Learning to Live


Learning to Live

Colton Bernasol

Dear Readers,

I am happy to introduce Convictions, a new offering from BitterSweet Monthly. Grounded in commitments to reject cynicism, defy apathy, and celebrate the good, these short essays will wrestle with the place of ethics in society.

Why Convictions?

A conviction is a belief arrived at through sustained reflection and concrete engagement in the world. Convictions form over time as they are tested in the world through different experiences and subject to dialogue with others. In this sense, they are beliefs open to and developed both by conversation and action, since they are constantly shaped and clarified whenever we encounter different perspectives and experiences. Personal experience, social analysis, moral inquiry, and ethical integrity give birth to the open-yet-resilient beliefs I think of as convictions.

But convictions develop within contexts. And in the context of our public life, many people are bogged down in pessimism and indifference, these dispositions fueled by injustices much larger than any single individual — racism and capitalism, colonialism, police brutality, religious abuse, economic disenfranchisement, war, sickness, widespread drug-addiction. Often, public life feels like life awaiting inevitable and ugly death. Within this context it is easy to despair, perhaps impossible not to despair. At least for me.

Some time ago, I told a friend that I felt as though I was being stabbed by the world, that I no longer believed in the meaningfulness of religious vocabulary, traditional church communities, and that my study of much philosophy, ethics, and Christianity offered little resources for apprehending or responding to our context. The word “God” ceased to mean anything at all, and to invoke the divine in light of my tormented inner life, the raw violence against Black, Asian, and Brown life, the rise of white nationalism, and so much collective indifference offered little comfort. I was trapped, surrounded, snuggled by despair; it was outside and inside me; I wanted to be free.

This despair is real. And oftentimes, moments of despair are unavoidable. But what does it look like to think and imagine freedom within this context? To summon imagination, intellect, and resilience to reflect upon and bear witness to another word without diminishing the seriousness of our contemporary situations?

What was my way out of despair? Honestly, it arrived from the outside, without my own doing. I began to meet individuals and communities who are actively fighting against these collective injustices, witnesses attempting to struggle for another world — in writing, teaching, organizing, and protesting. Drawing upon the tradition of Black thought, Vincent Lloyd calls such activism the “struggle for dignity.” Today intellectuals, activists, pastors, labor organizers, and everyday people are reflecting on and marching in the name of this struggle; they are condemning the oppression of Black life; they are organizing against Asian American violence; they are denouncing hatred aimed at queer friends and family; they are demanding accountability for the ongoing injustices perpetrated against this land’s First Nations; they are fighting against climate change. In sum, they are fighting against despair.

Reflecting upon these movements gives me hope; they have helped me to discover God at work in the margins of our public life. And in these movements I see a deep sense of conviction that liberation and the common good are worth reflecting upon, struggling for, and celebrating. It is these sites of struggle for liberation in the face of despair that reveal the motivating impulse behind Convictions.

This monthly offering will explore ethical, religious, and nonreligious convictions, how they complicate or expand our understanding of society, and in turn, the ways we act in it. We will publish essays written in the spirit of what cultural critic and public intellectual Edward Said called amateurism, “a spirit of care and affection”— of passion — for dialogue about ethics and public life. Through dialogue across sometimes shared and sometimes different convictions, we hope to foster a space where readers are inspired to be more thoughtful and active in a world plagued by despair and apathy.

Welcome to Convictions, a new BitterSweet Monthly offering.

Editor's Note

Kate Schmidgall 2022 color
Kate Sig

Kate Schmidgall

Editor-in-Chief, BitterSweet Monthly

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