“America has the technical capacity to abolish poverty; the question is: does it have the moral capability to do so?” (p. 3)
So far, I have only read 18 pages of William Stringfellow’s Dissenter in a Great Society: A Christian View of America in Crisis, and I am already convinced he was a genius. If Advent is about opening one’s eyes and staying awake (which is what I am convinced it is, especially after a very good sermon on just that in church on the first Sunday of Advent), then he is certainly opening my eyes. I find myself taking down quotes from practically every page.
The first chapter of the book addresses poverty and how the U.S. is falling down on its so-called war on poverty (I wasn’t even aware that we had a war on poverty in this country back in 1966 when this book was published. We obviously lost it, because no one talks about it anymore, and the poor just keep getting poorer these days). He is truly bipartisan (as anyone who claims to be following the teachings of Christ ought to be in this country), blaming those on both the left and the right for our failures. We could use a little more of that sort of criticism in our country today. Why don’t we have it? Why are we afraid to say, as he does, that our moral decadence presents this society from overcoming poverty and that we are all (not just those from one political party or another, but all of us) to blame?
He has some wonderfully radical ideas that all make sense as he describes them, such as:
1. Let’s cut the number of hours (but not salaries) in a work week in order to eliminate unemployment. (Instead, this country has gone in the opposite direction. It used to be that salaried professionals worked from 9:00 – 5:00, with an hour for lunch each day, and that was referred to as a 40-hour work week. Now, salaried professionals are more like those who punch time cards: many work 8:30 – 5:00 with an hour for lunch and are told they are working a 37.5-hour work week. Is anyone really fooled by that so-called shorter work week?) His argument? More jobs would be created, because people would have more leisure time. With everyone employed, more people would have money to spend on leisure activities, and those who pursue careers in the arts would be better appreciated and paid more for what they do.
2. Pay people to go to college. His arguments? Studying is work, and right now, only those who can afford to go to college do so. Not just those who have the money, but everyone who has the brains to go to college ought to get to go, ought to then have the opportunity to go on to fulfilling careers that pay them what they are worth, instead of being stuck in jobs that waste their God-given brains or, worse, stuck with no jobs at all. Many who are unable to find jobs right now in 21st-century America (those who don’t have college degrees are unemployed in numbers that have not been seen since The Great Depression) would have them if they’d been able to afford to go to college, had been given the same opportunities as those like me, from the privileged classes.
These are ideas I never would have considered as possible solutions to unemployment and poverty in America, problems that are worse today than they were in 1966. That’s what I mean by awakening me. He makes me want to go out and found a university, one that pays its students. One whose professors only work 25-hour work weeks. I’m not sure where this awakening and inspiration will lead, but I’m enjoying it.