Where exactly do you start when talking about Cornel West?
I mean, the man’s a brilliant academic. Dr. West had an illustrious career at Princeton and has just recently begun teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary (when he’s not teaching at the university of Paris). On top of that, he’s written over 20 books (and by books I mean tomes measured in weight rather than pages), appeared on countless national news panels, and somehow still found time to have a bit part in a couple of The Matrix movies.
Or perhaps I could talk about the man’s political work. West has been one of the few figures to consistently call out the Obama administration on its hypocrisy and atrocities- exemplified best by his outrage on Obama being sworn in on MLK Jr.’s bible.
Here we have a guy who truly gets it. Here we have a major public figure not subject to the same enchantment this administration has somehow managed to maintain over the population at large (why people are still driving around with “Obama 2012” stickers is beyond me).
And Dr. West isn’t just some academic and biting political critic- this is a man who gets down and dirty with actual activism.
Putting himself on the front lines of protests on everything from New York’s racist “Stop and Frisk” Policy to issues of poverty and wealth inequality in general, West has been arrested multiple times for attempting to make a statement. Considering the recent trend in the treatment of protesters in the US…
…You really have to admire the courage of the 60 year old.
And of course, you can’t really talk about Dr. West without talking about religion, either.
For a lot of different reasons, I try to avoid broaching the subject of religion (my own views in particular) here on Culture War Reporters like the plague, but since it’s unavoidable- here it goes.
On top of his academic work and social activism, Cornel West seems to somehow understand that righteousness has more to do with standing up for the oppressed and less to do with singing off-key in a building once a week.
I mean, let’s face it, Christianity as it stands today is easily 50% nominal (if we’re being generous) and of that remaining half, I’d estimate 75% are either vicious legalists or individuals who refuse to question anything they’re taught. Cornel West serves not only as a shining example of what real faith looks like- social justice applied for others and fearless questioning and skepticism applied to the self. Unconditional support for the things the church does right and unimpeachable rage at the (many) things the church does wrong.
It seems these days that to find anyone with a simply consistent worldview is a herculean task- finding someone with a consistent set of principles that are actually good, that’s something else.
And maybe that’s the best way to describe Dr. West: “He’s something else.”
And more than anything else, that seems to be exactly what we need in this day and age. Men and women of immense intelligence who nevertheless understand that for all their academic achievement and recognition, right and wrong isn’t complicated. Men and women who not only hold us to a higher standard, but walk alongside us on the path to that goal- even when it demands sacrifice.
Men and women who cut through 2,000 years of ivory-tower theology and Pharisaical legalism with the understand of the simple message of grace and justice, with the moral backbone to actually practice what they preach.
And on top of all of that, the simple humility to have a sense of humor about themselves.
So please, if you haven’t already, go out and listen to what this man has to say about… well, anything. If there ever was a role model of this (heck, any generation), it’s Dr. Cornel West.