I arrived in London the day after the results of the British referendum. I found many of my friends in a state of shock and dismay. The Brexit vote has revealed the deep fissures in British society- between London and the rest of the country, between economic classes, between urban and rural populations, between Scots and English, and even between generations (the young voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU).
The vast majority of non-Europeans are unaffected by what has happened here. But what has been most troubling- indeed horrifying- was the way the political campaign was fought. It mirrored the vicious obscurantism of the current American presidential campaign.
The “Remain” camp, led by the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, exaggerated the security threats and economic fall-out of leaving the EU. But the “Leave” camp, led by the ambitious Boris Johnson, traded on blatant lies which the tabloid media swallowed wholesale and sold its gullible readers. Lies such as: more than 60 per cent of British legislation emanates from Brussels; an invasion of Poles, Rumanians and Bulgarians (not to mention refugees from North Africa) who will be taking British jobs and enjoying social benefits (while neglecting to speak of the millions of Britons living in the rest of Europe and doing the same); the imminent entry of Turkey into the EU (unlikely, at least for another decade); the UK paying 350 million pounds a week to the EU (while neglecting to mention that more than half that returns in the form of rebates).
The Leave campaign, in other words, openly exploited the racist elements in British society. It played to the jingoism prevalent among older Britons, evoking nostalgic fantasies of an island superpower. The glaring social inequalities in Britain, which understandably fuel deep resentment among the poorer communities, were blamed on the EU and not on the biased austerity programs of the ruling Tory party. Unemployment caused, not by European migrant workers or refugees, but rather by globalisation and robotisation were scarcely addressed. “Taking back control” and “Independence Day” were the popular sound-bites of Johnson and his merry band of little-Englanders. In an age of climate change, international terrorism and technological globalization, these are meaningless slogans.
I am not enamoured with the EU. Quite apart from its unaccountable bureaucracy, it is an inward-looking club bent on building a Fortress Europe and ignoring its responsibilities to the rest of the world. But it has proved to be more effective than its member-states in checking the unethical activities of transnational technology giants and countering right-wing movements in Europe. If a nation-state believes that leaving is better than staying and reforming it from within it needs to give reasons more ethical and compelling than the fear of foreigners. (Ironic that a country which colonized half the world still lives in fear of foreigners).
Britain boasts of being the cradle of democracy. It has developed liberal institutions that other nations have sought to emulate. All the more disturbing, therefore, when both Britain and the USA present to the rest of the world an image of electoral politics that seems to glorify selfishness, racism, intolerance and wilful ignorance. I can imagine the leaders of China or North Korea rubbing their hands in glee, and telling their citizens languishing in local prisons: “You want democracy? Look at what is happening in the US and UK- do you want such men to rule over you?”
A referendum works on the assumption that all voting citizens will be well-informed about the issue that is under dispute. It presupposes a mass media that is truth-seeking and not merely free. And on an issue as serious in its long-term ramifications as whether or not to remain in the EU, it is important that a two-thirds or three-fifths majority be sought rather than a simple majority. I am surprised that David Cameron did not consider this with his legal and constitutional advisors before he called for a referendum.
Isn’t it an illusion to think that we can have a democratic society based purely on constitutions and formal procedures, without paying any attention to the moral formation of individual citizens? The kind of people we are -and become- shapes the kind of society we have (though it is also true that the kind of society we live in shapes what we become).
Civility and moral integrity are the presuppositions of public life, not their product. For instance, the parties to an agreement must already have a sense of what is right, and a willingness to abide by it, even when it is in their own interests not to do so. A contract is no contract at all if it is kept only when it is convenient to do so. Also, if elected public officials cannot be trusted to be concerned with the common good, the louder voices in society will prevail.
The quest for good governance begins with a sense of moral outrage at the undeserved exclusion and humiliation of other human beings. Our moral sensibilities are nurtured principally through our families, schools, and religious communities and institutions. Where most families are dysfunctional, schools merely tuition-factories, universities servants of corporate interests, and religious institutions become inward-looking and self-serving, the roots of a well-functioning democracy wither.
