Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Against Optimism: On the Task Before Us

So long as we continue to live in a world where the poor are forgotten, the homeless are ignored, women are raped, children are abused, billions hunger, the rich hoard, farmers are dispossessed, the land is neglected, infants die, the sick are untreated, sex slaves are sold, the religious exploit the vulnerable, the powerful fleece the powerless, the nations make war, disease is omnipresent, families are torn apart, wells are poisoned by corporations, nuclear arsenals grow, thieves take what they want, women are disenfranchised, human beings are tortured, prostitutes have clients, deceit is praised, pregnancy is a threat, peoples are wiped out, the air is toxic, violence is glorified, divorce is the norm, and narcissism is a virtue, there will never exist such a great thinker or big idea or impressive PowerPoint or UN Committee or activist group or progressive agenda or global citizen or charismatic politician or revolutionary policy or perfect solution or technological agenda or millennium plan or world leader or think tank bigwig or Ivy League professor or snake oil chief executive entrepreneurial philanthropist faith healer extraordinaire that will be able to convince me to be an optimist.

No; instead, let the words of Rabbi Irving Greenberg haunt every Optimism, every Big Solution, every arrogance that We Have Finally Solved The Future:

"No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children."

Now, then, in place of lofty claims we could neither know nor implement, let us return to the hard, undoubtedly small, inevitably particular, sometimes unnoticeable, certainly unspectacular work of loving our neighbors, raising our children, tending our lands, and serving the needy. And may the God of hope -- not of optimism -- give strength to our hands for the task.

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