Cornel West and Robert P. George are celebrated public intellectuals from opposite ends of the political and ideological spectrum. George is a conservative legal scholar and Roman Catholic, while West is a democratic socialist philosopher in the progressive Christian tradition. And yet, the two thinkers share a deep, and perhaps unlikely, friendship.
In April, Washington University in St. Louis welcomed West and George to campus for a public conversation about academic freedom and the role of higher education in this era of polarization. They also discussed what they have learned about building trust and forging bonds despite their own differences. The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, which publishes this journal, co-sponsored the event.
West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University, with a joint appointment at Harvard Divinity School and the department of African and African American studies. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he also directs the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
During their visit, West and George spoke with Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, editor of Religion & Politics, and the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Religion & Politics: Welcome to you both. I thought we would start with your friendship. Everyone knows that you come from very different political and ideological perspectives. You do share a Christian identity, but it’s a very different type of Christianity. What does it mean to be really close, affectionate friends with someone of such radically different viewpoints?
Robert George: As Cornel has often said—and I feel the same way—I consider it more than a friendship. It’s a fraternal relationship. We’re like siblings. We worry about each other, we look after each other, we take care of each other; we come to each other’s defense. We are a sounding board for each other; we share each other’s joys, each other’s sorrows. It’s just a wonderful thing. It’s a blessed thing. I am so grateful to have Cornel’s brothership. And, as I said to some students earlier, how can you not love him? He’s such a lovable person. A person of such transparent good will and generosity and integrity. That’s very important.
Cornel is someone that I have been learning from since the moment we met. Even before we got to be friends and more than friends. I was listening to him when we were in faculty seminars together in the Center for Human Values at Princeton. Even if I thought he was getting the answer wrong, I noticed he was always asking exactly the right question. Always getting right to the core of the matter, driving past the ephemeral, the superficial, the obvious, down to the deeper questions. And I think that reflects what we share, which is a commitment to the life of the mind, a commitment to the examined life, and that’s not unconnected to that other thing that you pointed out, Marie, that we share, which is our Christian faith.
I’m Catholic. Cornel comes from the Protestant tradition; he’s rooted in the black church. But still, there’s a deep sharing there. In a certain sense you could say that we share the legacy of both Jerusalem and Athens. We’re both deeply interested in philosophy and deeply interested in biblical religion. We’re also both deeply interested in other people’s religions, not just each other’s brand of Christianity. But, Cornel, as I am, is very interested in Judaism and the Jewish tradition. And beyond the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are interested in Islam and in the Eastern faiths, and Buddhism, and Hinduism, because these are great traditions from which we learn.
So, it’s a friendship that is more than just two people who happen to be a personality match. There’s a kind of deep sharing there that, in a certain sense, relativizes our political and ideological differences. That doesn’t mean that they’re not important. They’re very important; we disagree on some very important issues. But they’re relativized by this deep sharing and the love that it has made possible between us.
Cornel West: Absolutely. I think that when you meet certain persons in your short life who enrich your life, who provide a source of joy, fun, unsettlement—in terms of having to reexamine your own life, your own assumptions, and so forth—you bring your other loved ones, so our families are just so tied together. You get a deep care and a deep concern. It’s both one-on-one, but it’s also more than that. It’s family to family. That’s why I think it’s true that it goes beyond friendship. It’s deeper than friendship, certainly so far beyond this talk about tolerance and trying to overcome polarization by means of just some kind of “kumbaya” moment. No, we’re talking about two persons whose lives have become enmeshed intellectually, politically, disagreeing and agreeing and so forth. And trying actually to keep it at that very deep level of humanity. What does it mean to really revel in the humanity of somebody, given whatever disagreements or agreements you have? That’s what we’ve been blessed to have as two brothers, you know. It’s really a beautiful thing.
RG: I also want to add that I find Cornel to be a role model. I admire and want to emulate his integrity and his conviction. His willingness to stand up and make sacrifices for what he thinks is right. I want to be that kind of person too. And all of us need role models. All of us need people that we admire and who show us what it’s like to be a person of integrity and conviction.
