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President Obama prepares to take his seat after speaking at his final Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House on March 30, 2016. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Strive to finish the work

By Ernesto Tinajero

The press coverage about President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima divide into several camps. Some that saw it as morally wrong to apologize — although Obama never apologized. Others went to the history books to argue on whether it was right or wrong to have dropped the bomb. Playing “what if” with history makes for good bar stool chatter, but fails to do what Obama actually did in his speech. Most of he commentary, though varied in perspectives, tended to approach Hiroshima as good guy/bad guy tendency. This was a stark contrast to how Obama spoke about our responsibility to Hiroshima.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has made no secret to the debt he owes to Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Instead of rejecting 2,000 years of Christian theology and divide the world into good guys/bad guys (Manicheanism) the president reached back to an older Christian theology of all humans tainted by sin. Not only did he not apologize, he place the bomb in historical context and reminded the Japanese their role in it. “Sixty million people would die. . . . Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death.”

They were no innocents in that war and none in the world today. Our moral responsibility starts with this awareness of our own moral shakiness and perchance for human self delusion. After all those that committed genocide in WWII, did so in certainty in the goodness of their actions. As Obama stated,We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves”

For with Jesus and his father’s desire all to be saved, we must begin any policy discussion under the premise and the story. Or as the Obama said, “The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”

Obama reminds us of our role as moral agent starts from our own honesty about our own sin. In other words, rather than old pagan and Roman glorification of war, Obama call back to the traditions of our Christian roots. I understand the seductiveness of the God Mars. But if we are to reach out to the peace that is open in a fallen world — that is to say shaky and fragile —we should look to Lincoln’s great second inaugural speech that didn’t crow about giving the Confederacy the goods but held up the same notion of a fragile peace:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

 

About Ernesto Tinajero

Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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One comment

  1. “Some that saw it as morally wrong to apologize — although Obama never apologized.”

    So there are some people who believe that it is morally wrong to apologise for the wholesale slaughter of ~105,000 civilians. I have to admit, I find that level of callousness stupefying, and a little nauseating. Then again, it’s always been tempting to go rooting around for the mote in our neighbor’s eye, rather than dealing with the beam in our own.

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