“Trickle Up”: The Theology of Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

Did Pete Seeger have a theology?

I think so, and it is best captured in a song he wrote toward the end of his life, “God’s Counting on You, God’s counting on me.”

There’s theological anthropology, a doctrine of creation, eschatology and a theology of history.  Listen to it here and you’ll see the themes: we are one humanity, we have one planet, what we do affects eternity, and if we work together we can solve these problems.

This perspective gave Seeger a theology of economics:

It’s time to turn things around

Trickle up, not trickle down

God’s counting on me

God’s counting on you

“Trickle down” is what is broken about our economy, and our theologies, because we do not respect that humanity is one.

Pete Seeger’s music is a deeply spiritual influence in my life.  This week, when Seeger died, I wrote about that influence for the Huffington Post.  “One of the reasons I believe a better world is possible is because I can hear the voice of Pete Seeger in my head, singing We Shall Overcome. “We are not afraid,” sang Seeger, and credited the young leaders of the Civil Rights movement for teaching that. “Perfect love casts out fear,” scripture teaches (1 John 4:18).”

I was chastised in comments that “Pete Seeger was a humanist.”

But in his interview with Beliefnet, Seeger himself had moved toward a more universal spirituality. “[I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

Seeger is “hoping we’ll all pull through.”  That doesn’t happen, in theology or in economics, unless it’s “me and you.”

Think that sounds simple? I had a professor of mysticism who used to say, “Simplicity is compacted complexity.”

That’s “God’s Counting on You, God’s Counting on Me.” Compacted complexity.

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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