The magical world of Walt Disney is a multi-million dollar machine. We love to escape into a world where our “dreams come true.” There comes a problem, however, when we permanently escape to a fantasy land where we can shirk any responsibility or pain. The result of this permanent retreat is that we tend to believe that things will magically work out for the better – despite our inactivity. Some of us tend to think that a little sprinkle of pixie dust is all it takes to make the world a better place.
I’ve seen a reliance on pixie dust manifest itself in a whole host of ways. Strangely, I’ve observed this phenomenon appear within religious communities. Sometimes I’ve heard religious leaders speak from a pulpit in ways that promote spectatorship and idleness – something akin to Bonhoeffer’s notion of “cheap grace.” These leaders may tell their congregation that Jesus destroyed racism when he died on the cross – as a means to comfort the public when racism raises its evil head – thus freeing them from any responsibility to do something to counter it. Or, they may guilt congregants to love those political leaders who may deceive or harm the public – but in the meantime provide no alternative measures to thwart the damaging policies or practices that those leaders put upon us. Have these religious leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, aligned themselves with these dangerous political leaders and evil forces? Regardless of their intent, the effect of their hollow rhetoric is the fostering of an insularity of parishioners away from the responsibilities of civic life.
Our moral leaders cannot be morally ambiguous – and they must challenge us to live out our faith. Martin Luther King, Jr. persistently reminded his congregants that suffering was usually a precursor to victory and freedom. He used to remind people that Good Friday came before Easter Sunday. For more on King’s stance on this front see here. If our public embraces moral ambiguity and civic spectatorship, our country will find itself in ruin. Those whom we look upon to be our moral leaders need to change their ways – or, more likely, we need to look for moral leaders apart from institutionalized positions of leadership. Maybe the moral leaders we need are actually us!
Social progress does not occur without discomfort. The abolition movement of the mid-nineteenth, the women’s suffrage movement at the turn of the twentieth century, and the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century all required the virtues of courage, sacrifice, and perseverance. It would serve us well to study this history once again. We have challenges before us today (i.e., discrimination against exceptional learners in our schools, the emboldening of racism and misogyny, the continual favoring of the wealthy in our policies while concentrated poverty is continually on the rise) – and they require our collective action akin to these movements of the past.
Our civic life depends largely on the actions of us citizens. It is paramount that we not retreat toward a fantasy world where we have no moral responsibility to act. Pixie dust may be fun to think about, but pixie dust is not real. We are in need of real moral leadership in these times that demands of us to embrace our responsibility to help our neighbors and resist evil – all the while relying on a power greater than ourselves to push us through the difficulties our actions are bound to entail. This is the living faith that we need to embrace, not the pixie dust of our imaginations.