In his justly acclaimed encyclical Laudato Si’ (subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home”) Pope Francis claimed that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor with little direct contact with their problems.”
This observation may partly explain why it is so often the case that media pundits and political soothsayers get it wrong when it comes to predicting election outcomes. The recent election of an ultra-right wing President in Austria has sent shock waves around the European Union. Donald Trump’s surging popularity among the white lower-middle classes in the USA has caught almost everybody by surprise. If left-wing politicians often incite class resentment, the right-wing thrives on fear: the fear of the stranger and foreigners, the fear of rising unemployment, the fear of changing cultural norms.
Many “liberation theologies” have romanticized the poor. They ignored the racist, sexist and homophobic prejudices that are just as prevalent in many poor communities as among the middle classes. Lacking the educational opportunities that rich kids have open to them, such prejudices are clearly less culpable; but, nevertheless, they have to be acknowledged and confronted. Fascists have long known how to exploit them for political advantage.
It is all the more tragic when Christians, whether in the USA or Brazil or Uganda or South Korea, support political candidates simply because the latter claim to be “born again”. On 6 May a Brazilian Supreme Court judge suspended Eduardo Cunha as speaker of the lower house of the Congress, citing his attempt to obstruct a probe into his alleged corruption. He is known as a “born-again Christian” and is head of a right-wing party. Despite facing criminal charges including bribery and hiding money in Swiss bank accounts, Cunha has survived months of attempts by prosecutors and a congressional ethics committee to see him brought to justice. Brazilians refer to him as a real-life Frank Underwood- the corrupt American politician in the popular TV series “House of Cards”. The ruling reflected concerns on the Supreme Court that with Dilma Rousseff suspended, Cunha would have moved up to first on the presidential succession list. Justice Zavaski said in his ruling “there is not the least doubt that the suspect does not meet the minimum personal requirements for fully exercising the functions of speaker of the chamber of deputies at this time.”
I returned last week from a very interesting gathering of hundreds of Christian university students and graduates in Kenya. This conference was part of the public launch of a national campaign against corruption called Hesabika (“Stand Up and Be Counted”) led by the indigenous Kenyan movement affiliated to the organization for which I work. Over 70 per cent of Kenya is identified as “Christian”; yet corruption, nepotism, and dishonesty is rife in public life.
I heard several laments from the podium over the (very un-African) separation of the “spiritual” and the “secular” in the lives of Christians. This is the product of years of Western evangelicalism (not least through popular “Christian TV” channels). But indifference towards politics has given way (just as in the USA since the 1980s) to active support for “born-again” politicians who have proved to be disastrous for their countries. Church leaders naively assume that putting “believers” into public office will automatically bring about a Christian politics. Yet non-Christians seem to follow more biblical values than do many such “believers”. Indeed, dictators generally love “born-again” pastors, for they know how to co-opt them into their patronage networks. Simply offer them state lands for putting up church buildings, public money for evangelistic crusades, laws curtailing the activity of Muslims, and banning homosexuality!
Political naiveté, of course, is not confined to such “born-again” pastors. Self-styled “liberal progressives” would do well to note that diversity for the sake of diversity does not translate into progressive politics. The kind of feminism that Hilary Clinton and her (mostly white, upwardly mobile) supporters espouse is out of touch with the different social realities that American women inhabit and so is blind to the wider structural issues of gender justice. The Bush administration, after all, included Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell: demonstrating that identity politics can be deployed by conservatives just as well as by progressives.
To return to where I began. Surely, church leaders everywhere should be publicly renouncing the politics of fear-mongering. They should, instead, be taking a cue from our Kenyan brethren and standing up (“Hesabika”) for a politics of justice, compassion and honesty.
Why cannot Christians of all nations and denominations unite around the Christian political values articulated in books such as Laudato Si’: viz. pursing a global common good, speaking up for the most exploited and excluded in our societies, unmasking corruption, showing hospitality to refugees, respecting the non-human creation, seeking economic justice above addictive consumerism, and protecting the civil and human rights of all people?
