A Response to Michael Klare’s “The Race for What’s Left”

I haven’t posted in weeks–with final exams and papers taking up my time at the end of the semester, I really couldn’t spend any time blogging. And indeed over the whole semester my output was quite restricted. But the semester’s over and I hope to be back to blogging form for the summer. Over the last 2 days I read Michael Klare’s The Race for What’s Left. Klare describes the scramble for fossil fuel, mineral, and even agricultural resources that we are seeing in the 21st century, as old sources–often still drawing on wells and mines from the 50s and 60s–are drying up. He describes in detail the various energy and mineral substances that modern industry needs and how companies are trying to meet ever-rising demand, which is rising so fast today in part due to China and India’s economic growth. Companies like BP, Exxon, Rio Tinto, and others can obviously profit by supplying this demand, and are struggling to find new sources of energy and minerals in particular that can be extracted economically.

In the energy sector, this demand is not only leading companies to seek new supplies of oil, coal, and gas, but also to develop “unconventional” sources, such as tar sands, shale oil, and oil share (these last 2 are, it turns out, actually quite different). Klare describes these efforts in chapter 4, after revealing how the Arctic, in particular, is becoming the site for conventional oil and natural gas extraction (in chapter 3). Chapter 5 and 6 outline the mining industry’s efforts to maintain supplies of both relatively common minerals, like copper and iron, as well as more exotic ones, including gold, platinum, and the buzzworthy rare earth minerals. It’s this discussion of the rare earth minerals that, I think, is most crucial to the book as a whole.

After discussing agricultural land-grabs, especially in Africa, in chapter 7, Klare concludes the book in chapter 8. He calls for an end to the “race for what’s left”–which he sees as fueling military conflict, global warming, and ecosystem poisoning–and calls instead for a “race to adapt”. Klare argues that the old industrial order is coming to a close, and that the future will be defined by those countries and companies that can develop new, clean technologies (pp.227-234). Klare seems to think that these two “races” are totally distinct, that working to develop future technologies is somehow totally divorced from the old industrial approach.

The problem is, of course, that even supposedly green technologies, like photovalic solar cells and wind turbines, though they may be able to wean us off fossil fuels (at least in theory), still require huge natural resource inputs. Klare himself discusses this in chapter 6, as mentioned above: those rare earth minerals are crucial inputs for “green” technology. This is important, and worrisome, for 2 principle reasons. First, rare earth minerals are, at least when compared to minerals like copper and iron and as their name suggests, relatively rare. Klare presents US Geological Survey data from 2001 suggesting that total worldwide reserves amount to 114 million metric tons. The question is: is this a lot, or a little? That of course depends on how much we need to develop and produce various technologies. Smart phones, for example, require some rare earth minerals, for example Gallium and Tantalum, but they require tiny amounts–far less than an ounce. So even if we manufacture billions of smart phones, it’s probably unlikely that we’ll run out of the necessary minerals.

However, other technologies require much larger inputs. Even the lightest lithium-ion batteries require many pounds of lithium. Luckily, lithium is relatively common compared to materials like Gallium and Tantalum; nonetheless, it’s not clear whether there are global supplies sufficient to replace all existing vehicles with electric ones. And when we look at photovalic cells and wind turbines, the problem seems even more acute. These require substantial amounts of some of the rarer minerals, but a “green energy future” would require millions upon millions of turbines and solar panels. I’m not saying that we are sure that we won’t have enough rare earths to manufacture these–I am saying that no one seems to know whether we will.

The second main concern around this is that the extraction of rare earth minerals, so necessary for “green” technology, is itself extremely energy-intensive and environmentally damaging. The rare earths themselves have to be separated from their ore, which involves the use of powerful acids, which, once used, are simply discarded as tailings in massive reservoirs. If these tailings were to leak into water supplies, the impact on human health and the environment could be catastrophic. In short, their reliance on such minerals means that even supposedly “green” technologies aren’t at all environmentally friendly or neutral. They may be better, overall, than the burning of coal or petroleum, but they still come with vast health and environmental risks.

