This afternoon I skimmed a New York Times article talking about some protestors marching on Wall Street. And again I was faced with a question which deeply troubles me: could all of these countercultural lifestyles exist if it were not for the very structures which they’ve dedicated their lives to protesting?
First of all, it is the Western, capitalist America which has provided the education which first opened many of these peoples’ minds. Any serious social critique has, at some point or another, been advocated by people in the top levels of academia. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most protest movements have found a wide base of support within the student community. I’m not saying that education could not exist outside the current system, but the current system is responsible for the education which these protestors received. It’s doubly ironic: “the system” breeds those who question it, and the questioners are deeply indebted to “the system”.
Second, everyone who questions American democracy and capitalism, from whatever viewpoint (Christian, Communist, anarchist, hippie, or whatever else is out there) still depends on so many of the benefits this system provides. That’s not surprising – it’s basically impossible to live in this country and not largely depend on such benefits. I am just curious to know how many of these people would be willing to give up as much as possible and truly try to live out what they’re espousing at a deep level. I’m not saying that they all wouldn’t, but I think a lot of people need to choose between tempering their rhetoric and radicalizing their lifestyle.
I am not saying that there isn’t sometimes a disconnect between belief and lifestyle. It happens. It especially happens when you’re busy trying to figure out how your beliefs can be expressed in your lifestyle. But I think there are a lot of people (maybe even myself included) who spend days pointing fingers, saying what the government ought to do, how the system ought to change, when they really should take a long look in the mirror first.
There is absolutely a place for marching in protests. There is a place for having opinions. But I think many times we like to substitute talking about things and doing all the classic “slacktivist” activities [buying the T-shirt, donating a couple of dollars, protesting, calling your Senator, updating your facebook status] for a lot of actual lifestyle changes which we know we should really implement. If we aren’t living our lives according to our beliefs (even if those ideals may, after all, be tempered with a bit of pragmatism), any activism will really only go so far.
I’m not claiming to be even remotely perfect in this sense! Trust me, I know my life is hardly exemplary of all the ideals I like to espouse. But I am working on what will no doubt be a long and messy process of trying to be more integrated and less compartmentalized.
It takes courage to live what you believe. It also takes wisdom and love and humility and patience. God grant us grace.