16 March 2008

Rev. Wright's Wrongs

Is Rev. Jeremiah Wright the "afronazi" I dared people to produce to counterbalance the existence of "feminazis" in the Clinton campaign? The evidence is incomplete. He preaches and dresses like a black nationalist, but I haven't seen anything attributed to him that suggests that Sen. Obama's race is a qualification to rule the country.

The Senator's own disclaimers are disingenuous. I can't believe that he'd never heard Wright utter such things unless he's not as good a parishioner as he wants his local constituency to believe. That fact, actually, I could believe, because Obama is a politician. I can't help but suspect that he associated himself with Wright in the first place only to give himself street cred among Chicago blacks.

To hold that against Obama is probably equivalent to disqualifying any black politician who comes out of Chicago, since that area appears to be a hotbed of black nationalist sentiment. Since the real problem here is with hypersensitive conservatives who can't stand hearing any American say a cross word about his country, the better solution is to tell those right-wingers to get over it or get used to it.

How can it surprise, much less shock some people (Mr. Right will have something to say about this soon) that black people might not share their rosy vision of American history, and might not regard the United States with the sort of unconditional love they seem to require? Does it really blindside these rightists to learn that descendants of slaves may not agree that the U.S. is the greatest country that ever was, or that the nation's vaunted good deeds abroad outweigh its sometimes unfortunate internal record? The funny thing about the current exchange of outrage is that, if anyone, blacks are the people best positioned to accuse all the self-righteously indignant conservatives of moral relativism. After all, conservatives make a quantitative argument for American superiority: we've supposedly done more for the rest of the world than any other country. This attitude doesn't take into consideration the possibility that some people might judge based on a moral standard according to which all countries are found wanting, and none has any special freedom of action in the world. Other people could postulate such standards -- Marxists, for instance, -- but blacks have an obvious basis for skepticism toward America.

I might be accused of holding a double standard if I stall over condemning Rev. Wright for saying "God damn America" but was quick to denounce Revs. Falwell and Robertson for their post-9/11 comments. I plead innocent, since I'd be guilty only if I ever said that religious people had no right to comment on the event. I condemned the conservative preachers because I deny that anyone's sexual conduct provoked an angry God to let the planes hit the towers. Rev. Wright has preached that 9/11 was "chickens come home to roost," to borrow Malcom X's language. In another context, he might have called it "blowback." If he has ever claimed that 9/11 was God's punishment for anything, then he's wrong, but if he sticks to foreign policy, his views are debatable but unobjectionable to anyone but hysterical nationalists.

Finally, I note with interest his church's invocation of the "social gospel" tradition in defense of Rev. Wright's remarks. It's a timely reminder that American Christianity wasn't always a blanket endorsement of everything the U.S. stood for, and that the prophetic tradition can just as easily be aimed at the nation itself as at its enemies foreign and domestic. If more Americans realized this, maybe there'd be more tolerance for atheism in this country.

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