I have two items for my blog post today about Richard Nixon’s In the Arena.
1. On page 91, Nixon states the following about churches: “It is significant that the sharp 35 percent decline in membership of mainline Protestant denominations associated with the National Council of Churches has occurred during the period when social and political crusading has increasingly taken the place of religious messages from the pulpits. As one critic has observed, too many churches seem to have a ‘political agenda masked with the veneer of spirituality.’ In the long term, whether a church is on the right or the left, the more political it becomes, the less appeal it has religiously. In a pathetic attempt to be ‘relevant’ on current political issues, many churches have become irrelevant to their major mission of giving people inspiration and guidance on timeless moral and spiritual issues.”
I believe in balance. I think that it’s important for churches to encourage and inspire people: to tell them that they are valuable in God’s eyes, to offer them insight on how to address their personal problems, etc. But people should also be told that others throughout the world are valuable in God’s eyes, too, like people in the Third World. How does my church do on this? Well, we don’t get political. We do, however, give money to some charity each month, as someone from a charity comes to speak to us. That’s a good thing, in my opinion, for it reinforces that Christianity is about more than us feeling good. Do I believe that my church is wrong for not getting political—-for focusing on charity as opposed to the systemic nature of injustice? I can understand such a critique, but I myself have am satisfied with how my church addresses charity. We are a mixed group—-we have Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Why can’t we focus on what we agree on—-the importance of food being out there for the poor—-rather than on political issues on which we disagree? If any one of us wants to become politically involved, we can on our own time.
2. On page 95, Nixon says in his chapter about teachers: “I have always found that the best teachers were those who graded the hardest, just as the best dentists are those who aren’t afraid to hurt you in order to clean out the cavities.”
Do I find this to be true? I have had teachers who were hard graders and were good. In retrospect, they made me a better writer and thinker—-not necessarily in their classes (for I usually ended up with a B in their classes)—-but in other classes. For example, one professor continually gave me B’s on my papers, saying that my papers weren’t three-dimensional enough, or that I should have offered opinion and analysis. I ended up with a B in her class, but I went into other classes sensitized to the importance of being three-dimensional and offering analysis, and I got A’s in those classes.