Communion and Terror, Why America Has Never Changed
Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11. What we hear today in the national media is what we heard the days after the towers went down: “America will never be the same.”
For all of the fallen, their families and close friends, this statement is absolutely true. Today, America mourns their loss as our own.
But if we can sensitively and respectfully step back from that particular pain for a moment, so as to reflect on the moral continuity of a distinct American virtue we practiced before and after 9/11, we can also say: “America has never changed.”
One of the biggest challenges we’ve overcome these past 15 years is not allowing the threat of our shock, anger, and sense of revenge towards the terrorists erode the fundamental virtue that makes America exceptional—that is, what makes our society a model for all societies around the world.
This virtue is the practice of political communion. Political communion is the radical inclusion of all persons in our democracy, without exceptions, for example, of faith or nationality.
What holds America together today—as it did 15 years ago—are the interpersonal and multicultural experiences of solidarity that brings with it a feeling of oneness. And we strive to perfect social solidarity, through the wisdom of diversity and in the belief in humanity itself.
We aren’t bound as Christians or Muslims or Jews or Nones, but rather, something much deeper—the belief in our common humanity.
The belief in our common humanity is the belief in human dignity, and the belief in human dignity is the belief in the value of the human person as irreducibly worthy and inalienably equal.
The gap between the expectation and the full realization of universal dignity in any society is the politics of communion.
America has triumphed over 9/11 because it has never wavered from the politics of communion. Rather, we have doubled down on our belief in human dignity, and we continue to strive towards a more inclusionary society by relentlessly defending one of our most cherished principles—religious freedom.
We understand that respecting the principle of religious freedom drives political communion, but only when religious freedom gets expressed in its true form. Today, there are morally bankrupt interpretations of religious freedom that create reductive distortions of both religion and freedom, and in so doing, it breaks the bonds of communion.
First, the anti-Muslim argument that claims the religion of Islam is at war with America and the Western world. Secondly, the argument from Christian “religiosity” that abuses religious freedom so that it may discriminate against those whom assert their freedom from it.
Religious freedom does not serve Islamophobia or Christian bigotry. Rather, it serves to drive democratic solidarity among faith traditions and beyond faith traditions, and points us to those deeper values that we share as human beings. It is a tool that democracies use to stop reactionary forms of faith from imposing on the freedom of other faiths or on the freedom of no faith at all.
An American politics of communion that expresses the truth of religious freedom in all its glory triumphs over an ideology of terrorism, because it keeps our society open to the great faiths of the world and to no faiths at all.
The terrorists’ endgame is to get inclusionary democracies like ours—that believe in universal dignity, the principle of religious freedom, and who practice the politics of communion—to close their doors to the history of the world and to close their hearts to each other.
Paradoxically, “America has never changed,” because we never stopped changing into a more and more inclusionary society, and without exception.