Taking responsibility for our enemies

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.


  1. I would love to see you do a series on this.

  2. “if we are to create a society that does not end in mutual self destruction.”
    Danielle, then you quote the sheriff who turns a nonpolitical event into a partisan attack.

    I learned something about this event. Jared Loughner had serious mental problems, and there was more in his past for the Right to throw mud at the Left. The Left threw mud of accusations of the Right being responsible for motivating the killings. Again the Right had more on Loughner to blame the Left. The sheriff was one of the ones to first start throwing mud, and you throw him into your article.

    “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” I saw the main thinkers on the right address a defense against the accusations, but the thrust of the effort was to address the mental illness. I saw the left use the mass murders as political fodder.

    In this case there was a stark difference of who responded correctly. The breakdown here was with the sheriffs department, and their encounters with Loughner, and the AZ’s mental health department. There should have been lethal security around to blow Loughner’s brains out with a sane person’s gun. It should have been Loughner’s brains spread out on the Safeway parking lot. The sheriff obviously didn’t provide any security for the event.

  3. Hi John,

    I quoted the sheriff because I thought what he said rang true. We often forget (all of us) that our freedom is not to be used without discretion. Paul certainly instructs us not to use our freedom carelessly. My post and my intentions were not meant to be partisan in any way. Quite the opposite- I was attempting to hold both sides of the political spectrum accountable for the way they were slinging mud at one another. I think our nation’s politicized reaction has little to do with the mentally ill gunman and far more to do with our desire for power.

    Regardless of what you think of the sheriff as a person, do you not agree with his quote?

  4. John EdmondJanuary 24, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Pima County, Arizona, sheriff Clarence Dupnik:

    * “one party is trying to do something to make this country a better country and the other party is trying to block them.” Non-political?

    * Blamed Arizona for becoming a “mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” – No evidence that Loughner had any thinking in regards to illegal immigration.

    * ““I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what (we) see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in. And I think it’s time that we do the soul-searching.”

    Other than the Daily Kos and Keith Olbermann, the sheriff was the spear tip of the mud slinging. The context of your quote was political, and by evidence collected about the event of the shooting, we – as Americans – are dealing with a MENTAL HEALTH issue and a SECURITY issue of public figures. You are throwing into your article on of the most partisan political persons of this shooting event.

    The Republicans have already been referred to as Nazis on the House floor. This is not going to change. Again, the AZ shooting wasn’t even about public rhetoric. Try to make your theology apply to realityville and not cloud 9.

    A church will naturally fall into the camp of any political movement that minimizes government, unless the leader of the church empowers themselves by aligning with the advancement of government empowerment policies. The code and regulations, and in some cases taxes, that are imposed on churches – that have to manage their own property – will force a congregation to naturally tilt minimal government politics. However the focus of the church should be the transformation of its neighbors through love and the work of Christ. The top priority of a congregation should be bringing people into Christ. A person is in serious danger if the die outside of Christ, and any position that is opposed to acknowledging that – such as Christian Univeralism, see Tony Jones Blog – is not loving people. Social justice may be an issue to address, but it must not take priority of bringing people into Christ. You know what I mean when I say “in Christ.”

  5. John,
    I certainly hear a lot of passion and concern in your comments. It is clear that you identify with the politics of the right, and that you understandably have a reaction to comments made by a sheriff on the other side of the political aisle. You in no way are required to agree with him on political matters. However, my post was a way to discuss what became the national conversation after the Tucson tragedy- the state of civility in our national discourse. It is certainly not the first time I’ve discussed it, nor will it likely be the last. Everyone acknowledges that the shooter was mentally ill; but as off-topic as it may be, the national response became for a time about how we speak to one another, what words we use, and how responsible they are (or aren’t). As a Christian, I can’t imagine ever thinking that conversation is a bad thing- or an unnecessary thing- to discuss, even when it comes about in a strange way. Now more than ever, I think it’s important to talk about kindness and civility when discussing our differences, whether that’s on the news, in the papers, or in blog comments. That doesn’t mean getting rid of your own opinion- it just means saying it in a way that is not rude or inciteful.

    And regardless of the politics of the sheriff in question, I can absolutely agree that the “vitreolic rhetoric” in television and media has made this country into something less than ideal. And I can add that as people who follow Jesus, we should adhere to a far higher standard than our national media has shown.

  6. I concede your point, Danielle.

    However the sheriff is a political partisan lightening rod, and a person that deserves strong scrutiny for a number of things concerning this shooting.

    Thank you for the response.

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