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Just Where Is Our National Conscience?

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Americans have long been enchanted by the story of our own magnificence. Deep in our national psyche lies the myth of our divine exceptionalism. As children, we were read the great American fairytale - the one about the precious God-blessed paradise, and its shining "city upon a hill", whose holy light leads the way in a dark and unholy world. As adults, we're still reading this story, only now to our own children.

Viewing ourselves as the embodiment of absolute goodness in a world of evil, and of justice in a world unjust, we mistake our methods as entirely wholesome, and our purpose as completely pure. We even go so far as to sing "God Bless America" at our baseball games, and put "God Bless America" bumper stickers on our cars, believing somehow that America is divinely entitled, deserving of God's special favor.

God, indeed, has blessed America, abundantly, as He has in varying ways all nations and peoples of His earth. We live in a time of unparalleled abundance. Our nation is blessed with riches and possibilities far beyond anything imagined by our ancestors. That we should be so fortunate to live in America at this time in history cannot be understated.

How is it, then, that in the midst of all this greatness we are giving unwitting consensus to allowing more and more of our fellow citizens, disproportionately children, to fall into vulnerability, and into poverty? We profess to pollsters a high regard for "moral values", and yet why isn't poverty immoral? Why isn't lack of medical care immoral? Surely there is no more commanding moral imperative than to "value" the poor and the vulnerable, for whom the God of all religions admonishes us to care? That as a people we take so little interest in the troubles of those less fortunate demonstrates plainly that America is failing to honor God's blessing.

We esteem ourselves an advanced society, and technologically we are. Yet as a nation obsessed with money and possessions, celebrity and sport, we are not advanced morally or spiritually. As a culture that has established monetary criteria for success or failure, we are not advanced morally or spiritually. As a society that increasingly misuses religion as justification for intolerance and division, we are not advanced morally or spiritually.

A moral culture is defined through tolerance and compassion, and respect for the image of God in every person. A moral culture has a national conscience, upon which weighs heavily the plight of the nation's poor, and its vulnerable. In this way, a nation honors God's blessing.

And where is our national conscience? Do we still have one? Parading a hatred of homosexuality under the banner of "moral values" is not the same as having a national conscience. Pushing an aggressive agenda of sexual morality legislation is not the same as having a national conscience. How can one read religious texts and find justification for such intolerance when others find inspiration for charity?

America does not have a money problem - it has a priorities problem. We silently tolerate widespread poverty and blatant inequalities. We give tax cuts to the wealthy, and budget cuts to the poor. We allow forty percent of our fellow citizens to go without health care. We demand lower levels of government spending, thereby allowing higher levels of economic inequality. All this, even though the provision of decent subsistence, shelter, and health care are well within our national capacity to provide.

If, as was apparent these past few elections, Americans across the political spectrum are to inject religion into the national political conversation, it must first and foremost be done with the common understanding that God is not partisan. Religion is a source of wisdom, strength, and moral clarity, not a source of words to be used to gain political advantage. Religion, if it is to be used politically at all, must be used only to rediscover the sense of the preciousness of every human being, our fundamental connectedness, and the responsibility we all share towards the common good.

Our greatest challenge if we are to remain a great nation is not terrorism, and not Iraq. Our greatest challenge is to recover our national conscience. Many will choose to do this with the help of religion, and some without. But the only way to honor God's blessing of America is to become conquerors of poverty and ignorance, and not remain defenders of greed and arrogance. Only in this way can we actually be as good as we already see ourselves.
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Todd Huffman Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and writer living in Eugene, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to many newspapers and publications throughout the Pacific Northwest.
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