Reality check: The infallibility of YOUR powers of observation
Plus, a private conversation about White v. Black Christian America
vol. 4 issue 20
Blissfully, I took the summer off from television. I didn’t miss it. Now back in my routine, more or less, I watched a recent Real Time with Bill Maher, expecting I would learn a little of what the Left and Center are thinking about what, given my media diet, I have perceived strictly by observation, to be a fairly banner stretch of positive executive moves from President Biden.
Instead, I was so bored by director-turned-pundit Rob Reiner’s shilling for the Left, I tuned out and switched to an Irish show about a brood of sisters bumping off an obnoxious brother-in-law.
When I say I took the summer off, that is to say I didn’t willingly consume (and it is consumption, not edification), the junk food of cable noise, I mean “news”.
When visiting family down South this summer, I was continually exposed to the second-hand stink of the Fox News and the Fox “Business” Network. Those foul organs of our discontent don’t shill, they just flat out make shit up. Either that or I am utterly incapable of grasping what is happening in Washington, not from the “reporting” on it, but by dint of my own faculties of perception.
I am fully capable of grasping what is happening.
What I can’t get over is how iterative all this so-called information is. What are the sources of any of it? Why would we believe a single word of it, Left or Right?
Well, for one thing, we are so conditioned to believe in our prescriptive economic and social constructs – the ones that tell us what to think, buy, wear, eat, consume, consume, consume – that collectively we sorely lack curiosity and imagination. And even though these are two human rights, naturally bestowed to whatever degree on each and every one of us, their efficacy still depends upon their actual use.
It's essential, I think, to have an organizing story that organizes one’s set of beliefs and thus moral code, but it’s equally essential to have a way of reality checking those beliefs. Together, beliefs and their verification produce faith and a sense of well-being.
Observational data is the only data that over time amounts to much. Even when scientific discoveries are made that challenge the observations, the observations are still durable.
Here’s a good example.
The discovery that our solar system is in fact solar and not geocentric does not invalidate the wisdom of primary motion: the truth remains that every single day, the sun will rise and set, with earth at the center of this phenomenon. That is an experience every single one of us on this planet share and can count on, even if the actual explanation for it changed with more information over time.
To watch the parade of complainers on any noisy news network is to witness an awful lot of tsurris that belies a rather discombobulated idea of who we are as a nation. If you really are as disordered in your thinking as these people who are paid to come at us in shrill, whiny, or self-righteous and pompous tones, then ask yourself why.
Is it possible you might be feeling anxious, frightened, or angry and ready to punch someone in the face, because you are giving these people your attention? Odds are high that your level of upset and the number of hours that noise is on in your home are correlative.
But it’s more than that…once these evil spirits of the airwaves slip in through the cracks in your head, they tell you to think things you didn’t think before, place little fear bombs in your head, and then rub their grimy little hands together waiting for your fear to explode and incapacitate you. Then what do you do? You turn to those little dirt bags of deceit for more adrenalin to keep you going.
That’s what I mean by “iterative”. You hear one hour of the “programming”, you’ve heard it all. And you forget to question where the information is coming from.
So, maybe instead of turning on whatever network is your drug of choice, step outside and watch the heavens turn, think for yourself, admit maybe you don’t know what you think you know — even if only to yourself.
After a few days of withdrawal, notice if you start to feel less nuts.
After a few weeks of this, consider how you feel about the idea of resting in observational data’s infallible reliability, instead of in the hysterical screed of some bozo on the boob tube. Notice if you find a correlation between the time you spend observing, rather than consuming, whatever it is that constitutes your database, with your capacity to relax.
It’s just a suggestion.
W: This is profound, Julian, and I have often wondered about this. My initial reaction is that yes, but the Christian God/Jesus, was what white men gave black Africans after already having stripped away their own cultures and spiritual traditions.
Yet, also, I think that blacks are the real soul of this country. They have the deepest, most patient, and most long-suffering informed faith of any cultural group I can think of in this country. And it is not mixed with nationalism, the way it is in the ChristoNationalism Evangelical church.
J: Yes you’re right that we were/are reinterpreting White Christianity. But I like to think of this as being a re-christianizing of Chrisitianity, a popular line of discourse in Black religious studies. Jesus became a fellow sufferer with us versus an extension of the White overlord power. The two visions of Jesus destabilize one another, and live on in tension through today. But yes White Christian Nationalism doesn't account for God the loser. God can only win, and win dangerously big. You're right to note that Black Christianities have not tended towards White nationalism. There's a different imagination at play given we have different fears than those of White folk losing their power, losing their country, losing their dream.
W: This is also interesting to me: it makes me wonder if this helped make Christianity synonymous with capitalism, as in the two combined is the antidote to freedom, only it isn't actually that way at all. The system as it is now has become the slave master with only about 1% of the population, most of those 1% being white men, run all the systems that suck our energy and life force.
J:I'm confused about how that connects to God as disciplinarian. I also would be reluctant to conflate Christianity with capitalism. They certainly can function as bedfellows, and for many their religion blend the two, but they're not synonymous for all. In fact, there are many subversive kinds of Christianity that push against the excesses of capitalism, such as Christian socialists.
W: [This is how I see the conflation with Capitalism -- that the right to consume and dominate the earth and her resources has been substituted for care and dominion, and in order to justify the former, what you say below is used -- the "christianization" of America as an excuse to rape her resources and allow bigotry to be in the ascendant]
"As this pertains to America, I am slow to make comparisons to Biblical Israel, because God's relationship with Israel is profoundly different to God’s relationship with America . Even though the founding fathers were variously Christian and/or theist, this was never a nation that had a covenant with God like ancient Israel had.
"This country has tried to massage Biblical ideals into the zeitgeist of the society, but that's always been a thin application. My hope still, though, is that the Holy Spirit that was graciously poured out on all flesh through the coming of Jesus be present amidst us all and that we have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying. So is the country Christian? No, it never was. But do Christians have a responsibility to love and serve the nation where we are by living a life that humbly seeks the welfare of the nation? Yes. In an age of rising theocracy, this distinction is essential."
Love the verve of your opening comments! Then, the thoughts of Julian Reid resonated deeply. I continue to be amazed that enslaved Africans saw in the teachings of Christianity, though not in the behavior of their white Christian masters, a deep and life-giving truth. They accepted those teachings and developed a faith that was Christian, yet distinct from the White version. I read an article explaining the Pentecostal worship style of many Black churches as having developed from this need to maintain their distinctiveness. The author argued that the similarity between worship styles of African Christians in Africa and Black Christians in America may be explained by the migration of Afro-American Christianity back to Africa. (The author was Lamin Sanneh, a native of Africa, who taught theology at Harvard Divinity School for many years.)
whitney- as always, your words make perfect sense. i received them with gratitude for your integrity and intelligence and a desire to further understand... so i will be checking into the archives and additional resources you cited. thank you kindly for your constant sincerity. -sonja