In other words, even the brightest technological future seems dimmed with serious concerns over scarcity and environmental degradation. Klare rightly laments over the scramble for resources, but then, rather incredibly, announces a highly optimistic confidence that future technologies can deliver us of these problems, if only we invest now. The conclusion of the book reads more like an ad for a solar-panel or lithium-ion start-up rather than a sober, well-thought-out conclusion. The reality seems to be that even the best-case scenario for the future of technology is rather bleak. Klare seems to hope–and believe–that with sufficient research, we could develop technologies that use either no rare earths, for example, or so few that we can limit the economic and environmental risks discussed above. While one can’t dismiss that possibility, right now, such a future is by no means guaranteed. The reality seems to be that the development of green technology will lead to different resource extraction than previous technologies, with different economic and environmental risks–but still plenty of economic and environmental risks. In short, new technology is not going to solve the conundrums that old technology poses. This doesn’t mean that the only ethical response is neo-Ludditism, but I do think it’s important that we’re honest about the economic and environmental realities we face. Klare, as far as I can see, gets the diagnosis of the current problems right, but in his over-enthusiastic plugging of technological research, falls into the very error of those he was just criticizing.

Profiting Non-Profits: The Capitalization of Charity

Pallotta has written a book–Charity Case–about his vision for marketizing the non-profit sector.

I just came across a TED talk by Dan Pallotta entitled “The way we think about charity is dead wrong“. Pallotta essentially lines up a criticism of traditional non-profit culture by comparing it to for-profit business models. He emphasizes that all the tools that for-profit business have: advertising, high salaries for CEOS and other decision-makers, investment capital, etc. are essentially unavailable to non-profit organizations. Pallotta outlines a reform proposal: non-profits need to think and act like for-profits if they are going to succeed. He points to a number of large campaigns in which aggressive marketing resulted in vast donations being given to a variety of causes (his two examples were races and rides for AIDS and breast cancer research). For Pallotta, the future of charities lies in using the tactics and tools of the business world to make non-profits more competitive and successful in securing funding.

Such a view of non-profits seems totally consistent with the culture of the Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences (TED). TED’s talks almost exclusively seem to focus on technological and market-based solutions to the world’s problems, with a heavy dose of self-congratulation over the successes of “social innovators”. Missing from every TED talk I’ve ever seen is any discussion of to what extent technology and neoliberalism themselves are parts–perhaps even core parts–of the very problems TEDers seem so resolved to solving. Pallotta can stand up on stage, pointing out that most MBAs in the private sector make $400k a year 10 years after college while most non-profit CEOs make half of that or less, and not recognize that incomes of this level are one of the driving cause of the very problem of poverty he supposedly wants to combat!

In other words, instead of recognizing that capitalism is largely the source of the evils that non-profits try to fight against, Pallotta only notices the material successes of private business and figures non-profits will have to adopt their tactics to be successful. But what does successful mean here? Pallotta focuses solely on raising funds–but the important issue is what those funds actually go to support. It’s certainly great–and impressive–that, as an organizer of public campaigns for non-profits, he was able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. But how much of that money actually went to the causes it was given for? Pallotta himself admits that such tactics may lock up at least 40% of funding in overhead (though Pallotta himself hates this word and is clearly annoyed at its prominence in discussions around non-profits). But he goes further, suggesting that it should be no great scandal if a non-profit were taking in funds for six years without distributing any money to the causes it was championing. Pallotta is arguing that non-profits should adapt such an advertising, market-focused, infrastructural approach that their overhead would be 100% for years on end.

Such an approach would not only probably quash the source of donations–what giver wants to fork over their hard earned money to help March of Dimes develop a slicker image?–but would also likely invite irreversible mission creep. An organization that becomes nothing but a literal self-promotion machine is not going to be able to turn from that course and capitalize, as it were, on its popularity, to start directing funds towards the charitable causes it ostensibly would be assisting. An organization that was trying to compete with for-profit businesses for market-share and advertising attention would never be able to stop playing that game.