When I became chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, I needed to be sworn in, and Chief Justice John Roberts kindly agreed to swear me in at the Supreme Court. Well, I wanted to be sworn in on a meaningful Bible, and so I asked the folks at the Harriet Tubman House in Upper New York if I could borrow Harriet Tubman’s Bible, and they kindly gave it to me to be sworn in on. I wanted to be sworn in on the Bible of a great pro-justice hero, a human rights hero. And I asked Cornel to hold the Bible. I wanted Cornel to be there because he represents that kind of integrity.
There’s a funny story. As we were walking up the steps to the Court with the Bible—it’s a big Bible—I think Cornel had it in his hands. He was carrying it. And we were going into the Chief Justice’s chambers to be received and I was to be sworn in, and I saw Cornel catch the eye of a police officer who was standing guard at the Court, and they looked at each other very grimly. And as we got a little farther past and it was safe to ask, I whispered to Cornel, “What was that about with the police officer?” And he said, “Oh, well, that’s the officer that arrested me when I was protesting down here last week.” He said, “Now come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Supreme Court before when I wasn’t getting arrested.” But we were received there, and we had a wonderful time.
CW: We had a good time with Brother Roberts. And, in Charlottesville, this brother was the first one that called to pay my bail.
RG: Well you know, I see that picture over there in this room of Billy Graham, and it reminded me—people don’t know this—but it was Billy Graham who bailed Martin Luther King out of jail in Albany, Georgia. Not Birmingham, that was later. But when King was in jail in Albany.
R&P: It sounds like you both believe your friendship has really made you better people, and it’s a beautiful thing to hear. I’d like to get into some of the disagreements, though, because the question is always: How can we do a better job talking with people that we disagree with? I’m thinking about issues such as marriage or abortion. I’d love for you to share how you have dealt with deep disagreements that you have over political or religious issues.
RG: I think the first thing and probably the most important thing to say is that both of us acknowledge that on those issues that you mention and on other important issues on which we’re divided, and some on which we’re united, these are areas in which reasonable people of good will do disagree. It’s not obvious what the right answers are. These are not easy. People on both sides tend to think they’re easy, they tend to think these answers are self-evident, but they’re not. In each case, there are reasons to be on that side. They’re not just being contrary, or being mean, or being belligerent, or being bigoted. There are reasons.
Now the question is, how do the reasons shake out? What’s the right answer? We both assume there are right answers. We’re not moral relativists. To say that there are reasons militating in this direction or that direction doesn’t mean that the reasons are necessarily conclusive. But you have to acknowledge that there are reasons, and when you acknowledge the reasons and you acknowledge your own fallibility—I could be wrong, he could be wrong—then you’re really in a position to have a serious discussion where you explore the reasons.
We’re both pretty good talkers. Sometimes we’ll be jabbering—it might be late at night or over a glass of wine or something like that—but there are lots of times when our conversations are punctuated by what I bet to someone who is just listening in would seem like an eternity of silence. But what’s going on in there is that we’re both thinking about what was just said. And it’s so wonderful and it pushes us much more toward the truth that neither of us sees as the goal defeating the other. That’s just not what we’re after. We’re not in this to win a victory. The sophists were into that, not Socrates. We’re both disciples of Socrates. We want to get at the truth of the matter.
Now, we consider that two people, whatever their disagreements, who are after the truth, have a common good, a common goal, that is more profound in a certain sense than whatever divides them. They’re not enemies, but rather friends engaged dialectically, to be sure, but nevertheless engaged together cooperatively in the pursuit of truth. If I’m wrong, I want him to show me that I’m wrong so that I can move from a disadvantageous position I’m in—that is being wrong but not knowing it—to the advantageous position of being right.
In my experience with Cornel, he has exactly the same attitude. We see it not only in our conversations with each other, but in our conversations with our students. If a student in one of our seminars is a left-wing dogmatist—and we’ve had a few of those—Cornel is tougher on them than I am. He’s pushing, he’s trying to make them think, because he realizes this is a lot more complicated than this young man or woman thinks, and his task is to educate that kid, which means you have got to unsettle them. You’ve got to get them to appreciate what would cause somebody on the other side of the issue, who is reasonable, who is well intentioned, who is well informed, to come down where he comes down.
