
Patience, trust and the acceptance of a world of real limitation are all hard work; yet the only liberation that is truly worth while is the liberation to be where we are and who we are as human beings, to be anchored in the reality that is properly ours. Other less serious and less risky enterprises may appear to promise a power that exceeds our limitations – but it is at the expense of truth, and so, ultimately at the expense of human life itself. Perhaps the very heart of the current challenge is the invitation to discover a little more deeply what is involved in human freedom – not the illusory freedom of some fantasy of control.
Or the American Dream?

“Far better it is to dare mighty things,

to win glorious triumphs,
even though checkered by failure,
than to take rank with those poor spirits
who neither enjoy nor suffer much,
because they live in the gray twilight
that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“You can be anything you want to be,
do anything you set out to accomplish
if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.”
Abraham Lincoln

May we remember the dream and not some veiled attempt at reductive collectivism or a masked counterfeit of consumerism - but the spiritual hope beyond the confines of a university utopia. We need more creativity, more ingenuity, more hope, a manifest destiny of the heart. And where do we find that hope that knows no limits, that cannot be contained for it is the hope we find in Jesus Christ. Then we dare to dream what is possible and change our world.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39


Anonymous said...

The American dream was never about a McMansion, or about becoming a gazillionaire. It was about maybe owning a little home, or ensuring your child went to college, if he or she wanted to, and could get in. It was about one thing above all, that right to self determination. The "American dream" has been twisted and warped, whether by commercial enterprises, Hollywood, illegal aliens and their lobbyists, and sneered at by far left wingers, including those from Europe, as well as a certain ABoC, Rowan Williams.

Sorry, but while he might be intelligent, and very well educated, he's not brilliant. In fact, he's rather transparent. For all his talk of "justice", Williams never actually cares to soil his smooth hands with the actual work of the realities of poverty, not even in his own backyard. This is the Rowan, who after all who used the church's money, to invest it against the British pound, hoping the pound would lose in value, to make a fatter profit. For him to have made that decision, illustrated that profit was more important to him, than the impact such a devaluation would have on the poorest, on families, that means children... not the actions of a Christian, certainly not good, or charitable, or compassionate.

He lives in luxurious surroundings, he doesn't want for anything. He demanded an expensive hybrid vehicle, quipping that because he's slightly deaf in one ear, he can't ride a bicycle.. no middle ground for him. His wife, who is a beneficiary of her husband's cossetted and protected position, grudgingly complains that no one appreciates their sacrifices.

Sorry, but he's been cut way too much slack over the years, the man is a corrupt fraud, and deliberately seeking to destroy the Anglican communion. I believe this little speech is more schadenfreude, on Williams part than anything else. Williams allowing his inner Marxist to come out and play.

Good and decent Christians can not allow this man to continue to get away with his hypocrisies, continually making excuses for him, falling for the bumbling scholar routine has allowed to do real harm to the faith.

Anonymous said...

"We change because our minds or mindsets are changed and steered away from certain powerful but toxic myths."
Such as that silly one about marriage being between 1 man and 1 woman?

Would that the minds or mindsets of the revisionsts might change and be steered away from their disregard for the Word of God as written in the Bible and preached for 2 milleniums.

Marie Blocher

Anam Cara said...

You know, although I cannot go back and would never leave the Orthodox Church now that I have found her (or she found me), I sometimes wonder if I would have been open to Orthodoxy if I'd lived in a place where there was a Truro to have kept me Episcopalian/Anglican.

But when I read something like this, I realize that it isn't simply TEC that has problems. I am once again reassured that my move to the Church which is still preaching the same gospel unchanged after 2000 years was the right one.

In any Christian communion you will find orthodox believers. There are always pockets (a remnant the OT calls it) - Truro, Quincy, CANA, etc. But the bottom line is that the Anglican Communion itself is corrupted. And it, too, will disintegrate in time.

The Church of England, although right to correct errors and abuses in Roman Catholism, was born for the wrong reason - because the "leader" wanted to divorce his wife. Bad seed cannot produce good fruit.

Kevin said...

I'd agree with your assessment BB.

I'd also say, while being politely British in his most offensive insult, he actually demonstrates how uneducated the man is while spouting off at the mouth.

This is odd for a dyslexic to say, but one of my favorite course in college was American Literature, mostly because it was taught well. The second part of the semester, she had us read Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Willa Cather's short story "Neighbour Rosicky" and August Wilson's play "Fences -- all of which deal with aspects of the American dream, some are the negative aspects such as Fitzgerald wrote, but there is another side there is the sweetness of the immigrant family Carter writes or the struggles which both overtake/overcome in Wilson's play.