In fact, though Palletta seems to think his suggestion is totally novel and innovative, many are already criticizing a host of non-profits for falling into this mode of operation. The film Pink Ribbons, Inc. highlighted this trend by calling attention (among other things) to the fact that breast cancer awareness has become itself more of a public advertising campaign than an actual research- or care-funding community. A huge number of businesses engage in the pink ribbon advertising while actually producing goods or services that are carcinogenic(!) So while awareness of the reality of breast cancer may be expanding, the adoption of for-profit tactics–and allies–seems to have totally compromised charities like Susan G Komen for the Cure.

But my concerns with Palletta’s approach run much deeper. As I discussed a few weeks ago, the logic of capitalism is itself the crucial issue at hand. Instead of seeing poverty, for example, as a problem that strikes us out of the blue, and one which can be combated by implementing market-orient strategies, we need to recognize that the behavior of market-oriented firms and individuals is a huge cause of poverty in the first place. The old saying goes, “fight fire with fire,” but of course if you are actually fighting a fire, you need to use water. More fire won’t help. Likewise, trying to combat the collateral damage of capitalism with more capitalism is a pointless, even tragic endeavor. That smart, committed people like Palletta suggest such solutions only underscores how deeply the logic of capitalism has penetrated the core of both our public and private cultures and consciousness.

I would suggest that it is this reality–that we increasingly lack the capacity to think outside the box of neoliberal economic and social assumptions–that is the really pressing issue. If we can’t develop a new political ethics and build a society committed to environmental health, economic equality, and functioning communities, then all the non-profit strategies in the world are next to worthless; the need for help with medical costs, housing, and even just food is already skyrocketing here in the US, and as income and wealth inequality continue to soar, this will only be more true. Using corporate tactics to expand non-profits’ market-share in such an environment is akin to someone with breast cancer smoking a pack a day, hoping that the lung cancer might fight the tumor in their chest. It’s ridiculous, pathetically so; it’d be Quixotic if it weren’t so pathologically frightening.

At a time when humans need to fundamentally readjust their understanding of their own personhood, their place in human societies, and their place in the broader ecosystem, Palletta’s suggestions call for the lemmings to continue to throw themselves over the cliff–maybe eventually, we’ll fill the land below with enough bodies to build a bridge to the glorious future that he–and so many other TED presenters–see for humanity.

What we actually need is an economy that is owned equitably–this means strong unions; universal access to good education, medical care, and social insurance; worker-owned businesses; and an appreciation for and conservation of our “environmental capital”. Instead, Palletta seems to want to double down and go all-or-nothing. But he’s playing a game that, by its very design, only about 5% of any population can win. A few wealthier non-profit CEOs and a greater public image for a few fortunate causes that manage to outspend others–these things won’t fix the serious problems we face. They’ll just accelerate the rising tragedies of the modern world.

Though I embedded this in the previously mentioned post, it’s worth re-sharing. I think Slavoj Zizek here really captures the corrupted nature of the current non-profit as social-enterprise trend. If you didn’t watch this when I posted it before, definitely watch it now:

Materialism and the Logic of Capitalism

Yesterday, Victoria over at Short White Coat, Inc. wrote a penetrating post about the intersection of poverty and health problems in the US, reflecting on her work with AIDS patients who were exiting the criminal justice system, she lamented the reality: despite her training and intentions, these people faced such a host of social, legal, and medical problems that their futures seemed bleak, their challenges intractable:

My patients felt they had paid their debt to society, but society would not give them a chance. Most had limited education and job training, and during the recession, it was difficult enough to find a new job without a conviction. Prior to incarceration, many had suffered mental illness, including substance addiction and depression. All of them now faced complicated HIV medication regimens and doctors’ appointments despite frequently unstable housing, transportation, and employment status. After release, many met criteria for devastating post-traumatic stress disorder, some resulting from horrifying events occurring while under the “care” of the State. Almost all were from poor backgrounds and the majority were people of color. During the interviews, many expressed themes of detachment, a sense of alienation from society starting in childhood. Some intimated a sense that outcomes many Americans view as basic rights or inevitabilities were never options for them, like freedom from an abuser, a safe home and school environment, or deciding what to be when they grew up.