CW: And I think that fundamental common ground where we talk about the sanctity and dignity of persons made in the likeness and image of God is crucial. So let me have some hook, some connection, for any kind of critique, be it immanent, or be it external. We had this the other day when we had a trans person raise that issue. Where were we—in Rochester? In Rochester, we said, “Wait, wait, no one is calling into question your sanctity, the respect for your humanity.” The same is true with gay brothers or lesbian sisters when we debate about same-sex marriage and so forth. It’s not in any way demonizing or an exclusion of precious folk from the human family. It’s not even a claim to somehow, you know, “we straight folk are more precious than them,” when Brother Robbie has his critique of same-sex marriage.
So, once you clear that out, then you say, “Now let’s try to get inside of the skin of our fellow critics to see how they are thinking, what leads them to this conclusion, and so forth.” Same is true about our struggles over abortion, when Brother Robbie has a conception of contraception and has a conception of when the precious baby begins. Now, we’re not calling into question the preciousness of the baby. If we have some empirical disagreement, then we go to empirical data and evidence and argue over it and so forth and so on.
RG: Something that we’re both struggling against—and it’s a cultural phenomenon—is the tendency of people to imagine that all we have to go on are our feelings. I sometimes say we now live in an age of feeling. Historians sometimes call the medieval period the Age of Faith, and the Enlightenment period the Age of Reason and the Age of Science. In a certain sense, those are oversimplifications, but there’s a certain sense in which those are true. And in that same sense, it’s true that we live in the Age of Feeling.
Now Cornel and I want to be respectful toward other peoples’ feelings, but we want to take them as teachers, as people responsible for the education of young folk. We want to take people beyond their feelings. We want them to question their feelings. We want them to be open to the reasons that could cause them or should cause them to change their minds. We don’t want people to constantly be slaves of passions, slaves of their emotions, slaves of their feelings forever.
This is not to suggest that we are pushing a stoicism, where we’re asking people to get rid of their feelings or be made out of stone. But we think that feeling is not the most reliable guide to what’s good and bad, right and wrong, true and beautiful. Reason has a very important role to play. You can have reasons to change your mind. Wherever you are right now, you’re not locked into it.
R&P: It sounds like with feelings, part of what you both mean is being offended. “You’ve offended me, when it comes to rights.”
RG: Even more than that, though. Of course, we have a problem with people trying to win arguments by saying, “I’m offended.” That’s not winning an argument. That’s just trying to shut down an argument. That’s like saying to somebody who gives you an argument about evolution. It’s like responding by saying, “The Bible tells me so.” It’s a conversation stopper. We are not in the conversation-stopping business. We’re in the conversation business. We’re in the conversation-promoting business.
But it’s not just advising kids not to shut down the argument by being offended. Very often people form their beliefs just on the basis of feeling. We want to get deeper than that. We want people to understand what Plato and Aristotle understood: that conversation is not just manipulation and rhetoric, that there’s a truth obtaining power there.
R&P: Let’s talk a little bit about the campus culture, because obviously universities also shouldn’t be in the conversation-stopping business. They should be in the conversation business. As you all know, there have been a number of campus protests recently that got into the news. In 2017, after Charles Murray was shouted down at Middlebury College …
RG: … And physically attacked, with Allison Stanger going to the hospital. It took her two years to recover.
R&P: …You all issued a joint statement in support of free speech on campus. I wanted each of you to reflect a bit about these kinds of campus protests. What is it behind some of them that we can better understand? And also, how can those of us who are on the faculty better address these issues with students?
CW: We started building on the rich legacy of John Stuart Mill and his classic 1859 On Liberty, and what it really means to be committed to truth with the fallible capacities that we have. And the need for, not just conversation partners, but strong critics, someone to meet you in the sense that I’m strongest when my critics are strong, so that I’m able to make the stronger case for what I believe with my convictions when my critics are strong.
To think that somehow you can simply put forward an opinion and not be willing to have it contested is not only to make it more difficult for any of us to reach the truth, but also to end up creating a culture of dissemblance in which what is public is simply a moment of manipulation and power, and you never get the kind of openness and vulnerability. The truth-seeking that Brother Robbie is talking about that we’re arguing for presupposes a vulnerability and an openness.
Our campuses have to be campuses in which the students are willing to be vulnerable, unsafe, unsettled, unnerved. And it means we have to cut radically against the grain, be we left, right, center, liberal, conservative, Marxist, reactionary, or whatever.
