I've resisted reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, especially his book, Between the World and Me, because I had the impression that he is another angry writer, in this case about race. At CT, I have to sift through too much anger on too many topics, so I'm not inclined to voluntarily read yet another irate screed. But something prompted me to read this book a couple of weeks ago.
There was anger, to be sure, but also some of the most beautiful and powerful prose I have read in some time. He eloquently articulates his experience as a black man in America; in fact, he does this so well, one begins to imagine he is speaking for all blacks. But of course, he's not able to do that, nor are his critiques of white culture universally accepted, even among black intellectuals—note here and here. For example, he habitually attributes problems in America to racism, but as many have noted, historical causes tend to be very complex, and while race may play a key role at times, there is often so much more at play (greed, class, pride, ignorance, and so forth).
Many also critique his despair, which to be sure, permeates his book. In answer to a question in an NPR interview as to whether he has hope (of resolving racial conflict), he said no. He will continue the struggle, he said, but because racism is so deeply embedded in American culture and history, he will do so without the prospect of making a significant difference.
I would agree with Coates against his critics. To me, this is a realistic assessment of the state of the world. It's not just racism that's so deeply embedded, but injustices of all sorts—rich against poor, upper class against lower class, male against female, and so forth. This is the biblical doctrine of sin. We can and should struggle to right injustice as we are able, not to transform the world and bring about the kingdom of God but simply because love of neighbor demands it. But a realistic assessment of history suggests that we'll have victories only here and there. Even these are worth the struggle because they can make life not merely bearable but joyful for some. Our real hope, though, lies not in our abilities to transform the world but in the fact that Another has done everything necessary to bring that about in his good time.
Here are a couple of pieces that articulate in their own way one aspect of what we at CT here call Beautiful Orthodoxy. They offer much wisdom in how to encounter people with whom you deeply disagree. The first is a book review of Alan Jacobs's How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, and the second is an essay by David Marcus, "Why You Should Stop Trying to Change People's Minds" (HT to Sue C.!). May the tribe of such writers increase.
He is a professor/YouTube "star" whom I have just discovered. This brief profile focuses too much on his conflict with transgender advocates, but it is nonetheless a good introduction to him. This professor of psychology and Christian ("but more on the pattern of existential Christians such as Søren Kierkegaard or Paul Tillich") has some very interesting things to say about everything from the Bible to the story of Pinocchio to finding the meaning of life. I'll be listening to some of his podcasts in the coming weeks, so you may see more here from him.
It's one of those questions you ponder during a performance, and as soon as it's over, you stop thinking about it. But as soon as I saw the above title, I just had to click on the article. Ah, now I get it.
Grace and peace,
Friday, September 29, 2017
Cures for Culture Clashes