She went on to point out that this isn’t just some unfortunate set of accidents that occurred these people; rather, this nexus of misfortune, poor health, lack of education, and subjection to violence is central to how late capitalism functions. These aren’t bugs, in other words–they’re features.

She linked a post from the Social Medicine Portal that only underscores this reality. It’s a short post, well-worth reading, but perhaps the crux of its argument is here well expressed:

How can one claim to fight poverty if, at the same time, one is carrying out policies that create poverty? By privatizing public services and charging those who use them, by laying off workers and reducing unemployment compensation, by maintaining social assistance at levels below the poverty level, by privatizing pensions… one can only increase the number of poor people.

The very people who are so vocal about combating poverty and building a better future are the same people who are profiting off of labor exploitation and environmental degradation. If extremely rich philanthropists were serious about combating poverty, they’d start by changing the way their very companies work in the first place. Instead, they drive people into poverty with one hand while shaking their fist at poverty with the other. It’s a deeply hypocritical, cynical attitude–exactly what the expression and maintenance of power demands. Slavoj Zizek strikes at the heart of this reality in a talk he gave the RSA:

Unfortunately, the response from the Left has been both uninspired and ineffective, and I want to suggest here that the reasons for its failure are deeper than often perceived. It’s not just that the Left has failed to popularize its discourse or develop strong institutions. These are both valid points, but I think they are more symptoms than causes. Fundamentally, what those who resist capitalism really lack is a consistent narrative. We have not articulated a systematic ideology of resistance, because the primary ideologies of resistance are themselves predicated on the philosophy that undergirds capitalism itself. The Left still speaks of power as the primary issue on the table: we need more of it, we need to marshal it against our opponents.

But such a view takes the zero-sum antagonistic worldview of capitalism for granted. It challenges the current distribution of power and wealth, but not the naked exploitation of power and wealth themselves. Marxism is, at its heart, an attempt to transcend capitalism by being ever-yet more materialistic and ruthless than capitalism itself; Marx didn’t primarily argue that capitalism was wrong so much as he argued that it was not fully developed. Communism was to be mature capitalism, fully enlightened and playing out the logic of Marx’s understanding of the progressive development of history. Marxism is unabashedly materialistic and deterministic.

Anarchism tends towards a more romantic implementation and certainly focuses more on the individual as the center of value over Marxism’s more communitarian bent–though anarchism is so diverse that making any such generalization is difficult at best. Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that anarchism developed classical Liberalism to its logical end: the individual as the ultimate arbiter of all value and meaning. Others’ rights were to be respected as they too were individual persons, their own centers of value, but this was simply taken for granted. Modern anarchism doesn’t question materialism, it simply asserts the value of subjective beings without accounting for this valuation objectively. It is, in a sense, the ersatz political extension of 19th century Romanticism into the 20th and 21st centuries, a defiant semi-solpsism built around a core of unarticulated primal ethical claims encased in modern materialism, the two mixing as well as oil and water.

What is needed to resist capitalism is a philosophy that actually resists the logic of capitalism. Capitalism is a logical extension of the Enlightenment: the world is an object without inherent value that can–and should–be manipulated by human subjects as they see fit. Ethical and spiritual values are only valid within the sphere of a given individual person and have no ontological basis; the world is material alone and deterministic as well. Morality can be legislated–by groups with sufficient power–but there is no universally recognized set of values, aside from those that guarantee the capacity to accumulate resources as capital: property. The capacity for persons to absolute right over a certain set of resources, can have no limitations–but as a totally secular space, devoid of any sense of sacredness, the world can support no other rights.

Marxism and Anarchism attempt to defy the neoliberal order, but on its terms: power is to be met with power. What makes these efforts so pathetic is not only that, at the outset, such an attitude already concedes the central debate, but that self-styled revolutionary groups have orders of magnitude less power than their adversaries; they have absolutely no chance at success. When they do develop enough power to defeat their opponents, the power itself–quite predictably–reshapes them. Those 20th century revolutions that were successful were successful precisely to the extent that they adopted capitalist and imperialist tactics. Perhaps no state witnesses to this as well as the People’s Republic of China; in its most revolutionary phase it murdered or starved millions of people to death in a few short years. And as Maoist Marxism showed its faults, the Party rapidly refashioned itself along mercantilist lines, becoming one of the most aggressively capitalist institutions in the world.

