Fitting words of wisdom from Moltmann after this weekend’s tragedy in Tucson:
Today the peoples of the earth are entering a shared global history, because they are all mortally endangered, on the one hand by the nuclear threat they pose to one another, and on the other by the ecological crises they share. And the more this global history develops, the more important human rights will become, if we are to build a world-wide human society capable of warding off these perils. Human rights will therefore increasingly become the universally valid framework, capable of winning a general acceptance, by which humane politics are judged and legitimated. The recognition and realization of human rights for all human beings is going to be the factor which decides whether a global human community develops out of this divided and perilous world, or whether human beings destroy themselves and this earth. Because of the extreme danger of the present situation, the authority of human rights must be placed above all the particularist interests of nations, groups, religions and cultures. Today, the religious claims to particularist absoluteness and the ruthless implementation of particularist political interests are a threat to the continued existence of humanity itself.
Moltmann continues by discussing the idea of an open society, one in which people gather together not only out of shared similarity (Aristotle’s “like is only known by like”) but more importantly, out of a dialectical exchange (“other is known only by other”). He continues,
The basic law of a society like this is ‘recognition of the other’ in his or her difference. Societies which develop according to this principle are not closed societies. Nor are they uniform societies, where people are brought into line. They are open societies. They can live not only with different and dissimilar people, but also, as Karl Popper required, with their enemies, too; for they can even make the enmity of their enemies frutiful for the things that are of concern to them.
How is that possible? Must a society’s enemies not be told: either adapt or emigrate? I do not believe so. While the foundation of a society consisting of people who are like each other is normally the love of friends, the foundation of the society made up of the different is, if the worst comes to the worst, the love of enemies. To love our enemies means taking responsibility not just for ourselves and for those who belong to us, but for our enemies too. We then no longer ask merely: how can we defend ourselves against our possible enemies? Our question now is: how can we take away their enmity, so that we can all survive together? In this sense, love of our enemies is the foundation for a shared life in conflicts.
–God for a Secular Society, pages 117-118 and 145-146 (bold mine)
America as a nation is, arguably, a project that can be described as a “society made up of the different.” We hold no national religion, no singular monarch, no required creed other than the idea of freedom and democracy. That idea is one that is by its very definition open and not closed. And yet, there are very real limitations to our freedom, if we are to create a society that does not end in mutual self destruction. (As the Pima County sheriff put so well, “Free speech is not without consequences.”)
Enough has been said already about the need to tone down the national rhetoric that is present in both parties and along both extremes of the political spectrum. (Then again, it’s been said for nearly three years now with stunning regularity, and I haven’t noticed many people taking it to heart…) What I think Moltmann most strongly calls to our attention is the fact that in society, we cannot shun our responsibility for one another and expect to survive or thrive. If we are at all invested in fostering the American project of a society made up of the different, we must hold ourselves and one another accountable in such a way that does not increase enmity but diffuses it.