Context Counts

Let us deliberate over the recent populist protests



Context, like character, counts. Allow me to offer a context for the two weeks of protest marches in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. A blogpost has limits but is far preferable to a slogan or a meme.

For a start, the murder took place in an ethos of  racism. So have millions of murders. In Mit Brennender Sorge (1937) Pius IX wrote to the German people that “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State…and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God.” Last month, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to Americans that “the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin.”

The ongoing protests, in their inspiration, cry out for justice in the face of murder and racism. But righteous inspiration is not enough, as Gandhi and King well knew. Inspiration, without deliberation, is easily compromised.

So let’s test all things, including populist protests, and hold fast to that which is true. In the spirit of guarded respect, here are some half dozen test questions we might ask.

  1. Are current protests now largely directed at Trump and “all his works and pomps”?
  2. To what extent do current protests manifest lock-down dysphoria?
  3. How much protesting results from the extra time that goes with unemployment?
  4. How many people know the full extent of protest-related police injuries?
  5. Are media and corporate professions of solidarity trustworthy?
  6. Do protestors realize that abortion is the single greatest assault on black lives?

If I were to ask these questions, I suspect the first question I would be asked is “Who are you to  ask such questions?” Indeed, some might suggest that I have not earned the right to ask them. In my defense, doubtless with deficient humility, I might borrow from St. Paul. Were I to do so, I’d probably say, “Am I not a protestor? I am! Have I not been jailed? I have! Am I not a minority? I am! These last 40 years this white man has brought up a family as a statistical minority living in a “minority majority” neighborhood and city. Indeed, I am a minority within my own “minority majority” family. To continue: have I experienced ham-handed and discriminatory police treatment? I have. Despite threats of great bodily harm—while taking part in non-violent demonstrations—I have seen police stand by idly while abortion advocates chanted “lock them up.”

Sad to say, returning to the test questions, I suspect that many of today’s populist protestors would give, in context, disappointing answers. It is no surprise that inconsistences abound; ask me enough questions and I would only too soon betray my own. Inconsistencies, moreover, have a way of coalescing into contradictions. Collect enough contradictions and chaos results. “Chaos” is the direct opposite of “cosmos,” that is, as Pius IX wrote, the “order of the world planned and created by God.”

How far we are from this order! Jesus, knowing us as we are, taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” And only in the Kingdom of heaven will we know God as He is.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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