No, what is needed is a philosophy that explains the world in radically different terms. This is not to say that the realities of oppression should or could be ignored. Indeed, those who claim to speak about social justice cannot ignore the “mundane” everyday needs of the world’s oppressed. But it is precisely here, again, that contemporary radicals so often get their priorities reversed. If the concern is for food stamps (now known as TANF), Social Security, the minimum wage and the rights of unions, then what is needed is a reformist attitude, because these are all assets that have to be negotiated within the current order. What is a revolutionary attitude towards Social Security? This is a question with no answer, because Social Security was a concession given away by the capitalist system in the first place; under revolutionary conditions, would such a system be necessary or even sustainable? So long as we are talking about the everyday needs of the oppressed under the current system, let’s abandon all self-serving talk of revolution.

And if we are going to talk of revolution, then we must talk about a full and real revolution: not just the transfer of power from one group to another, promising to organize capital in a fairer way–though such a move would be quite welcome, it is ultimately a reformist move at its very best. No, real revolutionary activity has to be predicated on a radically different system, one that resists the very logic of capitalism. And this means critiquing–though not rejecting–materialist science, balancing it with what can only be called a relationary realism that affirms the ontological validity of subjects as real entities in the world who are only possible through societies. Individualism must be balanced with community, matter must be contextualized with relationship, analysis must be seen as as depending on its opposite vector: synthesis.

Resistance to capitalism must articulate a vision, not just call for the creation of opposition institutions. A world that has no sacred aspect, a world of mere heaps of matter, is a world devoid of ethics a priori. In such a world, the word oppression is meaningless, and justice is a legal term only. If we are going to challenge oppression and injustice, we have to believe that these are real categories of action, and this demands what is today a radical assertion: people are not just collections of cells, they are real relational entities, and ethics is the ontologically valid study of how such entities can exist and thrive in harmony. Hence, the materialist determinism of Marxism, though not flat-out denied, must be balanced–Hegel wasn’t standing on his head after all. And the desperate post-Romanticism of anarchism must be reconciled with itself–the dualism inherent in it must be transcended and a unity achieved.

The idealist project, essentially dead in the anglophonic world for centuries, was warped and turned in on itself in the early 20th century with existentialist nihilism, which essentially surrendered any ontological considerations to materialism anyway. But the spiritual-ethical impulse has not died, rather it has carried forward as a powerful undercurrent in modern societies. What is needed is to bring it to the surface–and this will require an ontology that can join it with all the valid positions of materialism. Such a project can not only join idealistic realism and empirical materialism, the two positions that have been battling one another for 2500 years in western thought, but can crucially also reveal the folly of late capitalism and the desperate need to move beyond it.

The Sky is (Not) Falling: On the Fears of a Shrinking Church

Source: Gallup; Credit: Matt Stiles/NPR

Over the past few years, one hears more and more about the crisis facing organized religion: fewer and fewer young people are coming to worship services, and the share of people who identify as non-religious seems to be growing and growing each year. Sociologists and religious leaders alike interpret this as evidence for the looming death of churches in the coming decades. The panic among ministers, priests, and bishops is palpable. More and more dioceses and parishes are rushing to appeal to the “nones“, to stem the tide, to keep their numbers up. Into this frenzied discussion enters the “spiritual but not religious”, which I wrote about a few days ago: people, by and large, are still seeking spiritual fulfillment, truth, etc. but aren’t interested in religious communities or institutions. Church leaders seem to think that the church must change or die; the writing’s on the wall.

