Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Perish From the Earth

Today marks a significant anniversary, the anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. This speech includes some of the most memorable oratory of one of our most memorable Presidents:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

That great clash of Americans against each other that bloodied the mid-19th century has come and gone but Americans of the 21st century find ourselves embroiled in a new civil war, the so called "culture wars". The color code has changed. It is no longer blue vs. grey but blue vs. red. The weapons have also changed. Cannon and bayonet-tipped rifles have been exchanged for rhetorical bomb throwing and "the politics of personal destruction". Yet the stakes are still the same, "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The culture wars are a powerful dramatization of the destructive nature of the discourse of disunity and their ultimate casualty is the health of the body politic. It is way past time to end the civil war of 21st century America and find a better way to deal with our differences. It is time to unite and realize our destiny:

"May this American democracy," He Himself, while in America, was heard to remark, "be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the unity of mankind. May it be the first to unfurl the standard of the 'Most Great Peace'... The American people are indeed worthy of being the first to build the tabernacle of the great peace and proclaim the oneness of mankind... May America become the distributing center of spiritual enlightenment and all the world receive this heavenly blessing. For America has developed powers and capacities greater and more wonderful than other nations... May the inhabitants of this country become like angels of heaven with faces turned continually toward God. May all of them become servants of the omnipotent One. May they rise from their present material attainments to such a height that heavenly illumination may stream from this center to all the peoples of the world... This American nation is equipped and empowered to accomplish that which will adorn the pages of history, to become the envy of the world and be blest in both the East and the West for the triumph of its people... The American continent gives signs and evidences of very great advancement. Its future is even more promising, for its influence and illumination are far-reaching. It will lead all nations spiritually."

(Shoghi Effendi quoting 'Abdu'l-Baha, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 75)