I’m currently reading a book for review on Christology. A theologian, new to me, Douglas John Hall, said something I account very true.
He suggested that Canadians (he being one) and Americans, share a common cultural evil–a culture of optimism. It is not so by default, he argues, but is carefully groomed and maintained.
If you think about it, you will probably agree. I recall my civics classes in high school quite well. My overriding “feeling” about the entire learning process, was one of optimism. Americans somehow always get ‘er done, always find the solution, always win. We are the technological giants of the world. We set the standard.
The destruction of native peoples is mentioned, but glossed over in favor of an ideology that we were a big people with big ideas, the adventurous cream of the European crop, destined for big things. We NEEDED a big land. And along with that is a concomitant not stated but thoroughly impressed notion, that the end (which has been glorious) justified the means, (near annihilation of a people).
One of the impediments to our earlier release of our grip on Southeast Asia and the disastrous Vietnam war, was the lie that we had “never lost a war.” Draws don’t count, and the South would be what in the Civil war? We had great designs on much of Canada and we, nobly? gave them up? We ultimately told the big lie in Vietnam, a voluntary withdrawal is not losing. Yeah, but it was, and everyone knows it.
I recall some years ago, listening to a Amway pep talk on tape. “Don’t worry about the depletion and final end of oil, the speaker claimed. Americans ALWAYS find another way to accomplish. Never worry about scarcity, we always solve a problem.”
Thus do we perpetrate the unsaid real lesson–we are entitled to live as we wish, as comfortably, and as elegantly as money can buy, because when resources are gone, we will discover new ones. World–not to worry–America is in charge and will save you–or at least keep you at subsistence level where you are now–if only to preserve our largess.
Hall argues that in doing this we mask something that is part of the human experience–anxiety, limits, loneliness and temptations. We refuse these items on the menu if you will. We choose entertainment, more toys, and pseudo-intellectual pursuits–gallery openings and charity balls. We refuse to do with less, we find ways to stretch a dollar and fake high-class decorating on a dime instead.
Our presidents, no matter how dire the circumstances are sure to include a statement that they have no fear of America’s ultimate victory. Never never panic the little people with pessimistic predictions. Only do that when offset by the solution you KNOW will work–just vote for me!
Yet, it seems, we aren’t truly buying the optimism any more. Increasingly, as we try to figure out why so many hate and revile us, how our hard work is no longer reflected in our stock portfolios, and we face what seemed unimaginable only 50 years ago, namely we are the first generation not to significantly out-pace our parents, we are left with a vague unease, that something is amiss.
We are more prone to feeling that we toil for nothing. Yet will continue, Hall argues, to fly too near the sun, grasping at more, knowing somewhere inside that by doing so we deprive even more of the world’s poor. We know no other way he claims.
And his answer, in part, at least, is that churches need to be harbingers of a new way of seeing life–one that is not tied as he puts it to triumphalism. It is one that ties us back to the cross of Jesus.
We are, if I read him right, caught in a mode of human victory over every obstacle. We are much like the child who masters tying his shoes, and thus is ready to conquer the world. We are aided by the atheist who tells us that nothing surpasses the human mind, and everything we have is wrought from its inner recesses.
Some few of us, some few millions, are getting it, finally. We humbly confess our near ruination of this planet in every respect. Watching Blood Diamonds last night, I’m reminded of a main character who has struggled to regain his family torn by revolution, murder and mayhem. He says, “I get that the white man would do this to us for the diamonds. What I do not get is how my own people could do this to each other.”
We have done this to each other and to ourselves. We may be past the point of fixing it. And I am convinced, we will not fix it without finding the humility to express our evil wrongs and to do our penance in however we might view that. By prayer, by learning to live simply, by accepting that different does not mean not as good.
I do not embrace pessimism. On the contrary, in dismantling the optimistic lie, I live in faith and hope that we as a species will, with out extraordinary minds, gifted by God, turn and see the truth, and save ourselves and all that lives.
If we do not, then, God will weep for his lost planet, and will look on in his universe to other more successful life evolutions. And we, spiritual souls that we are, will have learned a grave lesson as we journey on with God. But it will be sad will it not?