Friday, January 15, 2010

Is Progress Observable?

My previous posting was “In Praise of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” and this posting is being made on what should have been his eighty-first birthday instead of his birthday anniversary. I wonder what Dr. King would be thinking and doing if he were a healthy and active 81-year-old senior statesman, such as, say, Jimmy Carter, who is still quite productive even though he was born more than four years before King.
I can’t help but think that Dr. King would be dissatisfied with many of the problems African-Americans still face in this society but that, at the same time, he would acknowledge that significant progress has been made since 1963, the year about which he wrote in Why We Can’t Wait. It seems to me there is a world of difference between the situation all across the South (and the rest of the nation) today from what it was in “Bull Connor’s Birmingham” that King wrote about so vividly in the third chapter of that book.
Thinking back over the last 150 years in the U.S., hasn’t there been significant progress made for African-Americans (abolition of slavery, suffrage, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc.), for women (suffrage and significant gains in many ways since the woman’s liberation movement of the 1970s), for senior citizens (social security, Medicare), for the poor (welfare provisions at different levels through the years and now the impending health care bill), and maybe even recently for Native Americans?
I write “even recently for Native Americans” not just because they are one Thinking Friend’s primary concern but because they are a segment of society which has been most oppressed and mistreated during the last 150 years. But even though it was not a U.S. action, it is significant, I think, that in 2007 the U.N. General Assembly passed the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” affirming, among other things, that “indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples.” Sadly, though, this U.N. Declaration has received little publicity and probably as yet has not been greatly helpful to Native Americans and other indigenous peoples of the world.
In comments made on my previous posting, another Thinking Friend wrote, “What are the areas of injustice that we should be standing for these days in our community and in the greater global community?” Or, we might ask, where are the main areas in which progress still needs to be made?
For the nation as a whole, perhaps the treatment of Native Americans remains one of the greatest areas of injustice. But to my knowledge, most of us do not live in communities where that is a local problem. So, I wonder if the primary area of injustice in the communities most of us live in is not that of gays and lesbians. Perhaps more than any other group in our communities gays and lesbians are now victims of the greatest prejudice, discrimination, and lack of civil rights. And much of that injustice, unfortunately, is due to attitudes that many Christians have and support.
This is a subject to which I will probably need to return. But I wonder what other area(s) of chronic injustice you see in contemporary society and especially in the community where you live.


  1. We still do have a long way to go.

    In our country's vernacular, we have African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, etc. However, why are Caucasians simply: Americans?

    One positive response to injustice (except for the gaffes of Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, or the like) has been how the world has rallied together to support the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Various American companies have donated 1 million dollars, and various nations are sending aid-supplying envoys to an oft-ignored peoples.

    While we do have a long way to go towards rectifying the various injustices in our world, we live in an ever smaller-world. In a global and electronic culture, it makes one think: Now, who again is my neighbor?

  2. I would agree that the gay and lesbian communities are ostracized in our communities. I would add, though, our Hispanic friends and neighbors, mainly the Mexicans due to the issue of immigration.

    I recently was in a conversation with two Mexicans at a golf course superintendent party and as we were speaking in Spanish, everyone was looking strangely at us; weren't we supposed to speak English. As we continued our conversation, I asked them where they were from they were very hesitant, probably because of trust issues and if they could trust this gringo of trying to find out if they were legal. I know of more than one instances where Mexicans have had to go undercover to stay in the United States.
    To add to insult in my career field, the butt of many jokes are the Mexicans. This grieves me everytime that I hear these so-called jokes. When I voice my opinion it adds tension, which of course, no one really likes.

    As one professor said in class once, comedians are the prophets of our days...and the jokes that float around our culture tell us where their is injustice. Sometimes it's good to listen to the commedians (or so-called comediains) ofa our days.

  3. Is God observable? Or veiled in mystery? We can count heart beats, and measure pulmonary efficiency. Does that mean we have observed the depths of the human heart? We count it progress that Lincoln freed the slaves. Yet today, we know the difference between overt and covert slavery, and realize there may be as many slaves in America now as then.

    Today the whole world is painfully aware of the tragedy in Haiti. What does progress mean there? Should we wash our hands of the country, and join Pat Robertson in declaring that nation cursed? Or do we find some woefully limited proxies for progress, such as the numbers of dead buried, and soldier on? Do we try to find a way to address long-term problems such as poor building methods and governance? Do we dare to contemplate what would happen if such a once-in-centuries earthquake came to, say, New Madrid, instead of Haiti?

    The dark side of progress provides the kind of rationalizing ideological cover that Dr. Cone wrote about. We can justify paving over anything, because we are building progress. We provide food and medicine to the poor, but not education, birth control, or jobs. Then we wonder why we are fighting peasants in the Middle East.

    For thousands of years our forefathers have feared the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and often enough empires have fallen, and populations died. If only the bright side of progress were so well illuminated. For in that lack of illumination, we often are found tilting at windmills, when we meant to be creating peace and justice. Progress is no easy thing.