I take issue with this whole line of thought on two broad fronts. The first is a demographic skepticism: I’m not so sure that the fact that 1/3 of young people identify as not religious is necessarily the Sword of Damocles over the head of organized religion. Note that this means, presumably, that 2/3 of young people do identify as religious. Considering that we have been hearing about the coming death of religion now for about 200 years, it doesn’t seem to me that we are facing the end of organized religion any time soon. It’s also not clear that this trend will just continue steadily into the future; note how the social and political trends of the 1920s–general social liberalism, a sort of muted libertinism, and a turn away from organized religion–essentially reversed for a few decades, beginning in the 1930s. Then in the ’60s, these trends came back with a vengeance, only to again face a good deal of reversal in the 1980s. Many of these trends may be more cyclical than linear.

And this demographic skepticism, as it were, is I think only reinforced by the data that suggests that what bothers young people about religion is not religion per se, but the political and social stances that they associate with religion. Robert Putnam of Harvard defends such a position in this NPR segment:

I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.”

But of course, there have been left-leaning Christians for centuries, and it’s simply not true that being religious necessarily means being conservative. In fact, the link between the two is probably very recent, the result of the party re-alignment of the 1960s, when Republicans, recognizing their policies were unpopular, sought to shore up support for their plutocratic economic policies by allying themselves with charismatic and opportunistic religious leaders, especially among Evangelicals. The irony is that the Evangelical movement was originally very progressive, for example many English Evangelicals were some of the earliest abolitionists, and the Pentecostal wing of Evangelicalism was largely a movement of working-class Christians who, for example, resisted Jim Crow and sought to build a racially diverse church.

And if the main problem for religion today, specifically Christianity, is its identification with reactionary politics, then the answer is relatively simple: stop supporting reactionary politics, which are, by my estimation, profoundly un-Christian anyway. In other words, the Church needs to pursue its real agenda, and not allow itself to be co-opted by the State or the ruling classes. Of course, this co-option has been going on since at least Constantine, but then again, resistance against this co-option, and protest movements and churches, have also been forming since that time, and one hopes that their counter-balancing effect can continue to keep the Church on at least something of an even keel. There’s good evidence, for example, that monasticism itself began as a sort of protest against the co-option of Christianity by political and social elites in the 4th century.

And this is where I really see the main threat of all this sky-is-falling public hand-wringing: so many church leaders think that, in order to survive, the Church basically needs to completely re-invent itself to meet the demands, essentially, of its consumers. In this view, the Church is a sort of business, and its losing market share. You actually see this sort of language in the discussion. But of course(?) the Church is not a business, and we don’t have consumers. Right? The danger of all this hysteria is that it seems we could really lose our way here. The threat to the Church is not that we might have fewer members in the coming decades, but that in the process of trying to appeal to a certain demographic of people–we would completely sell out on our real mission–to keep bodies in the pews, as they say. But our goal is not to simply have a lot of members, it’s to serve God, to follow the example of Christ, to act with loving-kindness to all people. If doing this results in many new members, as it seems to have in the earliest centuries, then excellent! And if not, then so be it our, our “business” is to try and perceive the Truth at the heart of reality and respond in obedience and love, not to be the most popular social club on the earth.

This, of course, does not mean we should ignore social trends. The Episcopal Church, of which I am a member, ordains both female and gay priests, something that I think it only did under extreme pressure, and perhaps even shaming, from secular voices. And I think this is a really good, wonderful thing. The Church certainly has a lot to learn from secular politics, philosophy, science, etc. We should not bury our heads in the sand or cut ourselves off from other communities. We’ve been wrong about a lot in the past and no doubt will be again. But just because secular society, taken as a whole, has been right about some things doesn’t mean it necessarily will be right about everything. I would certainly submit that though broad secular social pressure for women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, etc. have been absolutely correct, in other ways, the same sorts of social pressure are absolutely horrendous. Consumer capitalism, for example, is destroying communities, individuals’ mental health, and the environment, all in one fell swoop. Even a good deal of secular folks decry its materialism and de-humanizing shallowness. The Church was right to finally cede to pressure from the outside to ordain women and homosexuals; I think it would be dead wrong to accept pressure to continue accepting a more consumer-ized economic and social ethic.