Is it a Toxic myth? I suppose in his most privileged life, without a day of manual labor (such as my second job digging ditches or the characters in these stories), sitting in his ivory tower, looking out across the pond, imagining these things, then maybe. Yet in the last play I referenced, has all the elements he is talking about, economic injustices, struggle, strife, yet Wilson does not write his script as the ABC would ... maybe that American girl is not so bad after all ... yes, Rowan, there are some who chase what they can not have but there is a complete other aspect to this "myth" that does not seem so bad to me and you might do well to shut your trap on items you may know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

This is also one of Rowan William's vile visions for the world:

Unknown said...

I have my moments too. I did see the whole elitist snobbery thingy in play at Lambeth (we Virginia Episcopalians have a trackrecord of actually loving that stuff, we of Colonial stock, nevermind that most of us who can trace our lineage back to 17th century Virginia are actually descended from the vast majority of indentured servants who had rather colorful pasts and if we are descended from the gentry, it is because we were on the wrong side of the sheets, but never mind - so is the Dutchess of Cornwall for that matter!) - be that as it may.

In the UK, as I understand it, the High Church types like Rowan Williams are also historically socialist. It's different here in America where the remnant of our high church Anglo Catholics are traditionalists. The rank and file progressives in TEC - for the most part - are historically Broad Church. They are the ones I understand introduced even the albs we wear for our Sunday Eucharist services (and after seeing a one-day return of the Morning Prayer vestments at Truro - oh, how hideous those broad church albs are, but nevermind!).

That being said, the truly English Upper Classes in England or Scotland are historically Roman Catholic. Was that a surprise for me, but it's true. The Protestant Upper Classes are imported. And there's none that are quite as "put on" as those from the other points of the UK (as even our beloved C.S. Lewis fell into, he being Irish and not English!) who take on a persona while at University to hide their common roots. Perhaps those who refuse to do so immigrate, as in the case of one particular bishop I know.

But it was clear that there was a sort of this elitist snobbery factor that sniffs at something so crass as what we would call the American Dream, thinking that it's all about Consumerism, when in fact it's far more of a spiritual dream than anything else. Anti-Americanism is a card that was dealt and continues to be dealt as a strategy to divide not only the Global South, but even the rank and file Commonwealth-aligned provinces (which may be why TEC is working to align the TEC-influenced provinces in Central America and the Philippines with mixed results).

Yet, to live a life of simplicity is a matter of the heart, not economic reordering. Why, even in Newport RI where I lived and worked when I was in college, the truly rich, the old rich, drove economy-style cars and left their Astin Martins and Rolls in the carriage houses beside their breath-taking "summer cottages" accept for weddings and funerals and the occasional Sunday afternoon drive.

All that being said, there is also a great Anglican evangelical tradition that is not so caught up in the trappings of trendy burgoise elitism that finds life in University to be nirvana (we see this in Virginia as well, which was kept at bay for a long, long time). But they are seldom raised to higher office since possibly we tend to smash the tea cups then sip them.

But it is their faith that America was built on, the faith of the rebel who revered God and dreamed big dreams.


“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.” - Jack Kerouac

Kevin said...

Actually, BB, the Evangelical Tradition is not what America was built on or why there is no 39 Articles in the USA until recently.

They heartland of the US was mostly settled by Anglo-Catholics (which is very odd, but it does go well with the LCMS), which is were I'd say the American ideals (which we reference as the Dream) are formed. I think you're introducing a more divisive elements more than the ABC has in your last post.

Unknown said...

I'm thinking of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia colonies (both inherently low church) as well as the overwhelming spread of Methodist and Baptist churches, which are breakoffs from Anglicanism in the United States. Anglicanism was in danger of extinction in Virginia until the rise of the great evangelical bishops in Virginia which brought the faith back to its historic roots, at least for a while. And I"m not sure what you mean that "there is no 39 articles in the USA until recently." It was the 79 Prayer Book that moved the 39 articles to the back of the book in teeny weeny little type.

It is true that the Oxford Movement went west and took the Episcopal Church with it. But the Episcopal Church does not have the influence in the West as it has had in the East where it is a part of the upper intelligentsia until recent years (but the image remained, though now badly broken).

The understanding of the American Dream as a personal dream does have it's roots in the understanding of a personal relationship with God and that we find evidence of our salvation not in the in the sacraments (as we would find in our Anglo Catholic heritage) but in the examination of our individual (not corporate) life (Calvin) and in our holiness of living (Wesley), which is at it's heart, evangelical.

Those elements of faith have now been secularized into the American culture so much that it's difficult to trace the roots of what we now take for granted as American values (hard work leads to personal success is at its heart a distinct puritan work ethic that is so ingrained into our culture that we don't realize that its origins are deep in 17th century New England), but even now, even today these elements of life are wholly American and continue to baffle Europeans abroad.

