By Mark Rodgers
As Linus said in a Peanuts comic strip in 1961, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people…religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”
Much has been discussed about Meryl Streep’s comments at the Globes and there will certainly be more celebrity sermonizing at the Oscars next month. Six members of the clergy will be formally performing at Donald Trump’s inauguration – a nod by his team to the role that religion has once again played on the national stage.
Religion, politics and pop culture. Whether we want to or not, we keep talking about these three things at our cocktail parties. And yes, they can cause a divide, unless our cocktail friends are just like us, which sadly is increasingly the case.
For the foreseeable future politics look like it will divide, but can art and religion help bring us together?
In response to stories that U2 pulled its upcoming album in light of the election and reflecting on their upcoming 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour, Bono responded about the power of music.
“‘The Joshua Tree’ found common ground by reaching for the higher ground. This is a tour for red and blue, the coast and the heartland … because music can pull people together as surely as politics can pull people apart. It’s a great canvas and it would be amazing if it could still be a high voltage meditation on what’s happening now.”
By choice, our circles of relationship at Clapham are vocationally, ideologically, racially, theologically and generationally diverse. We have found that cultural “artifacts” — movies, music, television and novels in particular — are common ground for all of them. In fact, our firm is staffed by musicians, actors and artists, but we work on issues of common concern.
Despite the claims in the recent book Against Empathy, we here at The Clapham Group believe that “story” is critical for someone to walk in another’s shoes. In his interview, Bono asked:
Am I missing something here?
Am I out of touch with American values?
Am I out of touch with the American people?
These are the questions those of us living in our elite enclaves need to ask at our cocktail parties rather than trying to dust off our blue collars as Streep tried to do.
One way in which America’s elites are out of touch is with regard to religion. As you know, our group is named after a community of Anglican, Quaker and Methodist (and most likely Catholic) social reformers, who saw religion as an indispensable ally in their efforts. We do too, and one of our prized artifacts is a handwritten note by Clapham member Hannah More, the poet and playwright who led efforts on education reform and child welfare, who reminds us of the enduring, transformative power of faith. In her note which is hung on our wall, she quotes William Cowper, another poet and peer:
The deep foundations that we lay,
Time ploughs them up, and not a trace remains.
We build with what we deem eternal rock;
A distant age asks where the fabric stood;
And in the dust, sifted and searched in vain,
The undiscoverable secret sleeps.But there is yet a liberty unsung
By poets, and by senators unpraised,
Which monarchs cannot grant, nor all the power
Of earth and hell confederate take away;
A liberty, which persecution, fraud,
Oppression, prisons, have no power to bind,
Which whoso tastes can be enslaved no more:
’Tis liberty of heart, derived from heaven,
Bought with His blood who gave it to mankind,
And sealed with the same token.