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The power of love

1/18/2011, 5:05 p.m.
“Aren’t you pressing the 2nd Amendment a little too far?”

The power of love

The political discourse was so vitriolic in November’s congressional elections that many Americans feared it would lead to physical violence. When the armed assault on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others hit the news, the nation held its collective breath. No one in his right mind would advocate the assassination of public officials in America.

Regardless of the reason for the shooting, the idea that a member of Congress cannot safely meet with constituents is abhorrent. President Obama pointed out that Giffords’ program, “Congress on Your Corner” is “just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.”

Aware of the nation’s anxiety, Obama and members of his administration attended a memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting. In addition to eulogizing those who lost their lives, Obama took the opportunity to re-establish the spirit of national solidarity. He did so within the context of the nation’s Judeo-Christian tradition.

Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and the Secretary of Homeland Security, read from the Old Testament, and Eric Holder, Jr., the U.S. Attorney General, read from the New Testament. The president then used this spiritual background to exhort Americans to “… use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations.” This is indeed a novel appeal.

Obama then goes on to expand the scope of moral conduct. Everyone knows that thou shall not kill, steal, lie or covet thy neighbor’s wife. Now the president entreats us “… to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

The president said, “We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. … We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power or fame — but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”

He is especially concerned with the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green who was killed in the assault. Obama describes her as “so deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example.”

Injunctions against morally repugnant deeds have not slowed the growth of violence in America. Europe has not suffered from the same malaise. The rate of homicide in America is 6.5 times higher than in Germany and 4.3 times higher than in England. It is time for Americans to follow Obama’s suggestion “… to expand our moral imaginations.”

The New Testament states that one of the two greatest commandments is “thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39) Love is a much more difficult task. It requires active involvement, not just the avoidance of immoral conduct.

Obama essentially calls upon the power of love to help create “… a more civil and honest public discourse [that] can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.” The political differences are so profound, the president’s leadership will be necessary to heal the country.