Real Love Between Us

What can hold America together?

Rev. William Barber joined assembled clergy at New York’s City Hall yesterday.

How can America function again? How will we ever get beyond this impasse that divides us?

Hegel’s key insight, in a previous era fraught with doubt about the function of the state, was that laws were not enough. Like the properties of the object of perception, people with no internal connection cannot form a whole. They fly apart into the void. Citizens must also have a set of shared assumptions, an ethos, if you will. Hegel calls this Sittlichkeit, usually translated as “ethical order,” though it is useful to think of these as norms — the very same that are being shredded daily by the Trump administration and its enablers. In Hegel’s system, these norms are provided by a sublimated Protestantism, objectified in a state that embodies Christ’s radical egalitarianism.

Rev. William Barber of North Carolina joined assembled clergy to speak on the steps of New York’s City Hall yesterday, and I was happy to be there. A beacon on the Christian Left, Barber has revolutionized North Carolina politics with his Moral Mondays and call for a “moral revival.” “Morality” can be a fraught word on the Left, but Barber’s movement is about restoring the Christian commitment to love for the least among us. He plainly labeled North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill hate legislation and recently called evangelicals' staged group-prayer over Trump “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.” Though the Left has largely rejected the church’s authority — with good reason — there is no reason for it to reject its love. (And woe to the Trump voters who, conversely, betray their God’s love while hiding behind his authority.)

Barber’s mission yesterday was to join with faith leaders — other Christians, Muslims, and Jews — to let the United Nations know that, “the United States, at present, stands in clear violation of the Declaration’s mandate for universal and equal suffrage,” due to voter suppression and racist gerrymandering.

I am not formally a Christian, though I believe Earth could be a paradise if everyone heeded “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus was, after all, the first to make the audacious claim that all souls are equal — absolutely equal — before God. To follow Hegel, it has taken two millennia (and counting) for us to construct a society that even in principle honors this profound claim, though not one of us will be complete until this happens.

Currently, we are falling further from this goal. As Reverend Barber observed, to deny a person the vote — to exclude them from the state — is to do harm to their Imago Dei, to the fact that they have been created in the image of God.

Rev. James Forbes, who closed the press conference, put it in recognizably dialectical terms.

God made human beings, because animals couldn’t vote. The moon could not vote. The sun could not vote, because they didn’t have the human quality of reciprocity and response.
The Lord said, “I’ve got to me make something that has the capacity to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ otherwise I cannot be sure that there’s real love between us.
Therefore God made human beings and said the one thing they gotta have, in order to really be human beings, is the capacity to say “Yay” or “Nay.” And anybody who goes to work to suppress that quality in human beings is fighting against the very God that made us.

As Germany’s first post-monarchial philosophers theorized, God needs our freedom to be fully realized — to “be sure that there’s real love between us” — and to stand in the way of this (or to deny the ethos, the “reciprocity and response,” it presupposes) is to stand in the way of our collective salvation here on Earth.