Dr. Wayne Baker is devoting space in August for Americans to talk about our core values. This is the second of two OurValues.org responses from best-selling author Marcus Borg and his wife the Rev. Canon Marianne Borg. (Read the first Borg OurValues.org piece here.)
QUESTION: What gives you hope now for America?
MARIANNE: This may sound corny, but what gives me hope for America is the wisdom of natural life cycles and I think that our ultimate hope is that we are part of natural life cycles, too. So, this all could fall to dust, but the hope is that new life can emerge again as a natural part of life. I think of a line from a Mary Oliver poem: “Oh to love what is lovely and will not last. What a task to ask of anyone. But it is ours.”
I actually see that as hopeful. To love what is lovely, yet will not last. Things appear to be changing around us and they will, indeed, change. We can’t stop that. But, I think something will come through all of this. I hope as a species we will survive and be able to write about it, sing about it and remember our story. I am hopeful. I think we’ll make it.
MARCUS: I love that line from Mary Oliver, too. Obama’s election also gives me hope, although I am dismayed by how close it was. I taught on college campuses for 41 years, starting in 1966 and retiring in 2007. This is only my anecdotal impression, but college students and 20-somethings give me hope, when I see signs of their rising social passion. At least, I see more social passion in those coming of age today than I did in the generation that came of age in the 1980s and 1990s.
Looking back through history, I also find hope in knowing that when empires collapse, the homeland generally does OK. The British empire collapsed and England’s fine. The French empire collapsed and France is basically fine. You could even say the same thing about the Soviet empire. Yes, Russia has problems but it’s not as though Russia has collapsed and is desolate. So one of the things that gives me hope for the future is that, if our imperial hubris gets sufficiently chastened so that we let go of that notion that we need to be the No. 1 military power in the world, No. 1 in all things, and we accept our status as one nation among many, then that gives me hope.
It’s very hard at this time to be an American and a Christian. The loyalties are very very different as I see it. For example, 49 percent of the military spending of the world is done by the United States. Our navy is stronger than the next 13 navies in the world combined. Why is it not OK to be at parity with our competitors? That used to be all right to have naval parity, so that you were as strong as the next navy in the world. But now, we assume that we have to be as strong as the rest of the world put together. This has enormous consequences for our national life. In some ways, we went to war with Iraq because we could. We had the power to be used by the people who sent us to war, and they used that power.
In the world today, we are the most Christian nation. (The University of Michigan data indicate that the importance of religion and Christianity, in particular, rank the U.S. near the top of the international scale on strength of religious values.) Yet, at the same time, we have the largest gap between rich and poor among the world’s developed nations. How can we have such economic injustice given our Christian values?
This is a hard time to be loyal to what America is presently all about and to be a Christian, too. I don’t think it’s hard to be loyal to the ideals of America, but in terms of our present behavior and direction as a nation, the conflict between that and being a Christian is growing greater with each passing year, as I look at it. The irony is that the most visible part of the Christian political world, and I mean the most visible Christian political leaders in the media, are pushing for lower taxes and therefore greater economic injustice. These voices are on the side of keeping military spending up to protect ourselves against our enemies. So, what gives me hope is that we probably can’t sustain that much longer and a more chastened United States might be a much better country in which to live.
QUESTION TO OUR READERS: What do you think? Please, add a “Comment” below before you go.
(You also can learn more about Borg’s latest book, “Putting Away Childish Things,” from Amazon.)