"Where is our national conscience?"
Where Is Our National Conscience?
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more
to the abundance of those who have much. It's whether we provide enough for
those who have too little."
-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"Mankind was my business. The dealings of my trade
were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"
-The Ghost of Jacob Marley
Americans have long been enchanted by the story of our own
magnificence. Deep in our national psyche lies the myth of our divine
exceptionalism. As children, we were read the great American fairytale - the
one about the precious God-blessed paradise, and its shining "city upon a
hill", whose holy light leads the way in a dark and unholy world. As adults,
we're still reading this story, only now to our own children.
Viewing ourselves as the embodiment of absolute goodness
in a world of evil, and of justice in a world unjust, we mistake our methods
as entirely wholesome, and our purpose as completely pure. We even go so far
as to sing "God Bless America" at our baseball games, and put "God Bless
America" bumper stickers on our cars, believing somehow that America is
divinely entitled, deserving of God's special favor.
God, indeed, has blessed America, abundantly, as He has in
varying ways all nations and peoples of His earth. We live in a time of
unparalleled abundance. Our nation is blessed with riches and possibilities
far beyond anything imagined by our ancestors. That we should be so
fortunate to live in America at this time in history cannot be understated.
How is it, then, that in the midst of all this greatness
we are giving unwitting consent to allowing more and more of our fellow
citizens, disproportionately children, to fall into vulnerability, and into
poverty? We profess to pollsters a high regard for "moral values", and yet
why isn't poverty immoral? Why isn't lack of medical care immoral? Surely
there is no more commanding moral imperative than to "value" the poor and
the vulnerable, for whom the God of all religions admonishes us to care?
That as a people we take so little interest in the troubles of those less
fortunate demonstrates plainly that America is failing to honor God's
We esteem ourselves an advanced society, and
technologically we are. Yet as a nation obsessed with money and possessions,
celebrity and sport, we are not advanced morally or spiritually. As a
culture that has established monetary criteria for success or failure, we
are not advanced morally or spiritually. As a society that increasingly
misuses religion as justification for intolerance and division, we are not
advanced morally or spiritually.
A moral culture is defined through tolerance and
compassion, and respect for the image of God in every person. A moral
culture has a national conscience, upon which weighs heavily the plight of
the nation's poor, and its vulnerable. In this way, a nation honors God's
And where is our national conscience? Do
we still have one? Parading a hatred of homosexuality under the banner of
"moral values" is not the same as having a national conscience. Pushing an
aggressive agenda of sexual morality legislation is not the same as having a
national conscience. How can one read religious texts and find justification
for such intolerance when others find inspiration for charity?
America does not have a money problem - it has a
priorities problem. We silently tolerate widespread poverty and blatant
inequalities. We give tax cuts to the wealthy, and budget cuts to the poor.
We allow forty percent of our fellow citizens to go without health care. We
demand lower levels of government spending, thereby allowing higher levels
of economic inequality. All this, even though the provision of decent
subsistence, shelter, and health care are well within our national capacity
If, as was apparent this past election, Americans across
the political spectrum are to inject religion into the national political
conversation, it must first and foremost be done with the common
understanding that God is not partisan. Religion is a source of wisdom,
strength, and moral clarity, not a source of words to be used to gain
political advantage. Religion, if it is to be used politically at all, must
be used only to rediscover the sense of the preciousness of every human
being, our fundamental connectedness, and the responsibility we all share
towards the common good.
Our greatest challenge if we are to remain a great nation
is not terrorism, and not Iraq. Our greatest challenge is to recover our
national conscience. Many will choose to do this with the help of religion,
and some without. But the only way to honor God's blessing of America is to
become conquerors of poverty and ignorance, and not remain defenders of
greed and arrogance. Only in this way can we actually be as good as we
already see ourselves.
November 19, 2004
The author adds: Please feel free and encouraged to
pass this along to anyone you wish. Thank you. Peace this holiday season.
John Preston argues that
progressives failed to impact the election effectively because "we haven't
been explicit enough in connecting faith to our morality and politics."
[11-11-04, posted here 11-22-04]
Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. has raised a post election question I have often
"Christian Left, where are you?" By "left" I assume he
means the moderates and progressive church members who are not the "born
again" or other right wingers who turned out to vote their morality in favor
of the President. The latter talked about politics in church, understanding
that national politics has a large impact on our morality, whether of the
personal or social variety.
Did Christian Progressives not understand that our
morality is expressed in our social policies? I think not. We progressives
certainly understand that social issues of war and peace, social and
economic justice, and preserving a sustainable earth are huge moral issues
that reflect our fundamental human values. But, unfortunately, we haven't
yet learned to talk about it in church. We haven't been explicit enough in
connecting faith to our morality and politics. And, our silence will now
continue to haunt us as moral choices we do not favor will no doubt prevail.
It's not that the main line denominations have been silent in the courts of
the Church above the congregation level. The failure is at the grassroots
level where clerical and lay leadership have not been courageous or far
sighted enough to initiate a moral dialogue based on our faith. Preaching
which includes way too little of the social gospel is all too common.
If the love, justice, and peace we espouse with the lips
of faith are to be realized on this vulnerable planet we need more than ever
to bridge the gap between our belief and our vote.
Karen Kiser appreciates Gene
TeSelle's analysis of the election, but adds that Kerry lost for some other
reasons as well.
[Received 11-11-04, posted 11-22-04]
It was a very good analysis by Teselle. However, people
vote for a candidate and also for his wife for president. John Kerry lost
the vote that he needed because he never gave voters a vision. He just
responded to the Bush Administration and relentlessly attacked the person of
George Bush. As to his wife, she did not want the job of first lady and most
voters love Laura Bush. Kerry's election was doomed for failure because
voters did not know him as a person. It is all about trust.