A new edition of my first full-length book Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (1996) has just been published by Wipf & Stock. It is available both on the publisher’s website (http://wipfandstock.com/gods-that-fail-revised-edition.html) and on Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available from Amazon in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, India, Japan, Italy, and Mexico. (If you are buying the hard copy, I prefer you choose the publisher rather than Amazon!)
The Table of Contents can also be found on the Wipf & Stock web page above.
While the book is addressed primarily to thoughtful Christians in “secular” spheres of work, pastors and non-Christians can also read it with profit.
My sequel to this- Subverting Global Myths (IVPAcademic and SPCK, 2008)is still in print.
The UK-based international charity Oxfam reported this week that the world’s richest 62 people now own as much wealth as half the world’s population. Super-rich individuals saw an increase of 44 percent since 2010, taking their cumulative wealth to $1.76 trillion – equivalent to the total owned by 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people. The report also stated that tax havens were helping corporations and individuals to stash away about $7.6 trillion, depriving governments of $190bn in tax revenue every year.
Any regular reader of my Blog will not be surprised by these findings. While conventional economics has long ignored inequality and been obsessed with economic growth as an end in itself, there has been a growing counter-stream of eminent voices (e.g. Anthony Atkinson, Thomas Picketty, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman) who have argued that not only is economic inequality on such a scale morally obscene, but also bad economics.
I have also (following Susan George) called for more studies by economists and anthropologists on the rich than on the poor. How do the super-rich make their fortunes? Who bears the costs? How do they change politics? Why do they need so much money- money that they could never spend in several lifetimes? What does it do to their characters and relationships? Etc.
The most common way that the super-rich in low and middle-income countries have made their fortunes is fairly straightforward: viz. the open plunder of public resources. Think of the Russian oligarchs who bought state enterprises in the 1990s for a song; Chinese business tycoons hand-in-glove with the communist party leaders; ruling political families in Nigeria, Philippines or Sri Lanka who have siphoned off public funds into their undisclosed private accounts in Switzerland, Dubai, Singapore or the Cayman Islands (funds that are almost impossible to recover because of the secrecy enveloping the global banking system).
But is it any different in the U.S and other rich nations?
As I wrote on 18 December 2010 (“Crony Capitalism”), the Clinton and Bush administrations were well-stocked with former senior bankers from Goldman Sachs. Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary who engineered the 2008 bank bailout was himself a former chairman of the bank; so, unsurprisingly, Goldman Sachs was one of the first banks to benefit from the scaremongering that the US Treasury initiated to get the deal passed by both houses of Congress, while its rival Lehman Brothers was allowed to sink.
The world’s single largest funder of research into emerging technologies is the Pentagon- through its Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency). DARPA does not engage in research and development directly, but gives large grants to the top American private universities and private technology companies to do so. Without DARPA funding, the computer revolution would not have happened. DARPA (then called ARPA) funded the research that invented the Internet (initially called ARPANET), as well as the researchers who developed the Graphical User Interface, a version of which you probably see every time you use a computer or smart phone. Siri (the virtual assistant incorporated into Apple’s iPhones) was also a product of DARPA-funded research.
So, U.S. taxpayers fund the research that leads to the high-tech products that are patented and sold around the world by private corporations. The technology billionaires that are spawned write their own pay-checks and salt away their fortunes in offshore tax havens out of reach of the IRS. Sweat-shops on the Mexican side of the U.S-Mexico border, or in Southeast Asia, make the components for the computers and smart phones for some of the world’s most powerful corporations.
Isaac Newton, notes Joseph Stiglitz, was at least modest enough to admit that he stood on the shoulders of giants. But these titans of industry, from Microsoft to Amazon, have no compunction about being free riders. “To say that Apple or Google simply took advantage of the current system is to let them off the hook too easily: the system didn’t just come into being on its own. It was shaped from the start by lobbyists from large multinationals. Companies like General Electric lobbied for, and got, provisions that enabled them to avoid even more taxes. If Apple and Google stand for the opportunities afforded by globalization, their attitudes towards tax avoidance have made them emblematic of what can, and is, going wrong with that system.”
