The Idols Will Bow Out

John LaFarge was a Jesuit priest and a leader in the fight against racism in America in the 1930’s and 40’s. Segregation and racial injustice were so deeply embedded in the culture then, that he cautioned those working with him that they would be like missionaries dealing with foreign people “bound by tribal customs and taboos.”

Racism and racial injustice, he wrote, were like beloved idols in the culture. “The idols will bow out only when people have become sufficiently enlightened to wish to remove them themselves.”

That’s still a good message for activists I think.

Although in our advocacy for food ethics we certainly don’t face the kinds of obstacles and threats that John LaFarge faced in his day, sometimes it does feel a little like we too are missionaries in a foreign land, trying to spread our message in a culture deeply devoted to resisting it. But I like how Fr. LaFarge put it. It’s not our place to compel people to behave differently. Our goal should be to educate and inform. Then, if people become sufficiently enlightened, they will abandon their idols themselves. That’s our hope at least.


12 comments on “The Idols Will Bow Out

  1. avwalters says:

    Oh, if only we had the time to let this play out at the slow rate of enlightenment. Because, as you point out, LaFarge fought racism in the 30’s and 40’s. Yet, we are still confronted everyday with the scourge of racism. Moreover, the ugly seed of racism is manipulated by those elements in society who benefit from having people at each other’s throats, instead of at theirs.
    Food, and how we grow it, must play an intrinsic part in the changes needed to bring climate change to a level of sustainable–and we don’t have centuries in which to do it. By most calculations, we have decades, at best. Regenerative agriculture can and should play a big part in that turnaround, but nowhere in the world is ‘conventional’ agriculture more entrenched than here. In food, we’re not ‘bound by tribal customs and taboos,’ we’re dominated by BigAg money. It’s in the fiber of the university systems and in the way government promotes and regulates agriculture. ‘Conventional farming,’ that is, better living through chemistry, has only been with us for sixty or seventy years, and yet it has undermined healthier and sustainable methods and communities. Today, so-called modern farming is an extractive industry–trading our precious topsoils for the convenience of corporate farming from the comfort of an air-conditioned office, or tractor behemoth. Pre-WW2 farming built the soils, modern farming strips the soils.
    Regenerative farming (organic and permaculture systems) take excess carbon in the atmosphere and put it back into the soils. It builds healthy bacterial ecosystems and organic materials in the soils, holding moisture and nutrients where the plants can use them. Returning to healthier farming and food may hold the key to the carbon trapping needed to keep our planet habitable. Can we wait for the slow arc of enlightenment, when the monied few have such a stake in the status quo?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bill says:

      Well said, as always. Of course I don’t advocate that we just passively wait for folks to become enlightened. I prefer that those of us who are called to this movement work passionately and energetically to spread our message and bring about change. I see the tide beginning to turn and I’m encouraged by that.

      By the way, LaFarge’s father (also John LaFarge) was an artist whose work you may know.


      • avwalters says:

        Ah. I knew of the father as a glass artist. (One with a rivalry with Tiffany.) He (the father) was also an acquaintance of the Adams family–and travelled with Henry Adams.


  2. bobraxton says:

    be the change I want to see in the world

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joanna says:

    A timely reminder for me, as I think on the reactions to the refugee situation here in Europe. Sometimes I am encouraged and sometimes I am discouraged. I have only tentatively stepped into the realm of challenging some on their posts, but I feel a bigger response is needed. So educate and inform… good thoughts


    • Bill says:

      I am both encouraged and discouraged too. But overall I’m impressed with the generally charitable response to the crisis. Even in places where the official response is harsh, the people themselves are showing mercy and love.


      • Joanna says:

        Wish I could say the same here for Latvia, but not so far. People here are naturally cautious with good reason and the rhetoric gets very muddy from different political standpoints added to by the infopropaganda from our Eastern neighbour – which aims to divide no matter what viewpoint is taken. Some clarity and clear, reassuring voices need to be heard


  4. EllaDee says:

    I think if we do what we do, speak up as the voice of reason, and see ourselves as mirrors reflecting light and love, positivity and information then we’ll engage people’s attention and interest. There’s more than enough self interested agendas, shoulds, hates, and fears…


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