By Tom Holmes
A theological take on Occupy Wall Street
I’ve been fascinated by the unfolding story of Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Chicago movement which the protest in Manhattan spawned, perhaps because it brought back memories of my participation in the anti-war and civil rights movements in the sixties.
In those days a lot of us felt—a bit self-righteously I think—that we could change the world into a better “homeland” for the human race than what our parents had given us. The outrage in those days was vented against institutional racism, the military industrial complex—anything that limited the freedom of individuals to live as they saw fit.
I wonder if that mix of outrage and idealism is what is fueling the Occupy Chicago protests in the Loop. I ask that question, because over the years my outrage has been tempered by own failures at changing the world. When I arrived in Forest Park in 1982, I had a vision of helping my congregation both become integrated and grow. It did become integrated but in the process so declined in size that my congregation closed last year. So much for changing the world.
I’m still an idealist, i.e. I think I still try to direct my life in the same direction and by the same principles as I did thirty years ago. What has changed is my expectation of how much progress I/we will make.
In 1932, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society which was, among other things, a measured assessment of human nature. Niebuhr contended, along with most of the Christian church throughout the centuries, that we humans have this “thing” in us which the church calls sin which prevents us from doing the things we want to do and compels us to do the very things we don’t want to do.
For me it’s like the rich 1% are the “evil” Yankees and the rest of us 99% are the Tigers. I was cheering for the Tigers in the playoffs, and I admit that in this showdown I’m rooting for the 99%. Still, I wonder if a few of us from 99% were able somehow to join the 1% would we behave much differently than the Wall Street robber barons we criticize so easily?
That doesn’t diminish my ideal of a more equitable distribution of wealth in our society. What it does is temper my rage with the humbling realization that I have this same “thing” in me as does the 1%.