Interfaith Insight - 2022
Whether you call it a terrorist attack on democracy, an insurrection, or just an angry group committing acts of violence, the events last year of January 6 were not a proud day for America. Can we just forget it and move on, or must we understand it more thoroughly in order to prevent it from recurring in the future? Either way the concern for our nation’s future is shared by a majority regardless of political affiliation.
A CBS News poll taken in the closing days of 2021 showed that more than two-thirds of Americans believed Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was the grimmest day for our democracy in recent memory. Nearly as many felt that our democracy and the rule of law is threatened in our country. Nearly 90% reported that intimidation, threatening people, physical harm, destruction of property is never acceptable to achieve political goals. Even more alarming is that over 60% expected to see violence in the future when a presidential candidate has lost an election. In spite of our divisions, these statistics reveal much agreement in our nation, both regarding our fears and in our concerns about what is never acceptable.
Leaders from both parties decried the violence of Jan. 6, with former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush making statements connected to the anniversary of the event. Former Republican Vice President Cheney joined the event in the House of Representatives recognizing the toll of the Capitol attack. He commented that the current situation is “not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years,” while serving in the Bush administration.
In the political arena there will always be differences, in policy, strategy, programs, and fiscal philosophy. These differences need to be debated and resolved in a healthy democratic forum that allows for compromise. When the differences lead to polarization and personal attack, the democratic process becomes toxic. It leads to an atmosphere of distrust and even hate. Violence can unfortunately be the result. When an opponent is seen as not just someone with different ideas, but someone who is evil, compromise is not possible.
But is this the only option before us, as individuals and as a nation? Writing before the events of 2021, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, calls for a renewed emphasis on the basic need to bring people together with kindness and respect. In one of the book’s last chapters, titled “Morality Matters,” he reminds us of the small community of Gander, population 10,000, on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. Most of us never heard of this community until the events of 9/11 brought all air flights to a halt. Thirty-eight planes carrying nearly 7,000 passengers of 97 nationalities were forced to land at the Gander International Airport.
Exhausted, shocked, and disoriented passengers had no idea where they were or what would happen to them. Yet they were met with a surprising sense of welcome. Food was provided, and bus drivers interrupted their strike to transport them to various shelters around the town in schools, churches, and community centers. Residents invited them into their homes so they could shower and refresh. They were given linens and toiletries, as well as toys for the children. Restaurants gave them meals while the phone company provided a bank of phones for them to make calls without charge.
One author described the residents of Gander and surrounding villages as follows: “For the better part of a week … they placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity existed.”
Sacks continues by reminding us that “we need each other” and “we care about one another.” He certainly affirms the role that religion has played over the centuries in reinforcing the moral principles like loving your neighbor, caring for those in need, loving truth, and respecting all persons made in God’s image. But he also sees morality as basic to being human. He concludes, “Morality matters because we cherish relationships and believe that love, friendship, work, and even the occasional encounter of strangers, are less fragile and abrasive when conducted against a shared code of civility and mutuality.”
In a world that seems divided and fragile, we maintain hope.
The challenges of COVID and its variants will be defeated with the help of science and dedicated health professionals. Our bodies will heal.
In the divisions of tribalism, reality and truth will prevail. The soul of our nation will heal.
Morality begins with our caring for others, and it too, will prevail.
Are you optimistic about 2022? Will it be better than 2021 or 2020?
We hoped for the end to the coronavirus last year about this time and
things began to open up. We went to restaurants and public events.
Places of worship restored in-person gathering and travel increased.
But then we learned about Delta and Omicron, not just Greek letters but new variants that spread more rapidly. Travel restrictions did not stop it from becoming worldwide and hospitals again were filled to capacity. We learned more about the threat of the variants, which seem to be more infectious than previous versions. Will this be a never-ending challenge to our health and our health systems?
But as 2021 came to an end we also learned of the death of Archbishop Tutu. He had gone through not just a couple of years of challenge, but decades of oppression during apartheid in South Africa. Through it all he frequently said, “I have never been an optimist. I am a prisoner of hope.” He recognized that hope emerges not out of optimism, but out of faith and action.
In a similar way, evangelical leader and social activist Jim Wallis would say, “Hope means believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.”
But the evidence doesn’t just change on its own; hope requires action. It isn’t just a feeling or having an optimistic attitude. “Rather, hope is a decision,” Wallis writes, “a choice we make because of this thing we call faith.” He said it is the most important thing the faith community can offer to the world.
In this new year, it is the choice we make to be vaccinated, to wear a mask indoors, to do what we can not just for ourselves but for others and the community. From the faith perspective, it is our response to the commandment to “love your neighbor.”
Writing in the Christian Century, publisher Peter Marty noted that hope is very different from optimism; it is not just wishing that things would be different or better.
“Wishing is a flat and powerless venture,” Marty goes on. “I may wish upon a shooting star, or wish for a brand new car. But so what? What does that wishing add up to? Hope goes so much deeper, requiring risk and assuming responsibility.”
The Christian Century also featured an article by theology professor Charles R. Pinches on “How to live in hope.” He writes, “When we speak of hope in connection with love and faith, we are placing it among the three theological virtues. … The theological virtue called hope is linked to action or movement. Hope is a good habit by which we move forward toward a future good that is both possible and difficult to attain. … Difficulty is a part of the definition of hope. This makes the phrase ‘difficult hope’ redundant.”
Pinches notes that the term used for life without hope is “despair,” and Aquinas calls despair the greatest sin. In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he extols “faith, hope, and love … and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) Why then does Aquinas consider the opposite of hope more important than hate, the opposite of the greatest virtue of love? In the absence of faith, I can still act. In the absence of love, even in the midst of hate, I can act and reverse my thinking and restore love. But in the absence of hope, I am paralyzed and nothing can be accomplished -- not even love or faith.
Marty also writes of another hero of the apartheid struggle, Nelson Mandela. In the later part of his 27-year imprisonment, he was visited by his daughter and his new granddaughter who had still not been named. Mandela gave her the name Zaziwe, an African word for hope. Answering the question “Why?” he later wrote, “During all my years in prison, hope never left me.” Marty then concludes, “Hope is what sustains us when we’re not ready to give up on God beaming light into our darkness.”
As people of faith, as well as anyone seeking the common good, let us fight against despair, both personal and in our communities. Even when the evidence is not clear, we make the decision to act and to live in hope. Let us renew our hope and, in the difficult task of working together, take the necessary action to restore our sense of well-being and do what is right for the common good.