This is excerpted from the New York Times. Please read it in its entirety.
Dear God, Are You There?
We are in a deep spiritual crisis that can’t be relieved by politics, or philosophy.
By George Yancy
George Yancy is professor of philosophy at Emory University. His latest book is “Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly About Racism in America.”
Aug. 7, 2019
This letter was prompted by the 22 precious lives taken in El Paso on August 3, 2019, by a 21-year-old white supremacist gunman. He told investigators that he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as possible — people who Donald Trump, in his campaign for the office of president, described as criminals “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” and as “rapists.”
Just hours after I sat down to write, I heard about the horrible killings of nine more people, this time in Dayton, Ohio, carried out by a 22-year-old white male gunman. How much can any of us take? We are failing ourselves. We are not asking the right questions; we are failing to use truthful and courageous discourse to describe the suffering from human violence, the sort that is nationally and globally predicated upon forms of white nationalism.
Regarding those killed in El Paso, President Trump said, “God be with you all.” Personally, I’ve had enough of empty rhetoric and religious hypocrisy when it comes to naming white supremacy.
I have no idea what Trump means when he utters those words, or what they amount to, other than an effort at mass distraction and obfuscation. To sow seeds of white racist divisiveness, hatred and xenophobia, and then cynically use the words of a healing spiritual message stinks of religious duplicity; it is discourse steeped in denial….
I’m tempted to say that for Trump and his vast evangelical following enough is never enough. And if this is so, something has gone theologically awry. We have not become more loving as a nation. As James Baldwin writes, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” Baldwin doesn’t mean to offend; he is, I’m certain, a prophet of love.
So, why write this letter? Ralph Waldo Emerson argues: “Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticisms. The foregoing generations beheld God face to face; we through their eyes. Why should not we also have an original relation to the universe?” Emerson emboldens a legitimate question, though one with a theological inflection: Why can’t I have an original relation to You, God? There is nothing about our universe that proves a priori that this letter will not be heard by You. So, I’ll just take the leap.
I realize that the act of writing such a letter is itself hasty as it assumes that You exist. Of course, if You don’t, and there is no absolute, faultless proof that You do, then this letter speaks to nothing at all. The salutation is perhaps a bit silly. Yet, that is the risk that I take. In fact, it is a risk worth taking….
This letter is not meant to proselytize, to convert. Rather, the letter is meant to entreat that which is perhaps beyond all of the major religions and yet inclusive of all of them, hoping that perhaps each one has something to say partially about You. I say all of this even as I define myself as a hopeful Christian theist, the kind who hopes, without any certainty, that You exist and that the strength of agape, Christian love, is possible and liberating in a world filled with so much existential, social and political catastrophe, where anguished parents cry long into the night because their children have been taken too soon by acts of mass violence.
This letter is a lamentation; it speaks to our human pain and suffering, but it also speaks to this philosopher’s dread in the face of apparent silence. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “It is not just that we are in search of God, but that God is in search of us, in need of us.” That is not a philosophical argument, but I eagerly respond: I am here!…
The weight of myopic fanaticism and dreams of white national purity takes its toll. I’m thinking of the nine who were killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015; the 11 who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018; the 51 who were killed at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019.
So, it is with this letter that I seek You, that I ask for something more than we seem to be capable of, more than the routine prayers that are said in response to tragedy and sorrow. I don’t want to simply repeat clichés and recall platitudes. I am a philosopher who weeps; I am a human being who suffers.
This letter is not for me alone. It can’t be. The suffering of others is too great not to be moved by it, not to feel somehow partially responsible for it. So, it is with this letter that I seek an original relation, one that seeks our collective liberation, one that desires to speak especially on behalf of children and to free them from our miserable failure as adults to honor their lives more than we honor flags, rhetorical mass distraction, political myopia, party line politics, white nationalistic fanaticism and religious vacuity.