Americans don't know how to solve problems. We've lost sight of what institutions are and why they matter. The Long Game is a look at some key institutions, such as political parties, the U.S. Senate, the media, and the church.
What is a Christian politics? Michael Wear's new book argues it's mostly about who we are
Break the system.
That's what one New Hampshire voter, a 58-year old retired Army officer, said he wants the president to do, in an interview with Politico Magazine.
It's only the most obvious example of many of us tend to do from time to time. We pretend, or actually believe, that politics is a form of magic.
In other words, we think we can elect a person, or pass a law — as if we were waving a wand — and this will fix our problems.
But Michael Wear argues in The Spirit of Our Politics that a politics of magic is like trying to take a shortcut, and it won't work.
"Our society, politics, and churches are hampered by a technological conceit — that we can attain the kind of society we seek without coming to terms with the kind of people we are and without becoming a different kind of people," (147) he writes.
"Our society produces mass shootings at an unparalleled rate and scale, for instance, not in spite of the kind of people we are, but because of the kind of people we are."
What is needed, Michael argues, is a resurrection of spiritual formation.
"Spiritual formation is not a question for Christians alone," (137) he says.
David Leonhardt's book joins a chorus of warnings for the Democrats
The 1950's and 60's were an age of widely shared prosperity in the U.S. — across class and economic lines — that have never quite returned. Things were improving for all parts of society during the post-war period, and for all groups including Black Americans, despite the real presence of racial bias and discrimination against them. And things have not improved equally in recent decades. Things have improved since then. But the rate of steady and ongoing improvement and progress has slowed in many ways, and stalled in some.
All this is the subject of today's episode, an interview with journalist David Leonhardt of the New York Times. You may know David from the daily newsletter for the Times that he writes, which is the Times' flagship newsletter, The Morning. David's new book is called "Ours Was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream." It was recently named one of the year's top 10 books by The Atlantic magazine.
"The economy has grown more slowly than it did in the postwar decades," Leonhardt writes, "producing less bounty for the population to share." And, he adds, "the economy has become more unequal, with a declining share of that bounty available to most Americans, because it is flowing to a relatively small percentage of affluent households" (xxiii).
This is a problem for democracy, Leonhardt writes. His book is one of several recently that are, together, sending a loud signal to Democrats that they have become too strident and purist in ways that alienate large numbers of voters who they need to win elections. These books are imploring Democrats to focus on helping working class voters economically and to cast a wider and more tolerant tent on social and cultural issues.
Tim Alberta's new book portrays a tug of war for the soul of American Christianity
Tim Alberta's new book: The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals In An Age of Extremism, is a sobering look at the results in history when a religious movement morphs into a political movement, and allows its identity to be taken over by political imperatives and goals.
Alberta's book documents the spread of Christian Trumpism, aided and abetted by conflict profiteers who have made "fear and hatred a growth strategy" inside the evangelical subculture for decades.
But Alberta also writes that, to his surprise, he found evidence that the doomsday industrial complex has been "floundering" more recently and that "somewhere along the line their momentum had stalled."
Alberta details the way that Russell Moore, Curtis Chang, David and Nancy French and others have begun to try to unite, connect and organize the many disparate and isolated members of the American church who do not worship a political leader or give blind allegiance to a political party.
Time will tell if this is accurate and durable. But Alberta's book is a remarkable work of journalism. Tim also tells his own story of loss, heartbreak, and trying to come to grips with the moment in which we find ourselves.
BUILDERS Interview: Matt Murphy on how community & music help him fight the paralysis of our times
This is a Builders conversation. I'm doing these about once a month to highlight people who are not just cursing the darkness but are also building up their local community — and the country — through making something beautiful, through problem-solving, and by stitching together places of belonging and meaning. (Thank you Joy Moore for the inspiration!)
This past summer, we took our kids to visit WERU in Maine, which is near Acadia National Park. The station's General Manager, Matt Murphy, gave us a tour, and he even had our two youngest daughters do a brief on-air announcement in support of the station. We saw the floor to ceiling shelves of CD's and records, the small studio, and the kitchen, also filled with music.
I wanted to interview Matt for my Builders series because, as he says: “There's so much in the world that's challenging ... and all the hard times can have a certain degree of paralysis to them."
"And there's a lot of things in the world that I can't do anything about, but I can do a lot about making community radio a good environment for people to do their thing and serve the community," he told me. "So having something to do, that you feel can help make even a little bit of a difference, is really important."
That's exactly it. Having something to do to make even a little bit of difference is the cure for the ways that the bigger, broader world can make all of us feel hopeless and powerless sometimes.
Where Have All the Democrats Gone? With Ruy Teixeira
This week's podcast interview (audio above) is with Ruy Teixeira, about his new book with John Judis, Where Have All the Democrats Gone?: The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes.
It is an argument that both parties have been co-opted by big business. It spends all its time blaming the Democrats for their part in this, but that's because the authors believe the Democrats used to be the party of the working person, and that it can and should be again. They also view the Republican party, or at least large swaths of it, as a threat to democracy.
They are interested in Democrats winning elections, and winning elections is an issue of math. And they believe, based on quite a bit of statistical evidence and history, that the Democratic party has alienated key elements of the country that they need to win elections, both by losing touch with working class people on economics, and on social issues.
Evolution denial is a bigger deal than I realized
I have never cared all that much about the debate over evolution. But I grew up in an evangelical home and church. So in my world, the origins of the species were definitely up for question.
To me, it all seemed rather silly. I didn't see any conflict between evolution and the Christian faith, or even between evolution and the Bible.
But I have known others who said quite openly that if they ever came to believe that evolution was true, they feared they would lose their faith. Most evolution skeptics aren't quite as blunt or bleak. There is a wide range of evolution skepticism, from those who simply aren't sure what to believe to those who are adamant opponents.
I had never really thought, however, about the ways that skepticism of evolution was one of the foundations of an anti-expertise, anti-science frame of mind that really does permeate evangelicalism. We saw it more clearly than ever during the COVID pandemic. But we've also seen it on the issue of climate change. The consensus of scientific evidence is clear, but religious conservatives reject it, or say we can't know what's true.
Janet Kellogg Ray is a biology professor at the University of North Texas. She was raised a creationist, and has written two books now about the issue of evolution and evangelicals. The first, Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit, came out in 2021. The second came out this month. It's called The God of Monkey Science: People of Faith in a Modern Scientific World.
Well-framed, probing questions.
One of the most engaging exchange of heart, soul and intellect I’ve experienced. Good balance of our social challenges and where and how to respond from my faith and truth. A pod cast that exudes integrity and is not afraid to expose the worlds attempt to make an impact of change that is void of faith, hope and love. Keep on keeping on!
This podcast gives me hope that God is redeeming all things
THANK YOU COUSIN PATRICK🙏 I love this podcast but your intros are way too long. Thanks for shortening. The recent episode with Andy Crouch is fire. Thank you Jon for contributing authentic good to the world. Keep at it - in one of your recent episodes you hinted at feeling discouraged and not motivated to confront the misinformation crisis. Please continue to fight the good fight and produce solid, insightful, challenging, convicting, high-quality content. Huge fan!!