Thursday, February 25, 2016

not that old landmark, the other one...

Almost a year ago, David O'Brien, the grand doge of liberal American Catholic scholars--and, let's face it, a really great guy who's never forgotten he grew up in PITTSFIELD, MASS.--wrote about Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and socialism.  O'Brien reminds us of Eugene V. Debs, the great socialist organizer and presidential candidate of a century ago as he reviews three kinds of socialism.  Two kinds are actually familiar to Americans:...

One is public ownership, known to us via the post office, city buses and subways, municipal utilities, state and national parks, a few government- owned businesses, like Amtrak, and at least one state-owned bank. The idea here is that there are some resources so important that they should not be subject to competition and market manipulation. Instead, they should be controlled by the public through the instruments of democratic government. 


The second and perhaps best known form of socialism is public provision of services to meet basic human needs. Thus the label “socialized medicine” for the healthcare systems of Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries. We have such a system for the elderly, with Medicare, and for military veterans, but we have shied away from a sensible “single-payer” system. In many other countries there is enough sense of shared responsibility for a valued common life to allow for effective public provision of education, healthcare, pensions, basic research, and other services considered essential to human dignity and a rich life.
We Americans are not immune to civic responsibility--we sacrifice for national security and generously support private charities. But Americans have been slow to accept wider social responsibilities when it comes to the environment, wages, and healthy food. In addition, many Americans are discouraged about public education, public safety and, perhaps most of all, public finance. Democratic socialists share these anxieties but insist that good government, not even more limited government, is the solution.

Then O'Brien concludes:

In the end, economic and social democracy, and the common good, depend on the people. If Bernie Sanders can do what Barack Obama failed to do, inspire a renewal of that kind of realistic participatory democracy, local communities and the entire country will be in his debt.

Read it all here.

Did you catch the contrast?  If Sanders can do what Obama failed to do....So after all the ink spilled, blog posts, organization, and mainstream cable news appearances, the American Catholic infatuation with Barack Obama has, ultimately, ended in frustration.  We thought he was THE GUY, but he was not.  Maybe the next guy is THE GUY.

This failed messianism ought to shake us out of our dogmatic slumbers, in this case the sleep-walking belief in our ability to find the next earthly savior to our problems.  The Right looks for the next Ronald Reagan while the Left ponders the Obama legacy, wondering what went wrong.  Meanwhile,  Republicans confront their own bete-noire:

The Christian tradition has all sorts of things to say about this arrogance, and none of it good.  Wisdom starts with fear of the Lord, but we'd much rather seek temporary salvation in other humans offering better snake-oil-solutions.  Their sales pitches escalate our covetousness and thus we are never satisfied.

This great thirst to, first, find the true prophetic connecting points--leaders, people, movements--between ourselves and the heady days of Christ's earthly life, and second, the assurance and comfort we take in linking ourselves thusly, reminds me of the Landmark Baptists.  Confronted with the reality of significant and unavoidable geographical, spiritual, and ecclesiological distance between themselves and Christ's own time, some American Baptists construed church history as a series of "landmarks" -- signs of the true (Scripturally-founded and local) Church amid the flotsam and jetsam that filled the medieval and Reformation eras.  These "Landmarks" thus tie current believers back through the fog to the original glory days.  Back when things were good/right.

There's an air of "Landmarkism" in O'Brien's wishes for the Sanders campaign as well as the current infatuation with Trump.  These figures assure us that they will dispel the immediate past between ourselves and the original truth.  We embrace the current Landmark--whatever it happens to be--because our current situation being so dismal, we crave the clarity and connection Landmarkism offers.

Now there are times when going back to the old Landmark isn't necessarily a bad thing, either.

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