I was first introduced by this book by my favorite "fake" news program, The Daily Show. The author had come on the show to hawk his book, and when Jon Stewart mentioned the subtitle ("Why the right gets it wrong, and the left doesn't get it"), I was skeptical, but kept an open mind.
B y the end of the interview, I gave the video image of Jim wallis a wink and a thumbs-up- I LIKED this guy.
After reading this book, I like him even more.
Jim Wallis is a fundamentalist, evangelical christian, who believes that the bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God. Now- I can hear the folks out there already leaping to their pre-concieved notions of such people, and dismissing this guy as a religious nut. Before I read this book, I'd be among them- but the narrow-mindedness among the american political left that makes us jump to such conclusions, is one of the greatest errors that we have made, as a political movement, in the past century of american politics.
In Thomas Frank's masterpiece, What's the matter with Kansas, he points out that the democratic party, under the misguidance of the DLC, has waffled, for decades, on economic issues, and has allowed the republican right to effectively divorce economics from politics, and thus, has been able to convince millions of americans to vote against their economic self-interest. Why? Because the democrats are too timid to stand up for them, for fear of being called "socialist", and thus, have essentially abandoned them to a narrow-minded politics defined by "God, Guns, and Gays."
Where Frank addresses the left's failures on the issues of economics, Wallis addresses the contemporary american left's irrational abhorrance of religion.
Now, I can feel many out there shrinking away from this- "seperation of church and state" is the inevitable response. However, one of the realities that we on the left have to come to grips with, is that, whether we like it or not, a majority of the american public believes- (gasp!) in God, and a vast majority of those that do, try to live their faiths in their daily lives.
When we on the left dismiss this fact, we allow the right to co-opt the very essense of religion in our society, and we see the results:
The republicans have been able to lay claim to being the "party of God, faith, and family values", while at the same time, they wage illegal wars, punish the poor, exalt the rich, ignore the true value of human life, despoil our environment, and promote lining the pockets of massive corporations, while the least of us suffer the results of their hubris.
Wallis asks us important questions:
"When did Jesus become pro-war?" Indeed- the right wing claims to be "pro-life"- it rails against abortion, stem cell research, and works itself into a froth over a brain-dead woman in Florida, yet it aggressively persues the death penalty, promotes wars against nations that never attacked, nor threatened us, and condemns universal health care as "socialist." How did this come to be?
"When did Jesus become pro-rich?" Indeed- the right wing loves tax breaks for the rich, cutting of social programs for the poor, and social infrastructure, in favor of the aforementioned. How did this come to be?
"When did Jesus become a selective moralist?" Indeed- the right wing loves to condemn those on welfare, those who happen to have been born gay or lesbian, and those who suffer from the great racial divide that still exists in this country. How did this come to be?
It came to be, because we on the left are quick to condemn, and slow to understand. Wallis breaks it down, for anyone who is willing to read, and learn.
Would the Jesus that opened up a can of whoop-ass on the money changers in the temple condone Bush's coddling of Ken Lay, and Enron, who robbed thousands of their pensions and life savings? Would the Jesus who said "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" condone the Bush Bowl's war in Iraq? Would the Jesus who said "That which you have done to the least of these, you have done to me", condone the Bush administration's cuts to programs aimed at aiding the poor, the starving, and the homeless?
I think you know the answer...
Wallis sounds a clarion call in his book, reminding us that the principles that he, and the millions of other progressive people of faith across this nation are fighting for, are not unique to christianity- they are universal. The only reason that Bush, Frist, and DeLay have been able to co-opt christianity, and bend it to their corrupt will in the poilitical sphere, is that we on the left have been silent, for far too long.
Wallis constantly reminds us that the greatest christian prophetic voice that ever appeared in our nation, Martin Luther King, spent his life fighting poverty, racism, and war. When we turn our backs on the foundations that he built, we let Bush, and his ilk, define the moral paradigm of our country.
The one qualm I have about Wallis' work is that he boasts about the meetings he's had with the Bush Bowl, and the letters that he's sent to the white house. He doesn't seem to realize that in the few times that he's had face time with Bush, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and that whatever letters he's sent to Bush were most likely shipped off to the local landfill, after being put through the nearest paper shredder, without even being read.
Wallis doesn't seem to understand the true nature of the beast that we're all fignting against. I remember a story about a group of priests who went to pay homage to Stalin, to protest his planned demolition of the Church of Christ the Savior, in Moscow. The church had been built with the donated funds of the citizens of Moscow, and was a treasured landmark. Stalin met with them, said some encouraging words, and probably wet himself, chuckling, as the preists dropped to bended knee, in deference to his power. After they left his chambers, he signed the order for the demolition of the cathedral, and the demolition charges were planted the next day. The priests who had the temerity to question his authority were all arrested, soon afterwards, and were never heard from again.
That having been said, Wallis' book is a step in the right direction. I wish him well, and I share his desire for a great progressive spiritual revival in this country. The impetus is upon us, on the left, to accept, and work with this growing movement, and not dismiss them, out of hand, because of preconcieved notions that have more to do with the right-wing dominance of the religious movement, rather than with fact, scripture, and practice.
PS- I have to differ with Wallis, on some issues- unlike him, I LOVED the "farting Horse" ad that aired on the superbowl...