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 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

October 28, 2004
   Vol. 2, No. 28

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"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

* The Web link to Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is provided as a service to our readers.

This election won't be over when it's over

By Joan Chittister, OSB

Asked why she was supporting John Kerry rather than the incumbent, George Bush, a woman said, "Because I'm Catholic and I think that to be pro-life is to be more than anti-abortion. We have to support all the life issues, not just one."

Asked by a reporter why he would vote for George Bush if what he was worried about was medical insurance, Social Security, jobs and family services, a man on the street answered, "Well, those others things -- taxes and school and medicines -- can wait. First we gotta kill off the terrorists."

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Clearly, this election won't be over when it's over.

The entire country seems to be worrying about which candidate will prevail in the vote count this time. Maybe we're worrying about the wrong thing.

It may not be the election we should be concerned about at all. It may be the very spirit and vision of the American people that is our basic problem. Otherwise, how do we account for so divided an electoral mandate?

This "nation under God" -- these "united" states -- seems to be hanging together by a thread these days. We are not witnessing a difference over the wisdom of various social programs in this year's presidential arm wrestling match. We are seeing a difference in political world views more extreme perhaps than at any time since the Federalists and anti-Federalists.

Then we were debating the role of the central government in this country. Now we are debating the place and nature of the country in the global arena. What's more, we are debating much of it from the point of view of religion.

George W. Bush, a good man, a good American, represents those who believe that America is so good that it needs to be exported to the rest of the world. They sense, perhaps, that the world, as Marshall Macluan warned us years ago, has become a world village. They want to know the tribe in charge. They want the U.S. to be the tribe in charge. And they want morality and culture as it was defined when they themselves were children -- before the new science that controls sexual reproduction, that enables stem-cell research, that normalizes homosexuality, before globalism and its multiple religious perspectives, before pluralism and the rise of a truly pluralistic community alongside (or within) the traditional Christian ethos of the country.

John Kerry, an equally good man, a fine American, represents those who believe that the rest of the people of the world are so good that they can decide for themselves what kind of government they want and still be productive, valuable members of the human race. Even if different than we are in their political organizations. Even if socially, culturally, theologically distinct from us. They want a morality that honors other moralities.

Both of these men and the people they represent want to lead a morally good, culturally sound and internationally productive nation.

But George Bush is preaching preemptive war and power and U.S. domination to secure us -- whatever we do and whatever the internal cost to this nation as a whole.

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John Kerry is preaching internal prosperity and global partnership and U.S. integration into the world community to achieve it.

More than likely, neither position is entirely possible. The whole world is in a state of upheaval, after all. There are "wars and rumors of wars" everywhere. Civil wars. Ethnic wars. Tribal wars. Religious wars. Regional wars. Wars for land and wars for water. The struggle to control violence and oppression, to defend ourselves and do right by others, will be with us for a long time.

At the same time, the poor of the world are fighting for survival. They have nothing to lose by dying for it in bombs of their own making. If truth were known, in many cases death would be a blessing. For many, war is not worse than the way they live from day to day. All around the globe, frustration has turned to rage in lands where all employment is slavery and the land is dry and food and resources, cars and jacuzzis, exist only elsewhere. The need to really be prolife everywhere for everyone will challenge us for years to come. If we really want peace we will have to do justice to all the peoples of the world.

Preemptive war does not secure us from such things. It only plants the seeds of the next war as we strike out at the innocent in an attempt to block the guilty rather than make the innocent themselves our allies.

Sooner or later, if not now, we will need to confront the historical reality that power can only suppress revolution; it cannot stop a revolution that has already begun in the souls of a people. Rome learned that lesson the hard way. And so did France. And so did the U.S. in Vietnam. And so did the communists in the Soviet Union.

No, military domination won't solve terrorism, however many the number who vote for it. Only international cooperation, only international humility, can do that. Only a real commitment to life, all life as well as our own, will do that.

Clearly, we are not dealing with a "clash of civilizations" between East and West as much as we are dealing with a "clash of cultures" within our own seeping borders.

We are choosing now how we shall go about being America in a global world. This question no election can completely resolve for us. That we have to do for ourselves long after the election is over in this divided nation.

From where I stand, the real problem is clear: This election is about us, the electors, and the way we see our role in the world, not simply the candidates. We're a divided people and the religious visions that are dividing us must themselves come together if we are ever going to resolve it.

That won't end on Nov. 2.

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