Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Your Daily Moral Compass -- brought to you by Diet Dr. Pepper

This one's for the Christians in the house.

If you haven’t heard of Cornel West, do yourself a favor and Google the man. His book Race Matters, written in the wake of the Rodney King verdict and the ensuing Los Angeles riots, is the best book I’ve encountered on modern race relationships. Just to call it a book on quote/unquote “race relations” doesn’t even do it justice. It’s more than that. It’s one of the great works of American sociological thought -- a book that refuses to pander to either side of the political aisle -- a book that speaks of people and their communities instead of statistics and demographics -- a book of virtues unlike anything William Bennett could ever dream to compile.

In case you couldn’t tell, I liked it. Alot.

Not far into the first chapter, West makes an interesting point concerning the recent decline of morals in American life. He argues that radical feminists and other counter-cultural radicals of the 1960s have less to do with our current state of moral decay than conservatives are willing to admit. The 60s radicals are the classic whipping boy for arch-conservatives when decrying America’s failing "moral compass" from the steps of capitals and courthouses everywhere. They make for an easy target, because they really did oppose many of the moral and cultural restraints of American society at the time.

West, however, turns the tables on conservatives, arguing that corporate institutions have done even more to erode cultural morals than anything the radical left could have cooked up. Sure, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll shook the moral fiber of American conservatives, and literally brought them out of the closet as a political force in the process. But American conservatism could have absorbed and rebounded from the 60s counter-culture, had not corporate America co-opted these themes to sell shampoo, potato chips, and German luxury cars.

For example: Take the 60s feminist act of bra burning. Choosing to go braless was a statement of defiance and freedom in the face of America’s patriarchal-dominated society. But what was once an act of dissidence, has now become a statement of cover-girl fashion and chic culture. Corporate institutions took a counter-cultural "f-you" and turned it into a mass-marketed, homogeneous fashion-statement, stripping it of its original politically-subversive meaning. What conservative moralists are left with is simply a Hollywood trend to criticize, which they do incessantly. But rather than attribute its wide-spread acceptance to corporate advertisers, they continue to blame the 60s feminist movement.

Conservative politicians and right wing talking-heads, beholden to the free market model, turn a blind eye to the culpability of corporate multi-nationals in the decay of America’s “moral fiber.” Instead, we rail against feminists and other radicals, because those groups (supposedly) represent our ideological opposites. Rather than raise our voices against the influence of marketing and advertising on our nation’s moral norms, we go after those groups who had their hey-day some 40 years ago. In short, we’re beating a dead horse while a herd of live ones kick down the corral.

Is this criticism of corporate America a uniquely Marxist concept? And if so, should that make Christians wary of it? I’m not entirely certain. But more importantly, in spite of its political affiliations, is it a Biblical concept? I’m beginning to think so. If standing up against concentrations of power in the hands of the few who abuse such power draped in the American ideals of liberty and a free-market economy is a Marxist idea, I couldn’t care less. If looking out for the rights of the oppressed and the voice of the marginalized is unique to the socialist position, it’s of no matter to me. All I know is that these concepts are noble, these concepts are righteous, and these concepts are Biblical.

The God we serve is one of boundless compassion and infinite justice. His wrath is held for the hand of the oppressor, and his love is poured out on the tears of the oppressed.

The prophet Micah said it best, “And what does Yahweh require of you -- but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That’s all what matters.

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