“And by spiritual malnutrition I’m not just talking about emptiness of soul, but I’m talking about an indifference to the suffering of others. A callousness to those who are catching hell.”
Cornel West, #FreeToDisagree, April 30, 2015
We live in a moment, probably the most commodofied, commercialized, marketized culture in the history of the world. Every nook and cranny shot through with obsession with money-making and profit-taking.
Thirty years ago that was not the case. We were still the same human beings, with the same ugly procliviities, but there’s less gas in our spiritual tanks in the present moment. Spiritual malnutrition is much more pervasive. And by spiritual malnutrition I’m not just talking about emptiness of soul, but I’m talking about an indifference to the suffering of others. A callousness to those who are catching hell.
The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to say, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.” William James, probably the greatest and most loveable and adorable of all public intellectuals in America in the last 200 years—he said, “indifference is the one trait that makes the very angels weep.” It’s the very opposite of what it is to follow the way of the cross as opposed to the dominant ways of the world.
And so any time we talk about civility, I want to begin on a spiritual note and talk about a piety. And by piety I’m not talking about blind acceptance, not talking about uncritical deference to doctrine or dogma. I’m talking about a way of life in which you acknowledge those sources of good in your life, the wind at your back, so you remember, so you can revere something bigger than you, and you have the courage to resist in the name of, for me, a kingdom of God—a beloved community. But even if you’re not Christian, there’s some other good things to fight for.
Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris. He has written 19 books and edited 13 books. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and his new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. He appears frequently on the Bill Maher Show, Colbert Report, CNN and C-Span as well as on his dear Brother, Tavis Smiley’s PBS TV Show. He can be heard weekly with Tavis Smiley on “Smiley & West”, the national public radio program distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). He made his film debut in the Matrix – and was the commentator (with Ken Wilbur) on the official trilogy released in 2004. He also has appeared in over 25 documentaries and films including Examined Life, Call & Response, Sidewalk and Stand. Last, he has made three spoken word albums including Never Forget, collaborating with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, KRS-One and the late Gerald Levert. His recent spoken word interludes were featured on Terence Blanchard’s Choices (which won the Grand Prix in France for the best Jazz Album of the year of 2009), The Cornel West Theory’s Second Rome and the Raheem DeVaughn’s Love & War: Masterpeace. In short, Cornel West has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.