Whose Fault Is the ‘Cultural Divide’?

Whose Fault Is the ‘Cultural Divide’?

The Cultural Divide

“America is coming apart,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote at The Wall Street Journal last week. The problem is one of “cultural inequality,” Murray said, and it reveals itself in “a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America” and in “a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”

Murray roots working class decline, not in macro-economic factors like the loss of manufacturing jobs, but in social policy developed during the 1960s that he says “made it economically more feasible to have a child without having a husband if you were a woman or to get along without a job if you were a man; safer to commit crimes without suffering consequences; and easier to let the government deal with problems in your community that you and your neighbors formerly had to take care of.”

His solution to this alleged cultural divide is the affirmation of core “civic virtues” like marriage, industriousness, and religiosity. Not only should they be advanced by the working class folks who adhere to them, but he says, “Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms.”

That ought to go over well with the young’uns.

Restoring American Dynamism

Fellow conservative David Brooks took a different approach to the problems faced by a hypothetical economically disadvantaged woman in his January 23 column at The New York Times. Brooks advocated “a two-pronged approach” to “restoring American dynamism” that includes “more economic freedom combined with more social structure; more competition combined with more support.” This translates into a simpler tax code, corporate tax cuts, streamlined regulations, flexible immigration policy, and a long-term balanced budget, as well as a host of measures that support education and more child care options for families.

Sounds reasonable.

Comparing Costs

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher struck an even more moderate tone, rebuking Newt Gingrich’s “food stamp president” remark by reminding readers that SNAP benefits have doubled since 2008 because “the country suffered its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression!” Dreher contrasted SNAP spending with the estimated $107 billion bill that the Pentagon will present this year to U.S. taxpayers for what he regards as a futile war in Afghanistan.

Thank God for comedians …

Smoking Out the Satirical in Progressive Elitism

At The Weekly Standard, humor writer P.J. O’Rourke charged progressives with hating poor people. He was riffing on Maine’s new ban on smoking in all public housing, but he applied the critique WIDELY. Here’s a single satirical sentence that Murray might consider when pondering cultural divisions:

“Smoking kills smokers, which is about what they deserve for engaging in such lowbrow, wrong-headed, retarded, vulgarian activity, except they get sick first and that drives up the cost of a single-payer national health care system, plus their second-hand smoke is worse yet because it is a, yuck, inhalation hand-me-down from uncouth people who probably haven’t flossed, and it kills progressive elites who don’t even know anyone who smokes while also releasing greenhouse gases and stinking up the cheery curtains that elites hang in public housing group activity areas to brighten the lives of the underprivileged who are confined to concrete tower blocks with six-by-eight-foot living rooms, seven-foot ceilings, plexiglass windows, and sheet-metal doors with a dozen locks on them.”

Linament Salesmen and Other Ills

Speaking of humor, in a new interview with The Root, comedy legend Bill Cosby took on those who criticize him for “airing dirty laundry” about the Black community when he denounces its social dysfunctions, calling them “liniment salesmen.” He also expressed his concerns about teen pregnancy, Black-on-Black crime, and illiteracy. “I’m telling you that I’m worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, ‘I’m happy. He’s in a safe place.’ You cannot take that casually,” Cosby warned, and that’s not funny at all.

Winfrey the Non-Conformist Anomaly

Leave it to media mogul Oprah Winfrey to defy them all. In an interview with India’s NDTV, Winfrey said that she and Stedman Graham would have been divorced by now if they had gotten married. “I really am my own woman and I don’t really conform very well to other people ideas about who and what I should be and being married calls for some conformity,” said Winfrey. But then, these guys would probably say she’s the exception that proves the rule.

What do you think?

Is there a cultural divide between a new upper class and a new lower class. If so, who’s to blame and what, if anything, is to be done about it?

2011 News Highlights

2011 News Highlights

POLITICS

Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.

1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year.  Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it,  others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich.  As a  government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.

Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for Americarealized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.

3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.

The Occupy Movement spread across the country.

4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?

5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.

INTERNATIONAL

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in  SomaliaUganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.

CULTURE & SOCIETY

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.

On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay.  2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.

1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.)  Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).

CHURCH & FAITH

Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.

In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of  Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.

What do you think?

What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?

Oh, No! No More ‘O’

Oh, No! No More ‘O’

Oprah Winfrey

Countless people have calculated—or rather, miscalculated—when the world would end. For many Oprah Winfrey fans, that apocalyptic event arrived at precisely 4 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday (Thursday, May 26, 2011) when, for the first time in two and a half decades, they sat in front of their TV sets and got the local news instead of their daily dose of wisdom and inspiration from the indomitable “O.”

