We can all agree that Jesus was a brilliant communicator, but when we study his methods it is obvious that the comfort of his audience was not a significant consideration. In fact, Jesus taught in a manner that engaged his listeners and challenged them. He expected them to work in order to understand his teaching. He asked them questions, wrapped his teaching in opaque parables, and often taught in distracting settings. Jesus was anything but crystal clear, simple, and easy to listen to. Even now, when we engage his teaching through the Gospels, it requires effort–and a large dose of grace–to understand his words. He doesn’t give us 3-point alliterated sermons, and neither do his apostles. Is Church Too Easy? ☀
Rick Perlstein: By the Book ☀
- NYT: If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
- Rick Perlstein: The Book of Job, maybe. It’s the best story I know at driving home the fact that the world just isn’t always a reasonable place. Not grasping that, I think, is Barack Obama’s tragic flaw: He still seems to stubbornly believe that if he just explains clearly and calmly enough to his friends across the aisle why his ideas will bring the greatest good to the greatest number, there’ll finally be no more Red America and no more Blue America. But my 18 years studying conservatism has convinced me the right just doesn’t work that way — they’re fighting for civilization stakes, and he’s a liberal, so, Q.E.D., he’s the enemy. His longing to compromise with them just ends up driving the political center in America further to the right.
In other words, saying Hamilton can guide us today requires a) taking the man out of context or b) making the lessons impossibly broad. There is no “leftist” Hamilton because he would never have recognized such a thing could be possible. It’s a construction of Hamilton based upon chosen facts and stories that serve a modern political purpose. I guess that’s alright, but it certainly raises the eyebrows of this historian. And if we are to learn this lesson from Hamilton, what other lessons should we learn? That the Alien and Sedition Acts were a good idea? That democracy is scary and should be crushed? None of these Founders are less complex than Jefferson; that the latter was a slaveholder who hated the urban poor was terrible, but he did genuinely believe in a form of democracy that was advanced for its day, even if it was a herrenvolk democracy. Hamilton sure didn’t believe in any form of democracy that advanced. If we are reappropriating Hamilton for the left, we have to reckon with these questions because they are as central to his being as creating the institutions of American capitalism, including a functioning federal government. Otherwise, we are cherry picking what we like about him. The Leftist Hamilton? ☀
People often ask if jail is like Orange Is the New Black, but I see nothing similar in incarceration and entertainment. Every day in jail, you are belittled and berated. There’s no library, no computers or cell phones. A TV blasts Criminal Minds. I went through a surreal fight for weeks just to get a pair of sneakers so I could run around the yard. I Went From Grad School to Prison ☀
…here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves. Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior. Nicholas Kristof ☀
But the real reason O’Reilly’s black-yellow comparison is so annoying and intellectually dishonest is because it is patently bizarre to compare the Asian-American experience to the African-American one. Such a crass talking point—one that uses the favorable stats of one minority group to attack the culture of another—overlooks, or at least glosses over, some of the most obvious facts and tragedies in our nation’s history. Generations of Asian Americans did not endure the traumas, legacies, and residual effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and decades of racist housing policy. These are factors that O’Reilly mentions only as an aside, preferring to talk more about the importance of getting black kids to “speak properly” and behave themselves in public. Asian Americans and African Americans have had very different experiences in America, a complicated reality that O’Reilly and many of his colleagues do not seem eager to tackle. But at least his commentary in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy has been more refined than some of his co-workers—a thought that is less a compliment to Bill, and far more indicative of the kind of organism that Fox News has become. Dear Fox News: Please Stop Using Asian Americans to Attack Black People ☀
Within two generations, the Puritans made a bunch of mistakes — witch hunts, crimes against Native Americans, hangings for sexual sin — and the concept of God in America started to dwindle. Then rose the career of Jonathan Edwards, who is considered the last Puritan. He’s considered one of the greatest theologians not just of America, but of the world. There are certain aspects of our theology that come from Edwards’s ideals: God’s glory — he glories in us, we glory in God — and the image of God as grandiose and magical, that all influences us. He also influenced our concepts of hell. Hell was already an idea that was believed in before Edwards, but he sort of brought it to life. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was one of the sermons he preached on hell. In the book, I suggest that he put a trademark on it. He made hell an American ideal. He made it so that you would not be able to believe in God without believing in hell. For some people, if you take hell out of the Christian religion, there’s no use for God. Hell, on some level, is bigger or more important than God. Edwards certainly played a role in that. Matthew Paul Turner ☀
I look to historians for their power to illuminate not just the invisible lineaments of the present, but also that which is not present. What are the roads that were not taken that most shape our own time? Lately, the historian who’s been doing that best is Nelson Lichtenstein, who parlayed a career writing about midcentury capitalism and industrial unionism into extraordinarily penetrating accounts of why the economic regime we live under today is so deeply unsatisfying. One abandoned idea documented in his most recent book, “A Contest of Ideas: Capital, Politics, and Labor,” haunts me. Powerful people in the Democratic Party, like Senator Robert Wagner of New York, used to insist that the job of liberalism was to penetrate the “black box” of the corporation and turn the workplace into a more democratic institution. They believed that to leave decision-making in the great firms that dominate our lives merely to owners (as opposed to, say, the system of “co-determination” between labor and management under which the German economy now thrives) was no less than a violation of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which outlawed involuntary servitude. Now that such thinking is rare as a unicorn — and workers all but belong to their bosses during their working day — no wonder it’s hard to win the allegiance of the white working class to the Democrats. Rick Perlstein ☀
The taser isn’t being used for defense. It’s being used to punish somebody for being uncooperative. At this point it’s basically an instrument of torture. Squashed (re Georgia cops fired Taser 13 times ‘as a cattle prod’ to make tired man walk before he died, via letterstomycountry) ☀
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