The only candidate in the current U.S. presidential race who has the courage to address these moral issues is Bernie Sanders, the veteran Democrat senator. Unsurprisingly, Sanders’ reported net wealth is $700,000, compared with Hilary Clinton’s net wealth- reportedly between $30-45 million- which positions her closer to Donald Trump. (In the Senate, Sanders voted against the Iraq war, bailing out Wall Street, and the 2001 Patriot Act; Clinton voted for all of them).
Last September Sanders visited Liberty University, a private college founded by the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell. Surprisingly a large number of students received his message positively. “Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.” [http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/09/14/bernie-sanders-makes-rare-appeal-to-evangelicals-at-liberty-university/]
This, in a nutshell, is the obstacle to support for Sanders from the so-called “Bible-believing” wing of the American church. Ironically, it is ignorance of the Bible. The Church helps the poor, while governments help the rich. I can only hope that a Jew like Bernie Sanders will help these Christians go back and read the Hebrew Bible.
The Malaysian Church, in recent decades, was engaged in a prolonged legal battle with their Islamist-influenced government which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to the supreme God and creator. Church leaders received directives stating that several words of Arabic origin, including Allah, Nabi (prophet) and Al Kitab (Bible) were not to be used by non-Muslims as Arabic was the language of Muslims. Usage by Christians would sow the seeds of “confusion”. The import of Malay Bibles printed in Indonesia (which used Allah) was effectively banned.
Christians countered by pointing out that Allah was the common term used to refer to the supreme God long before Islam came into existence in North Africa. Arab Christians continue to worship God as Allah and Malay-speaking Christians have also been using Allah for centuries. Far from sowing “confusion”, it has facilitated communication and promoted mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.
Clearly this was more than a matter of official historical ignorance. Islamists fearful of the conversion of Muslims sought to deter the latter from reading the Bible by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. They have been successful. Christians lost the legal battle, with dire consequences for the future of social justice and religious harmony in Malaysia.
How ironic, then, to find these Islamist arguments flourishing among ultra-conservative Christians in the USA.
Earlier this month, the authorities at Wheaton College, a prominent “evangelical” liberal arts college aligned themselves with the Islamists. They suspended a tenured professor for referring to Jews and Muslims as “people of the book” (a common Qur’anic expression, distinguishing Jews and Christians from polytheistic pagans), and stating that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God”. In the statement of suspension, the professor was accused of not “upholding theological clarity”. The obsession with “clarity” and fear of “confusion”- at the expense of other intellectual virtues such as desiring truth and tolerance of different theological opinions- have long been hallmarks of religious fundamentalisms.
The eminent logician Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) famously drew an important distinction between the referent of a word/phrase and its sense or meaning. He took the example of the planet Venus which is, paradoxically, described as both the “Evening Star” and the “Morning Star”. The two expressions have different senses or meanings, but they have the same referent, namely the planet Venus.
The earliest Christians, most of them Jews, found themselves worshiping Jesus as Lord and ascribing to him all the titles and functions that applied to Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. They were not bi-theists. Nor were they rejecting Yahweh. As they reflected more deeply on their experience, they eventually came to articulate a deeper and fuller understanding of who Yahweh is. They became Trinitarian monotheists.
Arab Christians share many beliefs in common with their Muslim neighbours. Not only do they both worship Allah as the unique creator and sustainer of the universe, but Christians accept most of the 99 Beautiful Names for Allah in the Qur’an. The differences, of course, are crucial and decisive. Belief in God as Trinity, as Incarnate as the person Jesus of Nazareth, as crucified for the salvation of the world… these are foundational to all Christian believing and living. It grieves Christians that these are misunderstood and rejected by Muslims (and Jews). Therein lies the great challenge to communication. Christians ascribe a different narrative identity to Allah and Yahweh. But if there were no overlapping areas of agreement, no dialogue between Christians and Muslims (and Jews) would be possible. (Indeed, even argument would be impossible because argument presupposes that we are arguing about the same subject matter). And Christians, Muslims and Jews have engaged in mutually fruitful dialogue for centuries in Europe, Africa and Asia (along with monotheist Hindus and Sikhs).