There has to be a public space that we enter where we engage in disagreement and recognize that we have to not only learn, but in fact we have to learn how to live with the differences. As long as you have human beings, you’re going to have conservatives, liberals, leftists, reactionaries, and if it’s going to be just a matter of domination, then you’re going to wipe out the dissent. And unfortunately, that’s the dominant orientation these days, not just in the United States but around the world. We’re afraid of difference.
RG: I like to think that what’s motivating the protests—even those that go beyond the pale and violate other people’s rights—is the desire to be respected and not subjected to humiliation. I’m sure sometimes that’s the case. I worry that it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a power thing, trying to shut down the opposition. But I certainly honor the desire of people to be respected. I want to be respected.
What we have to get across to our young people is that not only are you not being disrespected, but also you are being respected in the highest sense when someone—especially in an academic institution, whether it’s a fellow student or professor—is unsettling you, is challenging you, is disrupting your way of thinking, forcing you to question your assumptions, even your deepest, identity-forming beliefs. Because that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to lead the examined life and to teach our young people to lead the examined life. The examined life is a life constantly being unsettled. If not, you’re wasting your parents’ money and your time being here.
I know that often the complaint about the protesters—and the shutting down of discussion and the excluding speakers and so forth—is a complaint made by conservatives. I can understand why conservative students and many conservative faculty members feel that they’re being treated unfairly, because often they are being treated unfairly. That’s not to me the fundamental worry. I want to correct any unfairness any time I see it, but what’s more fundamental to me is this attitude, this dogmatism, this group-think, this conformism, that is simply antithetical to the mission of the university. We cannot pursue truth, we cannot transmit truth, we cannot educate our young people and make them truth-seekers and life-long learners, where an ethos of group-think and conformism prevails and where competing points of view aren’t being heard and challenges aren’t being made.
We are hurting our progressive students far more than we’re hurting our conservative students. Our conservative students are getting an education often despite us because they’re constantly being challenged. They’re constantly being required to defend their positions; they’re constantly being required to think. If we’ve got our progressive students sailing through, just going along with whatever the dominant view is on campus—whether it’s about ecology and the environment, whether it’s about abortion, or it’s about sexual morality, or it’s about economic matters, or foreign policy matters—they are the ones who are losing out. They are not getting an education.
R&P: It seems to me that there are different types of cases. There’s Charles Murray, but then there’s Milo Yiannopoulos. No one can say he’s a researcher, that he’s doing any credible, scholarly work. He’s a provocateur and has made astonishingly racist statements. Or there’s Richard Spencer. It seems to me that a lot of these campus protests are about speakers they feel are racist, and they’re saying we do not have to listen to that anymore.
I hear what you’re saying about students have to be exposed to all kinds of ideas, but is there a limit? And what is the limit? Is it racism? Is it things that really do injury to particular groups?
CW: I mean, one is that you want to create a campus environment where the students have cultivated a mature sense of what it is to engage in a quality dialogue. We only have so many weeks. So, if you want to bring conservative, right-wing figures, bring the most sophisticated ones. Milo is not going to be there. The same would be true for the left. The same would be true for the center. There’s a lot of low-grade, mediocre, or less-than-mediocre versions, and there are a lot of sophisticated versions. You would hope the students know that you’ve got limited weeks.
On the other hand, though, I do believe that racists and xenophobes do have a right to lift their voices. I don’t think they necessarily have an entitlement to lift their voices in a university that is committed to high-quality dialogue. It would be like people talking about how the earth is flat. People have a right to tell the world that the earth is flat, but they don’t have a right to be invited to the department of physics at Washington University to defend their claims about the earth being flat. You just don’t have time for that.
The question then becomes, how do we ensure that people have the right to be wrong in a variety of public spheres? Because the Klan does have a right to exist. It’s just unfortunate that the white supremacists in our civilization keep producing their claims in every generation. But they have a right to exist because we can’t go around repressing voices simply because you disagree. Because they would end up repressing our voices, especially if they got in power.
University spaces are very, very distinctive spaces. They’re not on the corner. They’re not soap boxes in the park in that way. I would hope that our students would be the kind of students that would say, “We are committed to robust, uninhibited dialogue across ideology and politics, but we want quality voices.” Milo doesn’t meet that. Spencer doesn’t meet that. You have to be able to distinguish between quality voices, no matter what the ideological camp.
