One of the major concepts of Quakers is the observation, “There is that of God in everyone.” In the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities workshop the idea was to make it accessible to anyone of any religion or no religion. So we changed the phrase to say, “There is that of good in everyone.” I thought it was clever how we could just add one letter to clarify the meaning. I actually like “that of good” better because it is much more explicit and does not rest on one’s conception of God.
Some people think God is revengeful and angry. In high school history class I was assigned to read Jonathan Edwards’ 1741 sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (see here). See the quote above which is only one of many similar statements in the 25 page sermon. While Edwards’ very effective and influential sermon would now be considered extreme, the resulting image of an angry God and a sinner’s plight still hang over American society and culture with its extremely negative understanding of human nature. Some religions believe that a person is born sinful. Others consider the human soul is in need of redemption. Even the new age spirituality that developed in the 1960s and 1970s begins with the assumption that there is something “wrong” with people that needs to be “fixed.”
These really negative concepts of humanity thoroughly permeate American society so that even those who have no particular involvement with its many manifestations nonetheless unwittingly acquire this zeitgeist.
- Think of Bill Clinton’s and Joe Biden’s “super predators” and “three strikes, you’re out.” This has led to mass incarceration which is one of the major marks of American society.
- Think of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen.” The welfare system has been filled with rules and restrictions so that few are able to benefit, even with its very low rates of support and with the administration of the program using more resources than the benefits to the needy.
- Think of public education which has been defunded where testing of students is more important than learning.
- Think of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” and how this led to the War on Terror that has devastated other parts of the world and bankrupted the United States itself.
- Think of discrimination against anyone who is not white, educated, “Christian”, and middle class. This includes African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Japanese, Chinese, “hillbillies”, Muslims, Jews, people of other faiths, immigrants, people whose language is not English, handicapped people, the poor, the sickly, and many other categories.
- Think of health care. To those who have sufficient recourses, care is available while those without sufficient resources, well, too bad.
Anyone who believes in that of God and good in everyone is totally out of step with this punitive conception of American society. That person must feel alienation, even as he or she has to exist and thrive in this culture. What compromises does this person then have to make? How much must he or she rebel against this punitive culture and how must he or she accommodate to attitudes, rules, and regulations that he or she is in disagreement with?
As you may have guessed by now, I am one of such individuals.
This well explains why I consider one of my life’s accomplishments my work developing the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities program. While this has received an extremely positive reception in Africa, particularly, in those countries which have had deadly conflict, it is not surprising that it has not taken hold in the United States. The little that has occurred in the United States has mostly been with the immigrant community in the US.
In order to truly end mass incarceration, the current welfare system, inadequate education, funding for war making, discrimination, and inadequate health care, the zeitgeist of American society needs to be completely revolutionized. I like the concept of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival because, frankly, what has been missing, is “morality,” which is distinguishing between right and wrong. Except that I know where I stand, I have little understanding of how this profound, underlying zeitgeist of American culture can be changed from the “hands of an angry god” to one of a loving God/good.
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