Of course, they’re not the only ones involved, and it has to be tempting for anyone who is looking to proselytize to show up at the protest.
Thus Columbia University sociologist Courtney Bender writes about “Spirituality and the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Movement”:
We could even say that occupiers’ refusal to give uncomplicated answers to the question of whether their motivations are
rooted mainly in religious, secular, economic or political identities holds up a useful mirror to the very messy, complicated social and economic morass that they critique. This is another way of saying that sussing out religion in Occupy Wall Street might be easier through attention to the origins and effects of the impulses playing out in groups that identify with the phenomenon. To the ways that they draw upon or resonate with atmospheric connections among religion, capitalism and American identity.
It’s hard to know exactly what she means by this. Is she just asserting the (for me, at least) unobjectionable proposition that religious people don’t sort their concerns into neat little boxes but are capable of finding God and applying their faith everywhere? Or is she arguing that religion supplies an ideology that supports—but can also undermine—capitalism? Consider, in this connection, one of her links:
A few Sundays ago I was in what I suppose passes for my church: an activist space in an old warehouse on the edge of the city. I was there with my partner to train a group of veteran organizers on how to employ creativity and the arts in their activism in order to become more effective political players in our media-saturated, culture-rich world. Standing in front of the organizers, I got to a point in my stock presentation where I introduce Jesus as an example of a creative activist. My proselytizing was of a secular rather than religious nature: it wasn’t the spiritual figure of Christ I was interested in but the purely historical Jesus, a radical Mediterranean Jewish peasant building a revolutionary movement two millennia ago….
I was done with this lesson and ready to move on to a discussion concerning the use of creative tactics in the American Revolution when one of the participants raised their hand and asked me if I was a Christian. The question threw me, and I had to think for a moment. I was raised Christian and I know my Bible, my father and grandfather were both ministers and, most other Sundays, I attend a “real” Church with my family. But am I a Christian?
By way of an answer I explained that a large majority of Americans—anywhere from 76 to 83 percent, in fact—identify themselves as Christian and that many of the guiding myths, symbols and ideals of the United States have their roots in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. I argued that religion, as a compendium of stories, a system of ethics, and a model of behavior could be drawn upon as a popular alternative to norms and ideals of competitive consumer capitalism. I admitted that there’s much to condemn in religion, its bigotry and intolerance for starters, but also pointed out that most religions also extol such virtues as love, community and responsibility for others. Good material for an astute organizer to work with….
By the end of my jeremiad I realized I had my answer. I am a Christian, but only because I believe it makes me a more effective political activist. In a word, I am an opportunistic Christian. (A public admission made more awkward by the fact that the minister of my—albeit activist—Church was participating in the workshop). So much for the authenticity of my faith. But sitting down to retell this story now I realize something else. I do have faith in Jesus, but a particular and perhaps peculiar faith. Do I believe that Jesus walked on water? No. Do I believe in the divinity of Christ? No. Do I believe in God? No. But do I believe that Jesus cared about those who are used, abused or forgotten by society? Do I believe that Jesus wanted to radically transform the world? Do I believe that Jesus can teach me something about how to be an effective political organizer? The answer is Yes, yes and, again, yes.
The author of this piece—whose “religion” might be described as a postmodern left-wing gloss on Jefferson’s Jesus—is not cynical, but it would hard to call him a Christian. He’s more than happy to make use of cultural artifacts for his political purposes, and he certainly has the intellectual wherewithal to give some shape to the rather shapeless protestors who are occupying everything everywhere. But he’s not going to lead them to God.
I have no doubt that God is with the folks near Wall Street, but I doubt they’ve recognized Him yet.