All the distinctive Christian truths are paradoxical. Christians, therefore, should be at home with paradoxical thinking and not shun it.
So, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Yes and No. To use Frege’s terminology, the same referent but different senses.
But why is this question not raised in conservative American circles in relation to Jews and Judaism? (This is what makes many suspect that underlying this debate is fear or even animosity towards Muslims. If so, it would be deeply disturbing.)
The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel.
American Christians- especially those studying and working in colleges and universities- cannot remain complacent with theological, historical or political naiveté. Wilful ignorance is inexcusable. Americans have ready access to a wide range of scholarly literature and the latest information technologies that the rest of us envy. They don’t have to watch Fox News or listen to the latest chauvinist or demagogue. Some of the finest biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians are found in the American Church (sadly, it is not their works that are exported to the rest of the world).
Moreover, every American city is multi-cultural and multi-religious. You can meet Christians from all over the world, as well as thoughtful Muslims from every Muslim sect, Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. You can have your prejudices dispelled, your viewpoints and worldviews enlarged through such encounters and friendships.
If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.
Among the inconvenient truths about terrorism that European and American publics avoid facing up to is this: aerial bombardments with drones, cruise missiles and fighter jets are merely expensive, knee-jerk reactions by governments designed to give the semblance of “doing something” to their electorates. They have no clearly defined military or political end in view. If no conventional war has ever been won by air campaigns, how much less likely the unconventional war against ISIL (or al-Qa’ida).
The UK and US governments have clearly not learned from the fiascos in Iraq and Libya. These military adventures left over a million Iraqis killed and the region awash in advanced weapons that have fallen into the hands of new militias of which ISIL is the most dangerous. Indeed, ISIL could be called George W. Bush’s baby. The latter’s post-9/11 “war on terror” was the perfect global recruiting program for Islamist terrorists.
Prior to 9/11 the international community was threatened by a few hundred terrorists in the Hindu Kush mountains. Today there are tens of thousands, and these numbers are bound to swell as every child killed by French, American Russian or British jets becomes a propaganda victory for ISIL. Their leaders must be rubbing their hands with glee as Hollande’s and Cameron’s response to the Paris attacks is just what they sought. It bolsters their apocalyptic scenario of a final war of Islam vs West- and, of course, the ignorant Donald Trumps of the West play right into their hands.
I doubt if the French people, by and large, have any idea of who and what is being bombed in Syria and Iraq. The French President has not told us how many ISIL fighters are occupying the Syrian city of Raqqa with a population of around 200,000; yet this city has been bombed mercilessly by French jets since the Paris attacks. The bombing of oilfields by British jets will only hurt the millions of people who live in ISIL-controlled territory who need diesel for heating, transport and electricity. As for “putting boots on the ground”, I doubt if ISIL fighters are going to engage U.S forces directly; they will do what the Taliban did- melt into the towns and countryside and come back to fight another day.
Instead of bombing oilfields, Western powers could coordinate their national military intelligence services to find answers to such questions as: Who are the middle-men who are buying oil from ISIL and to which states do they sell it? Who is funding ISIL (some, I suspect, are wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that are Western allies!)? How can we better equip and support the Kurds who are the fighters most likely to inflict major causalities on ISIL? How can we help Turkey secure its long border with ISIL-held territory to prevent fresh fighters entering the area? How can we counter ISIL’s populist propaganda in the West and build better community relations in cities where the radicalization of Muslim youth is greatest? I pointed out in a previous Blog post that the Danish city of Aarhus has an excellent program of rehabilitating (rather than incarcerating) young Muslim Danes who went to Syria with romantic ideals of jihad, and came back disillusioned. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/denmark-rehab-isis-fighters_n_5798626.html)
Given that the UN Security Council is united (a rare event!) in denouncing ISIL as a terrorist threat, this is an opportune moment to bring regional and international pressure to bear on the Iraqi and Syrian regimes to accommodate Sunni demands for greater political participation. That would pull the rug from under ISIL which has claimed for itself the role of Sunni liberators. The political situation has changed dramatically now that Russia is also in the fray. Assad, like Saddam and Gaddafi before him, will have be constrained rather than toppled, however repugnant such a solution may be to all of us who care deeply about human rights.
