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Moyers on Wright

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Bill Moyers Journal, well advertised and eagerly or anxiously anticipated, is about the Reverend Wright, the most controversial figure associated with American politics this year. The whole show is with Jeremiah Wright. And it still is not enough, I think. Bill Moyers put this week's interview together because the comments of Rev. Wright are being put around Barack Obama's neck, as if he were responsible for them as they are presented out of context. Wright's fiery comments were not beyond the understanding of the plain people of his parish. They came to church and knew they would understand by listening to the whole thing, not just sound bites taken out of context and away from the specific meaning given them. The Moyers interview will, in turn, be parsed and sound bites taken from it to support claims that Rev. Wright is an abrasive orator, that he did harangue his parish with the evils in society as if they were—and they certainly were—the evil acts of bad governments and imperfect men in them! This is the point. And, it is made perfectly in the Moyers program by Wright. Governments fail; they are not perfect, no matter what the government and its people believed at the time. The point is understood by reference to all that have gone before—the Egyptian, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British, French, Germans, Japanese, Russians, but it fails in fifty-five minutes on Moyers to make the connection to America because Americans are committed to American Exceptionalism, the notion that despite all the nations that have gone outward to proclaim God's special dispensation on their activities, only America doing so does it with the real grace of God! Second, Wright did not make the point enough that what he said, (and also what Susan Sontag wrote in New Yorker) that angry, hurt, and seething week in which the national leadership chose vengeance for political purposes rather than responsibility for all the past indignities put on others and performed in our name, was to explain in terms of Christian understanding of God to this parish in south Chicago where God was in this horrible event of 9/11. Wright sought to provide that answer, not in terms of vengeance but in terms of scriptural analogy, and to show that, indeed, America's chickens had come home to roost, as had the Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and all the "chickens" of modern failures of civil government. The fact is that American Exceptionalism is a powerful myth, exploited as much by the religious sector for its own selfish purposes as by the civil authorities to create "consensus" on the issues of the day. Americans still do not want to believe that their national government has perpetrated centuries of injustice, violence against innocents, and calumnies without even words to properly name them. Americans cannot understand this and refuse to understand this in general and, especially when forces that want the mythologies to stand reinforce them without a glimmer of respect for the truth. Jeremiah Wright is a very intelligent man and a reasonably good pulpit orator who knows that stoking the emotion with music or with rhetoric is a way to touch conscience behind the pervasive mythologies. He also, probably, is guilty of certain rhetorical vanities, and as scripture would have it, the "chickens" of his vanity came home to roost, too! We have not heard the end of it. There are probably millions of people who believe (in the shadow of the Exceptionalism mythology) that Barack Obama should have understood that the mythology should not be assailed, especially in that terrible week of pain and horror, and therefore, he should not have remained in the parish. It is precisely in such weeks of terror and horror that the lessons must be heard. Susan Sontag was vilified for bringing it up and now Jeremiah Wright. Two voices in our American wilderness—this web of childish myth and national ignorance that we must abandon to survive! JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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