RG: Cornel has hit the nail on the head. The key is quality. You want the best. The best progressive voices, the best conservative voices, the best socialist voices, the best Libertarian voices, the best Catholic voices, the best Protestant voices, the best Jewish voices, the best Muslim voices, the best secularist voices. There are reasonable people of good will and accomplishment representing all those points of view.
We need to be very careful not to let people who have cultural power who will use victim status to shut down debates. So, if you disagree with me, you’re a racist. We’ve got such a broad definition of racism that if you disagree, you’re a racist or a misogynist or a this or a that. That’s a very dangerous thing. That’s putting a lot of power in people’s hands to shut down dissent. And whenever power is in people’s hands to shut down dissent, I think we ought to be very, very worried.
It’s one thing to say there’s just no legitimate reason to have Richard Spencer on campus, and it’s one thing to have a big turnout of protesters. I would certainly say that he has nothing to contribute. He’s not a reasonable person of good will who has an actual argument to make. It’s one thing to say that, but if there’s a double standard and there are people on the left who are no better than Richard Spencer or who are mouthing other bigotries which are acceptable—anti-Catholic, anti-evangelical, or even anti-white—then we have a problem with the double standard.
There’s probably nobody in academia that I disagree with more than Professor Peter Singer, my colleague at Princeton. He’s protested against every few years by the disability rights movement. They come, they chain themselves to the gates at Princeton, and they demand that Princeton University revoke his tenure and terminate his employment at Princeton. Now, Professor Singer defends, among other things, the morality of infanticide. You cannot get further from me than defending the morality of infanticide, and yet I defend Professor Singer. I’ve written op-eds in defense of Professor Singer, I’ve defended him against people who substantively I agree with much more. I defend him, as I have in op-eds and other writings, not out of a mere abstract right to freedom of speech—anybody should be able to say whatever they want. I defend him because he does me the very important service and he does the whole academic community the very important service of unsettling us, of challenging us, of making us think, making us make an argument, making us defend. Although I’m a defender of the pro-life position, which is as far from Singer as you can get, I’ve learned more in my debates with Singer probably than I have from anybody on my side of the debate, because he’s made me think: Why do we value the human being?
It’s not just the abstract right to life. It’s, are you contributing to meaningful learning? Peter Singer is definitely contributing to meaningful learning, although I find his defense of the killing of severely cognitively disabled people or infants abominable. I mean, I’m shocked by that. And yet, he makes me think. Cornel and I, in the statement that you kindly mentioned from 2017, set the standard here. We said we should be prepared to engage thoughtfully and respectively anybody who is prepared to do business in the proper currency of intellectual discourse, which is a currency consisting of reasons, evidence, and arguments.
CW: And I would say the same thing again in terms of the curriculum. Plato has an argument for infanticide in The Republic. Does that mean we ban reading Plato? Or ban reading those sections of The Republic? George Bernard Shaw was a very progressive Fabian socialist, but he was pro-eugenics. Does that mean we don’t put on Major Barbara or we don’t have Heartbreak House in the classical texts? We keep track of what I would consider those evils in Plato’s Republic, those evils in Bernard Shaw’s plays, but that’s part of the conversation. And that’s true even before you get the chance to have interlocutors in the texts themselves.
The history of philosophy is one in which the patriarchy is everywhere, from Plato all the way up to Kant and thereafter. Does that mean somehow that we’re not going to either engage these texts, or downplay their complexity? Because for me, these are evils. Martin Luther, he is the founder of my own Protestant tradition. Anti-Jewish hatred shot through Martin Luther in ways we don’t even have the language for. What does that mean? We have to come to terms with the evil in these texts, the evil in this practice, but also some of those profound formulations that we teach in the classroom. This is what it means to come to terms with the world. The world is shot through with evil: texts, practices, perceptions. But not only evil. We are a very wretched species, but we’ve got some wonderfulness too. But the wretchedness is just so undeniable.
R&P: The presidential election cycle is coming up. There’s a lot of despair that our students feel about the state of American politics today. Where do you see hope? And what inspires you?
RG: Cornel and I have found ourselves in the same position, as we so often have done. In the last election, when Secretary Clinton got the nomination, Cornel was under a lot of pressure from his friends and his allies to get on board, to come out for Clinton, and he wouldn’t do it. His principles told him this was not the right thing to do, and he had to take a lot of abuse. He was accused of not being a team player. He was accused of being a secret Trump supporter. And he voted for Jill Stein, if I remember correctly.