The Oprah Winfrey Show ended its 25-year run this past week with three farewell episodes that combined to capture all of the grandeur, sentimentality, and congeniality that have come to epitomize the show and its iconic host. The first two final episodes featured a star-studded surprise guest list that regaled Oprah and thousands of her admirers who packed out the United Center in Chicago. The last show—episode number 4,561—was done in a much smaller, more intimate setting back on her usual stage at Harpo Studios, where she spent her last hour thanking fans, sharing thoughts on God, and recounting her best learnings from her years on the show. 

Though I am not a diehard member of the Oprah Winfrey fan club, I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed watching the final episodes of her long-running talk show. I haven’t been a regular viewer of the show for many years now, only occasionally catching an episode whenever she had a must-see topic or guest. But in the early years, I was among those who were glued to the tube, checking out this fascinating woman—whose hair, lips, nose, and hips looked like my own and those of the other women in my family. For this black girl, transplanted from the inner-city to the suburbs, the idea of a black professional woman with the charisma and influence that Oprah wielded was foreign. She seemed larger than life. And in the minds of millions of people today, she is.

As her mentor and friend Maya Angelou would say, Oprah is a “phenomenal woman” who exemplifies the spirit of an over-comer.

The first black woman billionaire, Oprah created a veritable media empire in the span of just one generation. Besides her Emmy Award-winning, top-rated talk show, Oprah has started her own television network, a magazine, a bestseller-making book club, produced major motion pictures and TV movies, and even launched the careers of other household names, like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Suze Orman. A bighearted philanthropist, Oprah has raised millions of dollars through her Angel Network to send deserving children to school, financed college educations for hundreds of young black men, built schools in Africa, and more. She has blessed millions of people with her servant’s heart, extreme generosity, and her uncanny ability to bare her soul and profoundly connect with just about anyone.

Over the years, Oprah has consistently motivated people to live their best life ever, teaching that anyone could achieve success regardless of past or present circumstances. She empowered people to pursue their calling in life, and encouraged them to look for life-changing “aha moments” and to be their authentic selves. If you want to make it happen, all you need to do is look within yourself, work real hard, and you will get it. That’s the Oprah way.

For that, people truly love Oprah—and some of that “love” borders on Oprah worship, according to many critics.

Many evangelical Christians have condemned Oprah for her brand of church-free spirituality that focuses heavily on self-empowerment, leaving very little room for the God she claims to know. In fact, Oprah has been called one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America because of the way people respond to her views on life and spirituality. And her talk show has given her the perfect pulpit from which to preach what some have referred to as “the gospel according to Oprah.”

Despite repeatedly giving thanks to Jesus Christ for her many years of success—including on her final show—Oprah has publicly advocated a pluralistic view of salvation that says all paths lead to heaven and God. That means that whether you accept Christ as your Savior and Lord or prostrate yourself before the Buddha, in Oprah’s way of thinking, you can be saved. Clearly, many biblically minded Christians take issue with that perspective, since the Bible teaches salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ and Him alone.

Though Oprah never intended to become this maharishi to the masses, it is what it is. And many still worry about the impact of her spiritual vagueness and emphasis on seeking a God-consciousness on the eternal souls of her followers.

Very telling is the fact that audience members have had what looked like real religious worship experiences on her shows. They’ve done the ugly cry, shouted, danced for joy, praised their guru, and raised their hands in a fashion very similar to that of worshipers at a Sunday morning church service. One woman dissolved into tears as she shared how putting on an old pair of Oprah’s shoes (purchased at a charity garage sale) keeps her from slumping into a depression.

That’s a mighty powerful influence—one that I doubt will end simply because the show has. Oprah is so embedded in the hearts and minds of those who follow her that they will simply pursue her into her next phase of her career—and whatever else she decides to do after that.

Whatever it is, Oprah clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be a good person (maybe even a better person than some Christians) without being explicitly “Christian” in the evangelical sense. She has done what none of her peers could do. She has risen beyond superstar status to become a true American idol. And, whether you are fan or foe, you have to recognize that Oprah has it going on and the lives of millions of people will never be the same because God allowed a little black girl from Mississippi to pass their way.

Revisiting the ‘Church of Oprah’

Revisiting the ‘Church of Oprah’

By now, everyone knows this is the final week of Oprah Winfrey’s iconic talk show. And anyone who saw Aretha Franklin sing during yesterday’s broadcast of Oprah’s farewell celebration from Chicago’s United Center knows that spirituality is inextricably tied to the Oprah experience. In recognition of her last week on the air, Christianity Today has re-posted journalist LaTonya Taylor’s classic, 2002 “The Church of O” feature story about this Oprah’s undeniable spiritual impact on our culture. A few compelling pieces from the article:

Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare for more edifying content, and 1998, when she began “Change Your Life TV,” Oprah’s most significant role has become that of spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.

“Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope,” noted a 1994 Vanity Fair article. Indeed, much like a healthy church, Oprah creates community, provides information, and encourages people to evaluate and improve their lives.

Oprah’s brand of spirituality cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble, either. It goes much deeper. The story of her personal journey to worldwide prominence could be viewed as a window into American spirituality at the beginning of the 21st century—and into the challenges it poses for the church.

Check out the full article now at ChristianityToday.com.

Image from Wikipedia.

This Week’s Pendulum

This Week’s Pendulum

1 U.S. POLITICS WILL CONGRESS FORCE OBAMA OUT OF LIBYA?

On Friday, May 20, 2011, the US reached the 60-day deadline according to the War Powers Act that requires military forces to cease action without approval from Congress. Congress introduced the Act during the Vietnam War. The President has the option to begin a 30-day withdrawal period.

2 WORLD DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS ASSORTED SOCIAL ISSUES

Last week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as the head of the International Monetary Fund in the aftermath of the charges he’s facing for allegedly forcing himself on a hotel maid. The media focused on how sexual assault allegations against the French politician will affect his career and (along with the Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal) returned the spotlight to the predatory and sexually imperious behavior of powerful men, but the affair also brings to light the dangers hotel maids face working in isolation, as well as issues related to class and race. Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim, a West African immigrant, reportedly is feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the global attention being paid to the case.

3 WEATHER TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE THROUGH THE STORMS

The 2011 tornado season has been particularly aggressive, killing more than 450 people and destroying millions of dollars worth of property. A series of devastating storms roared through the Midwest over the weekend, including a horrific tornado that killed at least 89 people in Joplin, Missouri. Our prayers go up for those affected by these and earlier storms. Check out these safety tips from ABC News for advice on preparing for the unpredictable weather activity of this crazy storm season.

4 MUSIC DANCING TO MARY MARY’S ‘WALKING’

Mary Mary continues to evolve. They know what their loyal fans want and they know how to grab a new batch of fans with every album release. The album debuted at number ten on the Billboard top 200 charts, with 42,000 copies sold in the first week. Watch Walking below!

5 EDUCATION TESTING PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EDUCATION STRATEGY

Chris Barbic is the superintendent of a new special “Achievement School District” in Tennessee. The district includes five of the state’s worst-performing schools. Barbic, who has a reputation for his successful charter school career, seems more than qualified to lead the test run of the President’s reforms. Unlike previous school reforms, the state will control a small group of underperforming schools, rather than addressing the issue state-wide.

6 MONEY GROUPON LAUNCHES NEW ‘NOW DEALS.’ REVOLUTIONARY?

Groupon Now is designed to allow business’ to fill seats on slow days. The deals are only valid during certain hours and usually expire within 24 hours. This model allows business’ to manage their perishable inventory. This model is sure to change the way people view business in general; it gives local businesses a way to maintain a buzz rather than survive on ebbs and flows of business.

7 TECHNOLOGY NETFLIX COMMANDS INTERNET TRAFFIC

Netflix now accounts for nearly 30% of all broadband traffic during peak hours. BitTorrent is second at 21.6%. “Internet service providers, have argued that TV shows and movies streamed from Netflix add as an unsustainable burden to their network.” Providers are looking into placing caps on broadband and extra charges. Based on the growing internet usage, your monthly bill may soon be based on usage rather than speed or bandwidth alone.

8 TV CHARLIE’S ANGELS MAKES A COMEBACK ON ABC

The new Angel’s will star Minka Kelly, Annie Llonzeh and Rachel Taylor. The original series, which began in 1976, starred Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. The executive producer, Drew Barrymore, is also a former Angel. Unfortunately, after watching the preview, I predict these angels won’t have their wings for long.

Watch preview below!

9 MOVIES MICHAEL JAI WHITE’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT

Never Back Down, released in 2008 and made $41 million worldwide. This summer, Sony Pictures will release Never Back Down 2, which White says will have a “darker installment…with more of a Dark Knight feel.” The film centers around the world of four fighters from different backgrounds training together under an ex-MMA star.

10 CELEB A FAIRYTALE ENDING FOR OPRAH

Oprah Winfrey, who has inspired millions, donated millions to charity, and created an empire founded in humility and service, was honored last week at a star-studded surprise thank you event at the United Center, in Chicago. Everyone from Tom Hanks to Michael Jordan showed up and shocked Ms. Winfrey with gratitude for her commitment to quality entertainment, inspiration and philanthropic deeds. Watch the event TONIGHT!