The last thing the world needs is another disembodied voice yelling into the ever-deepening abyss of opinion that masquerades as truth. In the intervening years between my last post and this one, I have consciously sought to be silent, to listen deeply for the voices I would not hear if I were instead occupied with scattering the seeds of my own thought and listening intently for the echoes of critique and accolades that might return. But now I must speak. I must respond to the emerging madness of another potential war, this time with Iran. A significant difference between now and then is that I now speak as a citizen of an aggressor nation, a nation I have grown to love and call my own.
What a devastating lack of imagination is shown by those who seek to exercise the right to take or threaten lives. Where is that imagination that transcends violence, that moral imagination that reaches beyond cheap notions of patriotism and embraces the value of life, every life, all lives everywhere? Why is it that the chest beaters are all-too-quick to claim the title of Christianity when they ignore the powerful testimony and moral imagination of the one from whose name the tradition derives its own?
There is a vast difference between the moral imagination inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and the one that claims for the state the monopoly of the use of force. There is an insurmountable gulf between Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies and to pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44) and the assassination of political foes and threats of force against cities and cultural sites. Even by the laws of war, the threats of the president are an awful affront to humanity, not to mention an affront to all that is good and holy about one of the world’s major religions.
Moral courage is sorely lacking in a nation that values zero-sum outcomes and lives by the code that military and political might alone make right irrespective of the morality of any decision or action. Moral courage is lacking because the moral imagination has not been cultivated among certain so-called elites.
Imagination implies creativity. Moral imagination opens the possibility of alternative renderings of political, social, and economic outcomes. As peacebuilder John Paul Lederach puts it, “the moral imagination [is] the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist” (The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, Oxford, 2005, p 28). The moral imagination does not shy away from real-world problems, but creatively rises above simple-minded dualistic solutions and promises to establish new realities that before seemed impossible.
Thankfully there is no lack of moral imagination or moral courage. The voices of so many are ringing out in opposition to yet another ominous expedition of killing and wanton destruction. That these voices are animated by different perspectives – religious and secular – gives me hope that there remains common ground enough on which to build and sustain a new peace movement.