I was in a similar position. I could not bring myself to support Donald Trump. That had in part to do with his policy positions on some important issues, and even more fundamentally to do with character, which I believe, although this is a very unfashionable opinion today, is terribly important in leaders. When I said that in 1998 during the Clinton scandals, all my conservative friends were behind me. The progressives, they said it’s not too important to have character if you have the right policies. Well, in 2016, I just said that same thing, and I turned around and none of my conservative friends were behind me. But I could not support him. So, I ended up casting my vote for Ben Sasse. What I was just trying to do, and I know what Cornel was doing, was just demonstrate a little integrity.
So, that’s what I would say to our young people. I don’t know where this is going to go. None of us knows where this is going to go. The history of humanity, as Cornel points out so often, is the history of catastrophe and devastation. We don’t know where it’s going. Neither of us believes in the so-called progressive theory of history, where things are going to get better and better and better. Neither of us believes in cycles or anything like that, but the future is highly contingent. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. There is nothing that’s definitely going to happen, at least anything in the field of human vision.
But I would say to each young man and each young woman: Demonstrate integrity. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to join us in breaking ranks with the party that you ordinarily support, or you can’t vote for Donald Trump, or you can’t vote for Bernie Sanders, or you can’t vote for anybody because they’re all crooks, and so forth. No, that’s not what it means. But it means to have fidelity to your convictions. If there is any hope, the hope is in young people’s willingness to have integrity, to think for themselves, to be their own best critics, to be open-minded, to engage other people, to treat their fellow citizens, no matter how deep the division is between them politically, not as enemies to be defeated, deplorables, or what have you, but as friends in in the civic life of republican democracy. Civic friendship is so critically important to the success of republican government. I can’t emphasize that enough.
Lincoln, in the midst of that horrific disaster of the Civil War, said in that first inaugural address, “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” How did he put it? “Passion may have strained,” but must never “break our bonds of affection.” And then he said to look to “the better angels of our nature.” I think that’s a kind of prophetic reminder to us that we need to treat each other, no matter how deeply we disagree, as fellow citizens, as civic friends.
CW: Absolutely. And Lincoln in a way is the place to begin, just like Melville in our literature or Morrison in our literature. Lincoln is probably the only U.S. president who had a mature sense of the tragic. We Americans tend to be tied to a very narrow religion of possibility, thinking that every problem can be solved, every constraint can be overcome because we are Americans. We are the chosen people. We don’t have to undergo the same kinds of sufferings and miseries as everybody else in the world. And that’s a lie, that’s a lie, that’s a myth. Lincoln understood that. He understood it in his personality. He understood it in the historical moment. And he understood it before the war. He understood it through the war. That’s why he could still grow and mature, given unbelievable wounds: his son, his wife, his soldiers dead. And what he felt was coming, which was his own impending doom, because of death threats coming his way. So, in that way Lincoln becomes a fascinating model for us.
T.S. Eliot used to say in that wonderful introduction in Pascal’s Pensées that there’s always a demon of doubt in every faith. There’s no mature faith that doesn’t have a dimension of doubt. There’s no mature hope that doesn’t have a dimension of despair. Despair is not a negative thing. He or she who has never despaired has never lived. Despair is something to overcome, just like fear. Anybody who thinks they can live a life without fear, go to the worms now. Because as long as you’re in space and time, you have fear of various sorts. So the question is, what are you going to do with it? Will you be courageous and overcome them, or will you allow those fears to dictate your behavior? You see, you have to work through it. Despair is exactly the same.
We talk about this all the time in the biblical tradition. What is that 32nd chapter of Genesis really about, when Jacob is wrestling with the angels at night? That death in the midnight hour, emerging with a new name: God wrestler, Israel. Wounds but also new energy, bruises but also new vision. That’s a tragic engagement that we get from our Jewish brothers and sisters in Hebrew scripture, and America has always been very suspicious of the tragic. But we’ve got to be able to embrace that and keep fighting. That’s the challenge, to keep trying to bear witness. And we can keep trying to do that with each other, in terms of both wrestling and the darkness, but still have fun with smiles on our faces.