Letters | The decline of the West, taxing the rich

 

THE GOSPEL BEYOND THE WEST

In his article “A World without the West” (March 22), Andrew Bacevich points to the radical change in the geopolitical order that has been taking place for some time now. Among the features of this change that he mentions are “multipolarity, an Eastward shift of economic and military power, the growing irrelevance of Europe—these plus a precipitous decline in America’s global standing.” He is to be commended for his perceptiveness and sober realism.

The decline of the West was first announced in recent times by Oswald Spengler in his two-volume work published almost a hundred years ago. Commonweal does not centrally deal with the philosophy and theology of history, but there are at least two important aspects of that phenomenon that should concern it as a liberal Catholic journal.

The first is the field of global Christianity. As is well known by now, Europe is a post-Christian continent and the growth of Christianity has stalled in the United States. The spread of Christianity is occurring now in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and we are witnessing new cultural and theological expressions associated with this spread, from various forms of liberation theology to varieties of Pentecostal Christianity. They give rise to articulations that are quite different from the discourse that usually appears in these pages, which, as Bacevich points out, remains sadly stuck both in the past and in a “Western” paradigm.

A second aspect worth heeding is in the areas of religious pluralism and the theology of religions, areas that deal with the encounter of Christianity with non-Christian traditions. These areas bring multiculturalism within the North American context and deal as well with the encounter of different religions and cultures that is a marked feature of the post–World War II religious and social scene. “Whose religion is Christianity?” the late Lamin Sanneh of Yale asked in his exposition of “the Gospel beyond the West.” The answer comes in the guise of post-European and post-Western forms of Christian expression that are revolutionizing Christian thought.

Many divinity schools and departments of religious studies in the United States have registered these changes in their courses and curricula. It would serve Commonweal well to pay attention to these changes also. If it does not, it risks the danger of parochialism, insensitivity to cultural and historical change.

Joseph Prabhu
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
California State University, Los Angeles

SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT…

Thank you to Charles R. Morris for his column “Time for a Wealth Tax” (April 12). He’s absolutely right that Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax is a good idea. However, it may be a little timid. Back in 1981 the 99 percent owned 75 percent of all personal wealth. (Those who crave details will find plenty in the “People’s Dividend” petition at Change.org.) Today the 99 percent’s share has declined to 60 percent, due to globalization, automation, and the preferential taxation of the owners of financial assets. Warren’s proposed wealth tax would generate about $200 billion a year. To get back to 75 percent would take giving the 1 percent an annual haircut sufficient to hold their current share of wealth constant and let the rest of us catch up, about $1.5 to $2 trillion a year. Distributing the haircut’s proceeds to everyone in the United States would give every person about $4,500 to $6,000 a year. That might help create a consensus in favor of passing whatever tax laws or constitutional amendments would be necessary to get back to 75 percent.

Tom Clarkson
Vienna, Va.

Published in the May 17, 2019 issue: 
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