Legacy and the Human Family

The U.S. is now
widely viewed as
a brutal, bullying
nation that
torture and
operates hideous
prison camps
–Bob Herbert

I’ve been struggling with Bob Herbert’s column about how America is viewed in the world. The problem a responsible, caring citizen faces today is being labeled unpatriotic for questioning the role of the U.S. in the world. It’s the narrative of polar extremes–you’re either with us or against us. I’m not willing to get sucked into a debate over who’s more or less pro-American outside the U.S. or who’s more patriotic within. This is a no-win, name-calling contest that simply leaves us divided. We need an alternative narrative.

As I mull this over, here’s where I come out. I start with three premises. First, we live in an interconnected world. What happens “there” affects us “here.” What we do here affects someone there. It’s a world of cause and effect.

This leads to premise #2: We live in a global community. We are a human family inhabiting a tiny blue speck in the universe. A family is built on relationships and to be healthy and avoid dysfunction we need to keep those relationships in good repair.

Never doubt that
a small group
of thoughtful,
committed citizens
can change the
world. Indeed,
it is the only
thing that
ever has.
–Margaret Mead

This leads to premise #3: We belong to each other. I go beyond this. I believe we belong to God, and to each other.

Some might not agree with this third premise. It’s basic for me, but if you can accept two out of three, I hope you’ll read on.

If the first premise is accurate then it’s imperative for us to understand how our behavior as individuals and as a nation affects other members of the family elsewhere. And if the second is accurate, those activities that strengthen our relationships as a family are more desirable than those that break us apart. And if we accept the third, it makes us responsible for the earth and for each other in a sacred trust, not just an exercise in self-interest.

It also moves us from focusing on individualism to an expansive understanding of our relationships to all living things and to the sacramental value of life in the universe.

This is counter-cultural, given the current state of public conversation in the U.S. When we think like this we quickly move into the realm of meaning and purpose in a more profound way. Such thinking leads us to the belief that we have a transcendent purpose and that the earth upon which we exist is to be treated as a sacred place because it’s an extension of the handiwork of the Creative Spirit; of God.

This view sees life as nurturing and healing. It’s a basic stance toward the human family and the universe. That’s why it’s so frustrating to be called unpatriotic or partisan, for merely examining how people view the United States.

A year ago this 4th of July, I was attending a meeting of the World Association of Christian Communications (WACC) in Cairo, Egypt. The participants in WACC are communicators; moderate, educated professionals working in religious organizations. They are not doctrinaire ideologues, nor political operatives fanning the flames of discontent for political advantage. Neither are they intellectual dilettantes, conversing about ideology. They are informed, intelligent writers, producers and administrators of responsible communications vehicles. They come from every region of the world.

?Freedom from
fear? could be
said to sum
up the whole
philosophy of
human rights.
–Dag Hammarskjld

During the course of considering where they would meet next, the United States was suggested. Their fears surfaced. Many come from places where religious strife already puts Christians at risk, places that might be on a watch list by the U.S. State Department.

As a minority in hostile cultures, they would be subjected to even more careful scrutiny inside their own country as well as by the United States. They are in a double bind, at greater risk at home and vulnerable to rejection by the U.S.

Would they be able to get visas? Would they be targeted in their own countries for attending a meeting in the U.S., now known for its aggressive and vocal evangelical Christian voices? Would they, as Christians, be identified with these voices? For me, the discussion was poignant and painful to hear.

I felt saddened that instead of seeing the U.S. as a protector of human rights, a place where they would be welcomed and received with hospitality, they felt vulnerable and at risk.

This is how far the U.S. has fallen in the eyes of the world. Imagine, if these folks feel this way how a poor, disenfranchised, unemployed young man or woman living in a developing nation must feel.

The voice of
the intelligence ?
is drowned out
by the roar
of fear.
–Dr. Karl A. Menninger

Fear begets fear. Our fear begets their fear. We become afraid of each other.

A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project found that a majority of Britons, Germans and French hold negative attitudes toward the U.S. In Muslim nations, the majorities are even larger and more likely to believe the U.S. war on terror is really about world domination. The report, now a year old, concluded the credibility of the U.S. has been undermined abroad.

Shortly after the WACC meeting, I began to notice op-ed pieces in different publications, by a cross-section of citizens from many countries, all of whom spoke of mistrust of the United States, or worse.

Since then we’ve been through the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the detainment at Guantanamo and the Newsweek story on disrespecting the Koran.

Amnesty International in its Report 2005 says the war on terror has made a mockery of the U.S. claims for human rights.

Instead of being chastened, our leaders attack Amnesty and advocate for a candidate for Ambassador to the U.N. who’s a known bully.

I’m saddened by this state of affairs but I’m not giving it to it. There are faith communities that are accepting their responsibility to nurture positive relationships with others in the human family who believe differently from them. There are those who are committed to ease the suffering of those caught between the bullets, for no fault of their own but for the happenstance of birth. There are those who are advocating that we help the poor to develop their own resources and find their own voice rather than hide behind walls, and putting their lives on the line to do it.

There is no
finer investment
for any community
than putting
milk into babies.
–Winston Churchill

After listening to the fear-based rhetoric of the the national conversation these past several months, I’m coming to believe that the most effective thing progressive people can do is to live these alternatives–pursue justice for all, feed the hungry, seek peace–in concrete acts. Refuting the rhetoric of those who live in fear is not possible because their narrative isn’t based on facts, it’s based on emotions, on fears of the “other.”

That leads to a fourth premise. We need a new narrative. A narrative that nurtures and heals. A narrative of hope.

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