Recently I was invited to join the Harvard Loser’s Club. This is an exclusive club, very exclusive. It is populated by Harvard graduates whose income is near or below the poverty line.
First, I am not technically a Harvard graduate. I know I am considered an alumni because I was a Charles E. Merrill Fellow (some think this is a greater honor than a degree) and I transferred to Princeton Seminary when I was a senior at Harvard Divinity School.
Secondly, I am not a loser. Dull, maybe, at times, I am sure my wife would say. But not a loser. I would love to attend the “Dull Men’s Club” that meets regularly in Pembrake, MA, south of Boston (Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2012, p. 1). They discuss such interesting subjects: Attendees have studied park benches around the world; leaf raking techniques. In one meeting they debated for 2.5 hours the best way to put toilet paper on the roll, over or under. Now that is an arresting subject! Sure interests me!
The problem is that losers and dullards have a tendency to define themselves according to what they are not, by what they don’t have rather than what they have. I call this a grievance mentality.
In 2017, we must be careful not to define ourselves according to what we are not, by what we do not have, by what we dislike rather than what we like. Let me explain.
Many social movements begin with a righteous cause but over time develop a grievance mentality against their opponents. For instance, the Civil Rights movement began in sincerity and earnestness that was righteous and good. It checked the unbridled racism that was polluting our nation. But eventually, Professor Shelby Steele in White Guilt argues, progress was slowed and then stopped by two things: African-American fears of whites and white guilt feelings that brought change in the socio-political realm but changed no hearts.
One reviewer explained:
The author [Shelby Steele] frames his book around a drive up the California coast during which he pondered the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky affair. Why is it, he asks himself, that President Eisenhower would have been drummed out of office for a sex scandal like Clinton’s, while Clinton would certainly have been impeached if he had used the racial slur Eisenhower allegedly employed on the golf course? The answer, Steele asserts, is a fundamental change in American culture. The success of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s showed that America’s power structure lacked moral authority. For white Americans, the only way to regain that authority has been to “disassociate” from racism, which Steele says is now more frowned upon than adultery. The result has whites straining to appear benevolent toward blacks, while African-American leaders take advantage of “white guilt” to gain handouts such as affirmative action. Steele, who made the same points in his National Book Critics Circle award-winner The Content of Our Character (1990), contends that white liberals see blacks for their skin color instead of their individuality. (“Most of today’s conservatives,” he contends, “sound like Martin Luther King in 1963.”) Black leaders, on the other hand, fail to call upon African-Americans to exercise personal responsibility. Steele has some noteworthy insights into the ways blacks and whites relate, but his arguments suffer from his tendency to establish and then gleefully demolish straw men and from his sweeping generalizations based on personal experiences. Steele claims, for example, that the racial discrimination he encountered as a child did little to harm his self-image and then applies his experience to all blacks. This is the same form of argument he finds offensive in others.
Will we define ourselves as a rejection of other educational movements or will we embrace the iconoclastic future God has called us to grasp? We must be careful to avoid all roots of bitterness as we examine our future. There are great dangers in forming and maintaining a cultural movement based on dislikes and anger rather than approbation and affirmation of new possibilities. We are children of the living God! We are not afraid of any world view, any sociological theory, any scientific theory. We choose to define ourselves by what we are—not by what we are not.