Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Vaneesa Cook's "Spiritual Socialists"

Vaneesa Cook is a historian, professor, and freelance writer on religion and politics.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left details how the historical figures profiled in the book sought to advance their values and mission internationally. The test works in this case because page 99 introduces one of the major points of contention among leftist activists, generally, and spiritual socialists, specifically. Emphasizing religious values, spiritual socialists expanded the leftist agenda in the US to cultural issues of race and gender at mid-century, predating the New Left. They all believed in the possibility of creating the Kingdom of God on earth, via grassroots community building. However, they disagreed about how to promote and defend the Kingdom of God internationally, especially during times of war, and they debated whether non-violence or interventionism represented the best moral choice.

For instance, spiritual socialists held a diverse set of opinions about World War II in the 1940s. Some, such as A. J. Muste, Staughton Lynd, and Dorothy Day, were absolute pacifists, rejecting violence completely. Others, including YMCA missionary Sherwood Eddy and Henry A. Wallace, rationalized fighting the good fight on the grounds that Christians needed to root out the weeds of evil (i.e. fascism) lest it interfere with the cultivation of the Kingdom of God on earth. The debate among spiritual socialists, then, did not pivot on issues of war and peace, violence and nonviolence as ends in themselves. The debate was actually about which approach to war would yield the most effective results for the long-term project of building a socialist society from the bottom up. Day, Lynd, and Muste contended that the means must always match the ends, making violence counterproductive to God’s will for the world. Eddy and Wallace, on the other hand, argued that the objective to protect the seeds of the Kingdom from being trampled underfoot by fascist soldiers made a temporary resort to violence necessary and realistic.
Visit Vaneesa Cook's website.

--Marshal Zeringue