Our moral obligations today

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, progressives of all types, even just good citizens, have been advising everyone to keep calm and not jump to conclusions.  We have been talking about the misuses of identity to expand the perpetrators to a larger circle.  We are waiting to see who did this, and we are reminding ourselves in advance that individuals or small groups will be the culprit, and that not everyone who shares that ethnic identity, religion or political view is also guilty.

We have learned the lessons of 9/11, and we are reminding everyone else of them.

And from the President on down, we are using the language of police work and not the language of war to describe our response.  The perpetrators will be found, and held accountable and justice will be done.

Again, the contrast to the post 9/11 situation could not be clearer.

Our advice is relevant, too the point and sorely needed.

The country made grievous mistakes after 9/11, from the racist harassment of Muslims and Sikhs on a personal level to the unwarranted invasion of Iraq.  I do not believe that we will make the same mistakes, to the same extent, this time around.

On a spiritual level, liberal religion, including Unitarian Universalists, are calling upon people in many ways to practice the virtue self-possession in these critical days.

Self-possession is a free mind. A free mind is the thoughtful exercise of the free will, which is the gift (and curse) given to humanity by God.  And yet, the obstacles to the thoughtful and ethical exercise of our free will are many.

In days like these days, when a harm has been done to us and to people we identify with, we are tempted, in so many ways, to get carried away in group-think: scapegoating, vengeance, bigotry, hatred, violence.  We have been made to feel powerless and there are many cheap, easy and wrong ways to feel powerful in such a situation.

Liberal Religion's message is simple at this time and place: we, you and I, have a moral and ethical obligation to keep our heads, TO POSSESS OURSELVES, to hold on to what we know of right and wrong, and to be self-aware enough to know how our point of view is partial and incomplete.

For example, if we are white and European, we have a moral obligation at this time, to be aware that we see this situation differently than someone who is Muslim, or is of color, or is an immigrant.  We have to take that into account in our thinking.  Self-possession goes hand in hand with self-awareness.

We are in a tender moment right now; we do not know who did this.  Our message is to be brave in that unknowing.  It will become clear soon enough.  Guilt will be determined by the investigators, not by 140 character arguments on Twitter.  Now is the time to inoculate ourselves and everyone we know against racial profiling.

Soon, however, we will know who did this: our work will be to remind ourselves and others that the news media does not determine guilt or innocence but the judicial process.

We know this now, but will be tempted to forget it in the days ahead.  We must possess our minds enough to remember our commitment to due process.

And our work will be to remind ourselves that this crime is the work of a finite number of individuals, and that race, religion, ethnicity or any other marker of identity does not transmit the guilt to others who share it.  

For all we know, the guilty parties are overweight couch potatoes who don't like running.  If so, it doesn't mean that I am guilty too.

This is the liberal religious frame on this situation.  Let the orthodox rail on about the battle of good vs evil, or even the battle against false religions and false gods.  Let the neo-cons carry on about Munich and Churchill and appeasement.  Let the anti-Muslim bigots try to whip up a scapegoating hysteria against Islam itself.  Let the authoritarians talk like Cheney did, about going over to "the dark side" to defend the nation.

We, religious Liberals, including Unitarian Universalist, have a different message for today: you and I, have a moral and ethical obligation to keep our heads, TO POSSESS OURSELVES, to hold on to what we know of right and wrong, and to be self-aware enough to know how our point of view is partial and incomplete.  


  1. Agreed; let's not jump to conclusions and assume that everyone like those who did the bombing are also suspicious or guilty. This can be avoided by viewing people as individuals, but UUs tend to have a problem with that as they are caught up in identity politics.

    Also, you are mixing up your identities anyway. Harassment of someone for their religion would be religious hatred or bigotry, but not racism. There are plenty of white Muslims. For example, the accused brothers have a Chechnian background, from the Caucasus Mountains.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Complicating the Great Reformation: Dialectical Theology (Part 11 of many)

The 8th Principle

the difference between "principles' and "virtues"

Denise Levertov's Poem about Thomas

The Great Reformation (Dialectical Theology, Part 10 of many)