In other words, secular society has provided a good sounding-board for the Church and has confronted it in many places were the Church desperately needed to be confronted. But the opposite may also–in fact, has also–been true. Let’s not forget that it was Christian leaders who spear-headed the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. In many ways, the complacent social and political stance of the churches throughout the 20th century was an aberration. The Church has often been a lone voice in defense of the oppressed, marginalized, and exploited in times past, where political and economic forces were rushing head-long to grind up vulnerable humans to serve the needs of the State and the Market. In recognizing the sins and hypocrisy of conservative Christianity, I think we are really finding our true, traditional voice in many ways.

This is not to deny that the Church was ever involved in oppression before the 20th century, of course. There were Christians calling for abolition, but there were also Christians trying to cite the Bible in defense of slavery. There were Christians advocating for women’s rights, but there were plenty obstructing the realization of those rights as well. Many priests and friars called upon the Spanish monarchy to end colonization of the Americas after seeing the horrors of the Conquista; but ultimately the Church obediently supported the Crown in its occupation of the New World and its brutal exploitation of native peoples there. I’m in no way arguing that the Church has always been on the right side of things, up until the 20th century. But I am saying it definitely has not always been on the wrong side of things. But the impression among many young folks, is, I think, that it has been. We simply need to stand up and confront conservative Christians and articulate a counter-narrative, one that is truer, both ethically and historically, than the one they are pushing.

And I think this is where we get to the real problem. Moderate, liberal, and progressive Christians don’t have a show comparable to the 700 Club, we don’t have dozens of talk-radio programs broadcast every day. We aren’t in the public eye; we’ve ceded the terrain so completely that in a mere 30 years, Christianity and conservatism have been completely conflated in the eyes of most Americans. This, I think, accounts for our demographic crisis. We’ve rather complacently sat around while the rug is pulled out from under us, and we wonder why people are uninterested in our community. The solution is not, I think, to try and appeal to a consumerized ersatz New Age spirituality, but actually the opposite: we need to embrace so much of our tradition that has been forfeited.

This can function in two critical ways: first, as we’ve discussed above, there is a legacy of counter-oppresive, pro-social-justice work in our community, from the very beginning. We need to make this explicit, we need to present a fuller account of our history. This should not mean ignoring or denying the evils and sins of our past, but simply also calling to people’s attention all of the good work the Church really has done, to show that our history, like all histories, is complex and variegated. Second, I think that what so many spiritual-but-not-religious people are seeking they will not find in the various ersatz spiritual movements and groups they are currently investigating. I could certainly be wrong, but I think people are hungry for something that is authentic and even traditional. I think they ultimately will want communities that welcome them with open arms yet also call them to accountability. They want to participate in something that can trace its existence back centuries, that ties them to their ancestors and to essential cultural foundations. For many in the West (by no means all), this means Christianity. But if we attempt to out modernize the the New Agers, we will lose everything that makes us unique and valuable: our traditions, our authenticity, and our heritage. We can accept the critiques of secular society without totally collapsing before them. We can admit the ways in which we have been oppressive, exploitative, and exclusive without abandoning our tradition altogether. And I think this is precisely what we must do.

Such a program would mean embracing both a left-leaning, even radical politics, while simultaneously re-asserting our liturgical, doctrinal, and devotional traditions. Such a program, at once leftist and liberal and traditional, may seem awkward, but in fact the Anglo-Catholic movement was, from the beginning, just such an intellectually diverse approach. I think it’s crucial that we not fall into the myopic trap of assuming that what has happened over the last 50 years is What’s Always Been. Let’s have the courage–and faith–to remain steadfast before God, accepting correction wherever it comes from, including from our secular fellow humans, but also standing firm on those issues where we know we have something valuable and crucial to the health of our society. The Church can be humble and confident, self-critical and self-assured. In fact, I think this is precisely what we must be. Let us remember the warning that our Lord issued:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Let’s remember what our real priorities are. Even if the coming decades see a smaller church, we should keep our minds focused and our vision clear: our goal is to seek God and spread the Gospel, not to simply fill pews or build endowments.