Musing on Directions I am taking

Most of you know that I love to read. At present, I am beginning to renew my acquaintance with Eric Hoffer, the American blue-collar philosopher who wrote a number of books on change, society, and extremism. Hoffer was an unusual man, spending much of his life on the road, sometimes as a hobo.

Born in New York in 1902, Hoffer left the city upon the death of his father, a cabinetmaker. He moved to Los Angeles where he lived on skid row for many years while reading voraciously and occasionally writing. He decided to become a migrant worker, and during a winter, he became a gold prospector and was snowed into a cabin where he read the philosophy of Michel de Montigne and was impressed with his writings. From this experience and his migratory lifestyle, he became increasingly interested in the American underclass. Hoffer was not formally educated, but read voraciously: collecting library cards wherever he travelled. He finally settled in San Francisco in 1941, where he worked as a longshoreman when he was declared unfit for the military because of a hernia. As he had done before that time, he continued to read at the public library.

Hoffer's first book, The True Believer, is an American classic in social psychology. In it he explores his belief that fanaticism and self-righteousness are rooted in self-hatred, self-doubt, and insecurity. As we face increasing levels of fanaticism both here and abroad, I have decided to re-acquaint myself with the works of this fascinating intellectual philosopher longshoreman.

I am increasingly concerned with the growth of the gap between rich and poor in our nation, and with the increase in meanness disguising itself righteously as anti-immigrant concern. I also fear the dramatic increase in hate groups, racist organizations, and nativist and militia groups in our nation. Using the war on terror, immigration, and Barack Obama's race as goads to spur hatred, such groups today mirror some of the dynamics which led Germany into Nazism. It is a fearful time.

As a Christian minister, such things bother me deeply. I am looking for ways to better understand such issues so I can be more effective in standing against them. I believe that a reacquaintance with Hoffer's works may give me useful insights into the task ahead of me.

This may give you an insight into my reading and motivation as the drama of daily life continues to unfold in America. It is my hope that Christian Americans may stand against the rise of such evils as nativism and racism, and that we may one day lead our nation and our world on the path to peace.

Curtis Rivers
1/20/11

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