July 01, 2009

Against purity

Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor under FDR.

One of the many things El Cabrero likes about Jesus was his general disregard for the purity codes of his day. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), he always seems to be making someone mad for transgressing this or that rule of apparent righteousness by hanging out with the wrong people, doing things at the wrong time or not doing things the "right" way.

I've found that purity codes were not limited to first century Palestine but can be found amongst almost any group. They can be particularly prevalent amongst people working for social justice.

It often happens that people will refuse to work with this or that group because they aren't pure enough or will oppose this or that reform because it doesn't go far enough--even though nothing else is on the table. Sometimes, people even oppose a positive measure because it isn't done with the "proper" motivation.

Whatever. This may be my Scotch-Irish talking, but I believe in playing the cards you're dealt, with the understanding that you try to improve your hand as much as possible. I tend to regard moral perfectionism as the unforgivable sin.

This chain of thought was triggered by reading Kirstin Downey's The Woman Behind the New Deal, a biography of Frances Perkins. Perkins served as secretary of labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and had an amazing record as an effective reformer way before that.

One of the things that contributed to her success was her ability to deal with people as they were, including corrupt old school Tammany Hall politicians. As Downey put it,

Her ability to accept human foibles, to see both failings and strengths was becoming a core personality trait, bolstering her effectiveness. She found that making deals with imperfect people and focusing on their strengths provided a pathway to actually achieving social change.

As the saying goes, "God is a potter, he works in mud."

HOT AIR. Dean Baker takes on lies about the climate change bill here.

ME TOO. Research suggests that community norms and peer pressure influence how people relate to conservation and environmental efforts.

STRANGE DAYS. The giant retailer Wal-Mart has embraced a mandate for major employers to provide health insurance for workers, a major plank in overall health care reform legislation.

AGUA...the new oil.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jesus' disregard for the purity codes of his day wasn't the result of his ignoring them but of his having transcended them into a righteousness that exceeded external codes and laws, and he was intent that others do the same.(Mt.5:48) While it is good work to clean up the social injustice that results from lack of righteousness, it is also good work to hold up the fact that such transcendence is real and a necessary step, if we as a race are ever to get beyond simply cleaning up the muddy messes that we make and into something better, something purer. First generation Friends advocated this very thing. Therefore, I hope that you re-consider your stance on "moral perfectionism as the unforgivable sin." A few words from Isaac Penington: Wouldst thou know what God requires of thee, what this or that is which appears in this or that sort as truth, whether it be so or no? Mind this principle in thee, mind the pure, the holy light, inward touches and leadings of this pure, divine principle; that will make manifest to thee whatever is fit for thee in thy present state to know...Works. vol 3 p.5