Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's About Power, Not Picnics

Photo of some long time spiritual warriors I admire.

Any religion that wants to be taken seriously must deal squarely with the issue of power, who has it, who doesn't, and how to change that within a given social order. In the words of the immortal Howard Thurman, religion must speak to those "with their backs against the wall". Religion that fails to do so is an opiate of little value to anyone other than those who practice it. One of the issues in our nation and the world where the question of power comes into sharp relief is that of racial unity and justice. We are living in a time when symbolic gestures, publicity stunts, political theatrics, "diversity training" and fabricated photo ops are viewed as serious engagement with America's "most vital and challenging issue". If the inevitable consequences of the color-line were not edging closer to us each day, it would actually be kind of funny. This Baha'i blogger is not laughing. Of course I don't want to bring anyone down. There is nothing inherently wrong with sharing a hot dog at your Race Unity Day picnic, some bacon and eggs at the MLK breakfast or beans and rice at this or that cultural event on your campus or in your community. The problem is what happens afterwards, which too often is nothing of substance, nothing that fundamentally changes a defective social order, an order that continues to benefit the few at the expense of the many, that continues to promote grossly concentrated privilege and massive spiritual emptiness. Of course maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I should just grab another burger, turn up "Don't Worry Be Happy" on the radio and join the party in the new "post-racial" America. Or I could get on with serious business of building a new civilization:

"Throughout history, the masses of humanity have been, at best, spectators at the advance of civilization. Their role has been to serve the designs of whatever elite had temporarily assumed control of the process. Even the successive Revelations of the Divine, whose objective was the liberation of the human spirit, were, in time, taken captive by "the insistent self", were frozen into man-made dogma, ritual, clerical privilege and sectarian quarrels, and reached their end with their ultimate purpose frustrated. Bahá'u'lláh has come to free humanity from this long bondage, and the closing decades of the twentieth century were devoted by the community of His followers to creative experimentation with the means by which His objective can be realized. The prosecution of the Divine Plan entails no less than the involvement of the entire body of humankind in the work of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development."
(Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 113)