Again, the divisions between low church and high church Episcopalians has been profound and the fact that these two major wings of the church are now aligned in the new province is nothing less than miraculous. To God be the glory because there's no other way to explain it. The theological shift in the Episcopal Church is so intense that it could bring together two wings of the church that have been historically at odds. That tells us how deep the divisions are (but we should not be fooled into thinking that there will not be work to do for the future). In fact, it works both ways as evangelicals learn to appreciate the sacraments and Anglo Catholics appreciate solid Bible teaching. But is that not why we dream?


Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - II Corinthians 4:16-18

Kevin said...

As I said, I think you want to keep the fights going ...

First, ++RDW is a poor example of a Anglo-Catholic for he shows no interest in the wider Church but desire things which actually push the the divisions farther. I'd say he's a High Church liberal, likes all the ritual but does not hold to the theology [liberals come in all sorts, but being High Church does not tell you if one is liberal, Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic ... there your theory is deeply flawed].

Second, nice slander of Anglo-Catholics with the snobbery comment, I'd be more offended if you had not tried to fight one brand of snobbery with another (oh, that {debatable actually} appeal to fine Virginian history), which is just ironic.

Then the presentation as if Evangelicals as superior is actually laughable at this point. The Charismatics have been leading the charge in ACNA with FiFNA backup and most of the more Evangelicals have been the ones caving, sans a few rare examples.

Now, I'm willing to own that the broad Church movement that allowed the liberals to take over has part of its roots in how obnoxious the Oxford movement pushed it's agenda, which split Episcopalians and ironically finally forced the excommunication with Rome. Yet, I find some of the Evangelical heroes of last century very caustic, but they're in context of being on the lessor power. The majority didn't support either passionate faction, thus Broad Church begins and opens a door.

Now, other than the irony of the Anglo-Catholic ditch digger questioning you pinning the ABC's snobbery on that Tradition while expounding on your heritage and how wonderful it is to be an Evangelical (fight snobbery with snobbery?). John asks some haunting questions about that ... about not loving the one you can see ... I think what horrifies me the most is how soon you forgotten 8/5/03 when Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic all learned we needed each other for the in fighting actually had tipped the balance to 60%/40% in favor of the liberal contingent.


I do think ++Rowan is demonstration the hight of arrogance, but you seemed to want to connect it to Anglo-Catholics (as opposed to being an egghead who never had pastoral ministry until being the ABC), which is an odd turn and a continued jab that I left wonder "why" ... what's in your heart to go from the American dream to attacking Anglo-Catholics?

Unknown said...

Ah, have we forgotten that a certain blogger has been known to often attend Smokey Aggies on the side? Or that she has been seen on occasion in residence at All Saints Convent, Catonsville? ;-)


Chip Webb said...

Maybe you can't boil it down to a tirade against greedy Americans because that's not what it's ultimately about, as Rowan Williams himself says multiple times in the speech?

Respectfully, Baby Blue, you've jumped from point A to an assumed point C here. Everyone always tries to read Rowan Williams through their own glasses, and yet the man defies practically every category. (There's a reason why he gets criticized as much on the left as the right.) This is because *he really is not concerned with political prescriptions.* (Dang, I wish I could italicize here. The asterisks will have to do.) He'll discuss political *issues,* to be sure, but he always stops short of a political prescription. Why? Because for him it's they're ultimately *spiritual* issues. (That and, one might assume, the fact that he knows his job well.)

You simply *cannot* interpret this piece well without considering the climax of it -- the three points about what the Christian faith has to say about today's situation. *That's* what Rowan is concerned with, and notice that he doesn't give any policy prescription. Go through his speeches since 2002 (when he became ABC) and you'll see this pattern time after time. (I've collected many of them, if you ever want to take a look.) He gives a *spiritual* outlook and leaves the *political* details to politicians.

One of Rowan's main points is that the Christian faith compels politicians -- and all of us -- to be concerned about all elements of society. To me, that's non-contestable. The details of how you meet that challenge are another matter, and those of us on the right see differently from those on the left.

If you went up and asked Rowan point blank if he was slamming the American dream, I'm sure he'd tell you in all honesty, "no." But he *is* asking politicians on both the left and the right to keep his three points in mind.

In his book The Truce of God, Rowan Williams addresses matters of war and peace, among other topics, and you keep waiting for him to deal with political solutions. He never does. Instead, he turns the argument on its head, and shows the issues to be primarily a job for the Church as a larger witness to society. (Kevin, my friend, I'll have to disagree with you that Williams doesn't care about the larger Church. That's the absolute heart of what he does care about.)

Rowan Williams has an extremely strong doctrine of humanity's sinfulness,and he sees it applying both personally *and structurally* to larger elements of society. The latter concern doesn't tend to sit well with those of us who are conservatives, but we are nonetheless all the better for having him around to needle and cajole people on all sides of an equation.

Peace of Christ,