David Cameron was right in telling the British Parliament that this was a battle against “intolerance and fascism”. But the same ideology is rampant across Europe and the U.S., and the EU is making shameful deals with Turkey to take all Syrian refugees (there are already over 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, living in abysmal conditions). Surrendering to collective fear, closing ranks against foreigners, and authorizing governments to sacrifice others for the sake of our “absolute security”- this is to show ourselves as morally bankrupt as ISIL and its supporters. Addressing “intolerance and fascism” at home is the best way the West can show that it retains some aspects of its Christian heritage. At the end of the day, this is a battle between fundamental narratives concerning how we conceive both divinity and humanity.
In a speech expressing his solidarity and sympathy with the French, US President Barack Obama described the brutal and cowardly attack last friday evening as “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
“Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” Obama said. “Those who think they can terrorize the people of France or the values they stand for are wrong. … The American people draw strength from the French people’s commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, égalité, fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but are values that we share.”
And in a message of solidarity to the people of France, the British Prime Minister David Cameron he said: “Your values are our values, your pain is our pain, your fight is our fight.” He added: “Today the British and French peoples stand together as we have so often before in our history when confronted by evil.”
Further, “These were innocent victims enjoying a Friday night out with friends and family, no doubt at the end of a hard week. They were not seeking to harm anyone, they were simply going about their way of life – our way of life.”
The responses of President Obama and David Cameron to Friday night’s terrorist outrages in Paris reveal, once again, just how mired such Western political leaders are in self-righteous hypocrisy, historical naiveté and double standards.
How ironic that I should be reading at the present moment a marvellous book (The Guardians) by the Harvard historian Susan Pedersen on the Mandates Commission of the short-lived League of Nations which sought, with limited success, to curb the acquisitiveness of the French and British imperialists after the Great war of 1914-1918 and make them accountable to international opinion. The British and French were at each others’ throats when it came to the division of Africa and the Middle East, following the defeat of the Germans and Ottomans, finally settling for the French creation of new states in Syria and Lebanon while Britain had sole jurisdiction over Palestine and Mesopotamia (later Iraq). As for West Africa, it was the main foreign recruiting ground for the French army until well into the 1920s. A common history of rapacity and feelings of civilizational superiority – but I doubt if this is what Cameron meant when speaking of “our shared values” and ‘our way of life”.
How ironic, too, that Cameron is right now lavishly entertaining the Indian Prime Minister Modi who, when state minister of Gujarat, presided over the slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims by right-wing “Hindu” mobs. How was the terror experienced by such Muslims in Gujarat (who were also “not seeking to harm anyone, they were simply going about their way of life”) different to that experienced by Parisians?
A few weeks ago, Cameron was again rolling out the red carpet, this time to the Chinese President- demonstrating once more that “British values” include kowtowing to despots and turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity so long as it benefits the British economy. The church pastors, human rights and pro-democracy activist, and journalists who have been killed or imprisoned in China carry little or no significance in the eyes of British and American governments or business leaders.
As for President Obama- of course, the carnage inflicted on the French is an attack on all of humanity, but so are aerial bombardments of Palestinian families, suicide-bombings of Shi’a mosques in Pakistan and the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria. Are these no less an attack “on all of humanity and the universal values that we share”? And what is it exactly that an American and a Frenchman share that the rest of us do not?
Perhaps we should re-phrase Obama’s speech thus: “We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté, égalité, fraternité are not only values that the French people have (fitfully and unevenly) cared about- just like the rest of us- but that we should all repent of our complicity in historical injustices and renew our collective commitment to pursue justice and peace for all humanity.”
I wish there were American and European Christians who would openly raise these questions in their media (print and virtual), colleges and universities, and political assemblies! It would be a powerful demonstration of the distinctiveness of the Kingdom of God and how the Gospel liberates people from the self-righteous parochialism that surfaces even in times of national tragedy.