Shared Sacrifice

President Obama’s debt commission is calling for shared sacrifice. We all know that’s what it’s going to take, in order to reduce our collective debt– and it’s refreshing to hear Bowles and Simpson say so.

“Shared sacrifice,” while not explicitly religious, is certainly a moral good. For a family, community, or nation to share sacrifice means that individuals give up something for themselves as individuals, in order to benefit the larger whole. If the definition of evil is “to be turned back on oneself,” then the definition of goodness is something like shared sacrifice: to be turned outward, toward the well-being of others.

The question that I want to explore more fully in an upcoming post is: do we, as a culture, still have what it takes to “share sacrifice?”

The Christian Science Monitor’s report:

The Democrat and Republican who cochair President Obama’s debt commission haven’t offered a magic fix for federal deficits, but they’ve tried to make one point loud and clear: Answers to America’s fiscal challenges will involve “shared sacrifice.”

Erskine Bowles (D) and Alan Simpson (R) outlined a plan this week designed to keep US public debt from growing out of control. It’s also designed to show that major progress is possible if Americans agree to make tough compromises.Yes, this means things like paying more in taxes and working longer before becoming eligible for Social Security checks.

“Throughout our history, Americans have always been willing to sacrifice to make our nation stronger over the long haul,” former White House Chief of Staff Bowles and former Senator Simpson write in their report. “That’s the promise of America: to give our children and grandchildren a better life.”

via To reduce national debt, ‘shared sacrifice’ necessary, deficit chairs say – CSMonitor.com.

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Same-sex Marriage: The Strong Version of the Conservative Argument

Two arguments against the recognition of same-sex marriage are: 1. that it goes against the tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman; and 2. that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law. Neither argument is trifling. The second argument– that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law– is the one that so-called “conservatives” need to trace more finely.

If they did trace it more finely, it would go something like this: Humanity has a special relationship to God. God is our Creator; we are God’s creatures. Our purpose on Earth is to praise and glorify God, which means to show forth– in thought, word, and deed– the divine image in which we are made, and to manifest the life of God in our lives. One of God’s most powerful attributes is that God creates; God brings forth life– in a profound way, God’s very essence is Life itself. Therefore, to create– and especially to create life– is a sacred power in the human being, precisely because of its closeness to God’s own creating, creative nature. Homosexual sex is against natural moral law because such sex does not– cannot– produce life, and is therefore contrary to humanity’s purpose in life– which, again, is to manifest the life of God in our lives. (Please bear in mind that I am not owning this argument. I am merely setting it forth).

Most conservative arguments against same-sex marriage stop at moralizing (heterosexual sex is good; homosexual sex is bad– it says so in the Bible), and don’t reveal the moral and theological reasoning behind the conclusion. Liberals are rightly critical this kind of peremptory moral judgment.

For their part, liberals have largely failed to engage the questions that this strong version of the conservative argument raises, namely, What is humanity’s relationship to God?; and How does sexuality relate to the purpose of human life?

Rights and Right– Part Two

As a reminder, the end of the Anti-Defamation League’s statement on the Cordoba Mosque contains this helpful distinction between rights and right:

But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

What’s missing in this moral judgment are many other factors, in addition to the one– the conceivable pain felt by some victims– that the ADL cites. Here are some others– some with more import than others, but all relevant:

1. The exact  location of the proposed Islamic center is morally relevant. It makes a difference whether this location is within the footprint of one of the towers; within the 16-acre World Trade Center site; or two blocks north of that site. Any moral objection to building an Islamic Center/mosque in this part of Manhattan is stronger, the closer it is to the tower footprints. The exact location is 2 blocks north of the 16-acre site. I would say: close enough to be pertinent; not close enough to carry significant moral weight.

2. While it is useful to distinguish rights (legal permissibility) from right (morally correct judgment), the two are related. The legality/illegality of the process of acquiring the property and getting necessary planning committee approval is morally relevant. This was done legally. I would say: this fact weakens the moral case against the Cordoba mosque proposal.

3. The funding for the project is morally relevant. I would say: If the Cordoba Initiative is being funded by the same people who fund Hamas and Hezbollah, this would morally de-legitimize the project.

4. The stated mission of the Islamic Center is morally relevant. Here it is: “Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.” I would say: in the moral equation, this is compellingly on the side of the good.

5. Any spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative is morally relevant: the more distant the connection, the weaker the moral argument against the mosque location.  As in Christianity, there is a spectrum of Islamic belief and practice; and then, even beyond legitimate differences within a religion, some people do things in the name of a religion that are, in fact, diabolical. I would say: there is no spiritual connection between the 9/11 murderers and the Cordoba Initiative– the 9/11 murderers served a spirit of death; the Cordoba Initiative aims to serve a spirit of life.

6. Healing is morally relevant. What promotes healing is good; what retards healing is bad. Healing is not about feeling no pain; healing is about integrating one’s pain into one’s own life story, and using the pain in one’s own life to be able to feel the pain of others. Based on my experience of journeying with people in grief, the deep and true healing so desired by those for whom the ADL is concerned, will not be promoted or retarded in any significant way by the Cordoba mosque.

On balance, the moral case against the Cordoba mosque is, at best, weak.

Rights and Right– The Anti-Defamation League Statement on the Cordoba Mosque

The Anti-Defamation League made its statement in opposition to the Cordoba Mosque nearly a week ago. Some of its reasoning is being echoed by others in opposition, including Dan Senor in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here is the final paragraph of the ADL’s statement:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.

via Statement On Islamic Community Center Near Ground Zero.

The distinction between “rights”– as in what is legally or constitutionally permissible– and “right”– as in what is morally correct– is a helpful distinction. The next question is: what are the other elements in this situation, in addition to the conceivable pain that some victims will feel, that would help us assess what is the right thing to do? There is more to a moral judgment than calculating potential pain. More on this later. (See “Rights and Right– Part Two” for further moral reasoning on the location of the Islamic Center)